Pivot word, pivot line



The Pivot


There seem to be two Japanese ideas beeing called PIVOT in English.


kakekotoba, pivot words 掛詞, 掛け詞, 懸詞, 懸け詞

"Kake kotoba", rhetorical devices used in Japanese Waka poetry of 31-syllables
Lit. "hanging words" building a bridge between two images.

Better translated as:
Pun, word play, words with a double meaning.

Utamakura, makura kotoba and kaketotoba in Japanese Poetry



the second segment (line) of a haiku, pivot line

morning sunshine
on withered branches
the white moss sparkles

Gabi Greve, October 2007

Read the full disucssion here:
Cause and Effect, C&E

This haiku has no visible cut marker.
Line 2 can be seen as an axis to revolve around in two directions.
The English reader might read a pause after line one or two, or maybe think: pivot line.

The use of PIVOT as a kakekotoba "pun word, pivot word" as used in waka and tanka
as a "pivot line" in line 2 of a haiku to adhere to both other lines for additional "meaning" seems to be something different, at least in Japanese haiku.

This is a kind of "use" of the line 2 that I often find in English haiku.
It is supposed to bring more "depth, yuugen" to haiku ...
but ...


kakitsubata ware ni hokku no omoi ari
Matsuo Basho

This translation gives rise to the question

blue flag irises
stirring in my mind
a hokku
Tr. Barnhill

Did Matsuo Basho 松尾芭蕉 use the pivot line in his hokku ?

. Discussing the Blue Flag Iris hokku .
No pivot line in this hokku by Basho.


Today I want to talk about this kind of use in the second line,
which Hasegawa Kai sensei does not approve of and calls
"aimai" 曖昧,
translated as ambiguous, unclear or vague.

NHK HAIKU August 2008

He quotes an example which he made up for the purpose of teaching.
I will use my own example.

morning sunshine
on withered branches
the white moss sparkles

Since the second line can be read to adhere to "morning sunshine" or "moss sparkles", this haiku is not clear in its image, it is vague and does not lead the reader straight to the image, but keeps him pondering which image the author wanted to show in the first place.

This does not really give more aspects of interpretation, depth (or yuugen) to the haiku, but is a confusing ambiguous AIMAI,
because this haiku does not have a clear CUT marker.

It is like the house where the pillars are not straight and the structure is swayaing back and forth.

He then gives examples of how to re-write this kind of haiku to make sure it is either
LINE 1 plus 2 .. or .. LINE 2 plus 3 which is connected and how to use the cut marker correctly.
(His following explanation is rather specific to the Japanese haiku language, if you can read Japanese, get the magazine !)

....................................... Here I quote my haiku again

枯れ枝や 朝日に光る 白い苔
kareeda ya asahi ni hikaru shiroi koke

withered branches -
white moss sparkles
in the morning sun

asa no hi ya kareeda ni hikaru shiroi koke

morning sunshine -
white moss sparkles
on withered branches

or even

morning sunshine
on withered branches -
sparkling white moss

The reader can now start with two separate images, without solving a riddle first, get a clear impression of what the author saw and emphasized and can start adding his interpretation and depth to this.

Thank you, Hasegawa Sensei !


The use of a PUN WORD, a word with more than one meaning, is effective in haiku.
Puns were a big part of the Edo culture.
Read my remarks about
Edo Culture and Puns, dajare 駄洒落

The use of utamakura and makurakotoba is also effective in haiku.
Utamakura, place names used in Japanese Poetry


More quotes about the PIVOT :

Robert Wilson / Sam Hamill
source :  Simply Haiku, 2005

How important is kake kotoba (pivot word) and its attendant ambiguity to the composition of haiku?

It's central to the poetry, both in terms of the rhythm of speech and comprehension and in terms of structure. "Form is never more than an extension of content," Robert Creeley famously observed; to which Denise Levertov replied, "And content is an articulation of form." I don't call my 17-syllable poems haiku because I throw out too many rules. Kake kotoba is difficult, sometime almost impossible, to achieve in translating a poem from Japanese. In my own poetry, I use the basic structure to achieve something LIKE haiku, but technically —chigaimasu— a little different.

The pivot word is a powerful tool. Ambiguity and contradiction abound in Zen and Taoist teaching, and great poets make use of common tools.


Taking Turns (for Granted) in Sijo and Haiku

Among other things, good haiku almost always also contain twists. In Haiku: A Poet’s Guide, Lee Gurga ... discusses the use of “the Japanese device of kake kotoba (“pivot word”), or, more commonly in American haiku, the pivot or swing line.” According to Gurga, “This [the pivot/swing] is a word or phrase that combines with the foregoing text in one way and with the following text in another. In contemporary English-language haiku this device [is] used to add dynamism to haiku images.”
More generally, but perhaps even more importantly, Gurga also acknowledges the central role juxtaposition plays in haiku, noting that “[William J.]Higginson has called this interaction between two images the ‘heart of haiku.’”

The pivot or swing line and the juxtaposition it often indicates and serves are central to haiku...

Structure & Surprise
Editor Michael Theune


Matsuo Basho using some kind of kakekotoba when remembering his friends

semi no koe - for his friend and master
. Sengin 蝉吟 (1642 - 1666) .

uo no me wa namida -
tears in the eyes of (my friend called) Fish
. Sugiyama Sanpu 杉山杉風 (Sampu) .

pivotal word, pivotal line
. . . Haiku Riddles . . .

. . . . . BACK TO

My Haiku Theory Archives  



Anonymous said...

Gabi san, thank you very much.

I have often wondered about kakekotoba, but, as a pivot word in Japanese HAIKU, I have not heard this. Now, this IS pivotal information!

I have seen where a particular use of a verb to "pivot" the poem, or another way to put it, "pivots" the poem. As a recent example one of mine read on NHK Radio Japan World Interactive (this week's program):

a red-wing blackbird
announces availability --
Father's Day

Shokan Tadashi Kondo sensei felt that the verb "announces" seem to make the poem. It is my feeling that this is what I have called, "a
pivotal verb".
Of course, this is in a different context than that of the pivot word as the article you, Gabi san, sited. But, there are aspects of the art of HAIKU that like a painter's choice of color and brush stroke, can make the effort definitely "art", I feel.

Again, thank you for the insightful information. It is very generous of you to pass on the Japanese information translated into English (and double the effort) since your native tongue is German.

To try the lesson of Hasegawa sensei with my poem:

Father's Day --
a red-wing blackbird announces

For those who live in the USA, this bird's courting habits sometime have the bright red shouldered blackbird perched on a marsh's cattail and throat expanded literally seems announcing his presents.



Laura Sherman said...

Thank you for sharing this with me. It clears up a lot!

Anonymous said...

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Gabi Greve said...

Utakotoba utamakura daijiten
(Japanese Edition)

Gabi Greve said...

at PMJS forum
... any really accurate or comprehensive accounts of kakekotoba in English and there appears to be quite a few differences in the interpretation of the word in English and the Japanese. In Japanese for example the pivoting function is not much mentioned and punning seems to be the main function. ...