A Dictionary of Haiku
Jane Reichhold

The Japanese have long wondered how writers in English could ever hope to write haiku when one of the most-basic writing tools was unavailable to them. Every Japanese writer owns one or more saijiki (sigh-gee-key).

A saijiki is a dictionary of haiku in which the poems are arranged, not alphabetically, but by seasons. Within the five seasons (New Year's Day has a separate section) are usually the seven different categories: Season (weather aspects indicative of that time of year), Celestial Phenomena (stars, sun and moon), Terrestrial Phenomena (geographical aspects such as mountains, fields, rivers, etc.,), Events (or holidays), Life (terms dealing with the daily life of humanity), Animals (deemed appropriate for each season), and Plants (often those most conspicuous for the season).

Within each of these categories the poems are listed in a prescribed order of appearance according to the natural world. In spring (and saijiki traditionally start with the first and best season) plum blossoms are listed before cherry blossoms because the plum blooms first; slush comes before new grass. In many cases there is a natural sequence; in others - as in animals -  it is very arbitrary.

However, for the user, this all makes perfect sense.

It is spring, a haiku writer is feeling the urge to express his/her feelings. Before going on a walk for inspiration, the saijiki is consulted to see what has touched others and how they have formulated their thoughts and feelings. The saijiki is at once a source of ideas and a guide for what has been done and what is yet possible.

Renga (a genre of linked poetry) writers are very dependent upon a saijiki. For example, if one is expected to write a summer link and wants to use an animal or insect it has to be one that corresponds (according to tradition and other saijiki) to summer. You may be seeing butterflies all over in your summer day, but unless it is designated as a summer butterfly, a plain old vanilla butterfly is a spring symbol.

In America, saijiki have been misunderstood because certain knowledgeable persons have used Japanese saijiki to "carbon-date" haiku according to the assigned designations as set by the literary center of Japan - Tokyo as a way of criticizing the poem. I feel readers, given the chance to read haiku ordered by seasons and categories, can come naturally to an understanding and appreciation of the use of kigo. Kigo [season words] are accepted designated nouns and noun phrases which have been traditionally classified according to season. A season word is authorized by literary authorities who accept a haiku using that word and publish it as such in a saijiki.

This brings up another reason no other English saijiki has been compiled. The North American haiku scene, at least the most vocal and visible, has largely ignored the use of kigo. At this point in English haiku, very few writers understand the historical position of the kigo, and even less of that number make use of it.

Renga writers, also, are rarely interested in following the rules for sets of seasons for the various links, partly because they had no available standard reference with which to check.

However, in the summer of this year [1991] I read the first saijiki published in both English and Japanese. Koko Kato, of the Ko Poetry Association, in Nagoya, Japan, edited a saijiki containing about 1,200 haiku from authors around the world. Among other revelations, I found it to be an excellent solution to a problem I have long pondered.

For as long as I have been publishing haiku - since 1979 - one of the problems for me has been to find a way of presenting a number of haiku to the reader which overcomes certain drawbacks of the genre.

Because of the shortness of a haiku, it is too easy for the eyes to race across the lines without pausing to savor either the language or waiting for the series of images to arise after each poem.

Various solutions are always being experimented with: haiku with illustrations, haiku one to a page, haiku written in all capital letters, haiku on cards, very small or short "books" of haiku. Sometimes the haiku are arranged in sequences, which makes them more cohesive in the reader's mind, but further defeats the purpose of slowing down the inquisitive mind. Still, when faced with a book of haiku, my first impulse is to read it from beginning to end.

I wanted to make a book in which is this is physically impossible and mentally destructive. Reading too many haiku at once is the same as eating the whole box of assorted chocolate creams.

My dream reader would have this book next to the other dictionaries on the desk, or leave it laying on a nightstand, (or even in the little room of great relief) where, in an idle moment when the soul is soft and open, there is time to snatch a glimpse of a poem or two. Soon finding something to ponder, the book would be closed and laid down with the mind far away in the realm of imagining.

Yet, I wanted the reader to be able to easily find a haiku which was enjoyed or remembered. To my mind, listing the terms alphabetically facilitated this with less dependence on indexing.

I love looking up one word in a dictionary and then reading further down the page to see which words surround it. I also feel that when one "needs" to know something, it will pop into one's awareness and while looking up one poem, another one, never yet read, will reveal itself. Fellow addicts of dictionary (addiction airy) reading will recognize the above symptoms and aha! understand that for haiku to be put into a dictionary form combines the best of my two compulsions.

The haiku in A Dictionary of Haiku are arranged into seasonal categories because, for me, a sense of the season is vital to enjoying and understanding haiku. Lacking our system of seasonal buzz words, it is very often difficult, or impossible, to know if an individual haiku (and here I refer only to English haiku) is set in autumn or winter. By putting many haiku together by season, it was my intention to let the season mood of one poem resonate with the next one, causing them to have the same vibration indicative of that time of year without the over-use of the actual words spring, summer, fall and winter.

Japanese saijiki have the individual items within a category listed in the arbitrary order of their natural appearance during the season which is often a matter of debate. In Japan, probably 90% of the adrenalin used for writing haiku goes into the arguments about the use and usage of kigo.

By listing the subjects within a category alphabetically, it avoids the above while it creates leaps within the subject matter of a season spanning such a distance so the reader will stop reading at the beginning of the next subject-word.

Though I have consulted available kigo lists from the Yuki Teikei Haiku Society of United States and Canada, those compiled by Kiyoko Tokatomi, and Koko Kato's Four Seasons, I have deviated from them considerably. For the Japanese reader and friend/defender of saijiki, the first category, especially will be a jolt to the senses.

Usually this section is labeled "season" or "climate" and the kigo express the essence of the time of year with venerated expressions which imply the emotions we equate with the season.

As English writers we too work with these sensibilities but lacking set phrases to stand for them, have had to express these human concepts and emotional states much more subtly. In the English/Japanese saijiki these haiku would be listed as "non-seasonal."

I felt by making a list of essences or moods of the seasons which embody our emotional states relative to that time of year, haiku which do not blatantly state "spring" but which emote the airiness, gentleness, freedom of spring, could be given their rightful place. Many of the kigo for the season/climate category (such as "bright skies" or "south wind") could more accurately fit into celestial phenomenon leaving a category free for emotional states, which to me, as a much a part of any season as a bird or flower.

One of the reasons the Japanese have so many saijiki is every editor has a new idea of how to categorize the indefinable and infinite. Using the knowledge available to me, the Japanese works in English recommended, I have organized my material in a way unlike the others.

I've borrowed ideas and inspiration from the concept to accomplish goals I had for bringing a number of unrelated haiku together in one volume to increase an awareness of the season for readers and writers. I hope you will find some poems here to please you. May they inspire you to write and treasure your version of your experiences.

Jane Reichhold
Gualala, California
October, 1991

Continue on to SPRING Moods.
Go back to the Index of A Dictionary of Haiku Classified by Season Words with Traditional and Modern Methods.