Here we are at podcast 11 of the third series of the haiku pea podcast. If you’ve not visited with us before I’m Patricia and you are most welcome here. Today I’d like to talk a little bit about brevity and it’s role in the English language version of Japanese short form that we love, I’ll bring you the latest from the renku and I hope at the end you will enjoy a visit from Ronald Tobey who will be reading us some of his work.

As you know I recently recorded a few podcasts on the topic of the essence of haiku. I’m sure I’ll return to that topic, many times. I have to address all the feedback that you have given me and delve deeper into it, but for now I want to turn to the idea of brevity.

I thought long and hard about whether brevity is an element of the essence of haiku, but in the end I decided it was not. Craig Kittner put it very well in the haiku dialogue of the haiku foundation when he said, “By definition a haiku is brief”. How can it not be?

Whilst poets writing in many other genres of poetry can write as freely as they wish, we, who have chosen haiku and senryu have a limit.

That limit varies depending on who you ask. Clayton Beach suggests “12-15 syllables” could be “a comfortable average for ELH”. At the risk of controversy I am going to say that whilst I believe we no longer have to conform to the 5/7/5 format, as an editor I prefer haiku and senryu to be no longer than 17 syllables, just a little clue for anyone submitting to the podcast, but you know, we can create work that is far more compact.

How far should we go in condensing our work? Michael Dylan Welch put it very well, “haiku needs to be short while communicating clearly, saying what needs to be said—thus, to be as short as necessary.”

I first started to think about brevity when Craig Kittner, whilst the editor of the haiku dialogue last year, invited poets to condense their poetry. I’ve tried to develop that sense of brevity in my own work ever since or should I say that I prefer a minimalist approach whilst not creating very short haiku just for the sake of it.

A haiku should make sense, you want to communicate with some readers, don’t you? to quote Clayton Beach again, “While simplicity and brevity are fine goals in any poetic tradition, these will mean different things to different poets, and one certainly cannot judge the quality of a ku by its syllable count or the bare simplicity of its diction.”

Let’s consider some brief haiku. I’d like to read you one from the haiku dialogue brevity post:

into its whistle speeding train

Adjei Agyei-Baah

This verse has a bundle of techniques in a well considered monoku. Not only does it have an aha moment for me, but it also has a pleasing rhythm and movement..

I hope you’d like to hear more, because I’ve been doing a bit of reading

From frog pond issue 43.2

falling snow
the gray clouds

M. Shane Pruett

I kept coming back to this verse, enjoying the elements of it. The childlike joy of the experience of falling snow, making one forget those miserable gray clouds. The play of movement from the downward falling snow and the view upward to the clouds. The juxtaposition of the white snow and the gray clouds and the sound of the “f” at the beginning and the end, just seems to tie it all together.

red light flexing his muscle car

Tanya McDonald

Alongside the visual element of this monoku, I loved the risque and humourous nature of this monoku. I thought it had a strong juxtaposition.

From Wales haiku journal

rusting roof
the moon
trickles through

Roger Watson

There are a number of reasons I enjoyed this one. The surprise of the word trickle when applied to the moon; the rhythm of the oo sound, roof, moon, through. The juxtaposition of the rusting roof and the moon coming through it. For me the choice of words is important in this one, the poof had to be rusting in order that the moon trickled rather than shone through it.

Lastly one from me from From Sonicboom

the birdsong of things lost


I want to use this to segway into something I would like to do next month. I’d like to look at the editing process to refine our haiku and senryu into that piece of work that is as short as necessary and to consider the point at which we stop before the work becomes obscure.

This piece of work is one that I really enjoyed writing and of which I am proud and grateful to Sonicboom for accepting, but I think it came very close to the borders of obscurity. I don’t think everyone who reads it will think, yes I get that, but I hope enough people will have an understanding of the work, even if it is not the same understanding I had when I wrote it.

Next month let’s think about brevity and the editing process. Let’s have a bit of a workshop. I will put a couple of my unfinished haiku on the show notes, some that are too long. Have a look and see if you can shorten them but keep them understandable. Alternatively, if you have an example from your own work that you can demonstrate the evolution of your haiku from something too long to something a bit more compact, send me that. Let’s see if we can keep the syllable count under 10. Send your work via email and let’s see if we can get some practice at editing. Deadline 20th June please. Check out the show notes.

Now I’d like to read you the latest from the renku. My thanks as always to the poets who are writing this with me; Paddy White, wendy c bialek, James Young, Robert Horrobin, Pat Geyer, Giddy Nielsen-Sweep, Jonathan Roman, Nicky Gutierrez, Hemapriya Chellappan, Ian Speed, David J Kelly and Craig Kittner. To find out who wrote which verse please check out the show notes.

palms up
facing the sun

Paddy White

a passing dog
smells the soles of his shoes

immigrants’ dreams
in cement

wendy C bialek


rain clouds gathering
no bed at the hostel


stone epitaphs
my tomb is bigger than yours
all are dead

James Young

gargoyles grin
as they piss on the fallen

Robert Horrobin

seeing his breath
only the living can feel
the cold

Robert Horrobin

a ray of light
rage thaws the frost


moonlight calm
sets daylight frenzy…
dawn chorus

Pat Geyer

butcherbird sings the morning in
I’m no longer alone

Giddy Nielsen Sweep

slow day
the peach tree blooms
in his cup

Jonathan Roman

the rhythm of coins
determines his future



the stars
this city night

Nicky Gutierrez

this windy darkness
a plastic bag floats even higher

Hemapriya Chellappan

the moon
can’t reverse
a rising tide

Ian Speed

just before sunrise
he catches only one fish



richer for a journey
on the river’s bank

David J Kelly

drawn by the smoke
cops douse his cook fire

Craig Kittner

castaways in the mud
under bridges

Craig Kittner

Let me introduce Ronald Tobey to you. He sent me a submission that did not fit with the topics we are covering this year, but I was intrigued by the work and having read his bio and seen that he was into video and spoken poetry I thought he might be an excellent candidate to read us some of his work. Ron, spent his professional career in California and now lives on a farm in West Virginia where he and his wife raise cattle and keep goats and horses. And today, we are going to experience a little of his life through his haiku. Welcome to the podcast Ron.

Thank you for the introduction, Patricia.
The context of these haiku is farming in West Virginia and the 3 overlapping, but distinct, worlds in which I live:
the village

Most days, when working, I think about animal welfare and simply enjoy the pleasure of living in beautiful mountain country. I don’t think about the village or nature. Occasionally, events force those two worlds onto my consciousness. Each haiku describes such a moment.
I write in traditional 5-7-5 haiku, because haiku poems are built on imagery, rather than syntax and word play. Knowing the form, readers can anticipate the structure and parts of the haiku, and quickly grasp the images, and feel the mood and moment described in the poem.

I will first read the poem, then discuss what happened, followed by a second reading of the poem.

Poem 1
half-light moonscape snow
deer rabbit trails thread through woods
red fox holds my breath

In this first poem, an overnight Spring snow, like dust on fingerprints, reveals the tracks of animals in their nocturnal activity. In that moment, I see the natural predator/prey relationship, as it was acted out earlier.

The tracks are so clear and fresh, not hidden by blown snow or melt, that I hold my breath in anticipation of the outcome, seeing it through the fox’s concentration on the rabbit.

Poem 2
wisps of deer scent rise
farm dog barks at first sunlight
bare fields golden brome

In this second poem, the natural world is revealed by another trail I cannot perceive, the trail of scent a deer leaves as it walks or runs.

Our dog has a sense of smell 10,000 times more powerful than humans. She alerts us if a deer is near the house, but usually minutes after the deer has passed by. This delayed timing happened so often that my wife and I suspected she might not recognize a deer if she saw one without smelling it. We did observe this behavior several times. It took our dog over 1 ½ years, living on the farm, to recognize deer by sight and bark at them before she could smell them.

Deer walk down from the ridge tops, at dawn and twilight, crossing our hillside farm, to drink creek water and graze grass in the fields. In early spring, before green grass re-grows, yellow straw is visible amid the grass stubble. The deer are not there.

Poem 3
goats shaking in fear
large dog prowls creek in field near
with shotgun I stand

In the 3rd poem, the village world intrudes dangerously on the farm world.

I was giving the goats their morning feeding. They ignored the feed – very rare. All four focused their gaze down the slope to the nearby creek. The lead goat, a nanny, stood about ten feet in front of the rest of the little herd. Her entire body was violently shaking. Fear. As lead goat, she was standing her ground to protect the herd from something. I looked where she was looking. I felt my empathy swell up for her. A large dog, probably abandoned by village owners, was prowling along the creek. Dogs are the most dangerous predator for goats and other small livestock. The goat’s fear revealed the village world’s nearness. I went back to the house to retrieve my shotgun, then stood with it between the goats and the dog. I watched until the dog, fortunately, left the vicinity.

I hope you have enjoyed my poems. Thank you for inviting me to participate in your podcast.

Ron, the pleasure was all mine and I hope you all enjoyed hearing haiku being read aloud by another haiku voice. I know I have another reading in the making, but I would love to hear you reading your work to us. If you’d like to give a five minute reading just get in touch by email and we can work out the details.

Before I go just a couple of reminders and an apology. Let’s start with the apology. You know my neck is not 100% and I can’t get through the volume of work that I would normally. So I’m really sorry but it’s taking me longer to reply to emails at the moment. I am often using dictation, and for some reason I’m missing mistakes from time to time, so if something is looking odd, it’s just me, messing up.

Thank you as always for joining me and for keeping in touch with your feedback. Please join me on the 15th June for a special podcast on ageing. Submissions are now closed. And of course, I hope you will join in the mini-workshop ready for next time, emails by the 20th June please. So until the 15th, keep writing….

If you check the show notes and find something missing, just drop me an email and I’ll sort it out..

Haiku for editing.

They might not be classically too long, but I think they could benefit from a cut. Feel free to work with them however you wish.

the smell of a dog
that doesn’t walk beside him

chilly wind
cows returning to the valley floor
in fancy dress

the patch of sunlight
warms a single garden chair
hush! our cat is snoozing

Series 3 Episode 11: Keeping it brief

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