Colour in Haiku

I’ve been meaning to write a post on this theme for a while and have off and on been collecting some exemplar haiku to illustrate how a colour name may be used in fresh and exciting ways beyond simple descriptors such as ‘blue sky’, ‘brown grass’ and ‘red rose’, which of necessity have their place, but are workhorses instead of show ponies. The haiku I feature here have colour as their central focus.

The nudge to get on with it came from hearing that composer, and haiku poet, Hilary Tann had died suddenly last month. This is from an obituary for her:

I write for the pleasure of the performers and listeners, and a glance at my titles reveals my joy in simply being alive in this wondrous green world.

That ‘wondrous green world’ really spoke to me. We are so very lucky to be here, aren’t we?

rumble of thunder
the floating dock

shifts with the wind

Hilary Tann (1947-2023)
opening stanza in the First Place nijuin, HSA Renku Award, 2022

the tube of cadmium yellow
squeezed flat

D Claire Gallagher (1941-2009)
Second place, HPNC contest, 2004

I couldn’t resist including this art-theme senryu:

art museum
the grade school children
make cubist faces

Gregory Longenecker
Prune Juice 16, 2015

The following two haiku both show what effect colour can have on us, if we allow our eyes and minds to be open.

ripe persimmons
the rest of the week
in monochrome

Lorin Ford
Presence 53, 2015

not seeing
the room is white
until that red apple

Anita Virgil (1931-2021)
The Haiku Anthology, 2000

The following haiku reminds us that we see only a limited range of colours. London’s Natural History Museum website notes that the eyes of nocturnal geckos, for instance, are 350 times more sensitive to colour at night than a human’s, while the mantis shrimp probably has the most sophisticated vision in the animal kingdom. Their compound eyes — which can move independently — have 12 to 16 colour-receptive cones compared to our three.

wild asters
the shades beyond purple
only a bee sees

Kristen Lindquist
Haiku Dialogue, THF, May 6, 2020

black coffee
into Monday

Barrie Levine
Scarlet Dragonfly Journal 11, 2023

beachside suburb
the blue rim around
a hard-boiled egg yolk

Alice Wanderer
read at Chamber Poets’ International Day of Haiku, 2019

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln website tells me that this ring is caused by a chemical reaction involving sulphur (from the egg white) and iron (from the egg yolk), which naturally react to form ferrous sulphide. The reaction is usually caused by overcooking, but can also be caused by a high amount of iron in the cooking water.

across the lake a traffic light
switches to green

Barbara Strang
Kokako 37, 2022

Barbara’s poem alludes to the fact that in New Zealand we used a ‘traffic light system’ during our Covid lockdowns.

English painter John Constable completed many cloud studies. This one is dated 1821-22 and is held at the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC. It is reproduced here under the gallery’s Open Access policy.

Let’s close as we began this small exploration of colour, with another art-theme poem, although this one leaves the exact colour being referenced to each reader’s imagination.

constable clouds
the stylist applies colour
to my hair

Polona Oblak
Creatrix 58, 2022


Park Week Walk

A pleasure yesterday to stroll around the Haiku Pathway Reserve in Katikati with members of the Re-naturing Katikati group, volunteers who are looking after the banks of the Uretara Stream, much of their effort concentrated on weeding and replanting with natives, particularly sedges which have the happy habit of holding their ground during a flood and popping back up when it’s all over, unlike flax (harakeke) which tends to be pulled out in a flood, taking chunks of bank with it.

Getting ready to set out are, from left, Sharon Strong, Haiku Pathway Committee president Margaret Beverland, volunteer Dean Smith, and Kate Loman-Smith, Western Bay of Plenty District Council’s reserves and facilities volunteer co-ordinator, and previously the Re-naturing Group leader. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Led by Sharon Strong, who is a Kea (Katikati Environment Activator with Project Parore), the group works from a bit above the swimming hole at the top end of the Haiku Pathway, all the way along the river out to the harbour. As well, the volunteers also look after and work in other reserves around the town and are setting up their own nursery.

over smooth grey stones
summer trickles away

Shirley May (NZ)

Looking upstream from the pedestrian footbridge. The flaxes were planted in the 1990s when the thinking was that they helped save stream banks in floods. However, that’s no longer considered to be the case and native sedges (Carex species) are preferred. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Sharon and Kate had us spotting weeds, large and small, as we walked, some of the real bugbears being Taiwanese cherry (Prunus campanulata), Chinese privet (Ligustrum sinense) and Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica). Looking downstream from the swing bridge we could see an extensive patch of Jerusalem artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus) had re-established after previously being cleared. Someone’s garden waste either chucked on the bank, or come down in a flood.

above the flood plain
a double rainbow …
promises promises

Ron Rubin (UK)

The volunteers have different ways of dealing with weeds, ranging from hand-pulling to drilling and poisoning larger plants. Another regular task is to keep tending the new plants, ‘releasing’ them from surrounding growth, until they’re well established.

Sharon Strong gets in amongst some riverbank growth to teach plant identifcation. Photo: Sandra Simpson

We also got an interesting talk from Keith Gregor about the spawning habits of inanga (whitebait) and how they can be helped and encouraged to use the Uretara. Unfortunately, the stream has steep-sided banks, not the sloping banks inanga prefer, but planting the banks to shade the water and provide some leaves trailing in the water may help.

Click the link to see Western Bay of Plenty Parks Week events, and don’t forget that March is also Sustainable Backyards Month in the BOP, go here to find out more.

heading home
I return a stone
to the river

Stuart Quine (UK)

The three haiku used here form part of the Haiku Pathway, which features 46 poems.