Heather Aymer

Swirl & Flow of Haiku

Global Haiku Tradition
Millikin University, Summer 2002

Heather Aymer

Heather's Haiku


Swirl & Flow of Haiku

Aesthetically, haiku are dependent on flow and the continuity of rising and falling words sounds, creating a single line of musical lyric. There are words that fall into another work, as "the" into "shirt." "The" is speaking of the "shirt" telling that it was associated with something prior to it. In voice and sound, "the" and "shirt" become "the shirt" naturally, as a slur between musical notes. Adjectives are connected vocally to their nouns; verbs are always emphasized in the mind and in voice when read, moving the words, the sounds in the rhythm of the word, "running" we read the sentence faster. "Shift," we jump into the next idea. "Crackle," onomatopoeia, makes us crunch the next words, accenting their consonants. These words loop together in a text, in a haiku, lead us to impress ourselves with a memory or imaginative meaning. The notes together cause us to find such possibly parallel to that of the original experiencer. Sometimes notes discordant squeak into us what we need to know.

summer wind
with by book on the porch
I lose my page
ice cubes shift
in the glass of tea

"summer wind," is a blended sound, rising in an arc, all to itself, in our reading, even with "with" on the next line supposing a sentence, the notes don’t work. "on," in the second line is where we give our pause, our voice, mental voice, slightly deflating the note and "the porch" along with it. "lose," is emphasized because of its happening, a verb. We read it, leaving off the "e" and my page drifts into low, quiet octaves as the page is heard turned by the wind. "ice cubes," are there, we see them, "shift," makes us hear them and jump to the "in the glass." "of tea," is slurred together, "of" moving us down, then "tea" putting us back to normal, but at a slow pace for "shift" gave us a rhythm of false urgency. The tan-renga ends. The loop to the side of the tan-renga shows this graphically.

It is a personal viewpoint that many haiku and tan-renga and rengay, those that are effective and most liked, are those with the loops, visually provided, with the most connections to the next proceeding line. Grammatically speaking, for haiku, at least two of the three lines have to connect, as in the next tan-renga, especially like in class.

Uncle Sam towers
over everyone
parading on stilts
the girl almost forgets
her poison ivy

Bob Reed

The hokku is connected throughout, "Uncle Sam," such a small note standing text to "towers," as verb that has us looking to the sky, opening our vowel sounds, "over," sounding like a child calling to a kite or baseball players yelling at a picture to throw the ball over the plate. "parading" is quiet because of the loudness of the preceding words. "on stilts," is a quiet, if intriguing observation. "almost," is spoken and heard with some derision. All those towers over everyone, "almost" bows down to not begin quite enough. As noted, the last two lines of the tan-renga do not loop together as per the style of the writing itself. These lines are to associate but, in all other matter of creativity, be dissimilar to the hokku above.

Next, to look at some haiku that do not have loops, to wonder and to find why and, truly, to apply meaning to even discordant notes.

Non-looping example:

still damp
the unglazed bowl

Peggy Willis Lyles

"still damp earth," at first seems to roll all together, but it is divided physically in the space, "damp," a note that falls in tone after "still," making us unaware that it is to flow on. These spaces, at first glance, make one wonder, because of still puzzling over why "earth" isn’t next to "damp" on the first line, no wonder of thought goes to "the unglazed bowl," which rings flat.

What is to be gained my this image being broken to is, it is thought after "tuning out?" Unglazed bowls are pottery, made of mud, earth. The "earth" being cut from "damp" is to make us feel the mud in the bowls agony at being wrenched from the earth. This isn’t pretty noise. It is supposed to cut us.

As supposed earlier, verbs cause vowel and consonant emphasis and also may speed or slower transition from one word to the next. Call them tempo. Let us look at an example where a verb stops a particular haiku and see what happens.

fishing boats rock in place,
their lines floating dark
into the sky

Penny Harter

"dark," stops the flow of "floating," very abruptly and we stop reading and bungle around, trying to ascertain where we are to go next with this image. "floating," makes us floatingly read the words, but we hit that adjective and the loop, the lightness disappears and we go, "What the?" Upon further rumination it is noted that "dark" is to stop us from looking at those floating fishing boats, that they are no longer important. We are now to be stargazers. This is where the verb being prevented from flow can seemingly detract but also be used as a transition between images. This haiku writer chose not to put "into the dark sky" or, "in the dark, into the sky." Too many words and redundant, truly. For we, taking at look at the speed and sound, see the wisdom of her choice.

Within the progress of this exercise, it has been found that if there is a break, either visually or loopingly at the end of a thought, it is find and the flow is not detered.

in from the cold—
only my hands
to warm my hands

Penny Harter

The dash after "cold" doesn’t stop us from easily going on, notes rising slightly on "only," and again on "warm," and then to "hands." The first line is not connected in loop only because the thought is over, as are most single lines, an ending thought or just a couple of solitary adjectives of spring or summer, it is has not been noticed.

Further within, I have wondered how much we are sentence prone for all these loops make wonderful sentences and that favorite haiku, considered digestible for those not eager to its form, have those constant continuing loops and sentences. Basic, the music is easy and has a fun beat.


in the window of the
busy restaurant

in a clear purple glass

Even with single words on lines all of their own, "cola," begins the sentence ending with "glass," and "cobweb," to "restaurant," the entire haiku, flows into one sentence. Now, anyone can really make a sentence into anything and anything into a sentence, but only if the notes actually flow right. Of course, using music-speak somewhat in this paper, a theory class might to be some advantage if the drawings don’t do the trick.

What makes the rengay grow?

hoeing the garden—
a dried frog
broken in two

string beans

axe blow
cleaves the log
halves rocking

splitting at my touch
dry mussel shells

cracked glass over the photo
her lips parting to speak
in my mind

an eye to each current
egret on the sandbar


Michael Dylan Welch
Randy Brooks
and Brett Bodemer

To give my opinion/answer to a debate regarding stanza three, it is a difficult one to hear because, first, "blow" and "cleaves" are straight together, putting us in an epic. We are still hearing the blow when we are supposed to see how disastrously the axe just "cleaved" this log. "blow" is a powerful sound made small is note here, but the connotation we seek is hard to let go of and the sound of the word "cleaved" is loud and big and there. "cleaved" is also a little . . . squeaky. "halves" has an involuntary pause with it because we are moving from big sound to squeaky image to tottering image, having to put that pause after "halves." However, look at the loop. All connected. But look at the height on that word cleaves and look how blow begins that transition loop to the next line.
"splitting at my touch," works because it is the end of a thought making a sound connection not necessary here, as the other non-looped lines. "axe blow," is on the verge of not connecting, the sounds almost preventing the rest of the loops. Close to not working.

Note to verbs: The first two stanza in the rengay use some words in past tense which stop us in reading, those d’s. The next two stanza are -ing mostly. "axe blow," haiku, perhaps, has to many actions sounds clumped together while the other stanza do not, or, if they do, the lines have more words in them to stretch the flow out and assist to flow more easily, it seems.

Closing: in this attempt to identify the sound and flow quality, of which I refer to as lyric, in haiku, it has been impressed upon me that word choice more necessary than thought previously by myself. Those words, connotations, sounds, vowel pushes, consonants, all bring a feel, a quality to a piece that is known for sure, but are also so small. "the" can be a powerful choice.

—Heather Aymer


©2002 Randy Brooks, Millikin University, Decatur, Illinois || all rights reserved for original authors