In hokku old and new, there are two ways of relating to the seasons. One is fixed and somewhat artificial (old hokku), the other natural (new hokku).
The “fixed” way is the compiling of season words and season dictionaries, and spending years learning them and how to apply them. But even then, the result will generally be overlooked or unperceived by those who do not write hokku. So the use of fixed season words is rather like an esoteric language that can in many cases be understood only by initiates. This was the system that gradually developed and became more complex and artificial in old hokku. It has its benefits, but it also presents writer and reader with major difficulties.
That is why in modern hokku the old system of season words has been dropped, but not the important and essential aesthetic connection. As a means of linking hokku to the seasons, now we use a simpler, more practical and more convenient way. That new method is to mark each verse with the season in which it is written.
The important thing — and of course the fundamental characteristic of hokku — is its intimate connection with Nature and the seasons. All hokku then, ideally, reflect an event happening in the context of a season. But that is only the first stage of learning hokku, and without the next step, it is incomplete. To take us to the next stage — to genuine hokku rather than just to some kind of brief verse that resembles it superficially — we must write verse not only of an event happening in the context of a season, but also that event must reflect or express the nature of the season.
As I said in an earlier posting, this is truly the key to hokku — the realization that it expresses the nature of the season in which it is written.
Some topics are self-evident. In spring we may write about the return of wild geese, and in the fall — in autumn — we write about the departing wild geese, as well as other birds such as ducks and swans whose migratory patterns are most obvious to us in those seasons. That does not mean, of course, that we cannot write about geese, ducks, or swans in summer, but when we do so, it must be done in a way that reflects the nature of the summer, just as lines of wild geese crossing the sky as they fly southward reflect the nature of autumn.
Those learning hokku would do well to keep in mind the old categories in which hokku were placed:
The Season — the season itself, in settings such as “Autumn begins.”
The Sky and Elements — for example “The October sky,” or “The autumn wind.”
Gods and Buddhas — Religious figures or activities that express the season in one way or another.
Fields and Mountains — withering fields, autumn mountains, etc.
Human Affairs — all the things people do that are characteristic of autumn, such as a change to heavier clothing, or a child returning to school. Included are such things as scarecrows that we think of particularly in autumn. And of course Halloween and Thanksgiving.
Birds and Beasts — such things as wild geese leaving, and animals beginning hibernation, etc. And do not forget the “creepy-crawlies,” — insects, etc.
Trees and Flowers — Red leaves, falling leaves, blooming chrysanthemums, withering flowers in the garden and other such things.
Keep in mind these categories, and they will help you greatly in selecting and in eliminating subjects for hokku.
It is important to remember that just placing a verse in a seasonal context by marking it as spring, summer, autumn or winter does not quite achieve hokku. To take that last step, one must not only put the verse in the context of the season, but one must also express the season through the elements used in the verse and their interaction. Those elements must work in harmony to present a unified verse in which some aspect of the season is perceived in a way that is felt to be significant.