My thanks to Mark Gilbert, my guest this week for providing me with the notes for our chat:


“What I wanted to do with whoku was to popularise a form of haiku in which one line (or part of a line if it’s a one-line haiku) consists of the name of a person. You could use the person’s full name, or just a shortened part of their name.

It doesn’t have to be a famous person, it could be a close friend. And they could be alive or dead, historical or fictional, even.

So for instance, a whoku could be humourous or serious, or it could be a way to pay tribute to someone who has died.

With whoku I want to focus on using that person’s name in the same kind of way that the seasonal reference, or kigo, is used in Japan, as a way to link the haiku into wider society or culture, or to reach back into history.

The reason that I’m suggesting people fill one line with the person’s name is to encourage them to consider the whole of that person’s life and cultural relevance, rather than just a small detail. I know this can sometimes be difficult for us writers of haiku.

I don’t really want to have rules or to tell people what they should write or how they should write it. I just want to suggest an opportunity to try to apply their haiku skills to something slightly different.

Here are some examples:-

This haiku dates from Issa in 1816, translated more recently from Japanese into English by David G. Lanoue:
scrawny frog, hang tough!
is here

David G. Lanoue, ‘Write like Issa: A Haiku How-To’,   (1991-2019)

Elizabeth Searle Lamb wrote this about an artist in 1999:-

Georgia O’Keeffe
a splash of brilliant sunset
across the cliffs

Elizabeth Searle Lamb, ‘Lamb, Across the Windharp: Collected and New Haiku’, La Alameda Press (1999)

Carlos Colòn wrote this whoku about a fictional character; Carlos was known as Haiku Elvis.

his wringing

Previously published on Twitter (November 2015).

For further information, see:
Carlos Colón: In his own words

Debbi Antebi has written about a painter:-

the melancholy
of a tilted neck

Previously published on Twitter (June 2018).

Here is one of mine, which is about a politician just to show that whoku do not need to be about only artists or musicians:-

the truth
has to be precious
Nelson Mandela

Mark Gilbert, EarthRise Rolling Collaborative Haiku 2017, (April 2017)

And finally this is from Patricia, written for a previous podcast on a different topic:-

through the window

Patricia McGuire, Episode 32, Poetry Pea Podcast

Remember to think of this as a new way of expressing yourself, to allow you to try out different kinds of words in haiku. And most of all, remember to have fun!

Special thanks to David Lanoue and Charles Trumbull for their help with the research.”

Well I enjoyed chatting with Mark, I hope you enjoyed it too.

Before I go onto the new renku I just want to follow up on some of the feedback from episode 15; Coffee with verbs.

Verbs; I don’t think they are necessary in a haiku but other people disagree and some of you think I am nuts in counting the number of verbs in my haiku and maybe you are right. I wanted to reassure you that I welcome all styles of haiku and senryu on the podcast, I might write and ask you if you would consider changing something, but I am also most happy to be told, no thanks, I like it just the way it is.

My goal is to encourage people to write haiku and to consider what they are writing. I think Giddy Nielsen Sweep hit the nail on the head when she wrote to me saying “that each haiku should be judged on its own merits. How it sounds is important. How it looks also, and whether it provides an image.” admitting that there are other aspects that can be taken into account.

Towards the end of the year I shall be taking in more detail about these aspects of haiku. Thanks to all of you who have already sent me their thoughts on the essence of haiku, I would welcome more. Don’t be afraid to comment.

Well now, let’s go to the renku.

Kim Russell wrote to me saying that she wished she had had the time to take part in the first one. She also came up with the title of the first one, take a look it’s here on the website. So, I asked her to write the first verse and Richard Bailly, who also came up with a great title for the first one, but was narrowly pipped at the post, writes the third verse for our renku. I’m doing the two line verses at the moment. You will find it on the website, click on the renku heading and then on renku 2.

So without further ado, let me read the first four verses for you:

marble steps
sculpted by endless soles
a welcome chill

Kim Russell

mural tablets—
how ancient my son’s name


wind in the willows
unanticipated storm
green blades impaling

Richard Bailey

will the night be dark
or give no shelter?


I hope you enjoyed the renku so far. What I love about it is reading how one verse sparks an idea for the next.

That’s it for this week. Massive thanks to Mark Gilbert for joining me. Has he inspired you to have a go at writing whoku? sIf so send some over to me and perhaps I can read them out next month.

Thank you to my renku poets for their verses. I do have some volunteers for the next few verses, but if you haven’t expressed an interest in writing one yet, just drop me an email, be warned it gets trickier the longer you leave it…



Series 2 Episode 17: Whoku with Mark Gilbert