When I took up making haiga for the second time in 2008, I discovered there was a frightfully small amount of instruction on how to create them well. There was Jim Kacian’s Looking and Seeing: How Haiga Works and although this is a great article, it is quite academic and I found as a beginner, not very accessible. Most of the rest of what is available is much the same as that piece or simply not particularly helpful. When I was offered the chance to do these blog posts, I decided this was an opportunity to redress this problem.
Let’s start with what haiga is not. A haiga is not simply an illustrated poem. Good haiga does not just repeat the images presented in the haiku. A haiku about a snail should probably not have a picture of a snail in it.* Here is a not particularly great haiga I created for this post:
See how you do not receive anything new from the image, how it simply reiterates what is said?
French, Terri, first published on Daily Haiga February 22 2013. http://www.dailyhaiga.org/haiga-archives/1115/-frost-warning-by-terri-french-usa
This has what every great haiga needs; it has a “Third Thing”. The “Third Thing” is a term I coined for that mysterious element in good haiga that makes them great and surprising. If you think of haiku as two image poems (sometimes one), the accompanying image needs to supply a third (or second) thing, something either inferred or implied by the haiku or that reflects and expands on the mood of the piece. Terri is discussing her son leaving the nest. She has provided a seed pod dispersing its seeds on the wind as a visual metaphor for this. It is satisfying because it is not echoing what has been said in the haiku but enlarging on the theme, giving the reader something to mentally chew on. This is my second, much better version of my previous example:
Now this one isn’t nearly as clever as Terri’s haiga but see how the comparison between the sweep of a purple gown and the flowers makes you think? This haiga has the quality of the “Third Thing”. Both this and the previous haiga also do not close down the haiku but follow on and encourage more thought and examination.
I hope things are a little clearer now and maybe you took something away from this to enrich your own haiga making experience.
*I am saying probably because in the arts, there are no absolutes and good art is often what you can get away with rather than a replication of set rules.
Kacian, J, Looking and Seeing: How Haiga Works, first delivered as a speech to The Haiku Society of American National Meeting, September 2002 Simply Haiku 2:5 (Autumn 2004); reprinted in The Red Moon Anthology of English-Language Haiku, Red Moon Press, 2004, pp. 126-153, available at http://www.gendaihaiku.com/kacian/haiga.html