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Field Notes 4: Haiku in English: the First Hundred Years

Started by Field Notes, November 02, 2013, 02:56:44 PM

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Field Notes

For Field Notes 4, we asked panelists to take a look at Haiku in English: the First Hundred Years. The book presents a wide range of haiku spanning a century, and so it seemed a good idea to ask: what does HIE tell you about where haiku has been, where it is now, and where it may be going?

What do you think?

Field Notes

Richard Gilbert

My genuine appreciation of HIE is accompanied by five main questions for discussion. My primary question has to do with the inclusion of works designated as haiku within (by default as it were), which are snippets extracted from poems that are not haiku. There is no discussion within of the disjunct between editorial decision and authorial intention, that I can find. Next, as a number of people have mentioned to me, there is plenty of blank space on many poet pages, and a number of poets seem under-represented (by just one or two ku) -- though their oeuvre includes a good selection of excellent works. Is HIE overall too conservative in its selections? This goes to the point (present in any "selected" anthology) of bias.

These questions aside, HIE was instrumental to my ability to research haiku for the 2013 book, "Disjunctive Dragonfly." I praised the achievement, within. HIE provides a sorely needed resource for haiku, and as it's published by Norton, HIE has in a stroke extended the long-term impact of the English-language haiku genre. My main interest is in having a discussion relating to how HIE 2nd. ed. could be improved.

Questions for others:

1) What do you think of including as haiku, extracts of poems that clearly are not haiku? Does HIE well-explain this choice? (Give some HIE examples, and discuss.)

2) Do you think included poets are underrepresented (with spare page space apparently available)? Which poems (and poets) should have been included/would you have included? What was missed? Please give some examples.

3) General bias. Does HIE adequately represent haiku in the 21st century, particularly in the last decade? If not, what poems/poets are missing? Too conservative, progressive? (3b. What might be missing, from any particular decade?)

4) Who or what (poems, poets) would you remove from the anthy as non-representative/irrelevant, misleading, etc. And the converse, what/who might have been missed?

5) How could HIE be improved? Could you present a prioritized list, with a short explanation of each point?

These are the things that piqued my interest, as points of discussion.

I feel that an honest critique of the work is important, and could parallel a discussion of "What does HIE tell you about where haiku has been, where it is now, and where it may be going?" which seems to overleap possible limitations or issues with the anthology. It also may be helpful to the co-editors to hear from FN inviteds on what they miss and would have liked to see.


John Stevenson

It seems to have been a passing interest for early poets; of interest primarily as it might relate to Imagism. Kerouac seems to be the first to really make it an important focus within his writing. We are now in a time when there are "haiku poets" - in great variety. In the future, we may see "haiku poets" with work appearing in other kinds of anthologies - non-haiku poems that were produced as a passing interest for her/him - the symmetrical opposite of Pound in HIE.


Max Verhart

In a way Haiku in English (HiE) is too much for me. In a way to me it simply is a sort of fourth edition of the Haiku Anthology (HA), the first three editions having been compiled by Cor van den Heuvel: state of the art of haiku surveys at now four different points in time. And there is much to be said for that, for both HA and HiE have a lot of poets and poems in common - though of course you'll hardly find non-American poets in HA, while HiE covers a few more continents.
But HiE has a greater ambition than simply collecting what the editors perceive as best haiku written in English. 'Best haiku' as such is not even a selection criterium. The poets and poems selected were picked for their contribution to the development of English-language haiku. So there I am, reading in HiE, liking some poems, not understanding others and often wondering: so this poet and/or poem somehow contributed to the development of English-language haiku - but how and what? And I am at a loss, for to be able to understand how and what a certain poet contributed to the development of English-language haiku, one has to know what the state of that art was at that particular moment. HiE simply fails to convey the relevance in that respect of this entry and that one. And besides, most poets are included with just one poem (and yes, I am happy to be one of them). Now what the heck is there to learn about that poet's contribution to etcetera on the basis of just that one poem?
And another question: are we to understand that all poets not represented in HiE have not contributed, or not significantly enough, to the development of etcetera? I don't think so and I am quite sure that the editors do not want to imply any such idea. We all fully understand that the selection of poets and poems is subjective and hence arbitrary. Which also means that in that respect HiE is a failure. But necessarily so.
Too conclude: HiE is both a major achievement and a failure. In a way too much for me. But I cherish it.


Cherie Hunter Day

What does HIE tell you about where haiku has been, where it is now, and where it may be going?

HIE is the fourth incarnation of the haiku anthology from a major publishing house.  The tradition started in 1974 when Anchor/Doubleday published the first edition of The Haiku Anthology by Cor van den Heuvel.  Simon & Schuster published the second edition in 1986, and W.W. Norton released the third edition in 1999.  Another anthology on that scale (368 pages), The Haiku Moment, edited by Bruce Ross, was published by Tuttle in 1993.  Tuttle Publishing specializes in 'Asian-inspired books,' and, while influential, it is not a major publishing house with the distribution scope of Norton.

Cor had the podium for 39 years, and now with HIE a different set of editors has weighed in with their selections. There are poets that are elated at inclusion and others that are disappointed either in being excluded altogether or with the number of their poems that were included. Side-stepping discussion of the sequencing and selection process, what makes this anthology different?  First consider Cor van den Heuvel's opening remarks in the introduction of the first edition of The Haiku Anthology (Doubleday, 1974):  "Haiku in English got its real start in the fifties, when an avid interest in Japanese culture and religion swept the postwar United States."  He offers this lengthy footnote to qualify that statement:
"The Imagists, and those who follow them, had no real understanding of haiku. Because they had no adequate translation or critical analyses available, they failed to see the spiritual depth haiku embodies, or the unity of man and nature it reveals.  English-language haiku owes practically nothing to their experiments except in the sense that all modern poetry owes them a debt for their call for concision and clarity in language."

Here is a major difference in HIE: the editors start the haiku clock in English much earlier than in previous anthologies—1913 to be exact.   Indeed, the timing of the volume's release coincides with the centennial anniversary of the publication of Ezra Pound's two liner in Poetry magazine.  The Imagists are represented as are Objectivists, Modernists, Jazz poets, L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poets, Black Mountain poets, New York School, Black Arts Movement, the Beats, and other well-known novelists, essayists, and translators.  One of the chief goals stated in the acknowledgements was to "spark much interest from the poetry mainstream and aid in the realization of how much common literary heritage we share." Haiku written in English has a rich heritage, not only in Japanese culture and literature but also in Western literary influences as well.  In the spirit of inclusion, HIE makes a case similar to the Parable of the Sower in the Gospels that the haiku seed fell not on rocky soil or among thorns and was lost, but rather fell on good poetic earth at the beginning of the 20th Century.  It grew and produced a hundredfold.  In addition to being a wonderful opportunity for mainstream poets to appreciate E-l haiku poets; it's an invitation for E-l poets to become familiar with the work of mainstream poets.  There must be innovation in order for the genre to move ahead.  HIE thoughtfully opens that dialog.  Where haiku is headed is up to what poets make of it.


Mark Harris

As the editors of Haiku in English: The First Hundred Years maintain, "an awareness of the interface between haiku and other short-form poetry is vital." Their anthology includes poems by poets who never claimed to write haiku, Wallace Stevens for one. Is it too much of a stretch to make room for a poet who "never termed anything he wrote haiku"? In my opinion, the decision to include such work corrects the view that haiku poets work outside the influence of historical and contemporary English-language poetics, and instead places the genre within a cultural and literary context that is as natural as it is unavoidable. 
Combined with the timeline threading through the bibliographic information provided in the book's "Index of poets and credits," the rough chronology achieved by ordering HIE "based on the publication date of the earliest poem in each poet's selections" suggests interesting connections.
For example, "tundra" appeared in Cor van den Heuvel's 1963 book The Window Washer's Pail. The editors of HIE observe in their forward that Cor's one-word (surrounded by blank page) poem, "tests a boundary between haiku and minimalist-concrete poetry..." and proceed to make it possible to pursue that line of thought.
in 1958, 5 years before "tundra" appeared in print, E.E. Cummings published 95 Poems, which included



one year later, in 1959, the following poem by Paul Reps appeared in his book Zen Telegrams


Thus helping set the stage for "tundra" ...or so I imagine.
Taking a closer look (hope I'm correctly interpreting the index credits) I notice that haiku contemporary with "tundra" also made it into HIE. American Haiku was a fledging journal in 1963. Its first issue contained this 17 syllable haiku by James W. Hackett

The fleeing sandpipers
     turn about suddenly
          and chase back the sea!

O Mabson Southard's 5/7/5 take on a similar scenario also appeared in AH 1:1

One breaker crashes . . .
   As the next draws up, a lull—
      and sandpiper cries

Looks as if "traditional" and "cutting edge" English-language haiku have progressed side-by-side for quite a while now, doesn't it?
Here's another grouping that interests me (these are my free associations, inspired by the format of HIE, which I recommend to you if you have yet to peruse a copy).
In 1977 (the date given by HIE; the year was 1978 according to MM's website—maybe the release month is uncertain?) Marlene Mountain published this one-liner in Cicada 2:1

one fly everywhere the heat

In 1978 Matsuo Allard published Bird Day Afternoon, which contained the one-liner

alone at 3:00 a.m.—the doorknob turning slowly

and in the same year Robert Grenier published Sentences. His collection of brief texts resists sense and categorization, and yet in the context of HIE, a line such as

except the swing bumped by the dog in passing

helps to frame the whole.
. . . I'm running out of time and space for this particular field note, although I'm tempted to continue—that's the goal of any anthology, to inspire readers to delve deeper, don't you think?


Field Notes

Gary Hotham

Field Notes 4 (FN4) is tough. As I read the e-mails for this one all I could think was there goes Peter Yovu again – asking too much.  Soon he will be suggesting we provide examples of the Great American Haiku or at least our criteria for one.  So what is the meaning for us of this anthology,  Haiku in English: The First 100 Years (HIE)?   What deep power will it have on the genre?  I'm not ready with any profound response to the FN4 expectations.  An evaluation at this time has all the dangers that any pundit had writing a few days after the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand and his wife, Sophie, in Sarajevo, on 28 June 1914.  Do you think any advised the European royalty:  never ride in a vehicle that doesn't have a reverse gear. 
At least in the short term I think Haiku In English: The First 100 Years will be a significant anthology for  the world of English language haiku.  Just like the anthologies Cor van den Heuvel compiled starting in 1974 have been important for the growth, definition and development of English language haiku.  I think HIE reflects a generous variety of styles, depth, ranges, possibilities and successes for the English language haiku. In providing many real examples of the genre over the past century the anthology should be very helpful in bringing an understanding of the form to anyone starting out in the haiku world either as reader or writer - and even those who have been working longer in that world. The haiku in HIE provide substance to any prose definition.  Also once a reader discovers some haiku that strike home then it is easy to follow up on those writers to find more.  Or write one's own.
Hopefully some of the best English language haiku written in the last 100 years are in the anthology – I know some of best will be missing and at some date in the future we will probably discover that some of the best writers were missing from its pages.  Will someone try to make the case that it contains some of the worst?  We know there is no perfect anthology.  Even so I think it will be a collection worth going back to for another read from time to time.  Just like any good collection of poems whether by one poet or an anthology it will bring pleasure again and again.  The great thing about good poetry is that re-reading them is not wasted effort – good poetry adds layers to one's world.


Tom D'Evelyn

A Modest Proposal: Haiku in English is haiku, not poetry

Looking at HIE as a historian of poetry, I see several aspects worth commenting on: HIE as an anthology (which raises the issue of selection and canonicity); the differences between this and other anthologies of Anglophone haiku; the editorial matter as interpretive or descriptive; and the relative value of individual haiku. Some of these aspects would require too much space, some can be covered by general comments, the last requires some examples.

The intention of the book, judged by the editorial material, appears to be not simply to collect the best haiku but to document the case for the proposal that haiku is poetry. The various arguments made by the editors do not seem to me to succeed in making the case, in part because of a lack of coherence at certain points, in part because the editors didn't first question the definition of poetry itself. The argument seems to be played out among established hierarchies. Why raise the issue "what first is poetry?"  if we can assume what the audience believes. Best let sleeping dogs lie. But the problem then for the historian is what the audience believes. I have no way to discuss that except by inference so won't do that here.

That said, the editors seem to graft the question of poetry onto the question of modern poetry, or contemporary poetry. Poetry is modern poetry; and we all know what modern poetry is? Modern means "contemporary"?  Here the idea that haiku is "contemporary" seems paramount. But historicist claims are famously sticky. In masterful hands, they are tactical.  The role of the concept of modernity or the contemporary, is crucial at certain moments in the history of poetry. Whether in Catullus's Rome or Baudelaire's France, the claim of the modern is tactical: to promote the new style in face of the traditional hegemony. But in the case of HIE, the claim of the contemporary produces slippage in the argument: are we supposed to believe that contemporary haiku is "modern" by contrast to poetry in general or modern by contrast to a more traditional haiku, or both? Or is poetry automatically contemporary? The argument that haiku in English is poetry may well be lost in the argument about a particular contemporary style of haiku being representative of haiku-in-English. There are signs in the state of the debate about HIE that those who feel this way see the anthology as excluding other kinds of contemporary haiku; they see HIE as a manifesto. This comes as no surprise to the historian of poetry.

One may say a little more. Given the ideology of the editorial matter it does seem that there is an "American" assumption that good haiku are written by interesting individuals (see the thumbnails) who display the American virtue of individualism, even iconoclasm. Haiku then would ideally capture something arbitrary in the writer's experience that mark it as unique. This would justify the approach to interpretation that favors impressionism over analysis connecting the text to beliefs shared by others. Perhaps contemporary haiku as envisioned by the editors involves a kind of "will-to-power," a happy-go-lucky nihilism.

Trying to make sense of all this  gives one a headache, so we turn to the haiku collected here with relief. Something occurs to me repeatedly as I peruse this anthology. While I see the good-natured nihilism, I don't see the anxiety about poetry. At best I see mindful very short texts that respond quite well to rational criticism. The clarity of the language, the seamlessness of form and significance reminds me not of poetry but of the family of short forms that includes aphorism, maxims, pensees, etc. (see Gary Saul Morson, The Long and the Short of It: From Aphorism to Novel,  for a discussion of the traditional prose short).

So maybe brevity is the soul of haiku and the problem faced by the haiku writer is the problem of exclusion. How much can be excluded before you cut into the bone? How deep a feeling can a very short text produce? What's the trick of making a very short text memorable?  Since this is a literary problem for every writer, haiku can be read as exemplary of very short texts (I need not mention the success of flash-fiction today).

Form in art, regardless of size, depends on repetition as well as movement or change; repetition makes change evident. (The writer of shorts Lydia Davis is a master of repetition.) Take as example Peter Yovu's piece: "she slips into / the ocean the ocean / slips into." Read this as many times as you wish, the mystery remains, and the mystery is coded in the repetition of this very big thing, "ocean." This is no formal mystery: Ocean IS mystery. Can the ocean itself be compare to a woman to slips into it? What can the ocean slip into? If the ocean is a traditional name for "what surrounds us," one feels a dizzy imaging this horizon slipping inside its own horizon. Aside from the verbal slide, the rhythm conveys a sense of vertigo. This is both clever and provocative. It embodies a vertiginous question that irritated Plato into thought. And everybody worth the name of thinker since.

A variation on Yovu's elegant repetition (I'm not saying one haiku is based on the other: they are both based on a seminal idea of form) is Philip Rowland's "inside an envelope / inside an envelope: / funeral money." Where Yovu may strike a metaphysical note, Rowland discovers the pathos of discretion in the face of death. Again, using repetition, the haiku captures a moment of ultimate reflection. The subject matters. Death and Ocean: two mammoth themes. While both of these texts are "original" in the simplicity of their design, they are also traditional in their topics. They are unique witout being arbitrary, profound rather than solipsistic.

Finally, contemporary haiku may draw intertextually on the origins of haiku in the Japanese early modern period, thereby gaining authority by innovating, marking a difference within a dense undergrowth of tradition. Jane Reichhold does this in "autumn / taking a dirt road / to the end." This is both "classic" (Bashō's Japanese tradition, which she knows intimately) and utterly at home in the English language. It resonates every which way. It is "classic" in more senses that one (or two).

So I do find much to admire here. I have always loved writing that is short; I try to practice "writing short"  whenever I write. Years ago I studied Greek and Roman epigram and traced its influence through European language. I teach "writing short" in various genres. For the last ten years I have specialized in carefully balanced couplets framed on models supplied by classical Chinese poets, especially with regard to the making of resonant images. That training has prepared me to enjoy HIE – though "enjoy" may not be the word. I don't like them all. It seems that many of the haiku collected here seem intent on expressing what the editor calls "sentiment" and that alone is not enough for me. Given the contexts provided by the anthology, many of the more famous writers represented here seem over-valued. Many of the haiku collected here are verbally clever but lack the verbal resonance and the deep sounding of the bottom of the heart I want in any literary text, however short. Each time I put the book down, I come away believing even more strongly that to write a good haiku in contemporary English is quite an accomplishment for a writer.


Michael McClintock

The Haiku in English anthology: Some Notes and Observations
The Haiku in English anthology doesn't need a Paul Revere, does it?  It's a big, friendly collection, and comes without rifles or cannon shot.  
My general impression of the Haiku in English anthology is that the collection and its prose commentary and history represent a solid, competent effort to provide a fair and balanced overview of its subject. There is ample bibliographic information for all readers to follow up on poets, translators and criticism . . . I am not aware of any other book that attempts to give a similar introduction to English language haiku and its first hundred years.
The real energy that can come from a book like this is difficult to measure but nevertheless is real and welcome. It's ironic, perhaps, that the book's physical limitations practically assure that its presentation is not ---  nor should we expect it to be --- exhaustive in its treatment. Because it is not exhaustive, I think it is certain to stimulate further anthologies and deeper, more narrowly focused collections and critical examinations of individual poets, as well as groups of poets, who share a time-period, region, subject matter, similar aesthetics, principles of composition, artistic philosophy or vision, and literally dozens more areas of interest.  I know of at least five such anthologies in the works, one being already completed and, last I checked, targeted for publication this November.
Haiku in English is a splendid book and makes a solid case for the genre, in direct line of evolution with the previous three editions of the haiku anthology edited by Cor van den Heuval, and numerous other collections and anthologies published over the last fifty years. Haiku poets  have been fortunate to have received freshened exposure by a major anthology from a large,  respected publisher, about every ten years -- that is as "mainstream" as haiku ever needs to be.
The real strength of any anthology resides in the poems selected to go into it. The selection here amply illustrates the diversity of approaches taken with haiku, but exhausts the possibilities of none of them --- another strength of the anthology. The haiku movement, as a movement, shows surprising endurance, having achieved this kind of track record and performance: the anthologies have sold well relative to other collections of poetry --- and this fact reveals something about the truly radical posture of haiku when seen alongside,  and in opposition to, "mainstream" poetry ---in all its styles, fads, and movements --- over this same period of time.
The future? I think I'll be practical here and sidestep too much guessing about the future of haiku in English. I have no personal need to speculate; I'm content to wait and see, and do so (I hope) with an open mind while at the same time aware of haiku fundamentals --- those qualities and characteristics that make haiku haiku and not something else. Meanwhile, what I'm going to do, in the time I have left, is try to write haiku that are good enough to find a place in the next anthology --- the one about the second hundred years.
Likewise, I'm sure, haiku poets generally will need to produce work that re-animates, through changing times, the aesthetic and artistic ideals of these past hundred years.The 400+ pages of poetry in Haiku in English show that we are well-equipped to do that and not lose our bearings as a distinctive poetry with unique powers of vision and language.  We should be under no illusions about the artistic challenge in advancing haiku aesthetics and craft while at the same time perpetuating a relatively small body of core principles gleaned from the genre's actual five hundred year history.  It may be literary pooh-bah to think that haiku must be on the way to somewhere else: the great endurance and beauty of the genre may be rooted in the solidity and simple basics of its compass, art form, and territory now occupied.

Field Notes

Francine Banwarth

Haiku in English: The First Hundred Years

Prompt: Where English-language haiku has been, where it is now, where it might be going.

Since the early years, when haiku was finding its footing in the English language, serious practitioners of the genre have played and experimented with its content and form. Gayle Bull, wife of James Bull, who, with Don Eulert, founded American Haiku, recounts the journal's inaugural days when Nick Virgilio would send multiple versions of the same poem in one submission; he milked every possibility, and I can't help but think that his willingness to view his haiku from all angles is among the reasons he became one of our foremost English-language haiku poets.

Throughout the history of  ELH, we've also witnessed a proliferation of  junk haiku, spam haiku, "haikus" that are not haiku. It is disheartening to see an art form that we respect and admire be treated so shabbily. How can we lift and keep haiku on a higher tier, let alone move it into mainstream poetry, if that is our goal?

The publication release of HIE includes the following assessment, which recognizes haiku at a level many are trying to achieve in their writing practice today:

"The best haiku, so many of which are collected in this volume, take but a moment to read yet are so condensed and so masterfully composed that they evoke an experience much larger than nearly any other collection of words so small."

This statement alone suggests that there is so much more to the art of haiku than getting 17 or less syllables down on the page.

English-language haiku has been on an evolutionary path and continues so in the present, and hopefully so into the future. That is the lifeblood of any art form: if it is going to last through the ages, it must evolve. The challenge lies in the fact that there are many haiku being written today that need a good dose of freshness and originality; themes are overused and the "art of juxtaposition" has become a "quick fix" to tie 3 lines of verse together. Based on the thousands of haiku we've read in Frogpond submissions over our first 5 issues, many potentially good poems fail because the writer didn't push deep enough or reach far enough with word and image.

What HIE comprehensively lays out for us is a level of excellence over the first 100 hundred years of English-language haiku that is equaled today by practitioners who assess their own work critically, who reveal rather than define meaning through subject, technique, form, and allusion, who are open to fresh and surprising possibility, and who experiment on a variety of levels to keep haiku alive and breathing on the page. This is what I hope for English-language haiku in the present and it is where I believe the future of haiku lies.


Peter Newton

Q: What does the recently published Haiku in English; The First Hundred Years tell you about haiku—where it's been, where it is now or where it might be going?
In his historical overview at the end of Haiku in English, one of its editors, Jim Kacian states: "the subject of the best poetry has always been the wild—that over which we have little or no control." I compare that statement to one by Thoreau who said: "In wildness is the preservation of the world." Are they saying the same thing. I think so, yes. Though I suspect Kacian is speaking in more literary terms, Thoreau in more environmental. Maybe they're both speaking on behalf of environmental literature.
From re-reading the last quarter of the HiE where, according to Kacian, many of the relative haiku newcomers appear, I noticed this call of the wild in some ways. Poems of protest almost. The use of haiku as an antidote for the increasing number of things that may seem like they are out of our control: be they global warming, species extinctions, alternative energies, rampant consumerism or nuclear meltdowns.
retreating glacier—
how long since we've heard
the black wolf's song
(Billie Wilson, p.227)
the passenger pigeon returns
      on a canceled stamp
(Scott Mason, p. 280)
the wind being farmed the wind that isn't
(John Barlow, p.260)
migrating geese—
the things we thought we needed
darken the garage
(Chad Lee Robinson, p.269)
radiation leak moonlight on the fuel rods
(Melissa Allen,p.300)
These examples, among others, indicate to me that haiku is being written to counteract what Kacian calls "environmental disregard."  It seems to me that haiku is the original green poetry returning to its roots to help combat an increasing problem. And in the 24-hour news cycle we find ourselves in it is difficult for the average person to avoid even the basic knowledge that our planet is experiencing escalating abuse. What's a haiku poet to do but fight back.
So is haiku becoming the environmental poetry of the 21st century? The latest insurgency of protest poetry? A movement by which we can realign ourselves with nature? Get back in tune, so to speak.
I hope so. And I think the very last poem in the anthology makes a similar point by grounding itself in nature. And drawing the comparison of two disparate images by using old and new ways of writing haiku. Old style, new approach:
Snow at dawn . . .
dead singers in their prime
on the radio
(Rebecca Lilly, p. 303)
The seasonal reference sets the tone in L1, the way a lighting designer in a film might cast just the right shadows to evoke a mood. In fact, the line "Snow at dawn. . ." could've been written by Basho. Maybe even was at some point, in some poem. Lilly awakens the reader to nature --the fact that it is dawn and it is snowing-- and directs our attention to the imposed distraction of the radio instead of an expected silence. Falling snow is a soothing visual but contrasted with a pop song on the radio speaks to the near constant infiltration of noise, even white noise, into our lives. Her poem conjures a timeless loss—is it Amy Winehouse? Jimi Hendrix? Janis Joplin? All of the above.  Either way, we are reminded of the brevity of dawn, of snowflakes, of songs and singers. The poem is a little "wild" sounding when you read it aloud. Irreverent. It is that wildness that forces us to stop and think.


Bruce Ross

Since the majority of haiku in HIE are American, an analogy to American modern dance is apt. As haiku was dominated by imagism while conceiving haiku as a nature poem primarily, modern American dance infuses various kinds of emotion with recognizably appropriate gesture, step, and music. A trajectory from Martha Graham to Paul Taylor is exemplary. A lesser represented dance trajectory, from Alvin Nikolai, to Merce Cunningham to Armitage Gone!, as Whitman "broke the pentameter" in poetry, created new forms of movement and aesthetics of choreography as a whole.  American poetry has taken many forms, borrowing from Classic or Romantic idioms, fixed forms and open forms, word fixated and visionary fixated, long forms and short forms. When modern Japanese haiku occurred, a rejoinder was: Fine, write what you want, but why call it haiku. The question is, What makes a haiku? So, in English-language reception of haiku, there has been a reliance on kanji (Chinese characters) for the "grammar" of haiku and a latent image in perceived/expressed experience in images and images in kanji, rightly introduced into Imagism and what follows. HIE captures some of these issues in choosing examples and discussing individual haiku poets. There is good in HIE: its breath of choice and individual haiku examples. There are some issues in HIE: haiku not represented of a given haiku poet's style and a perhaps overstating certain directions in haiku in Japan and the USA (gendai). HIE has a "current" feel with Billy Collins's "Introduction" and a number of "hip" idiomed contemporary haiku and examples by John Ashbery, suggesting an issue of whether American haiku and American poetry are really that close together in import. Otherwise, a volume to be enjoyed and pondered.


Billie Wilson

I speak more from an emotional than an intellectual base. A major highlight of my haiku life occurred at the "unveiling" of this book at Haiku North America. It was like being in the vortex of haiku history. One poem by each poet was read aloud – either by well-selected readers – or by the poet if present. The room seemed to vibrate as the first reader announced, "Ezra Pound" and then read his poem. The next reader said, "Wallace Stevens" and read his poem – and so it continued. Several poets were there to read their own work, and that was awesome, especially for someone who only dreamed of being in the same room with those poets. Whatever the book reveals about haiku, it deserves its place on the most prominent shelf in every haiku poet's library. It will be as rich a resource for future poets as Cor van den Heuvel's venerable anthologies and The Haiku Society of America's A Haiku Path.


Michael Dylan Welch

I have yet to read Haiku in English, particularly the prose content, but after reading through all the poetry, I'm generally pleased. The book does a fairly thorough job of representing most of the high points in English-language haiku history -- which any reviewer needs to remember is one of the book's primary goals, thus making it different from other haiku anthologies. It's true of all anthologies that they can be easily criticized for who they leave out, who they include, and whether they feature the editor or the editor's friends too much. This anthology is no exception, but it is still clearly a high-water mark for our haiku poetry. I also recognize that some omissions may have occurred because of exorbitant permission fees, or perhaps if a person simply declined to be included. I also know that hard choices needed to be made, making it impossible to include everyone's favourite haiku writers. Nevertheless, while inclusions and omissions are details that can still be debated, the general thrust of the anthology is effective, and marks a changing of the guard from Cor van den Heuvel's three venerable anthologies. Haiku in English does not supplant those anthologies at all, however; rather, it builds upon them.

What does Haiku in English tells us about where haiku has been, where it is now, and where it may be going? On its own, the book gives the perspective of its editors, so it needs to be taken in a larger context, of course, but overall it tells us that haiku has explored imagism, the concrete, and the surreal, and that it is now well established to have begun what I think is a healthy splintering into various approaches, even if these approaches are sometimes sharply divided (gendai being the latest vocal minority). There's a point where a poem goes too far and is no longer haiku, but then I've always felt it's more important to value something as poetry, regardless of whether it's a "haiku" or not, so I welcome all explorations, although I don't always agree that some of it is still haiku. As for the future, I'm not sure any haiku anthology can answer that question, except to point to its major practitioners with the invitation to watch what they get up to.

If I might comment on anything particular, it's that the E. E. Cummings poem is printed very incorrectly, and I feel that there are too many one-line haiku, out of proportion to their actual frequency and influence over the last hundred years. On the other hand, there are one or two poets who are new to me, and several fine individual haiku that I also wasn't familiar with, so for that alone I'm grateful. I believe the book will go a long way towards educating the public about the breadth and depth of haiku in English, a public that should include grade school and college teachers, education administrators (who need to fix badly outdated curriculum guides that define haiku in English superficially and incorrectly as just 5-7-5 syllables), MFA programs, poetry anthologists, poetry publishers, and anyone else who is interested in poetry, even if they're not normally interested in haiku. A book like Haiku in English helps to get English-language haiku out of the ghetto that haiku poets have put themselves in, so bravo for that. Here's to more haiku ghetto-busting.

Philip Rowland

Many thanks, everyone, for your thoughtful comments -- much appreciated.

To clarify the following question of Richard's:   

"My primary question has to do with the inclusion of works designated as haiku within (by default as it were), which are snippets extracted from poems that are not haiku. There is no discussion within of the disjunct between editorial decision and authorial intention, that I can find."

In fact, I believe that there is only one longer work from which we extracted portions and presented them as haiku: Wallace Stevens' "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird". And Jim discusses this choice in some detail on pp. 316-17. There are other instances of "found haiku" in HIE, but they are complete poems.

Jean LeBlanc

   I use anthologies of literature in several courses I teach, and I know there's no perfect anthology. Or perhaps, the perfect anthology is the one that makes the reader think, "If I could edit an anthology, I'd add this, and this, and this...." By that criterion, HIE is a perfect anthology. I know it made me think, not only about what I'd include or not include if I had been asked to edit such a work (I'd have run for the hills, is what I'd have done, if asked to edit such a work), but also the "why" behind each work that was included. I kept in mind the stated purpose of this anthology: to highlight haiku that have contributed to the evolution of the form in English. Some of the poems in this volume delighted me. Some actually made me angry, and taught me almost as much as the ones that delighted me. From almost every haiku in these pages, I learned something. I annotated, even—talk about an English teacher gone wild! Above all, HIE shows how vibrant and necessary this form is. I can't imagine a life without haiku, and now I can't imagine a haiku life without this book as reference, guide, companion.   

Peter Yovu

Jean, are you willing to cite a few haiku which delighted or which angered you?

Jean LeBlanc

I am happy to cite a few that delighted me. On page 46, John Wills's "a box of nails" took my breath away. To find the...I'm not sure how else to say it...human essence of a box of nails: hard, cold, isolated--to make one feel empathy for a box of nails...just brilliant. I feel the coldness of that shed. And the alliteration--"shelf in the shed"--one has to grit one's teeth to say it. The poem makes one shiver.

Peter Newton's "now here." And Melissa Allen--her work is always a delight, always something new.

Those are only a few of the ones I return to again and again after reading the book through.

I'll keep secret the ones that make me angry, knowing I need to understand more before speaking of these out loud. But as I said in my longer post, I learned something even from these.


Hello Peter and all,

Sorry to have been so absent from all the great FN discussion ...

Time is still pressing so I will simply quote one haiku from HiE, p250, one that had a remarkable effect on me at the book's launch at HNA.

in tune with

- Eve Luckring (this appears almost as it does on the page).

Hearing the poet *read* this haiku let it in my ears instead of just my eyes, and what a difference that made. I understood - in fact, I realised I knew the experience - and enjoyed!


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