Haiku Lesson Three


Caleb Mutua


Haiku Lesson Three : Kire and Kireji

by Caleb Mutua


Kire is the Japanese word for the "cut" or break between two parts of a haiku.
Kireji means "cutting word", "cut marker" or "cutting sign".

We know that one haiku consists of two ideas or images. The first of the two ideas takes the first line while the second takes the last two lines. Equally good, the first idea is written in the first two lines and the second idea comes in the last line. The kire (the break) shows where the first idea ends and the second idea begins. In English language haiku, the cut marker is often written like this -- (two hyphens).

The purpose of the CUT within a haiku is to cut the poem and show that there are two ideas. The cut is not a substitute or abbreviation for things you wanted to say and had to leave out because of the shortness of haiku. You have to decide what you really want to say, what is really important in your context, and say it all.
Remember this:
The haiku has TWO ideas,
separated by one SINGLE cut marker.

Example of a cut (kire) after line one:

sunny day --
teachers discussing
under a tree

Line 1 contains a statement. This statement is not continued in the following line; instead, we have a cut. Lines 2 and 3 are one phrase which can be read together.

Example of a cut (kire) after line two:

the sun emerging
from behind a cloud --
June showers

When you read, you will notice that lines 1 and 2 are one phrase; they belong together, while line 3 is on its own. Notice how the cut has separated lines 1 and 2 (which form one idea) from line three (which is another idea).

When you write your haiku and place the cut marker, ensure that the sentence does not run on but that there is a break. When you have put the kireji in your haiku and the text still runs on (the whole haiku still reads like one long sentence), then that kireji is not REAL!
For example, the kireji in the following haiku is not real because the whole haiku reads like one long sentence:

columns of the library books--
sun rays find me

Even though there is a cut marker for a break, the whole haiku reads like one long sentence.

The haiku could be revised to read as follows:

a space
between the library books --
a ray of sun

The formula is: 3 lines; two ideas/images; 1 haiku.

The dash – (two hyphens) is an energetic break between the two statements. Always use two hyphens if you want to have a STRONG BREAK between the two ideas.

However, you can use three dots (...) as your kireji to show or demonstrate a slowing and running out of steam of a thought.
For example:

from deep in the forest
the crown birds sing wo-wang...
it is a new day

When reading a Japanese haiku aloud, you can read whilst breathing in until you reach the CUT, then read the rest while breathing out. That gives a natural rhythm and effortless flow. Take your cut to bring more depth, beauty, meaning, rhythm and melody to your haiku.

Practice using kireji either at the end of either the first or the second line until it becomes a normal part of your haiku and you no longer have to think about it.

Caleb Mutua


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