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A Further Note on Concrete Haiku

Sometimes it's good to step back from haiga and explore other ways that poems and pictures can be related—concrete poems, for instance. As far back as antiquity there have been poems in which the typographical arrangement of is words significant for the conveying of meaning. Check Wikipedia or search "concrete poetry". You'll find an array of art works and forms on the unstable boundary between words and image.

As for concrete haiku, some of them are now classics. Cor van den Heuvel's "tundra" was first published in 1963 (rpt. The Haiku Anthology, 1st ed. 1974). Anita Virgil included haiku with graphical treatments in her chapbook A 2nd Flake (1974), and Marlene Mountain was exploring them through these years too ("unaloud haiku" (1978 rpt. Raw Nervz Haiku 1994). Sometimes you'll see the term "eyeku". Coined by Bill Pauly, the term was picked up by Elizabeth Nichols (Eye-Ku, Haiku Poems, with illustrations by Raymond Louie, 1996). Possibilities range from terse dependence on page layout and typography, to playfully pictorial, and digital publication has opened them even more. Colin Stewart Jones' concrete haiku, some of which we've published here at Haigaonline, include both typographic to the pictorial.

I may be imagining, but I've noticed an uptick of interest since Carlos Colon's talk on historical connection between concrete poetry and haiku at the 2011 Haiku North America conference. Carlos' handout may be found on Melissa Allen's Red Dragonfly. Some of his own work may be seen on the Shreveport Artist's Directory, and there's a priceless concrete renku he did with Raffael de Gruttola (reviewed in Frogpond (2008). He inspired the denizens of Jessica Tremblay's Old Pond to try a concrete haiku, and despite the difficulty of controlling layout on Facebook, a number of writers have posted concrete haiku for prompts at NaHaiWriMo (Alee Imperial Albano, Johannes S. J. Bjerg and Cara Holman have republished theirs where browsers may find them).

Haiku is by its very nature imagistic to begin with; Couple that with an aesthetic of conciseness, brevity and suggestion, haiku have a particular appeal when they take form as concrete poetry. The possibilities are numerous. At this point concrete haiku has been around long enough that it's time to pause in the fun and take stock. As Robert Spiess once said in an interview with Michael Dylan Welch (Modern Haiku 2002), many are not genuine haiku. On the other hand, some are. Richard Gilbert's "Disjunctive Dragonfly" (World Haiku Review December 2003) includes "concrete disjunction", analyzing how orthography, punctuation and placement intensify meaning in examples by Jane Reichhold, Gary Hotham and David Steele. I like how the editors of Under the Basho put it: that the poem should to embrace deeper meaning (in other words, be a haiku) while the visual realization structures the reader's experience through space and the placement of words.

For me, Anita's wee frog is a splendid example: there's a first realization that the cluster of red letters decodes as the words then image of a small frog, then a long moment as we process the widely-spaced lettering of "OTHER" that designates hind legs, and then of course we know how a startled frog will be gone in a split second. Like haiga—yet not—text and typographic realization enhance each other to create an experience that is more than the sum of the parts.

What better model could we have for the Autumn 2014 Challenge! Click here for our Submissions page.


Michael Garofalo, "Concrete-Visual Poetry", The Spirit of Gardening Website (1999, last updated 2012)

Marlene Mountain, "unaloud haiku", 1978 rpt. Raw Nervz Haiku 1994

"Concrete Poetry" on Pinterest

"A Brief Guide to Concrete Poetry,"

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