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Season Word Blues

What's the Point of Season Words?

Can You Write Haiku Without Them?

After almost a year of writing (mostly bad) haiku, I began to understand the point of season words. There are conflicting rules about season words (also known as kigo), and those rules can be confusing. 

Some haiku poets pay no attention to season words. I find them useful, providing a kind of shortcut, not just as a reference to nature, but for setting a tone, emotion, and social commonality. I invite you to play with them. 

As my teacher, Clark Strand, likes to say, "Haiku is anything you can get away with in seventeen syllables."

What I like about season words: they force me to think, to consider the world in ways I may usually avoid. A season word provides a jumping off place. It's especially fun to use season words when writing in a group, to see how others use the word--a process that's often inspiring.

What I don't like about season words: They can be a trap. Many have been overused, and it's easy to fall into laziness and stereotypes, writing the same thing others have written. Challenge yourself.

So what are words and season phrases? Season words are related to nature, tracking changes through the year. But they are more than that, tapping into the collective unconscious. 

Lists are available. You'll find links to lists on the sidebar of this blog, under resources. 

But what if your region's seasons don't match up with words on the lists? For example: in the southwest, US, where I live, "wildfire" and "tumbleweed" are associated with summer. Consider creating your own regional list. (Just know, if you enter a strict contest, an unconfirmed season word may disqualify your poem.) 

Season words are constantly evolving and now include seasonal events like holidays (Christmas, New Year) and seasonal objects (balloon, kite, ice cream).

If you're new to haiku, don't worry too much about season words. Just write as many haiku as you can. I believe it will help you to stick to the 5-7-5 syllable, three line form, because that form provides you with something to hang onto, but feel free to experiment.

If your interested in exploring traditional season words, here are a couple of useful books: Haiku World: An International Poetry Almanac (now out of print) by William J. Higginson. Also, still in print and easy to find, The Haiku Apprentice: Memoirs of Writing Poetry in Japan, by Abigail Friedman.

Meanwhile, Clark Strand, and a group of his students (including me, I'm happy to say), are busy compiling a new season word anthology. I'll keep you posted on our progress.

Here's a poem I wrote this morning. The season word is Springtime: 

  when springtime returns 

              the air will be moist and green-- 

earth will breathe again



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