Beyond spiritual borders
haiku of Argentina, Australia, Brazil, New Zealand, the Philippines and Singapore

Walter Vereertbrugghen

(Anderlecht, Belgium)


I have been kindly invited to write an article about the haiku of some authors, who published their poems in the anthology "HAIKU sans frontières" under direction of André Duhaime. Some authors indeed, because my reading should be limited to the authors of Argentina, Australia, Brazil, New Zealand, the Philippines and Singapore. Other persons have been invited to do similar work. The sum of these investigating readings will result in an article.

The idea of such kind of article is interesting for two reasons. Firstly, it allows the persons who have already read this anthology, to pick up this book again and read it once more, but now from another point of view. They read it as through the eyes of the writers of the articles. Secondly, by reading these articles with most attention, the authors of the anthology get direct impressions from other haijin (people who write haiku). In this way each author is capable to judge the status of transmission of his poetry. He gets direct answers to: How do others see what I have put in this poem? Do they feel something reading my poem? Do they accept it as a haiku? What do they feel? What do they think? Is their interpretation different from mine? How do they think about the technical quality of my poem? Which words would they have used to express the same feeling? It does not automatically mean the author has to change his poem, he is only judge after all. But now and then, he can welcome some suggestions. I feel it is one way of building haiku.

Focussing the authors

I gathered some information concerning the 30 authors I had to read about. This group is composed of 16 men and 14 women, which makes the balance even. The age of half of the group was not mentionned in the comments. Average of the other half group is 55 years old. The youngest is only 32 years old, the oldest was 83 years old, when he came to die. Obviously, haiku seems attractable to more mature people. Examination of professional occupations learns that not less than 9 authors are working in the education sector: 5 teachers probably in middle school, 3 professors in university and 1 coordinator of education! I write this fact with humorous feeling, because I am a teacher in elementary school myself. In the group of professions which are related to any form of art, we find 4 authors. This looks more in the line of expectations, because the making of haiku is an art form itself. There are 2 lawyers in the group. Other authors have varied occupations, or did not mention their profession at all. I also examined the sort of staying. Most of the authors live in urban places or surroundings. I found only 1 author who has lived in different places in full nature before settling in city. About 1 author is written that he lives in an area with many trees. About 1 other is mentionned that he stayed in different countries, without any detail.

Way of selection

Haijin use many criteria for judging poetical and technical values of a haiku poem. The estimated number of criteria is about 10. When multiplied by 30 authors, it makes a big amount of 300 comments. I would not like to write such article, and if I did, of course no-one would read it. For this reason, I choose some haiku which retained my special attention after first reading.

Poetical and technical comments

Frozen pond.
Stars alight on it
to take a rest.

The first 2 lines are powerfull. Pond and stars do not move, but the static picture is broken by the kinetic word 'alight'. The stars land, or step out of the sky. There is also the successful second meaning of 'alight': burning, flaming, shining intensely. I perceive that Duhaime and Longpré in their traduction give priority to the other interpretation: stars are shining intensely and take a rest. To me, it sounds more logical: stars land on the pond to take a rest. Here it is important to remark that neither Duhaime and Longpré are wrong in interpretation, and neither I am wrong. It is a richness of haiku to permit different interpretations on equal base.

Unfortunately, the 3rd line is missing the point. I have no feelings with stars, taking a rest. It doesn't give an extra dimension. Is there no way to emphasize the glow of the stars on the ice, maybe by making a relation with the moon? How about:

Frozen pond.
Stars alight on it.
The moon is absent.

a little liquid
in the tea cup gathers in
the winter light

People who learned something about the ceremony of tea will love this poem, which is filled with 'sabi'. 'Sabi' is characterized by the absence of obvious beauty. Even if the teacup is not extravagantly splendid, it is appreciated for itself. The way of tea gives beauty to simple things, which in the daily life would even not be remarked. In a small place of elegant simplicity, people leave the loudness of the today world outside and enjoy a ceremony which must be true and natural, but it is difficult to master. A seasonal element must be present in the 'tokonoma', an alcove. Here, the few liquid left in the cup is cold, but a participant remarks the winter sunshine in it. So the liquid is put on a higher spiritual level. Even to the person who has never heard about 'cha no yu', the tea ceremony, the picture is pure.

reading in bed
a moth resting
on my heartbeat

Unfortunately, the author is not using capitals nor comma nor point. I cannot perceive any tonality or rhythm. But if the technical form is not haiku, the contenance is. The moth, referring to the summer, lives in nature, has almost none intellectual capacities and is active during the night. The author lives into civilization, is training his intellect by reading a book and is normally active during the day and the evening. Both live in a completely separated world. But at the very moment, these two living creatures are united. The moth is resting on a man, and the man is resting on a bed. The moth is moved by a heartbeat, the man is moved by a book, I guess. Soon their worlds will separate again. The moth will go to nature, the man will go to sleep. Parallel reflections are formulated here in a poetical way.

Distant ranges...
indigo spills
under the bright sky.

Once again I cannot perceive any presence of 5-7-5 syllables, nor any seasonal element. Anyway, here we have a picturesque poem. The mighty mountains receive a touch of colour, reflecting the sky. They are inaccessible for most of the human beings, and the dark blue cover makes them even more inaccessible, because of adding a cold colour. But if I would write a haiku of this sort, I would prefer to use a red colour instead of a blue one. Blue and white are indeed the combination of colours we are familiar with in a snow or ice environment. In other words: we easily can expect such combination. Trying to add another dimension, I would rather search for contrast. At evening, the sun is low above the mountains, which are coloured at that moment red and even a little purple and giving the impression to send a message to the humans such as: forgive me for being inaccessible, but please accept instead the warm beauty of my colours now.

cat and coffee marking midnight papers

I find no season indication. On the other hand, the tonality is well done with the double use of 'c', 'm' and 'p'. It is surely a rhythmic verse. Also humour is present. Once again, we have the double meaning of a word. And yes, once again Duhaime and Longpré have another interpretation than I: according to their traduction, the author is correcting examination papers, fighting against loneliness with her domestic animal and with coffee. It is possible that correcting examination papers till midnight is boring, and presence of cat and coffee prevent from falling asleep. It reminds me vaguely the poem of Seishi Yamaguchi:

Bearing up under
the loneliness of study,
I add fresh charcoal.

My interpretation of the above 'cat and coffee' verse is once again different: papers are laying here and there, and arriving around midnight, the author sees traces on the papers, marked by the round coffeecup but also by the feetprints of her cat.

birdcall opening spaces beyond walls

Outlook and structure are the same as the 'cat and coffee' verse. Except there is no rhythmic repetition of consonants. Instead we hear the 'o' sound in every word, except in 'spaces', producing something like an echo effect. I like the contrast between the feeling of being locked between walls, and the sudden feeling of space suggested by the singing of a bird free in spring or summer sky.

Solidão no inverno
o velho aquece as mãos
com as próprias mãos


Winter loneliness
the old man warming his hands
with his own hands

I have enough knowledge to read poems written in Dutch, English, German or French. However, when the original poem has been written in another language, like this one in Spanish, it is meaningless to comment technical matters. But when I read poetry of such high level as this 'Winter solitude...', I suddenly don't care no more about technical comments. I just wonder how it is possible to evoke a complete world of thoughts with so few words, and here, even better, with so little action. It's easy to see the old man, sitting there, in front of his own shadow, not knowing what to do to chase the solitude. He is asking himself questions about the life he had, but the only answer he gets is the rubbing of his own hands. Comparing this poem to Yamaguchi's one is no fair play, because the student will no longer be lonesome after his studies, and when the charcoals burn, he will be comfortable.

Sobre a folha seca
as formigas atravessam
uma poca d'água


On a dry leaf
aunts are bridging over
a pool of water

Aunts and men have different surroundings. To enter the universe of aunts, we need a magnifying-glass. The pool that we, human beings, cross without hesitating, is an important obstacle for these little creatures. How do they manage? Obviously the pool is not small, because otherwise they would make the detour. It is an important pool. The question for the humans is: how do the aunts find a solution? One single aunt is not clever. But when we consider a group of aunts, suddenly we find them using strategy and tactics. When they are in group, it seems that intelligence and a dry leaf are all they need to cross the obstacle. For the humans, it is still a mystery how stupid single aunts become clever when they form a group. For the haijin, watching the scene is a haiku moment.

Na velha roseira,
entre as folhas e os espinhos,
uma aranha tece.


In the old rose-bush,
between leaves and thorns,
a spider weaves.

The bush is aged and immobile, except when moved by the wind; the spider is young and vivid. It looks like a contrast. Soon however, the spider will live in the bush and the contrast will vanish by then. Being of different nature, they will be living in harmony and moving in the same wind. Yet in their difference, they have one thing in common: they strike without any warning, beware their sharp protection!

Gaiola no muro.
Filhote de gato ensaia
primeira cacada.


A cage on the wall.
The kitten is trying out
his very first chase.

This must be summer. Adult cats now have become mother or father and the new born ones have to find their own way in life. Cats have a hunting nature, but even in the ordered world of mankind, where little birds are put aside in cages against the wall, the cats have to follow their proper instinct. The scene is comic and cruel. The probability of catching the bird in his cage is almost nihil, so the kitten will be stressed and loose patience and temper. If much patience is one of the kitten's skills, the amusing sequence is not yet finished. On the other hand, try to imagine the feelings of the little bird, already imprisoned by a person without respect for animal freedom. There is furthermore the close presence of a hunter, and the only natural way for the little bird to escape by flying away is just impossible. This is a strong poem and again an exemple that the greatness of haiku can also be reflected in little things.

end of drought
the overfull reservoir's
leaking moon

The author has lived in different countries. Therefore I cannot judge where he was when writing this haiku. Western people associate drought with summer. During days or even weeks, there has been no rain, the soil is utmost dry, all that is alive awaits water from the sky. Then the refreshing rain comes, in the poem enough to fill a reservoir. Life suddenly comes to normal again. People are happy because of the abundance of water, and look, even the moon is a part of the happy occasion.

deserted beach
only the waves left playing
with a toy spade

Read the poem loudly and remark the intonation. One can easily hear the rolling of the waves and imagine the dynamics of the water working in on a toy, left on the lonely beach. For a while ,water and toy move on the same rhythm, and this results in an unexpected combination.

attic dust
finding my mother's

Our attic is the place to be for all kind of memories; from the fresh and recent to the almost forgotten. Dust covers big and small objects, making no difference in status. Finding the footprint of mother and write a haiku about it indicates that the situation has been changed since the making of the print. For some reason, mother is no more able to visit the attic. The reason is not explained, but there is no need to do so. When I read this poem, I think about my own mother. Now a remark concerning the structure of the poem. Because 'attic dust' creates a concept, it is natural to put it in one line. But I have mixed feelings concerning the structure of second and third line. Indeed, 'mother's footsteps' is also a concept and therefore difficult to spread over two lines, even if the author argues that the purpose is to put emphasis on 'footsteps'.

a parcel arrives
in the middle of the day
the house comes alive

Funny how a parcel can change the order of things to do. We cannot deduce whether the parcel was expected or not, but there is no need for the reader to know. Two aspects look important to me: the turning point, when the parcel arrives, because the sudden increase of activities even results in a personification, and also the contrast between the first quiet part of the day and the second part, filled with activities.

drifting across
the glass tower
square clouds

Few words are used to suggest different things. First I observe the picture and it remembers me another verse of Seishi Yamaguchi, about the precipice of glass, suggested by a high building. A wall of glass is impressive indeed. But following up the picture, we observe that the shape of clouds is changing. This dynamic effect can result in the impression that the whole building is moving, and not only the clouds. Finally let us pay attention on the one but last word 'square' and make the reflection that natural passing things, like even clouds, are conditioned by the impact of human presence. The square windows of the building give shape to the clouds image. Mankind is orchestrating nature.

half-buried in mud
a toy cannon points upward -
a star apple drops

The symbolism is clear. What have we here? An abandoned cannon, covered with mud, reminds the past war. So many things which were important during the battle, turned out to be left as souvenirs. All that remains from the warrior's dreams are summer grasses, Matsuo Basho would agree. But look closer: it is just a toy cannon. The past war only took place in the mind of children. We begin to feel better, because the imagined warfare stands much further from reality. But looking closer again, we see that the cannon is pointing to the sky, as if it were ready for an ultimate action. And yes, there is a final shot. A star apple drops! As many other examples in history, this victim too was innocent.

distant roll of thunder -
the empty cab light
fading into darkness

Sitting before my word processor and thinking about how to start my comments on this poem, the screensaver after some minutes comes into action. How to define what I feel while reading this poem? An overdose of ideas fills my poor brain. At the haiku moment, are thunder and lightning coming closer, or are they getting away? This is important in order to understand the state of mind of the author: is he worried or is he relieved? Why is the empty taxi driving away? Is it because the driver does not perceive the arm movement, begging him to stop? Or doesn't he stop because he is no free? Or maybe the author doesn't mind about anything because the storm is finished? Or does the driver fades into darkness after bringing the author to his destination? Or is it possible that the taxi driver is disappearing into darkness for picking up another person in relationship with the author, while the author himself just arrived at destination? It is rather strange. Because of the unspoken answers, many possibilities give opportunity to make this haiku almost perfect by using the junction between writer and reader. The author's suggestion as I feel it: soon there will be storm. The author gets home right now, just before the storm breaks through, but the poor man in his taxi still has a long way to drive. He and his next clients will have to face that storm. Read this haiku with loud voice and intonation. The rhythm is perfect: not only the thunder is rolling, but also the words.


Like in all haiku, the interpretation is individual and personal. The most important is that the balance between information and suggestion is harmonious. With this I mean, a haiku can only reach the highest level of development when it is interpreted both by author and reader. The 'distant roll of thunder' haiku is a very good example. On the other hand, in an international anthology like this the danger exists that a gap is created between author and reader, when they are not sharing the same native tongue. The fact that some poems are not clearly understood by people using another language is inevitable, I am afraid. Translating each poem in another language, is a good solution in between. About applying the rules of haiku, I remark that the season word is not always considered as important, neither intonation or rhythm. It happens to be present from time to time and that's it. As for the outfit, many western authors do not use capitals nor points or comma's. One would think that in the west, the power of the haiku must come from the contents rather than from the form. In Japan, form is also very important. Though wordplay is appreciated, words and word sequences with double meaning are more proper to the Japanese language.

Please allow me to finish with an optimistic note. By means of technology, the earth has become more accessible. On political, economical and social fields, groups with different cultures meet each other with growing success. Culture as an important expression of human ability, may not stay behind in this process. The anthology "HAIKU sans frontières" answers the purpose very well. Therefore I am grateful to share this beautiful and fascinating world of haiku with so many others.

Walter Vereertbrugghen
Secretary of Haiku Kern Brabant, Belgium

Authors and their countries

(1)   Ertore José Palmero / Argentina
(2)   Janice M. Bostok / Australia
(3)   Ross Clark / Australia
(4)   John Knight / Australia
(5)   Jacqui Murray / Australia
(6)   Sue Standford / Australia
(7)   Eunice Arruda / Brazil
(8)   Eunice Arruda / Brazil
(9)   Humberto Del Maestro / Brazil
(10) Teruko Oda / Brazil
(11) Ernest John Berry / New Zealand
(12) p n w donnelly / New Zealand
(13) John O'Connor / New Zealand
(14) Patricia Prime / New Zealand
(15) Janette Stace / New Zealand
(16) Federico C. Peralta / the Philippines
(17) Harsangeet Kaur Bhullar / Singapore

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