skip to Main Content

Juxtapositions, the first journal dedicated to English-language haiku research and scholarship, seeks to review not only significant individual collections, but the collected critical and scholarly work of important figures in the history of the genre. In this issue, dedicated to Cor van den Heuvel, Melissa Allen considers the legacy of The Haiku Anthology, edited by van den Heuvel in three editions (1974, 1986, 1999); several contemporary poets offer commentary on significant haiku by van den Heuvel from his lengthy career; and Michael Dylan Welch reminds of us one of the most important early publications in the history of English-language haiku, The Bamboo Broom, by Harold G. Henderson

“Do We Know What a Haiku Is?”

The Haiku Anthology in Retrospect

van den Heuvel, Cor (editor). The Haiku Anthology: English Language Haiku by Contemporary American and Canadian Poets. Garden City, NY: Anchor Press/Doubleday, 1974.

van den Heuvel, Cor (editor). The Haiku Anthology: Haiku and Senryu in English, revised edition. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1986.

van den Heuvel, Cor (editor). The Haiku Anthology: Haiku and Senryu in English, third edition. New York: Norton, 1999. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1934.

It has been more than forty years since Cor van den Heuvel published the first edition of The Haiku Anthology (hereafter referred to as THA), seventeen years since the third and presumably final edition was published, and the book is still in print, with over 50,000 copies of its three editions sold as of 2009 (van den Heuvel, “Chronicles”). One copy at least is likely to be on the bookshelf of anyone in the English-speaking world who has ever read or written haiku with any degree of seriousness. What can we say now about the effect that this extraordinarily influential work has had on English-language haiku (ELH) — and about the effect that ELH had on the later editions of the anthology?

What influence van den Heuvel intended for THA to have might be inferred from the definite article that begins the anthology’s title. Apparently this was not to be just an anthology among others; it was to be sui generis, and, as it turned out, the book did in fact very nearly hold this distinction for close to four decades. THA was popular immediately, and although other anthologies have of course been published before and since, not until the appearance in 2013 of Haiku in English: The First Hundred Years did any anthology come close to rivaling THA as a comprehensive selection of English-language haiku. Even that more up-to-date and wide-ranging anthology, from the same publishing house (Norton), hasn’t shown any signs of putting THA out of print.

What accounts for THA’s unique level of success? Part of it must be put down to timing. In 1974, ELH was quite young as a literary movement, at least as a literary movement conscious of its own existence. Although individual English-language poets, such as Ezra Pound, Wallace Stevens, Paul Reps, Jack Kerouac, and Richard Wright, had discovered and experimented with haiku at various times over the previous sixty years, they had worked mostly in isolation from each other, and none had ever chosen haiku as their sole or even primary form of poetic expression. The world’s first ELH journal, American Haiku, was established only in 1963, creating the first vector for the dissemination of the theory and practice of haiku in English and the first natural center for a community of ELH writers. Several other haiku journals followed in the late sixties and early seventies, and the Haiku Society of America (HSA), founded in 1968, made the community explicit. But it was still perfectly possible in those days for ELH poets to be unaware that any other ELH poets existed.

In fact, when Cor van den Heuvel stumbled across the HSA in 1971, it was his first intimation that he was not virtually the only person seriously writing haiku in the English language — although he had been doing so for over a decade, longer than almost anyone else. THA arose out of the fortuitous combination of an incipient literary movement still seeking focus and definition and an energetic poet with more than enough focus for everyone and a history of aiming directly and unhesitatingly at the literary target he sought.

Van den Heuvel himself recounts this extraordinary history in “My Haiku Path.” In 1958, still a very young man, working in New Hampshire as a newspaper reporter, he read about the San Francisco literary scene in the famous second issue of The Evergreen Review and promptly left to see it for himself. There, happening to end up at a party with the poet Gary Snyder, he heard Snyder talk about haiku: “[T]his was the first time the word ‘haiku’ had caught my interest. . . . A day or two later I looked in the library for books on haiku. I was soon reading and studying R. H. Blyth’s translations and those of Harold G. Henderson and Kenneth Yasuda.” Feeling straightaway that “haiku seemed to embody the essence of what [he] had been looking for in poetry,” he decamped from San Francisco without further ado and “by the early spring of 1959 . . . was living alone in a small cottage in Wells Beach, Maine, trying to write [his] own haiku.”

In “Path,” van den Heuvel clearly explains what was “the essence of what [he] had been looking for in poetry”: “I had been searching for the secret of turning words into things. . . . The secret seemed to lie in the combining of simple description with naming, then refining the result into elements of pure suggestion. The words would then call up an image in the mind that had not only the ontological thrust of real existence, but elicited from the reader an emotional conviction that he was one with the things that comprised that image and by extension one with all of being, all of nature — all of the universe . . .”

This conviction that haiku was “pure suggestion” that created in the reader “the ontological thrust of real existence” and a sense of being “one with . . . the universe” was powerfully inspirational for van den Heuvel, resulting in his writing highly accomplished, even brilliant haiku that remain classics of the genre. In The Haiku Handbook, William J. Higginson and Penny Harter conclude that “[t]he freshness of van den Heuvel’s movie and amusement park images, and his spare handling of the language, were not to be equaled in haiku by other Americans until almost a decade later” (66). As I’ll examine, van den Heuvel’s ideas about the nature of haiku were also to manifest themselves in his editing of THA over a decade later.

When, in 1971, van den Heuvel discovered the HSA, and with it the entire existing ELH community, he acted with the same resolve and competence that he had back in the fifties when he determined first to go to San Francisco to learn about poetry and then to go back to the East Coast and write haiku. Just as he had met Snyder at the opportune moment, he now “met William J. Higginson, Anita Virgil, Alan Pizzarelli and a number of other writers who were to become important American haiku poets” (“Path”). As Higginson explains in The Haiku Handbook, van den Heuvel “immediately began a careful reading of all the haiku materials he could find. As he went he made note of poems he particularly liked” (71). This sheaf of favorite poems was to become the first, 1974 edition of THA. Legendarily, when van den Heuvel stopped by the Doubleday offices with his completed manuscript to inquire about publication, he discovered that two other writers had already proposed haiku anthologies to the publisher — but theirs had not yet been compiled. Van den Heuvel, with his work complete, got the contract and the lock on haiku history (van den Heuvel, “Chronicles”).

That THA was published by a major publisher was certainly a factor in its success. Higginson and Harter point out that “the several other anthologies of haiku published before and since were all lovingly produced in short press runs. The Haiku Anthology was a trade paperback from Doubleday, and enjoyed wide distribution. Interest in haiku grew, and several new readers and poets became involved in the haiku magazines” (71). In his Modern Haiku review of the second edition of THA, Wally Swist observes that this publication “marked the first time that a sizeable and qualitative compilation of North American haiku was made available to the general reading public” (49).

THA certainly greatly expanded the borders of the ELH community and simultaneously expanded the wider public’s understanding of haiku. But the anthology didn’t just extend a welcoming hand to ELH outsiders; it provided those who were already devotees of ELH with an invaluable resource for growing their own understanding and mastery of the genre. Swist observes that “many of the haiku poets that came to full maturation in the genre and began writing highly effective work later in the 1970’s and 1980’s weaned themselves by reading and rereading van den Heuvel’s anthology” (49). For these poets, Jim Kacian says, THA “offered an argument for what was excellent, distinctive, and likely to last” (334).

Overall, according to Swist, “The first edition of The Haiku Anthology was both precursor and harbinger to the evolutional explosion of English language haiku in recent years. . . . To any erstwhile literary observer of the past decade what van den Heuvel’s anthology accomplished was startling” (49).

Because of the outsize influence of THA on the course of ELH, it’s worth closely examining not only what the nature of this influence was but what is actually in the anthology — and what is not. What did van den Heuvel value in haiku? What did he actually think haiku was? And how was he influenced in the compilation of later editions of the anthology by trends in the development of ELH?

The first edition of THA, as one might expect for an anthology of a young and relatively undeveloped form, is not extensive or wide-ranging: it contains some 230 haiku by 38 poets, all of them North American. (The subtitle of this edition, changed for subsequent editions, is “English Language Haiku by Contemporary American and Canadian Poets.”) It’s unlikely that anyone who had been regularly reading North American haiku journals would have been surprised by any of the poets chosen — as the Modern Haiku reviewer, James P. Rooney, says, “It is pleasant to find many familiar haiku in this new haiku anthology.”

Rooney frequently references American Haiku in his review and cites as notable inclusions in the anthology the work of perennial American Haiku contributors O. Southard (Mabelsson Norway in this edition), Foster Jewell, Nicholas A. Virgilio, and Robert Spiess. Rooney does also praise the inclusion of Marjorie Bates Pratt and Anita Virgil as “poets who have not been widely published,” but nothing in this anthology seems like new ground to him (45). Rather, as Charles Trumbull points out, it’s “an indication that American haiku had come of age and was beginning to develop its own canon.”

The introduction by van den Heuvel, a feature of each of the editions, gives us invaluable information about what it is that the editor intended to accomplish with his work. The tone of the introduction of the first edition is sometimes plaintive or defensive, as in the first sentence: “Until now, the poets represented in this anthology have been largely ‘invisible.’. . . The movement of which they are a part, however, has now reached a point where its accomplishments can no longer be ignored” (xxvii).

Not only have the accomplishments of haiku poets often been ignored by the larger literary world, insists van den Heuvel, they have, at times, been mocked: “In the midst of this proliferating interest and activity with haiku throughout the world, the ‘literary world’ — critics and poets alike — sees English language haiku either as worthless fragments, blank and incomprehensible, or as little more than examples of a form of light verse whose only use is as an educational aid to interest children in poetry” (xxix). Clearly, van den Heuvel sees it as part of his mission to rescue haiku from this state of neglect and ignominy by making it at last visible, so that its depth and worth as poetry can be seen. But he also doesn’t shy away from pointing out that ELH is in its infancy as a genre and that there is little consensus, in fact, as to what ELH actually is: “Haiku in English is still in the process of finding its ‘way.’ Beyond a general agreement that haiku should be short, concise, and immediate . . . individual poets may often diverge widely in their conceptions of what a haiku is and how one is created. . . . Is it basically a religious or an esthetic experience?” (xxx)

In this edition, at least, van den Heuvel seems agnostic on this matter. He cites James W. Hackett as an example of a poet who believes haiku is inextricably linked with Zen and spirituality and Nicholas Virgilio as an example of a poet who favors “imaginative creation” as the source for his work — both poets are featured prominently in the anthology and their points of view are treated evenhandedly (xxxi). Van den Heuvel concludes generously that “‘haiku’ may be on its way to becoming a much broader term than it has been in the past. This may or may not be a good thing . . . Japanese haiku has survived countless controversies in its centuries-old history and haiku in English will too. As [Harold] Henderson says, what haiku in English will become ‘will depend primarily on the poets who write them’” (xxxiii).

Indeed, though the first edition of THA eventually went out of print, “the poets who were weaned on it,” as Swist says in his review of the second edition that appeared in 1986, “strove ahead with their own writing and editing — their own exploration in the form and the content of haiku” (49). Swist applauds the new edition for showcasing “the growth, serious interest, and fresh vitality, that newer devotees have brought to [the] genre” (50). The increased number of poems in the second edition — from just over 200 by 38 poets to nearly 700 by 66 poets — reflects the huge growth in the number of ELH haiku poets in those twelve years, some significant portion of which must certainly, as Swist suggests, be due to the influence of THA itself.

Notably, the second edition, though issued by a different publisher (Simon & Schuster) than the first, contains van den Heuvel’s introductions to both the first and second editions, as if to assert the historical importance of that first introduction. Reflecting the increasingly healthy state of the genre, the second edition’s introduction is far less defensive than the first edition’s. In his earlier introduction van den Heuvel cited the typical arguments made against haiku by the mainstream poetry community; now he turns around and hurls some pointed criticism of his own back. “Someone . . . once likened the English language haiku movement to a small puddle far from the mainstream of poetry. If so, the puddle is doing very well on its own. While the mainstream moves, for the most part, sluggishly through gray fogs of obscurity and intellectualization, the puddle is ablaze with color and light” (9).

In this introduction, van den Heuvel repeats his earlier assertion that “haiku will become what the poets make it” (9). In this vein, he describes what he sees as the three major new trends in haiku since the first edition: “the emergence of the one-liner as a common form for haiku and senryu; the growing practice of writing longer works, such as sequences and renga; and the increasing importance of human relationships, especially sex and love, as subject matter” (10).

In addition, van den Heuvel admits that there have been “many other successful explorations of the possibilities of haiku and its related genres. Usually these have been accomplished by the individual genius, or style, of a particular poet,” such as Marlene Mountain, Alan Pizzarelli, or Raymond Roseliep. The first and third of these poets, now solidly entrenched in the canon of ELH, appear in this edition for the first time, though both were already writing when the first edition was published. The horizons of ELH were unquestionably widening during this time, but so too, apparently, were van den Heuvel’s own.

Reading this edition of the anthology after reading the first feels something like meeting a child for the first time when she’s very small and then not again until she’s a teenager — there is continuity in both appearance and character, but there are also sea changes. The first edition contains a preponderance of three-line Shiki-like nature sketches, which was the dominant mode for haiku at the time, and though there are certainly striking variants — among them, notably, van den Heuvel’s own classic one-word haiku, “tundra” — they’re few and far between. Throughout the second edition, although the old standbys like Robert Spiess, John Wills, and J. W. Hackett are still represented in abundance, the reader is constantly stumbling on poets like Alexis Rotella, George Swede, Marlene Mountain, and Bob Boldman — innovators in form and subject matter who feel more than just one generation removed from the previously mentioned poets.

When one can move in the space of three pages from a straightforward sketch poem like Lenard D. Moore’s “Summer noon; / the blueberry field divided / by a muddy road” (148) to Marlene Mountain’s classic one-line haiku “pig and I spring rain” (151), it’s natural to ask oneself, “What exactly am I reading here?” There’s a similar distance, physical and mental, between Robert Spiess’s “Winter moon / beaver lodge in the marsh, / mounded with snow” (233) and George Swede’s “Night begins to gather between her breasts” (234). It seems certain that the popular conception of haiku at the time of the anthology’s publication was much narrower and less daring than represented in this anthology, and so, as Kacian says, in its second incarnation THA’s “breadth of poetic styles and content offered a compelling argument for the vitality of the genre” (340).

Unlike the first and third editions, the second edition includes an appendix containing renku (called renga by van den Heuvel), haiku sequences, and a small selection of reviews of books of haiku. The editor clearly felt that given the increasing popularity of the first two of these types of writing, a fully representative haiku anthology should include them, but he also seems to have felt that they weren’t “real” haiku or at least hadn’t come to full maturity in the English language. Of renga, he says, “Its importance for this anthology is that the practice of writing [it] has helped stimulate innovation in the writing of haiku and senryu and has encouraged the exchange of ideas and a sense of community among poets by bringing them in closer contact with one another” (12). (In the third edition of THA, renga and sequences are absent, suggesting that van den Heuvel ultimately questioned their significance to the development of ELH.)

All this variety seems to have both thrilled and confused van den Heuvel. Towards the end of his introduction to the second edition, he asks the frank question, “After about twenty-five years of English language haiku, do we know what a haiku is?” And then he answers himself: “There seems to be no general consensus — which may be a sign of its health and vitality” (19).

Van den Heuvel is still wrestling in this introduction with the question of whether Zen, or at least some kind of quest for “enlightenment,” is essential to writing haiku. He acknowledges that this is a point of view that is falling out of favor these days, citing the work of poet and critic Hiroaki Sato as influential in the effort to “get the Zen out of haiku” (19). Still, van den Heuvel struggles to give up this point of view entirely, and devotes several paragraphs to some tortured logic based on an account by Bashō’s disciple Doho of the nature of the process of writing haiku: “achieving detachment from the self, becoming one with existence.” “If that’s not enlightenment,” van den Heuvel says defensively, “it certainly seems like a step in the right direction” (20).

(There were, of course, plenty of other onlookers who saw THA and haiku more generally as a bastion of Zen. Notably, Bruce Ross, editor of arguably the only other major general haiku anthology published between 1974 and 1999, The Haiku Moment, claims that “the poets of The Haiku Anthology have a greater knowledge of Oriental literature and poetics than the preceding two generations of American haiku poets. . . . They also develop subjectively perceived experience to emphasize the Zen-like mental climate of Wallace Steven’s ‘supreme fiction,’ as in the well-known lily haiku by Nick Virgilio. They also evoke revelations through haiku expressed as a transcendence of the normal self and of the normal perception of objects” [18].)

In the end, though, enthusiasm wins out for van den Heuvel over dogma, and he concludes that “ultimately haiku eludes definition.” Paraphrasing Rod Willmot, he elaborates: “It may be a good thing . . . if, rather than working towards a restrictive definition, we continue in our present direction, where haiku poets are creating ‘a whole variety of poetics and criticisms, coexisting rather than competing’” (21).

The second edition of THA stayed in print until, in 1999, van den Heuvel brought out the third edition, containing about 850 poems by 89 poets, 44 of whom appear in THA for the first time. By now, the ELH community had matured to the point where there were thousands of participants worldwide, dozens of journals and presses, an untold number of books and chapbooks, and perhaps most importantly, a growing body of serious scholarship, especially by native speakers of Japanese with a broad historical perspective on the development of haiku and its place in contemporary Japanese society. Notable among these scholars were Hiroaki Sato, mentioned above, and Hiruo Shirane.

In addition, the development of the World Wide Web meant that there was beginning to be an online ELH community. Within a few years this community would explode to unimaginable proportions, vastly increasing the audience and the participants for ELH, not to mention the sheer number of haiku in existence. The web helped widely disseminate information about the genre that was previously only available to the relatively tiny number (several hundred) of subscribers to print journals such as Modern Haiku and Frogpond. In some ways, the third edition of THA can be seen as the last stand of the old guard of ELH, the last chance to produce a stable canon of poetry from the first forty years of haiku in English.

In this effort, most haiku poets seem to have felt that the third edition succeeded. Issued by yet another publisher, W.W. Norton, a noted publisher of anthologies, the new anthology sold briskly from the start and earned its fair share of praise. The Modern Haiku review, by Charles Rossiter, says that the anthology reads “like a family reunion of a growing and healthy family . . . a new generation providing the energy and perspective of youth and the memories of those who’ve passed away” (93). Rossiter continues, “[I]f you are at all interested in haiku, you want to own this book. It is simply the best, most extensive collection of English language haiku in existence, and a joy to read” (93).

The praise this time, though, was less unanimous than it had been for previous editions — ironically, likely a result of the ever-growing diversity among ELH poets that van den Heuvel championed so vigorously in the first two editions of THA. Criticisms tended to fall into two areas: the lack of diversity, geographical and otherwise, among the anthology’s participants, and the lack of historical accuracy in van den Heuvel’s definition of haiku.

Of the first criticism, Kacian explains, “The first volume . . . was predictably a gleaning of the best haiku in English to be found, and not surprisingly the great bulk of these poems had been written by North American poets. By the second volume . . . and especially the third . . . interest and activity in the genre had moved far beyond North America, a change not reflected in these subsequent editions” (334). Worldwide, Kacian continues, “The success of THA, with its focus on North American poets, gave rise to the idea that there was an ‘American style’ of haiku, to be both admired and resisted” (349).

Indeed, the only non-North Americans in the second edition of THA are the Australian Janice Bostok and the Japanese Tadashi Kondo. In the third edition, there are no contributors at all from outside North America, including from the United Kingdom, where the British Haiku Society had existed since 1990, or from Australia, where there was also a small but thriving ELH community.

Furthermore, there was a feeling on the part of some that van den Heuvel’s location on the East Coast led him at times to overlook poets from other parts of the country. Even Rossiter, despite his enthusiasm for the third edition, says disappointedly, “van den Heuvel has never claimed to be comprehensive but rather representative . . . but the exclusion of these four poets [Randy Brooks, Bill Pauly, Ken Hurm, and Paul O. Williams] is a major oversight that might even affect the representativeness of the collection — they are all associated with the Midwest” (94). (Rossiter himself is from the Chicago area.)

A graver criticism of THA, and more generally of the HSA definition of haiku promoted by van den Heuvel in each of the editions of the anthology, came from the two scholars of Japanese literature mentioned above, Hiroaki Sato and Hiruo Shirane. They proposed that HSA, van den Heuvel, and the ELH community at large seriously misunderstood the nature of Japanese haiku and that this misunderstanding had led them to unnecessarily limit the range of form and subject matter in ELH. At the time of publication of the third edition of THA, this criticism focused on van den Heuvel both because the anthology was a large and available target and, undoubtedly, because of the outsized role that the anthology played in disseminating what Sato and Shirane saw as mistaken information.

Sato, a poet and prolific translator who served as HSA president from 1979-1981, wrote the Frogpond review of the third edition of THA, which was in fact originally published in slightly different form as a 1999 essay in the Japan Times titled, encouragingly, “American haiku now holds its own.” He acknowledges in his review that “Cor van den Heuvel is the most important anthologist of haiku composed in English” (Sato, “One Way,” 75). But he also complains that “the HSA definition of Japanese haiku — that haiku is a poem recording ‘a moment keenly perceived, in which Nature is linked to human nature’ — which van den Heuvel has enshrined in each edition of The Haiku Anthology, was, from the start, oddly at variance with Japanese views of haiku, and the divergence has, if anything, grown in recent decades” (79).

In fact, in the same issue of Frogpond, Sato devotes an entire separate article to elaborating on the issues he takes with the HSA definition of haiku and other forms of poetry. “It is doubtful,” he says, “that a Japanese definition of haiku will emphasize such flash-like enlightenment as the motivational force of haiku composition. The standard [Japanese] dictionary definition of the haiku does not refer to the content, except to say that in most instances a seasonal word (kigo) is included” (Sato, “HSA” 72-73). Furthermore, Sato points out, “the main reason for the creation, maintenance, and expansion of kigo is cultural” — and in a different culture, season words don’t have the same importance that they do to the Japanese (73).

Van den Heuvel’s belief that haiku should have only certain types of content leads him, Sato believes, to unnecessarily exclude from THA certain types of poems, such as Marlene Mountain’s self-titled “pissed-off poems” about women’s rights and environmental issues (Sato, “One Way” 79). But in the end, Sato concludes, van den Heuvel does, in fact, give “considerable leeway to the HSA definition. And in any case, the anthologist must necessarily take a position, and in the position he has taken, van den Heuvel eminently succeeds” (80).

One notes, however, that van den Heuvel’s position toward haiku hardened somewhat between the second and third editions of THA. This is evident partly from the poems he chose for the anthology: One of the more striking omissions from the third edition was van den Heuvel’s own one-word haiku, “tundra,” undoubtedly one of the most famous, and also one of the most avant-garde and controversial, entries in the first two editions. And though this edition still contains many one-line haiku and otherwise innovative poems, along with a few concrete haiku, almost all of them were already present in the second edition. Of the new poets chosen for this edition, most write in a more “traditional” manner — meaning more in accordance with the description of haiku that van den Heuvel gives in the introduction to the edition.

Here, he has abandoned his contention from the first and second editions that haiku is what the poet makes it, exchanging this relatively relaxed attitude for a much more rigid notion of what haiku is. (It’s possible that Sato is echoing those earlier statements of van den Heuvel’s when he declares at the end of his article about the HSA definitions: “Today it may be possible to describe haiku but not to define it . . . Both in form and content, all you can say is that a haiku, be it composed in Japanese, English, or any other language, is what the person who has written it presents as a haiku” [73].)

As we examine van den Heuvel’s main contentions about haiku in the third edition’s introduction, it will be instructive to view them in the light of an article by Haruo Shirane that coincidentally appeared in the same edition of Modern Haiku in which the review of the third edition of THA appeared (and was also presented as a paper at Haiku North America in Chicago in 1999, where the third edition of THA debuted). This article, “Beyond the Haiku Moment: Bashō, Buson, and Modern Haiku Myths,” contains historical information about the development of Japanese haiku that revolutionized many English-language poets’ understanding of haiku. The fact that the article appeared at virtually the same moment as the final edition of THA makes it possible for us to identify 1999 as the moment of the beginning of a transformation of an understanding of haiku that had held sway since at least the fifties to a more nuanced, historical understanding.

In “Beyond the Haiku Moment,” Shirane sets out to debunk “three key definitions of haiku — haiku is about direct observation, haiku eschews metaphor, and haiku is about nature — which poets such as Bashō and Buson would have seriously disputed” (48). All three of these definitions are mentioned in the introduction to the third edition of THA as essential to the writing of good haiku.

For instance, van den Heuvel asserts: “Haiku help us to experience the everyday things around us vividly and directly, so we see them as they really are . . . Haiku is basically about living with intense awareness, about having an openness to the existence around us — a kind of openness that involves seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, and touching” (xi-xii). In contrast, Shirane writes, “One of the widespread beliefs in North America is that haiku should be based on one’s own direct experience, that it must derive from one’s own observations, particularly of nature. But . . . this is basically a modern view of haiku, the result, in part, of nineteenth century European realism” (49).

Similarly, van den Heuvel praises “haiku and the way of life it represents: living in the present moment — now” (xii). He adds that “the greatest haiku are those that take me directly to the haiku moment without calling attention to themselves” (xxix). But, Shirane points out, “the emphasis on the ‘haiku moment’ in North American haiku has meant that most of the poetry does not have another major characteristic of Japanese haikai and haiku: its allusive character, the ability of the poem to speak to other literary or poetic texts” (55).

“For Bashō,” Shirane explains, “haiku had two axes: the horizontal (the present) and the vertical (across time)” (53). Rather than insist on haiku preoccupying themselves with the present moment, he says, “I would in fact urge the composition of what might be called historical haiku or science fiction haiku” (54).

Again, van den Heuvel instructs us that in haiku, “Such devices as figures of speech or rhyme are rarely employed, for these tend to take away from the thing as it is. The haiku should take us right to the haiku moment and present us with the tree or a leaf, the spring rain or the autumn wind . . . just as they are, no more, no less” (xxix). Shirane’s counterpoint is that “Without the use of metaphor, allegory, and symbolism, haiku will have a hard time achieving the complexity and depth necessary to reach mainstream poetry audiences and to become the object of serious study and commentary. The fundamental difference between the use of metaphor in haiku and that in other poetry is that in haiku it tends to be extremely subtle and indirect, to the point of not being readily apparent. The metaphor in good haiku is often buried deep within the poem. For example, the seasonal word in Japanese haiku tends often to be inherently metaphorical, since it bears very specific literary and cultural associations” (55).

In the conclusion to his article, Shirane addresses some of the same issues that Sato did in his critique of THA: “For North American poets, for whom the seasonal word cannot function in the fashion that it did for these Japanese masters, this becomes a more pressing issue, with the need to explore not only metaphorical and symbolic possibilities but new areas — such as history, urban life, social ills, death and war, cyberspace. Haiku need not and should not be confined to a narrow definition of nature poetry, particularly since the ground rules are completely different from those in Japan” (62).

The scholar and translator David Burleigh, by analyzing the contents of THA alongside the contents of anthologies of modern Japanese haiku, has upheld Shirane’s contentions about the failure of ELH to allude to other literature and thus to engage in a conversation between texts in the manner of Japanese haiku. He describes the multiple references in the Japanese anthologies not only to Japanese literature but to Western literature such as the Bible, Chekhov, and Blake. He then examines “a book that most readers probably possess, and often look at, the third edition of The Haiku Anthology (1999).”

In THA, by way of cultural or literary allusion, Burleigh finds only “several references to Christmas . . . as well as one or two to other traditional observances, like Ash Wednesday or Hallowe’en.” He continues: “There are no references at all, as far as I could see, to the Bible which . . . is . . . a major literary work and one of the main foundations of our culture, whose language rattles through much of what we say and think and write regardless of belief. There is one mention of Beethoven, but I found only three allusions to literary works in English, two of them to Thoreau . . . [and the other] the only haiku in the whole collection that mentions a Western poet [Shelley] by name, or even not by name.”

Burleigh concludes from the rarity of literary allusions in THA that “English haiku prefer in general not to allude to literary works in English or . . . to refer to Western culture much at all, which I find perplexing. . . . The haiku whose contours I am outlining, then, are an English one in which almost no reference is made to any poetic tradition in its own language, and a Japanese one which is well able to refer back to its own poets in that form, and does so, but also very occasionally invokes words, phrases, characters, from Western literary works, and is certainly not averse to this.”

It’s tempting to wonder how much Burleigh’s observation is true of ELH in general and how much a result of Cor van den Heuvel’s personal preferences in haiku, which emphasizes direct observation of the stuff of everyday life and eschews elaborate literary devices. van den Heuvel himself might wonder this: In response to scholarship such as Burleigh’s, he told Carmen Sterba, “I hope there will always be some American haiku poets who will continue to write in the simple sketching style of Shiki. For it is that example that inspired American haiku poets to bring a new kind of simplicity to our country’s literature. A suggestive simplicity which . . . allows words to create an ontological thrust that presents an image you can reach out and touch.”

In the twenty-first century, ELH has moved forward, experimenting with new forms, modes, and subject matter partly inspired by a new understanding of Japanese haiku. In this environment, The Haiku Anthology remains a touchstone of the traditional, albeit open-minded and highly discerning, vision of haiku that Cor van den Heuvel so clearly described and promulgated. THA still provides a wide-ranging, flexible selection of haiku of high literary standards and will probably continue to serve as a significant entry point to ELH for many readers and writers for the foreseeable future.

Works Cited

Burleigh, David. “In and Out of Japan: The Contours of Haiku.” Address to Haiku North America Conference, Ottawa, Canada. 2009. Haiku Reality. Web. 14 Nov. 2015.

Higginson, William J., and Penny Harter. The Haiku Handbook: How to Write, Teach, and Appreciate Haiku. 25th Anniversary Edition. Tokyo: Kodansha, 2009. Print.

Kacian, Jim. “An Overview of Haiku in English.” Haiku in English: The First Hundred Years. Ed. Kacian, Philip Rowland, and Allan Burns. New York: Norton, 2013. 305-377. Print.

Rooney, James P. Rev. of The Haiku Anthology: English Language Haiku by Contemporary American and Canadian Poets, edited by Cor van den Heuvel. Modern Haiku 5.2 (1974): 45. Web. 14 Nov. 2015.

Ross, Bruce. “Haiku Mainstream: The Path of Traditional Haiku in America.” Modern Haiku 43.2 (2012). Web. 14 Nov. 2015.

Rossiter, Charles. Rev. of The Haiku Anthology: Haiku and Senryu in English, third edition, edited by Cor van den Heuvel. Modern Haiku 31.1 (2000): 93-95. Print.

Sato, Hiroaki. “The HSA Definitions Reconsidered.” Frogpond 22.3 (1999): 71-73. Print.

——. “One Way of Getting Here.” Rev. of The Haiku Anthology: Haiku and Senryu in English, third edition, edited by Cor van den Heuvel. Frogpond 22.3 (1999): 75-80. Print.

Shirane, Haruo. “Beyond the Haiku Moment: Basho, Buson, and Modern Haiku Myths.” Modern Haiku 31.1 (2000): 48-63. Print.

Swist, Wally. Rev. of The Haiku Anthology: Haiku and Senryu in English, second edition, edited by Cor van den Heuvel. Modern Haiku 18.1 (1987): 49-51. Print.

Trumbull, Charles. “The American Haiku Movement Part 1: Haiku in English.” Modern Haiku 36.3 (2005). Web. 2 Jan. 2016.

van den Heuvel, Cor. Interview by Alan Pizzarelli and Donna Beaver. “History of American Haiku Part III, The Haiku Anthology.” Haiku Chronicles. Produced by Pizzarelli and Beaver. 2009. Web. 1 Jan. 2016.

——. Interview by Carmen Sterba. “Essence #3.” Troutswirl: The Haiku Foundation Blog, 2010. Web. 1 Jan. 2016.

——, ed. The Haiku Anthology: English Language Haiku by Contemporary American and Canadian Poets. Garden City, NY: Anchor Press/Doubleday, 1974. Print.

——, ed. The Haiku Anthology: Haiku and Senryu in English, revised edition. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1986. Print.

——, ed. The Haiku Anthology: Haiku and Senryu in English, third edition. New York: Norton, 1999. Print.

——. “My Haiku Path.” Address to International Haiku Convention, Matsuyama, Japan. 2002. The Haiku Foundation Digital Library. Web. 15 Nov. 2015.

— Melissa Allen

Back To Top