Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Carpe Diem Ghost Writer #29, "Pop culture references in haiku and senryu".

!!! This post is published earlier, because of the nightshift !!!

Dear Haijin,visitors and travelers,

I have a new GW-post for you all in which Jen of Blog It Or Lose It will write about "Pop culture in haiku and senryu". I think this is a very interesting GW-post and I hope you all enjoy it.


First of all, thank you, Chèvrefeuille, for allowing me to share some thoughts with the Carpe Diem Haiku Kai family.   

This Ghost-Writer prompt is based on an earlier post on my blog – one that I didn’t link to Carpe Diem partly because it wasn’t in the spirit of “little creatures” – and partly because I chickened-out.

When Chèvrefeuille posted his “little creatures” prompt (“lizards”) I had just watched a Dr. Who episode entitled “Deep Breath”.  One of the main characters that day was a “Silurian” warrior-detective named Vastra, and Silurians look like a cross between a lizard and a human.  

Credits: Screenshot

In “Deep Breath,” Vastra had a very moving speech – “I Wear the Veil”:

Please watch:  "I Wear the Veil" - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GYiul4NoBGw
“I wear a veil to keep from view what many are pleased to call my ‘disfigurement’. I do not wear it as a courtesy to such people but as a judgment on the quality of their hearts.”

- Vastra, “Deep Breath” – Doctor Who

I was moved to tears by her speech and wrote this senryū based on it:

wearing jeans
in ninety degree heat –
a denim veil

© Jen
Vastra is a reptilian alien living in Victorian London.   She doesn’t exactly blend into the crowd. She’s a warrior – she’s tough – but she wears a veil to keep her face hidden.  And I’ve felt like Vastra many times in my past seven years as an amputee – dodging staring eyes – or, just as bad sometimes – eyes that quickly dart away and make me invisible. Many times I choose to suffer the summer heat and humidity in jeans – not that I’m ashamed or afraid – but because I’m just not in the mood to deal with people’s reactions.  And - in a way – isn’t that a form of judgment?

Credits: Tardis

Now.  Before you say “Doctor Who Haiku?  Is she serious?  Is ‘pop culture’ appropriate?” I suggest that it might not be as inappropriate as you think.  Basho wrote an iris haiku upon the sudden death of his favorite Kabuki performer, Motome:

Iris withered
only in one night

Kabuki is an art form - not "pop culture" - but the celebrity that would have followed actors could be considered a form of pop culture.  [The presence of kabuki/ ‘theater’ in haiku was well-established:  kaomise (“face-showing ceremony”) was a mid-winter kigo.]
Basho: The Complete Haiku (trans. Jane Reichhold) mentions thirty-three “techniques” in Basho’s haiku.  Number twenty-three is “honki-dori” or “literary references”.  Reichhold’s example from Basho is as follows:

pining for flowers
or a tune from Gichiki
Mount Yoshino

Reichhold explains that Gichiku “was a popular flute player in Basho’s time whose hit song had the title of ‘Yoshino,’ the mountain most famous for its cherry trees and deep snows” (page 404).
Hit song?  Pop culture!  Dr. Who and Vastra might not be far-fetched after all...

Credits: Star Trek


The biggest issue in using pop culture references seems to be finding references familiar to a large audience.  Motome and Gichiku would have been very well-known to Basho’s contemporaries – but today’s readers need explanatory notes to “get it”.  Some pop culture icons seem to stand the test of time – for example the explosion of "tribbles" in Star Trek, Doctor Who's TARDIS (the big blue police box /time machine /spacecraft ), Elvis, and The Twilight Zone.  (And Chèvrefeuille used Peter Pan recently.)
Having said this, my initial poem (jeans as a veil) may or may not be successful – if you know me personally, then "yes".  Otherwise?  Not so much.  Perhaps this would be a better Dr. Who-ku:
in the autumn fog
the sound of a braking train -
the TARDIS landing

© Jen

Not as emotional – but more accessible I think.

Even with historical precedents, a lot of people will reject pop culture in “serious” haiku.  But – I have to question this attitude.  Why can’t we use cultural references that move us (like Madam Vastra and Peter Pan) or amuse us (like tribbles) – and use them in our poetry on occasion? 

Video Link:  "I Wear the Veil" - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GYiul4NoBGw
Basho's Irises:   http://akitahaiku.com/2009/07/04/bashos-irises/

Star Trek's Tribbles:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B2T1QX7BEyg

What a wonderful GW-post and I hope it will inspire you all to write an all new haiku. So ... have fun!

This episode is open for your submissions tonight at 7.00 PM (CET) and will remain open until October 17th at noon (CET). I will post our next episode, Magic Fields (August 2013), later on.


  1. Brilliant academic post...fits so well ith Kristjaan's high class, professional posts. I think haiku can be stretched, and like what you are saying, but utterly dislike haiku stressing contempary life for the sake of it. Eg a haiku about a bus or such:
    got up one morning
    waited at the bes stop
    bus did not come
    this is different, though one should be a touch careful. I cannot imagine a haiku about the Beatles, for example.

    1. Thanks for the kind encouragement Hamish -- and I agree with your position on writing haiku simply to explore modern life. Even if there's a touch of the contemporary there should be an extra layer that reaches beyond the ordinary, imo. :)

    2. Yes I agree there should be the extra dimension of meaning.

  2. Jen, thanks for your sharing a bit of yourself that we dont see in your haiku (normally). I believe there is a place for the everyday (our everyday) in our writing including haiku. The thing I love about haiku is it is never mundane.

    1. Thanks Moonie :)

      This was a bit scary to share --

    2. Very courageous of you Jen to share this. I found your blue denim senryu very moving,

    3. Thanks - this is like a hug :)

  3. Well written, Jen. I love your informative posts.

    My opinion on references and allusions is avoid explanations.

    Last night I wrote a tanka for a tanka group on Facebook. This group is international and comprised mostly of middle agers and seniors as most poetry groups are wont to be.

    Anyway, this particular tanka had a reference to a Pink Floyd song called "Comfortably Numb." I am sure many readers of that tanka didn't get the reference and that's okay. The poem doesn't require anyone to understand the reference because the poem still works for people who don't know Pink Floyd.

    Haiku, tanka etc that contain references to anything should still offer different layers of association so that if the reader doesn't know Dr Who or Pink Floyd the poem still offers alternative interpretations. One can write about Tardis without saying Tardis. A blue telephone booth would be more effective than saying "TARDIS!" And then writing a paragraph about what Tardis means. Anyone who is a fan of Dr Who will pick up the blue telephone booth reference and those who don't watch the show should still be able to visualize a blue telephone booth and find another layer of association.

    When a poet is compelled to give an explanation at the end then the poem isn't working and should be revised to offer greater meaning or maybe turned into a haibun. Otherwise the author dictates how a poem should be interpreted and takes away the readers freedom to free associate which is the antithesis of haiku in particular.

    In general, I don't have a problem with using pop culture in haiku, but rather the technique, I guess, used in incorporating it.

    A lovely article and much food for thought.

    1. Hello Lolly --- I'm so glad you found the article/prompt thoughtful -- and yes, I completely agree -- a top-notch haiku including a pop culture reference should probably have layers of meaning that appeal to people even if they're not familiar with the particular reference itself. The reference itself shouldn't be the whole point of the haiku and it shouldn't need explanation. The Mount Yoshino haiku (Basho, above) probably comes close to that. I can appreciate it even if I don't 100% "get it".

      But .... for me ... just saying "blue telephone booth" doesn't have any "oomph". The whole point of the TARDIS/train comparison is that the sounds are similar. To make it work I'd have to say "time machine landing" (or something similar). Without that, non-Whovians would be exiting at station A and Whovians would be exiting at station B. Not bad, perhaps, but not the intention.

      So I think pop culture references could be very tricky and would have to be handled very carefully -- but they can be done, as we saw with Kristjaan's Peter Pan reference.

      Glad the article made for interesting reading.
      I'd love to know the name of the FB tanka group btw -- sounds interesting. :)

    2. The FB group is a big one full of some really creative writers. It's hosted by Kathabela Wilson and there is a daily tanka prompt. You have to "apply" to get in and all she wants is a reason why you want to be a part of the group. It's super easy to get in and I hope to see you and anyone else here who would like to join in. I see Opie and Sigrid there all the time.

      I hope that link works.

    3. Thanks for the link! It looks really interesting :D

  4. Jen -- excellent job! Thank you for the challenge!

  5. Nice post, and I often use pop culture in haiku whether it's "wrong" or "right". Poetry is for the people. I have even written Whovian haiku on my blog before. I just watched that episode since I just found out you can buy the new episodes on Amazon.com, at least in the U.S. It was indeed a very moving speech.

    1. Hooray! A fellow Whovian! :D

      I think part of the power and the appeal of the most recent Dr. Who series comes from Moffat's writing - he's not afraid to explore powerful issues and do it in a way that challenges traditional thinking. Jenny and Vastra could easily be caricatures - but they're not - they're powerfully drawn.

      And yes -- poetry is for people -- and we must follow where the muses lead us! :D

  6. Thank you so much for allowing me to be a ghost-writer with this subject, Chevrefeuille. We were both taking a chance here -- and I am so grateful to you. :)

  7. What an amazing post, Jen! Not only informative but the examples you show gives us a choice .Although I am trying to stay more closely to less mundane things for a haiku I was tempted to indulge in this for the experience. Truly your post is a great bookmark for writers. Bravo, kiddo, you sure are smart!! :)

    1. Thanks Cheryl-Lynn :)

      Mostly the background to this was a bad case of, "what do you mean I shouldn't write about that?!?" For me that's like saying, "now, now... You shouldn't think about that." Which means it'll be the *first* thing I think about! That makes me more stubborn than smart ;)

      But... I'm glad you found the result useful and encouraging. :D Thanks--