‘Haiku Attitude’

‘one way to think of a haiku is a kind of word picture dotted with images on its canvas.  Such thinking led to the inclusion of illustrations and calligraphy to accompany certain poems’

Yuzuru, M (1991) Classic Haiku-a master’s selection. Charles E.Tuttle Company Inc. Tokyo.

‘In everybody’s experience, there are days when one’s personal opacity (the coagulation of the self, the density of being) lights up. Like the sky after a storm.  One finds one’s self in an imense silence, in an extremely pleasant emptiness.  At moments such as these, says an old Japanese poet, ‘everything is haiku’.  You look at a pebble, the branch of a tree, a gesture in the street, and you have the impression that the entire world, the whole of life is being revealed to you.  The difficult thing is not to overdo it –  wax over-poetic, for example.  That moment, arisen from emptiness, must be allowed to return to emptiness, without too much interference on your part.

That is the haiku way.’ 

White, K in Finlay, A (2000) Atoms of Delight. Morning Star Publications, Edinburgh.

‘Thus Haiku has something in common with painting, in the representation of the object alone, without comment, never presented to be other than what is, but not represented completely as its.  For if the haiku poet moves us by presenting rather than describing objects, he does so by presenting the particulars in which the emotional powers of the things or scenes reside……..He does not give us meaning; he gives us the concrete objects which have meaning,because he has so experienced them.’

Yasuda, K (1957) the Japanese Haiku – Its essential Nature, History, and Possibilities in English. Charles E. Tuttle Company Inc. Tokyo.


The three quotes above demonstrate something of the ‘haiku attitude’ that is needed to perfect this short form poetry.  All writers on haiku link it to the visual image.  Primarily in 3 line haiku poetry the word should summon the image, usably through the simplest, uncluttered descriptive means.  Haiku has often been illustrated in its original Japanese forms where ideas about how the lines are laid out sometimes have different design formats that could be used to emphasise meaning – almost like a concrete poetry.  Haiku was important to the Imagist Poets, notably Ezra Pound, Williams Carlos Williams and the later Black Mountain poets who shook off the stylistic elements from Victorian and Edwardian poetry to create a paired down early modernist descriptive poetry.

In continuing to use this form in conjunction with my own photography for the 36 views project there will be some contradictions.  Why use a poetry form that is designed to create  very particular images for a viewer in words, while simultaneously providing the image?

Being over poetic, portentous, wordy, excessively obscure – all risk losing the attention and interest of the viewer.

So far I have used metaphor and simile to provoke a particular set of reactions ‘because I have so experienced them’, this is perhaps beyond the haiku’s simplicity.

Additionally I have been using the standard Japanese- English 5 – 7 – 5 syllable structure.  Many critics point out that the English syllable is profoundly different to the Japanese in its role in the language and in the ability of the English Syllable to convey more information than the Japanese, meaning that a shorter English syllable structure is perhaps more equivalent and likely to encourage brevity and simplicity.  4-6-4 might be a better way of working, not least because of the twin syllable pairs which play a central part in English language poetry.

Further experiments of even shorter forms, two line, single line poetry, monostichs, epigrams, proverbs, single words (as included by Alec Finlay in Atoms of Delight his collection of Scottish short poems)…..and onwards into the new forms of short or micro-poetry on twitter or email …….a ‘haiku plus attitude’ would allow more freedom, this is needed for poetic form and image to work together, this might avoid a repetitive rigidity that would only emphaise the obsessive nature of working on one theme in such detail.

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YSP and Art Education archives

In the vault of the National Art Education Archives at the Yorkshire Sculpture park

manila loaded shelves

archive boxes gathered like a shoe shop store

many sizes fits all creative hands and feet

Sir Herbert Read on his side is a fallen scaffold bar,

an invitation to pick up a torch of learning

to light the way from cool darkness.

Precise typographies are posters for a lost age,

collections of newsprint lovingly cut

for art educators inquisitive minds

filed, not seen, sorted, treasured,

a thousand lessons piled deep, hidden from a corrosive sun

lapping through glass onto ordered shelves and reading glasses.

threads of order, lines of creative practice. Traces of learning lost.



‘our limbs

      settle into the crumbling sand.

There will be our impress here

until the flowing tide


all designs the fretful day leaves here.’


(From Mutations of the Phoenix, Collected poetry – Herbert Read)



William Fox Talbot


finding the oldest negative

starting to search for a positive

(Exhibition, V@A,  London)

Visitors can’t take photos of old photos in the V&A….which is ironic in this age of mobile phones, especially as Mr Fox Talbot, one of the key inventors of the photographic processes,  gave himself permission to take photos of lots of things creating the ‘foundation genres’ and possibilities that all photographers have subsequently built on. One of the most important of these genres is that of photographing artworks, something that Talbot did with great foresight (leading through many changes in process and technology to our favourite art magazines and books) while assiduously enforcing the copyright of his new salt print photographic process.

Pause with your enquiring lens
hover to count the crosses and hatches
the grains of strained chemicals
the spots and stains of rough river water 
sieved through paper fibres, 
catching light as blackness 
formed into an ordered grid of spaces 
captured, caged that can now can be counted.


I have given myself permission to take this photo below of trees in the style of Talbot using a medium format camera. I can use his process (or its sucessor) but no one can legally copy my image the reverse of the situation in 1835?


‘one volume in the set included copies of artworks by Francisco Goya, Diego Velazquez and El Greco amongst others. The work began to realise Talbot’s proposal for photography not only as a means for securing faithful reproductions of originals but also to enhance the appreciation of art history, so reinforcing the medium’s museological dimension.  But, as with most of Talbot’s large scale printing projects, the chemical instability of prints, limited daylight and impurities in the water all contributed to the failings of the venture.’

Roberts, R and Hobson G (2016) William Henry Fox Talbot – Dawn of the photograph, Scala Arts and Heritage Publishers, London.

Photos from BBC website.

The notion