issue 8-2
autumn/winter 2007



Linda Papanicolaou

Modern haiga encompasses a wide range of approaches and styles, but every artist works towards the same goalan art that's more than the sum of its parts. The secret is in the link: how the text and the image relate to one another. In good haiga, both haiku and image should be able to stand on their own aesthetically, yet in juxtaposition with each other find new, deeper or richer resonance. The haiku does not simply describe the imagethere's a shift that creates openness in their relationship. This allows readers to engage and complete the meaning through their own experience.

In definitions of haiga, editorial guidelines for submission to publications and author/artists' statements by knowledgeable practitioners of the form, these tenets are often presented as imperatives. I have two problems with this. As we all know from our experience with haiku "rules", no sooner has someone uttered that the poem "should" or "must" be or do anything, someone else will write one that ignores, transcends or flies in the face of them, and does so successfully. Also, isn't just pronouncing "should" and "must" a violation of that other rule, "show, don't tell"?

In the literature of haiku and its related art forms, there are three sources that are helpful because they discuss different modes of linking. The first is Ray Rasmussen's 'Street Scenes" portfolio in one of our last year's gallery exhibitions. In the introduction, Ray lists three ways that haiku text may relate to an image: illustration, mirror and juxtaposition. The second is an article by Jim Kacian from the 2002 Haigaonline. Jim's categories differ somewhat and have a different nomenclature but the concept is the same: iteration and tangential roughly correlate to illustration and mirror. A third useful source is Tadashi Shôkan Kondô and William J. Higginson's article on linking at Renku Home. Renku is text-to-text linking, thus a little different, but haiga is a linked form and the principles are similar. Although there is no equivalent to illustration/iteration because renku rules do not permit it, but the other categories correspond to mirroring and juxtaposition/tangent: object linking, (i.e., physical association), meaning (allusions or quotations) and Basho's "scent linking" (agreement on the level of mood or emotion).

The linking of texts and images to generate meaning is not confined to haiga. We encounter it in art, children's books, advertising and day-to-day life of our increasingly visual culture. My own explorations in graphical settings for haibun have taken me into comic art. Purists may argue that comics are too different from haiga in both intent and result, but comics involve text/image linking analogous to haiga: white space, closure, and active participation of the reader to construct/complete meaning.

However one chooses to name the various modes of linking, the only real way to learn how they apply to haiga would be to choose a photo and haiku it in as many ways as possible. Ray Rasmussen donated four of his photographs. Writers' Workshop Forum provided an idea venue, as its members are seasoned writers with experience in linked forms though not necessarily in haiga. We fell to writing, produced a lovely series of haiku in a range of modes.

In the end, indeed, we found that the poetry of haiga depends on an open relationship between text and image. As one participant said, "I like the idea of the haiku capturing the mood of the haiga without repeating exactly what's in the photo".

Click here for a comparative chart
on the modes of text/image linking

I've assembled the haiga in flash slideshows that give each text its turn with the image. Open the comparison chart and keep it on hand as you click on the thumbnails and page through. How would you characterize the linking in each? Which resonate with you?

Participating Authors

  • Susan Constable
  • Tracy Koretsky
  • Carole MacRury
  • Linda Papanicolaou
  • Carol Raisfeld
  • Ray Rasmussen
  • Adelaide Shaw
  • Beverly Tift
  • Beth Veira