Synesthesia and Haiku

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Synesthesia is a neurological condition in which the senses are felt together. Synesthesia can be found in numerous art forms. Examples of synesthetic writing can be overlooked in novels and longer poems as just another form of figurative language. The concentration of imagery this device produces is rich and resonant in the short form that is haiku, forming the core of the work, and making the use of synesthesia particularly noticeable. This means that haiku constitute a rich site for the discussion of synesthesia, in writing which blends the senses through the imagery used. In the literature, the term ‘synesthesia’ is often confused with ‘sense-switching’; I argue for a distinction between these two terms. Some discussions betray the influence of synesthesia rather than representing examples of it. In both cases, I recognise that it may be difficult or impossible to prove a distinction between the ideas, because of the innate subjectivity of the experiences from which they emanate.

The article considers examples of synesthetic haiku in detail; often using more than one example of sense combinations employed to illustrate diverse effects. The article considers dynamics of which create additional categories: speculative/abstract; shifting, multiple; variations; influence; the beyond; reflections; and experience. The latter additional category charts my own ventures in writing haiku with synesthetic qualities and the discovery of a ‘zoned out’ state which invites a blending of the senses. The article aims to increase understanding of how synesthesia can be employed as a technique in haiku, even if the writer is not synesthetic.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)45-87
Number of pages43
Publication statusPublished - 5 Dec 2023


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