First published by the Haiku Society of America Newsletter Spotlight Feature in January 2022
The Unseen Go-Between in Haiku
“We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.”
Oscar Wilde, from his play Lady Windermere’s Fan, written in 1892
“If one were to look at a comic we would see empty space between the panels that contain the illustrations and dialogue.
In the comic world this space is known as the gutter.
The gutter is essential for comics… because it allows for closure to happen.
The gutter is used to take two separate images and transform them into a single idea…”
Scott McCloud, author of Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art (HarperCollins 1993)
Professor Delwiche (Trinity University, San Antonio, Texas), quotes McCloud, who explains that while a reader cannot see what is happening within the gutter, assumptions can be made … that allow for those panels to be related in some way.
McCloud then describes closure as:
a “phenomenon of observing the parts but perceiving the whole.”
Let’s see how McCloud describes his six types of panel-to-panel transitions, each requiring a different degree of closure/reaction from the reader:
- Movement-to-movement transitions
- Action-to-action transitions
- Subject-to-subject transitions
- Scene-to-scene transitions
- Non-sequitur transition
1. Movement-to-movement transitions
present basic movements occurring:
flickering in the silence
Modern Haiku vol. xxvi no. 3 (1995)
The middle line of this haiku published by Modern Haiku is what we would call a pivot line. The movement of the wood-burning fire (think camp fire) is throwing up shadows, so that flames and shadows, this is a night scene and people are tucked into their sleeping bags, are flickering.
As the horses mill around their movement is caught up by the flames throwing shadows around. If there was no fire, and no flickering flames, there would be no flickering shadows. We can imagine continuous movements being picked up by the light of the flickering flames making everything else flicker too.
2. Action-to-action transitions
present a single subject progressing through a specific movement:
through the leaves
sound of its season
BBC Television Regional Arts feature (November 2003)
The haiku is about a set of actions around a single image of leaves on the ground, as it’s the Fall/Autumn. What child, and even adult, has not wanted to kick through a mound of autumnal leaves! So many of us love to hear the sound of the dry crispness, and crackling sound, of the leaves that are a strong symbol of Autumn.
We are literally kicking through the sound of the season! The BBC film crew caught me drawing this haiku using chalk across the sidewalk (and into the gutter between sidewalk and road) during a big Art Trail festival that was both outside and also in private homes open to visitors.
Here are two explanations describing the differences between “movement” and “action”:
“movement is physical motion between points in space while action is something done so as to accomplish a purpose.”
Movement vs Action – What’s the difference? | WikiDiff
Paraphrasing Professor Delwiche:
The gutter serves as a way to keep actions separate. Movement is where a group of actions encapsulate individual actions.
All those children and adults, including me, kicking the fallen leaves just to hear them, and hear the season!
3. Subject-to-subject transitions
present one situation, and stay within that specific scene, showing one thing, perhaps suggesting something else about that scene as well. It calls for more reader involvement: As readers we might need to inhabit the scene for longer.
an attic window sill
a wasp curls
into its own dust
Haiku of Merit, Professor Hoshino Tsunehiko (Ginko/Kukai, London, UK 1997)
Featured: Yomiuri Shimbun, Japan (published for my birthday, September 16th 2002)
My parents’ home had an attic with a window at each end. During the height of a Summer heatwave a lot of wasps died, and then dried out. Many of the wasps were curled up in death, and one in particular was a perfect round curl, with a circle of dust from its own body surrounding it in a perfect circle.
The fairly thin wooden sill/shelf was also drying out, as there was no ventilation in the attic. The sill was beginning to curl up a little and it looked like both the wasps and the sill/window base were curling up together. It was if it was a case of who or what was curling whom?
At first reading, there is the first subject (attic window sill) and a second subject (a wasp) tethered together by dust. Most things can turn to dust and here we move from the window sill made out of a natural substance (wood) to another natural entity (wasps) and both can be prone to heat and desiccation (basically losing all moisture).
This is a haiku that stays with the main motif of dust and just staying at that single window sill and its occupant.
4. Scene-to-scene transitions
take place across significant distances within time and space, a sort of both “here” and “there” at the same moment:
twilight on snow shadows deepen the grip of stars
Frogpond 37:2 (2014)
Anthology: big data The Red Moon Anthology of English-Language Haiku 2014
The sheen on snow, whether we see fresh snow in the morning before it turns to slush, or that also magical shine as dusk arrives, and all the shadows created by the sun (daylight) or by the moon (evening/night) that always lends character to this phenomena we often associate with special wintery celebrations.
Here I have the time (twilight) and the first concrete image (snow) interacting with subtle shadows caused by amongst other things, the moon. When I look up, I can see either some or many stars, and within me I feel delightfully small and in awe of the vast expanse above me that goes on and on and on, and I am in the grip of stars.
An effective method for some of our haiku is to capture something close up and and something far away, or the reverse. Usually this is perhaps something close up like a bird on the ground or on a fence, for instance, that then flies up to a tree.
Here I make the scene shift from snow on the ground, and shadows, to deep space. I’m still in awe that standing on this planet’s surface I can look up and into the galaxy.
is unique in that it shows different things occurring simultaneously within the same scene.
First of all the ‘aspect-to-aspect’ transition originates from Japanese manga and animé, to evoke a mood gently stimulating focus on ‘just being there’ rather than the ‘goal orientated process of getting there’.
Here are two haiku (Easter Wedding, and hazelnut picking) which are both also seasonal.
the chauffeur in a tangle
with the umbrella
Presence #44 (2011)
Easter is one of the popular times to have a wedding, and where everything needs to be perfect, but it’s also the Spring season with its sometimes wide and varied mix of weather conditions.
The scene is set for the various family and friends to pour into the church. A Rolls Royce pulls into a side street, out of sight.
The weather is picking up, the bride is holding her dress down, there are no helpers. The driver tries to manage an umbrella as it’s starting to rain.
The wedding party is unaware that the main guest is struggling, and her driver is trying to do the work of several brides maids, unsuccessfully.
One event (a wedding) and two aspects of that wedding.
the child in a memory puts
my hand to the moon
Honourable Mention, Autumn Moon Haiku Contest 2021 (judge: Bruce Ross)
It’s the Fall, and alongside the main feature of leaves turning colour, and eventually falling, is the various nuts that squirrels prize, and some humans too! September and October are the main months for hazelnuts, and we once used to forage for them, partly to save money, partly as a family outing, or as youngsters enjoying free snacks as we play games outside.
And it was all free, fresh air and exercise, and a great walk into the green outdoors rather than driving around and then entering a supermarket to buy things that hung on trees.
This is all about being part of nature, and a hazelnut picking activity.
One activity but two aspects, the now (present) and “then” (past).
We were all once children, perhaps this is a universal child, or one that really got into the spirit when we didn’t.
Now that memory comes back and that child is helping me to enjoy the simple and free things again.
6. A Non-sequitur transition
provides no logical connection between panels, unless we have fun, and make a leap of logic connecting ‘the dots’ or even “creating our own dots.” Have a go yourself with these two single line haiku examples:
each window its own night train
Honourable Mention, British Haiku Society Awards 2018/19
(judge Scott Mason)
Many of us may have lived or visited a home, apartment, motel/hotel, or even a restaurant by or inside a railway station that looks onto the railway platforms; or we might be on that train and passing through residential areas.
We might see, as a train passenger, the reflection of the train running across residential windows. We then get reflection upon reflection.
Is each window we see representing each individual apartment, and ‘each window its own’ feels amplified by us inside the ‘night train’.
Of course the people in an apartment or hotel room have their own perspective, where each train window, containing a different view, is perhaps of just one person per train window, or a couple, or a family. You decide.
And in turn “each window its own night” short for each window becomes its own night scene for a moment and then the train moves on, or we do.
nightfall the key turns into a blackbird
Blithe Spirit 31.4 November 2021
Shortlisted, Museum of Haiku Literature
This might feel that it is not logical! Does it really matter though?
It can be broken down into logical pieces and I’ll attempt to do this. It was written in my fugue zone, but there is linear detail: The first word lets us know, or tells us, that it is nighttime.
The next ‘phrase’ appears as ‘the key turns’ so we can guess it’s about someone turning a key into the lock of their home front door and perhaps returning from a good night out.
We can go the linear logical route and guess the numerous streetlights are fooling the blackbird into singing at night: So as the key is being turned into the lock, the person might be very quiet as it is so very late; and they might be a little tipsy too, and doing that ‘extra quiet shuffle’ and in turn they can’t help but hear the blackbird song.
There is more, but I don’t want to spoil the fun by over-explaining the haiku and my sometimes quirky process. Just know this, even what appears to be an extreme juxtaposition might have its logical connections and we can refer back to the six transitions listed above to break its code.
In my concluding thoughts,
let’s look at one of my writing techniques, and how I feel haiku can be more than just one type of putting these intriguing sometimes contrary poems together. Alongside using the definitions of the transitions above, I wonder if we could also think of haiku as a combination of storyboarding and storytelling techniques?
An important part of a preproduction process of showcasing images to show what’s going to happen in a finished piece.
The postproduction stage where we now invite the reader to be as active in our process, and join us in looking at the stars.
Let’s start with storyboarding:
I started with these words:
And now I’ll explain a little about each word choice:
Our hands are so important for gestures/communication, to be able to eat, to hold things, and each other.
We regularly do things ‘by the clock’ governed by time, for work, for sleep, and all the activities in between.
A beautiful word from the early Middle Ages (England and southern and eastern Scotland) and now mostly a poetic term in Scotland. It’s the time of day when it’s not yet fully dark. For those who work certain shifts it might be that you walked to work or are heading home in the gloaming, as the city lights are being switched on.
the onset of evening; dusk.
Let’s look at Storytelling:
I have my images:
Let’s start from top to bottom:
Hands are often messengers aren’t they, and during the hours of dusk they can even be a little ethereal, communicating by accident or design, in animated discussion, whether we are able to talk, or using them while being vocally quiet.
The storytelling aspect is important in haiku, and we can only ‘show’ so much, because storytelling is in our blood, isn’t it?
I noticed I had the pronoun ‘our’ in my quick explanation about ‘hands’ so I will start the haiku with:
I often associate the movement of both our physical hands with hands of a clock, or is that just me!
Time to add a “connector” which are those little bits of grammar that can make or break or even elevate a haiku.
our hands as clocks
Connectors can be prepositions, conjunctions, even articles (a, an, the).
Now I realise I have twilight twice! We might regularly be told or instructed to avoid saying something twice, even though that happens in other types of poetry but I really want both, and although ‘gloaming’ is rarely used as a verb, I’m determined to keep it:
our hands as clocks gloaming
Now I need another preposition. Should I go with ‘among’ or ‘amongst’? I’m tempted to go with the lesser used and poetic ‘amongst’, as ‘among’ feels awkward this time. I considered ‘along’ but that took me into a different direction, and I wanted ‘our hands’ to be either about an individual explaining to someone else, or a group of friends, or family; or even simply finding myself amongst a group of people heading to a party with all their anticipatory excitement. The preposition ‘among’ didn’t have enough oomph for me so I decided on this:
our hands as clocks gloaming amongst
We know it could do with one more word at least. As this feels more like the time of nights drawing in, late Autumn or into Winter, I could have snow. But this is a poem about the dusk, and just dusk. So forgive me if I’m breaking any rules, but then perhaps the rules are bending for me to avoid being stiff imperatives.
The logical choice of ‘evening’ just doesn’t do it for me, again a little too mechanical and generic, although it pays to keep words simple in many haiku, exceptions are healthy too.
Before I add the last word, I realise I need another connector, and as I’ve written an article about articles, yes really, I’m going for the definite article [the] and I have my final word right after that too!
our hands as clocks gloaming amongst the evenfall
The key image
is the continuous flow and movement of our hands into the gathering dusk, an almost luminous set of actions, as if our hands are glow-sticks. And maybe this group are taking turns at telling stories via anecdotes and jokes.
Which transition does your haiku use?
Each of you might have a different idea, and why not, just have fun using the transitions in any way that you see fit to do so.
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