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Book of the Week: Three Haiku Chapbooks by James W. Hackett

The Haiku Foundation would like to thank Richard Sutherland for donating 3 chapbooks by James W. Hackett to the Digital Library and if you would like to donate haiku books, chapbooks, essays, etc. to THF, please contact us.

James W. Hackett (August 6, 1929 – November 9, 2015) was a pioneer of American haiku, and with R.H. Blyth, shared the conviction that Zen and haiku are inseparable. James wrote that haiku poetry is a literary expression of Zen Buddhism and more about his life, poetry and spiritual philosophy can be found in the article, Shangri-La: James W. Hackett’s Life in Haiku, and on the James W. Hackett website.

The donated chapbooks include: Haiku 1957, 6/11/58 and Haiku 1958. An additional book by James in the Digital Library includes Bug Haiku which is a children’s book with poems about bugs in the garden, bugs at the beach, and bugs in the hills and mountains.

it’s being shaped too,
by an unseen sculptor…that
tree above the sea

the dangling spider
waited for a gust of wind-
then tarzaned across

in a cloudy sky:
a once soaring hawk going
nowhere…treading air

traveling slowly
pulling a heavy trailer…
a determined snail

in the window of
the car, hanging with snout out,,,
in a world of smells!

Do you have a chapbook published in 2015 or earlier that you would like featured as a Book of the Week? Contact us for details. Haiku featured in the Book of the Week Archive are selected by THF Digital Librarian Dan Campbell and are used with permission.

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. The Abstract says, ‘Most Western haiku poets now reject his central tenet of an ineluctable Zen-haiku relationship.’ What proof do we have of this statement? Have most Western haiku poets been asked if they reject the connection? I am not aware of any such comprehensive survey.
    One of the reasons I co-edited a new anthology of Buddha-themed haiku was to test the waters on this very issue:

    Charles Trumbull, in the opening sentence of his Introduction calls Hackett ‘problematic.’ Now, that’s a bad start! People may have problems with Hackett but to call Hackett ‘problematic’, or his haiku ‘problematic’, betrays the WASP’s suspicion of Zen.
    In his second paragraph, Hackett is described as ‘enigmatic’. Why? Because he was aloof? Because he was not a member of backslapping haiku clubs and cliques? I invited Hackett to Ireland and he and his wife took up the invitation. I had published a modest bilingual selection of his haiku and we celebrated the event in style.
    Did I see him as ‘problematic’ or ‘enigmatic?’ Absolutely not. He was a torchbearer. He knew that haiku would become trivial and superficial if it lost its cultural roots and early spiritual influences, such as Daoism, Shinto and Buddhism, particularly Zen Buddhism. And he was right. For the most part, those who reject the spiritual dimension of haiku write nothing but forgettable stuff that never touches the reader’s core. Charles Trumbull and others may do their damnedest to divorce haiku from Zen, but Thomas Hoover points out the folly of this:
    “Haiku is regarded by many as the supreme achievement of Zen culture. The supposedly wordless doctrine of Zen has been accompanied throughout its history by volumes of koan riddles, sutras, and commentaries, but until Haiku was invented it had never enjoyed its own poetic form, nor might it ever have if the rise of popular Zen culture had not happily coincided with a particularly receptive stage in the evolution of traditional Japanese poetry—an accident seized upon by a great lyric poet of the early Edo period to create an exciting new Zen form . . .’
    Hoover’s Zen Culture can be read online:

    I find the following sentence from Charles Trumbull distasteful: ‘I have found no evidence that Hackett ever held a full-time job, possibly because of disability; he seems to have been largely supported by his wife.’
    I don’t like the idea of someone gleaning evidence on our breadwinning activities. It smacks of a WASP attitude: ‘Why can’t he earn his living like the rest of us, drive a car, have a mortgage, support the war effort etc’. This isn’t the first time that Mr Trumbull has attacked Zen-haiku poets in this manner. Writing in Modern Haiku (Summer 2007), Charles Trumbull, who was editor of that journal between 2006 and 2013, describes Santōka as ‘a chronic drunk never far from a state of depression, a shiftless wanderer, and apparently a bit of a con man to boot.’ Humph!

  2. Thanks Patrick for your comments, I learned a lot from reading Mr Trumbull’s excellent article!

  3. Thanks for the books. And for Mr. Trumbull’s brilliant Shangri-La: James W. Hackett’s Life in Haiku.
    Zen aside, it was ameliorating (back in the day) for wannabe haiku poets, that R.H. Blyth thought there was at least one gaijin who could write haiku. To old guys like myself, Mr. Hackett was an inspiration and one who (perhaps unwittingly) opened doors.

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