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.

And then there was a cyclone!

The upper North Island of New Zealand has had a record-breaking summer for all the wrong reasons – and now Cyclone Gabrielle has wreaked yet more havoc. Formed in the Coral Sea, Gabrielle bore down on the North Island on February 12, causing flooding and landslips from the next day, heaping further misery on those places that were devastated by flooding caused by an ‘atmospheric river’ from January 27. Tauranga has been affected by both events, but escaped relatively lightly compared to other places.

The late afternoon sky over Waikato on February 12, 2023 as Cyclone Gabrielle approached. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Gabrielle’s reach extended all the way down the North Island and flicked back up the west coast of the island, although as the centre of the storm moved eastwards, parts of the South Island were affected too. The Prime Minister has called it the worst weather event to hit the country so far this century and a national state of emergency was declared.

the leaves coming down in it –
the cat’s fur parted
to the skin

Gary Hotham
The Haiku Seasons (1996)

fields flooded
beneath the surface, somewhere
the river bends

Christopher Herold
Woodnotes 17 (1993)

looks like the rough sea
on the sweet potato field –
a storm rages

Tsuji Momoko
Far Beyond the Field (2003)

New Zealand’s prime growing area for kumara (sweet potato) has now been badly hit twice with flooding, just one of many food crops devastated, along with plenty of pasture.

tornado siren
the wind lifts a sneaker print
from home plate

Chad Lee Robinson
The Heron’s Nest 20.2 (2018)

One thing + another thing 3

YouTube has provided much enjoyable entertainment over the past year or so and at present I’m watching some of the long-running University Challenge series. One picture question showed a painting and it was name the artist. I was wrong (and so were the students) but it put me very much in mind of a Japanese artwork. Well, Dr Charles Cramer and Dr Kim Grant were there before me and feature the pairing below on the Smart History website in A-level: Japonisme (as well as many other interesting pairings).

Nocturne: Blue and Gold – Old Battersea Bridge c.1872-5 James Whistler. Presented by the Art Fund 1905. Image: Tate Gallery

shipping oars
I hold my breath to hear
snow on the water

David Steele
from Haiku Ancient & Modern (2002)

The Tate Gallery site notes that Whistler would set off with his oarsmen at twilight and sometimes remain on the Thames all night, sketching and memorising the scene. He never painted his Nocturnes on the spot. The painting was later included in ‘the Graham sale’ at Christie’s in 1886. When it came up for auction it was hissed by the public, a reception Whistler described in a letter to The Observer newspaper as “flattering”.

In an 1877 review of another in the series, Nocturne in Black and Gold, the Falling Rocket, the eminent critic John Ruskin wrote: “I have seen, and heard, much of Cockney impudence before now; but never expected to hear a coxcomb ask two hundred guineas for flinging a pot of paint in the public’s face.” Which led Whistler to sue Ruskin successfully for libel in 1878 and, although he had claimed £1,000 plus costs, Whistler was awarded a farthing. Bankrupted by the court costs, Whistler sold his lavish house in London and went to Venice to work. Read more about the case here.

When The Falling Rocket appeared at the first Grosvenor Gallery exhibition in 1877, along with Battersea Bridge, Oscar Wilde remarked that they were ‘worth looking at for about as long as one looks at a real rocket, that is, for somewhat less than a quarter of a minute’. James Abbott McNeill Whistler lived from 1834 to 1903.

Bamboo Yards, Kyōbashi Bridge by Utagawa Hiroshige (1857), woodblock print. Gift of Louis W. Hill, Jr. Image: Minneapolis Institute of Art

the full moon
I love a night
that simple

Michael McClintock
from Another Trip Around the Sun (2019)

It’s thought that the tall pillars shown on this bridge inspired Whistler’s rather dramatic-looking bridge, while similarities may also be seen between the boatmen and the limited colour palette. The website of the Brooklyn Museum, which has the same print, notes that the figure with the white hat (about centre) carrying a red lantern is a delightful nod of friendship, for on the lantern is the signature of Yokogawa Hori-take, one of the best known woodblock carvers of the day, and who worked with Hiroshige many times. On the left of the print are towering stockpiles of bamboo. Hiroshige’s own home was only a few blocks further on. Hiroshige lived from 1797-1858.

Kyōbashi was the first bridge on the Tokaido Road, south of the Nihonbashi Bridge, in Tokyo with which it shared the jewel-shaped metal rail ornaments known as ‘giboshi’. The bridges leading into the gates of Edo Castle were the only others allowed these ornaments. The ornaments on the Kyōbashi were preserved when the bridge was destroyed in 1965, and are today on front of a nearby police station. 

Earlier one thing + another thing posts covered Van Gogh and M C Escher.

Looking back and further back

If you’re out and about this summer in New Zealand, you may have time to visit some of the country’s art galleries, large and small. It’s a pastime I enjoy as you never know what you might come across.

Auckland Art Gallery’s major exhibition ‘Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera: Art and Life in Modern Mexico‘ is drawing the crowds until January 22, but around the corner is a series of quieter galleries where the work is just as interesting. ‘Robin White: Te Whanaketanga | Something is Happening Here‘ is a retrospective of this contemporary artist’s work that’s open until the end of January.

The galleries progress us through the work of Dame Robin White from the Bay of Plenty to Dunedin to Kiribati and back to New Zealand.

Summer Grass by painter Robin White and calligrapher Keiko Iimuri is on 12 rolls of wallpaper. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Hanging in a gallery on its own is the large, multi-panelled Summer Grass, made in 2001 with Japanese artist Keiko Iimura and usually at Aratoi, Wairarapa Museum of Art and History. In 2021 the work formed part of ‘Another Energy: Power to Continue Challenging‘, an exhibition at the Mori Art Museum in Tokyo, celebrating the work of 16 female artists aged 70 or older.

Summer Grass is a response to an incident in a POW camp in Featherston in Wairarapa during World War 2. The information below the image is extracted from A History of Haiku in New Zealand.

Detail from Summer Grass, depicting the midsummer Wairarapa countryside at the memorial garden. The calligraphy renders Isaiah 40:31, which had significance for a prisoner. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Japanese Memorial Garden, Featherston
Also known as the Peace Garden, this garden commemorates the Japanese dead from the so-called Featherston Incident of February 25, 1943 when Japanese POWs staged a sit-down strike at their camp – after a Japanese officer was wounded the unarmed POWs rioted and camp guards fired without being ordered to do so.

Sixty-eight Japanese died and 54 were injured. One New Zealand soldier was killed by ricochet and six were wounded.

The camp at Tauherenikau, 2km east of Featherston had been the largest military training camp in New Zealand in World War 1. In 1942, at the request of the United States military, it was re-established as an internment camp for Japanese soldiers captured in the Pacific, mainly Guadalcanal.

Although a discussion about a “peace garden” at the site began in the 1970s, the Featherston Returned Services Association (RSA) always opposed the idea. In 1995 Nakamato Toshio, head of Masterton’s Juken Nissho timber mill, offered to finance a peace garden at the site but it still ran into local opposition. However, by 2000 the local council was supporting the plan and the garden opened in 2001.

Featuring 68 ornamental cherry trees in two rows, it also contains a plaque with this haiku by Matuso Basho (donated by K.J. Nysse of the Batavian Rubber Company in 1979, the translator is uncredited):

behold the summer grass
all that remains of the
dreams of warriors

* * *

To my mind, not a terribly good version of this famous haiku, which has been rendered in numerous ways over the years. For those who read Japanese, I have seen the original, written in 1689 about battlefield events of 1189 and their aftermath, quoted as:
Natsukusa ya/ tsuwamonodomo ga/ yume no ato

Detail from Summer Grass. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Summer grasses –
All that remains
Of soldiers’ visions

tr Geoffrey Bownas & Anthony Thwaite
from The Penguin Book of Japanese Verse (1964)

A mound of summer grass:
Are warriors’ heroic deeds
Only dreams that pass?

tr Dorothy Britton
from A Haiku Journey, Basho’s Narrow Road to a Far Province (1974)

The summer grasses
of brave soldiers’ dreams –
The aftermath.

tr Donald Keene
from The Narrow Road to Oku (1996)

Waves of summer grass:
All that remains of soldiers’
Impossible dreams.

tr David Bowles (2013)
from his website

summer grass
the only remains of soldiers’

tr Jane Reichhold
from Basho, The Complete Haiku (2013)

Summer grasses:
all that remains of great soldiers’
imperial dreams

tr Sam Hamill
from the pocket haiku (2014)

Perhaps you’ll find one among these that sits comfortably with you, or go hunting for another. This selection also serves to highlight the multitude of decisions to be made when rendering Japanese into English! My preferred version is quite simple:

summer grasses –
all that remains
of warrior’s dreams

Sad to say, I’ve never been able to find the name of the translator for this version. You can read more here about some of the various renditions and the choices the translators have made.

Haiku Advent Window 24

Christmas eve –
refugees act out
the role of magi

Sandra Simpson
Kokako 32, 2020

And, as we look forward to gift-giving, here’s a second seasonal haiku to end our Advent series (I couldn’t resist it). Thanks for reading along, I hope you’ve had as much pleasure as I had in putting it together.

four in the morning it begins with hooves on the roof

Alan Summers
Presence 74, 2022

Best wishes to all readers and their families for a safe and peaceful 2023.

Haiku Advent Window 22

at the holiday party
hanging mistletoe

Don Wentworth
Presence 74, 2022

As a special treat today, there are two images. The one above shows Northern Hemisphere mistletoe berries that people may kiss under at Christmas time, and the one below shows a New Zealand native mistletoe that flowers around Christmas.

Peraxilla tetrapetala. Photo: Wikimedia