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Propositions for the Kinetic Haiga

Jerome Berglund explores the emerging kinetic approach to haiga/shaihai



The short form umbrella is broad, has a wide reach, and if we are tolerant and open minded can comfortably accommodate multitudes. The diverse ways in which one to nineteen (31 if we extend our search parameters into territory of waka and renga from which traditions originate) syllables may be inventively deployed are innumerable. Certain distinguishing factors including concreteness and natural subject matter, seasonality and evidence of comparison, contrast, or alternative manners of cutting between, juxtaposing different images, presence of absence of humanity and personality, humor or pathos… Each of these facets, quantitative measurements and placements along various continuums may support arguments, add to cases for a piece’s classification as haiku or senryu, classical or gendai, tanshi or sedoka, kyoka or tanka. As English Language Haiku embraces the related techniques of shahai and haiga, translates it into the visual languages of modern times and popular usage, ushers what began as minimalist ink paintings into the twenty first century with photo and video haiku, it is important to ask ourselves how we should embrace innovation and progress without losing sight of, betraying or compromising the core elements of what the form is understood to be at its foundations. Ultimately artists are naturally inclined break rules, but as Picasso counseled, they ideally do so consciously and carefully, understanding how and why during each deviation and measured subverting of expectations, such transgress of established norms is accomplished with good cause and purpose. Today cameras and animation pervade our media everywhere one turns, from palm to billboard. In spaces increasingly beholden to various arcane algorithms studies indicate that including a picture increases interest and engagement, significantly augments likelihood content will be shared, saved, retweeted. Our text messages and posts direct us to emoticons, pictures, a plethora of applicable gifs to streamline and enhance communication at a button’s pressing.

The technological revolution is changing the ways we approach traditional short form poetry

In an era of Tik-Toks, memes and screen grabs, it seems only natural, nay inevitable that motion would intrude on the solemnity and stillness of the haiga form. In a culture famed for watching petals falling, appreciating flourishing Noh dramas and energetic samurai cinema, one must consequently wonder had this technology been readily accessible whether the Busons of golden eras might not have utilized it tastefully too to achieve similar synergistic objectives. I’ll never tell anyone they can’t write a micropoem in the past tense with abstract language, as a punctuated seasonless sentence of a single word. Tundra yourself silly, go ham. But through trial and error the community has gradually established a set of preferences and expectations which as general rules can well predict a poem’s success as an example of a big H Haiku, one which will please discriminative readers and have a greater shot at earning difficult acceptances into highly competitive markets. Similarly, excellent dedicated platforms and outlets including Daily Haiga, Haiga in Focus, Black and White Haiga, Fresh Out Magazine have presented robust and carefully selected showcases of material from which patterns can be discerned, which I posit shall help inform and direct us on how most effectually a kinetic haiga or shahai with movement might function… 1) No cuts. As it is a haiga functions already as an additional image combined with the verse, acting either as diptych or tan-renga depending on whether the written portion is a single or double image poem. An exception might perhaps be the triptych approach in which each line of a tercet (3-liner) is paired with an image, creating a form of visual braiding, but generally a single short clip of one to several seconds seems optimal. Relatedly the looping itself reflects and highlights the cyclical core of Enso repetition and eternity at the spiritual center of haikai practice, which is intriguing to reflect upon. 2) The more seamlessly you can construct the looping effect, get the first and last frame to connect in the Ouroboros of visual samsara the better. Certain videos might be duplicated and flipped in reverse the way a ‘Boomerang’ does back and forth seamlessly depending on the content, something to explore. 3) I would suggest retaining one frame, “locked off” (not shaking) as much as possible. In photographing this might be attained via holding very still or using a tripod. Not unlike the classic tableau our haiga then becomes a window into some scene and space, that ephemeral haiku moment one is always hearing about. A pan, tilt, zoom, tracking shot may work in different ways. But the static vista and standpoint best permits viewers to suspend disbelief, as they do in the theater watching a train barrel toward them. The best big budget CGI blockbuster will never achieve a comparable visceral reaction to that early black and white footage from a camera situated center of the tracks, future recreations by Buster Keaton and company used this knowledge wisely. 4) Careful cropping out of extraneous elements, composition to isolate subject and optimally evince the minimalistic aesthetic of early eastern (Zen and nanga) sketches, liberal use of white space and incorporating integral philosophic principles of wabi, sabi, karumi, yûgen will be of critical help toward strengthening of pieces on the visual end. 5) The same precept for traditional shahai holds true, is especially important in this mode, to avoid redundancy. If your verse describes your image literally and without adding value, complexity, insight, you are creating a single image poem. This is a gripe many espouse vocally and repeatedly about collected haiga exhibitions, and I concede has validity. If your image cements, magnifies, complicates a verse by all means. But a good rule of thumb I’d suggest, there should be elements in each not in the other. No less with the micropoem halves themselves, each discrete portion of a haiga represents a circle in a Venn diagram. Think of this perhaps as leaving that important dreaming room (or ma) flexibility embedded, so necessary to captivating readers and inviting them in to participate in your visual poem’s ultimate final processed form in their minds. In fact, even with the combination of poem and picture, there should still be mystery and open-endedness, blanks for filling in and expanding upon if we are doing our jobs right. In that sense answering questions, narrowing scope with too overt imagistic representations of verbal components on graphic end can sabotage and deter our success. Food for thought. These are just one practitioner’s (with some background in filmmaking, production and editing, critical study of the established conventions, stylistic language of graphic storytelling) gut instincts on how this might work potentially. The haiku and writing, art communities are a vibrant, bold, democratic space and ultimately how best to apply and demonstrate this form will be determined by the practitioners, the editors, the general public through valuable reactions and feedback. I look forward with great excitement to seeing how each of these conscientious forces converse and converge, the ongoing conversation and dialogue, standards and practices which ultimately emerge, develop and are refined over the next several years. We are so fortunate to exist in such a creative age, with access to technology, tools and information, opportunities for collaboration our forefathers would never have dreamed of. Take advantage friends, with a smart phone and preinstalled software titling capabilities you too could produce an effective kinetic haiga in a matter of minutes. I hope you do, the community would love to see it, and you’d be making a wonderful contribution to posterity!!



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Sherry R
Sherry R
Dec 24, 2023

Amazing, Jerome. I think digital natives could flourish in this mode. I would need a course to learn how...are there any?

It sounds like fun and futuristic

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* To support one release I was recently requested to cobble together a little explanatory history of kinetic haiga to contextualize it in our modern landscape, I tracked down some useful hyperlinks and examples but the chronology didn't end up being used, I will include here in the comments for posterity so that those interested might be able with ease to navigate to excellent recent examples of the practice by talented innovators worth investigating! :D


Kinetic Haiga or Shahai with Motion and Movement is a new variation of the Eastern hybrid tradition associated with classical renaissance artist-poets like Yosa Buson (known and renowned as much for his nanga "Southern" and bunjinga "Literati" -- monochromatic minimalist ink landscape and nature paintings…


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