Bill Waters ~~ Haiku

Haiku + Tanka, Haibun, Rengay, Shahai, & More

We need a word for that!

Bill Waters ~~ Haiku is more than only haiku, as it says in the blog’s heading: haiku and senryu, tanka and kyoka, shahai (photo-haiga), and haibun. There’s even a bit of poetics. But are my shahai really…shahai?

For the most part, not exactly — at least not in the traditional sense. In fact, I think they may fall into a new category that has yet to be defined.

Shahai are not poem-captioned photos

As I understand it, a shahai requires the integration of three components: a photo, a haiku, and a harmonious font (an equivalent to the calligraphy component of haiga). Beyond that, there’s a crucial relational tension between the photo and the haiku.

As Michael Dylan Welch states in his blog Graceguts, “the real poetry in haiga” — and this applies to photo-haiga as well — “lies in the relationship between the image and the poem.”

If the image shows clouds in a sky, then don’t say “cloudy sky” in the poem. The context of the image already shows us that, therefore to say so causes you to miss an opportunity to say something else, offering a tangential hint that creates something larger than the sum of the haiga’s parts. The poem might name or mention some aspect of the image, but most of the poem, in general, should not do so. … Indeed, the poem should shift away, at the same time linking to and leaping away from the image it is paired with. (

So there we have it: (1) a working definition of what shahai are composed of and (2) how the elements of a shahai should be crafted to interact. But the above-going comments presuppose that the image / poem combination is constructed “from the ground up” rather than (to pursue the metaphor) a “retrofit job”.

When you yourself are the creator of the image and the poem, you’re in complete control; a little less so, perhaps, when it’s a collaborative project between a photographer and a poet. But not all things called shahai are created in either of these ways — or for the same purpose.

So what are poem-captioned photos?

There I am, reading my Facebook news feed, and…omigosh, I see an intriguing photo and it inspires me to write a haiku! In essence, the picture is a photo prompt, and I write the poem — a stand-alone haiku that more-or-less reiterates the image in words — and post it as a comment. Can I call that poem, written in relationship to that image, a shahai?

I’d better consult my shahai checklist:

  • Photo: Yes!
  • Haiku: Yes…but it’s pretty much a caption
  • “Calligraphy”: Not applicable, since the poem isn’t typed on the photo

[Yes] + [Yes But] + [N/A] simply doesn’t add up to a shahai. And considering the poem’s application as a comment on a photo, maybe it isn’t one.

Brick Wall, by Jennifer Thompson.

Photo (c) Jennifer Thompson.







flaming ochre, burnt orange — / weathered bricks / in a worn-out wall

And what are sign-generator photos?

How do sign generators such as fit into the picture? I’ve used them to integrate haiku and senryu into photographs with fonts that complement the image. Can I therefore call those creations shahai? Speaking from a gut feeling, almost certainly not. But if not, then what?

After Dinner

Calling all wordsmiths…

Image / poem combinations not of the traditional shahai variety — earnest or playful, crafted with care — exist in abundance, so let’s not shoehorn them into our current conception of shahai. I think we need a new term for these creations.

What would you call them? I’d love to hear your thoughts! In the meantime, I’ll have to keep calling my “non-shahai shahai” shahai, for lack of a better word.  ;- )

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One thought on “We need a word for that!

  1. Gary Waters on said:

    Mind boggling to the non-poet, but interesting. I apply “I’m not an artist but I know what I like” to the technical format of writing different types of poetry. Whatever the platform, keep writing. I enjoy your work very much. Your word-pictures give me great pleasure.

    Liked by 1 person

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