What is a ‘Haiga’ Daddy???

What is a ‘Haiga’ Daddy???

a short and sweet definition of the form

by Mike Rehling


Well, a haiga is an image created as an artistic backdrop for a haiku/senryu, and often other Japanese forms of poetry. You can create an image in any number of ways, but the most common three are:

  1. Traditional Haiga,  as in ink, ink wash, watercolor, oils, or tempera.
  2. Photographic based haiga has become the most popular method recently.
  3. Mixed Media, which can be any combination of traditional and photographic techniques, and/or computer generated images and text.

In traditional haiga, there is often a large amount of white space left by the artist for placement of the text of the haiku/senryu. But in photographic based haiga the text can be within or outside the image itself. In Mixed Media it can be either or both, with space in one part of the final image reserved for the poem or with the poem placed over the final image either together or in a seemingly random layout of the words. There are no real limitations on what images can be combined with a poem to create a haiga.

The usage of the image usually falls into at least one of the following categories:

  1. It can convey the scene that is depicted in the poem. In haiga, it must add something to the reader/viewer’s appreciation of the scene.
  2. The image can create for the reader/viewer an alternative reading to the one conveyed by a literal reading of the poem. In short, the image itself is a juxtaposition of the image conveyed in the poem.
  3. They can be used to share the emotion of the moment rendered in the poem with the reader/viewer.

Any image can have one, two, or all three of the above in play as the poem is read by viewing it. It is tough to tell in advance how the image will read with the poem. Visual viewers will look at the image first and then read the poem. Those more familiar with the form will often read the poem first, and then try to fit the image into the meaning they initially took from the poem. As a hint, you might tell people you are showing your work to that they should contemplate it from all angles, so as to see everything that is there for them in the haiga. Often, the poet/artist thinks they have juxtaposed the image to the poem, but if the reader first contemplates the image they will fit the poem’s meaning around their first impression of the image. That is why, as in all visual arts, it is best to savor the work from many angles rather than settling on a single interpretation. That approach is a good one to take for anyone reading a haiku alone also, but it is especially true with haiga.

There are a few hard and fast rules for creating haiga:

  1. The haiku is the most important part and must stand alone. In short, the poem itself must be worthy to be considered independently, before inclusion in a haiga.
  2. Images cannot ‘complete’ the haiku.  If the image is necessary to understand the poem, then both the poem and the haiga have failed.
  3. No matter how beautiful an image is, the poem is ‘the thing’ to trigger the reader/viewer in their appreciation of the haiga. If all the image adds is a pretty picture of the poem, but adds no higher level of appreciation to it, then you may as well just publish the poem by itself.

The creative process of haiga:

  1. You can write the poem first, and let it inspire the image.
  2. The image can be created first and inspire the poem.
  3. You can just write a poem, and have someone else create the image. (see numbers 1 & 2 above)

Collaborations have long been a  part of haiga. In fact, Basho, who was considered only an average painter himself, collaborated with some of the best artists of his time to create haiga. So this is a great opportunity for you to work with others to create a final product. Although most haiga today are done by a single poet/artist, collaborations can be absolutely stunning when they leverage off the talents of two artists, balancing the energy of a well-crafted poem and image. Don’t be shy about asking others to be part of your work.

This has been, for the most part, a simple statement of the obvious for many. But for those who have never attempted to include haiga into their exploration of haiku/senryu, I hope that this will stir you to consider it. In the digital world that we live in today, you don’t need to get your haiga into a print journal to have your work seen by thousands on the Internet. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, as well as blogs and free websites, all provide you with special outlets for haiga that have not existed before.

For those who want more, as well as examples, please look at these links for further hints to the form:

HaigaOnline is the oldest haiga zine on the Internet:

The Haiku Foundation has a Haiga Gallery online.

A Touch of Light video of photographic haiga by Ron C. Moss and Jim Swift. A wonderful video of haiga, as read by the poets.