This week I’m joined by the lovely Craig Kittner, all the way from North Carolina, who is going to read some of his work to us and give us a brief commentary.

I’m going to continue the theme we started last month, brevity, and look at the editing exercise that I suggested last time. Not forgetting of course the renku we’ve been working on and today I’m delighted to offer the latest one to you in its entirety.

Also there’s a bit of exciting, but at the same time scary news. I’ll tell you at the end.

The Pea TV moments are still going strong but only on Tuesdays and Thursdays now. And a little while ago Christina chin sent me a coffee morning moment of haiku. I often get feedback on these moments but not always in haiku form but this time in response to Christina’s video Bakhtiyar Amini sent me this:

nagging wife
adding more sugar
in the morning coffee

Bakhtiyar Amini

Thank you Bakhtiyar. It’s always great to get feedback so keep it coming.

Back to brevity. There was something I forgot to talk about last time and I’m very grateful to Gene Meyers for reminding me about it. He sent me a quick message on Twitter reminding me that many people believe that you should be able to say a haiku in one breath. And then I started thinking about that and wondering if I actually agree with that statement. Surely I thought, there must be haiku which would take more than one breath to say. If those haiku resonated with me would I discount them just because they took longer than one breath. So I started looking for haiku that ran into two breaths.

It was harder than I thought:

the temple bell dies away
the scent of flowers in the evening
is still tolling the bell

Basho translated by R H Blyth.
From Haiku selected and edited by Peter Washington

But this is a translation probably done between 1936 and 1964, which should be taken into account. It’s probable if I found a contemporary translation it would be shorter.

I moved closer to the contemporary with this by Gary Snyder which is pretty close to two breaths, at least for me:

range after range of mountains
year after year after year
I am still in love

Gary Snyder

From Haiku selected and edited by Peter Washington

and this by Robert Major, who started writing his haiku in 1990, which was just about on the borderline for me

silent Friends meeting . . .
the sound of chairs being moved
to enlarge the circle

Robert Major
Haiku in English The first hundred years: Kacian, Rowland and Burns

Looking at more contemporary work, I was really pushed to find long brief poems. But I did:

Collecting deadwood
still too green to burn—
turning my thoughts into words

Rebecca Lilly
Blithe Spirit Vol 30 Number 2 2020

Was I wrong to question the one breath theory? I’m on the fence. What did occur to me was that editors consciously or unconsciously have adopted this as one of the methods of judging the merit of a haiku. But now I’m wondering if this should be challenged. What do you think?

Mark Gilbert sent me an email reminding me that 17 syllables is already too long for many editors. He says of his own work that if he has a haiku of around 17 syllables or more he’ll re-evaluate again possibly editing to make it shorter but also considering whether it’s actually fighting to become a tanka.

He also made a couple of other interesting points.

The first was about Michael Dylan Welsh’s idea that a haiku should be “as short as necessary.” It reminded him “of writing short stories, where there is pressure to strip out anything that doesn’t move the plot along, as well as adverbs, adjectives, too much description, extraneous scenes and characters, etc etc.” Mark’s worry was, if I understood him correctly, that if we cut from our haiku do we then lose our voice? I’m thinking that when we are editing we should be conscious of retaining our voice. Interesting, I’m going to think a bit more about that. Do you have any thoughts?

Mark also thought that it would be interesting to think about how long  a haiku can be and still be a haiku? I’m also going to put that on my list of things to explore. Again if you have any thoughts send them my way.

Before I go any further I wanted to share a verse that I read on Twitter by s zeilenga, a regular contributor to the podcast. I asked if I could read it to you because I thought it was a rather good example of the use of brevity.

between stones
a dandelion

s zeilenga

I can’t leave the topic of brevity without mentioning possibly the most famous brief haiku of all time by Cor van der Heuvel


Haiku in English The first hundred years: Kacian, Rowland and Burns

This haiku has bugged me for a long time, sometimes I love it sometimes I wonder if it’s a case of the emperor’s new clothes. I’ve come to the conclusion that it only works with the visual clue. What do you think?

Now last month I suggested that we would think about editing in this episode and I threw out three pieces of work that I had started to write but really didn’t think were finished. Thank you to everyone who sent their edits to me. It was a really interesting exercise, at least for me, not only to read the various versions you came up with, but I found that it inspired me to have another go at them. I can’t use all the edits you sent me, but I’d like use some to show what we can do when we work together.

I felt a bit guilty offering three of my pieces, like I was asking you to do the work for me, but I couldn’t use anyone else’s work. I kicked off with this one:

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


no smell of a dog
walks beside him
homeless and alone

Linda L Ludwig

In both these verses you have the idea of homelessness, but at least to me, Linda’s verse suggests that there was a dog, but it’s ambiguous, is it there, but very clean, or more likely it’s not there, but the spirit of his dog still walks beside him, whereas in mine the dog isn’t there, but the smell is. After reading Linda’s I tried again.

no dog
walks beside him
but the smell


Still not right, it sounds rather harsh and judgmental to me now, but it raised another question for me. Do we sanitise reality or do we tell it as it is?

Dorothy Burrows had a go and shortened the verse, and has managed to take the harshness out of it, don’t you think?

smelly dog
not beside him

Dorothy Burrows

he and the dog
walk apart
both homeless


and then this from Mark Gilbert, very simple but effective:

beside him
the smell of a dog

The next one was:

chilly wind
cows returning to the valley floor
in fancy dress


Inspired by the ceremony in September when the cows are brought down from the mountain pastures to spend winter in the lowlands. The farmers go all out for the ceremony and the cows wear elaborate headdresses.

Dorothy Burrows shortened it to:

shrill wind
cows return
in fancy dress

Dorothy Burrows

She changed ‘chill’ for ‘shrill’, because she felt she was losing something by taking out the valley reference and wanted to add the idea of an echoey slightly excited sound as the people / cows head down towards the valley floor. I get that, don’t you?

and lastly this one:

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


which was far too long and involved.

again Dorothy shortened it beautifully,

sun patch
warms a garden chair-
cat nap!

Dorothy Burrows

as did Mark Gilbert

snoozing sunlight
our cat warms
its patch

Mark Gilbert

but then he went even further:


Mark Gilbert

The cat is gone, but as I read this lounging in the afternoon heat in the garden, it made perfect sense.

Before we go onto the renku let me read you something that made me very happy. Peter Draper sent me this verse, it had potential:

taking the offered seat
I recall my mother’s words –
‘always stand for old people

Peter Draper

but I wondered if it were too wordy. I asked him to look at it again and he came back with this:

now I take the seat
my mother told me
to give up

Peter Draper

I love the new version not only because it is a better verse in its new compact state, but also because he worked with another of the community to get it right, Roger Watson, and I love it when I hear poets I know working together. Although, I can take no credit in this case as they are old friends.

This resonated with me. I remember the first time it happened to me. On the London underground. For those of you unfamiliar with the Tube as the locals call it, there is an unwritten rule that you don’t talk to strangers, you don’t even make eye contact so imagine my surprise when a young man about the age of my youngest son offered me his seat. At first I was momentarily furious that he thought I was old enough to need his seat, but then realised he probably thought I had one foot in the grave. I took the seat and then I wanted to tell him how proud his mum would be of him, but sadly I didn’t. I regret that now.

Now let’s go to the renku. Our third one is now finished and has a title: hiding in plain sight. My thanks to everyone involved.

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
Craig Kittner
m shane pruett
Dorothy Burrows

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

swept under tattered rugs
the problem hides in plain sight

m shane pruett

through mist
heads together
a gleam

Dorothy Burrows

the deafening sound
of silent protest


Once more I have a reading from one of the community, this time Craig Kittner. You can read his bio in the poets’ directory but many of you will know him as he is a prolific and accomplished poet who has been one of our community judges for the poetry pea journal of haiku and senry and he often edits the haiku dialogue on the haiku foundation. Indeed he is the editor at the moment, take a minute to go over and see what he is up to and take part.  Welcome Craig:

Thank you, Patricia. This is a special treat for me. Poetry Pea has been a wonderful source of inspiration and ideas. So I’m pleased to share my haiku with you, along with some thoughts that are banging around inside my head.

A little while ago you took up the question of brevity. That’s something I struggled with when I started on the haiku path. The answer I found for myself was that a haiku should have just enough content to capture a moment authentically. This first haiku was an early success along those lines:

almost lost
in the wind
a catbird’s call
Published in The Cicada’s Cry, Winter 2018.

Let’s face it, most of the time our minds are a chaotic swirl of impulses. But occasionally something in the world cuts through all that noise. That’s when haiku moments occur.

empty nail holes
on the wall that needs painting
autumn sunlight
Published in cattails (UHTS), April 2019

A really good haiku moment may be overflowing with imagery and associations. Winnowing it down to an elegant focus requires you to trust yourself and your readers.

After my wife and I rode out Hurricane Florence in our home in Wilmington, North Carolina, I experienced a moment that resulted in this:

what’s left of the fence –
the wren’s throat trembles
with its song
Published in bottle rockets # 40, February 2019

Is there any way for the reader to know that this moment arose from living through a hurricane? No, but that doesn’t worry me. What comes through is a sense of nature’s renewal amid the collapse of a human construction. Hope in the face of destruction, which is universal regardless of what inspires it.

I find that paying close attention to the weather often generates a haiku moment. Weather is a part of nature that we cannot ignore or control. If you’ve ever been caught in a thunderstorm away from shelter, you know what I mean. It reminds us to be humble.

finding a dozen paths
down the mountain:
yesterday’s rain
Published in frogpond, vol 42:1 winter 2019

The human mind seeks patterns. More than that, it expects them, and will piece one together out of almost any stimulus. Like all minimal forms of art, haiku capitalizes on this instinctual behavior. The reader’s mind takes in the words of the haiku and assumes there must be meaning behind the words. The skilled haikuist hints at connections while leaving room for imaginative interpretations.

raindrops becoming the sound of rain
Published in bottle rockets # 41 August 2019

What’s the difference between hearing raindrops and hearing rain? This is the kind of thing that ignites my imagination and inspires me to observe and write. And I believe if I am engaged and excited about what I’m writing, my readers will be too.

crossing the parking lot
the summer wind carries
a single brown leaf
Published in Under the Basho – Modern Haiku November 2018

As urbanized as many of us have become, there is still the changing seasons, the fall of rain, the flight of birds. Nature is with us, for we are of nature, and always will be.

watering what I planted and what’s sprung up
Published in Bones, Issue 16, March 2019

Like anyone who would partake in nature’s bounty, the haikuist must have an eye on renewal. What can you do to seed the next cycle of haiku moments?

rain tapering off
a roadside field gives the sky
back its light
Published in the North Carolina Poetry Society’s Pinesong Awards Anthology, Vol 55, 2019

A big part of writing haiku is not writing. It’s being out in the world and experiencing its changing rhythms. It’s paying close attention to the minutiae of life.

green highway sign
vines covering the miles
to the next town
Published in Acorn, Autumn 2019

Thank you all for listening. May you have long days of sparkling moments.

Thank you Craig I really enjoyed listening to your work. It’s always great to hear poetry being read by the person who created it. I hope you’re enjoying these readings, I think they add a new dimension to the podcast. There is another wonderful reading lined up for next month but then the diary is open so if anyone would like to read the work for me just drop me an email and we’ll work it out.

Just my slightly terrifying yet wonderful news to tell you. On July 11 the Haiku Society of America is having a zoom conference and I’m one of the speakers. Although I’m slightly terrified I’m looking forward to it and hopefully meet, albeit virtually, a number of you at the event. We’re taking a virtual walk through the secret valley of the elves in Switzerland, with lots of poetry and some prose and I hope some interaction and workshopping of haiku. Perhaps I’ll see you there, if not I’ll see you back here in a couple of weeks for our podcast on the topic of voyages. Until then, keep writing!

Please have a look at the show notes which should fully document today’s podcast but if there’s something missing and you’d like to just drop me an email I’ll sort it out. Ciao!

Series 3 Episode 13: Still brief

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