Review of two recent books on Haiku

by Janet Howie

Over the summer holidays I read two informative, inspirational and professional books on haiku that featured the work of a wide range of influential poets from Britain, America, Japan, Australia and New Zealand.

Haiku in English – The First Hundred Years, edited by Jim Kacian, Philip Rowland, and Allan Burns with an Introduction by Billy Collins. First edition printed in the USA, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 500 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10110 andWhere the River Goes – The Nature Tradition in English-Language Haiku
edited by Allan Burns. First edition published by Snapshot Press, Orchard House, High Lane, Ormskirk L40 7sl in great Britain in 2013.

I read both books unhurriedly; there was so much to reflect upon, including the essays and commentaries as well as the haiku. For future reference and encouragement for my own writing, I put a post-it sticker on the pages that were important and the haiku that appealed to me. Both books deserve to be dipped into many times.

Haiku in English – The First Hundred Years ‘seeks to identify the achievements of the individual poet within a nurturing context unlike any other in the world of literature and to show the variations of the haiku form over the years.

Billy Collins also shares his views on the elements of the modern haiku; the ‘Aha’ moment, juxtaposition, surprise, presenting the world just as it is, the palpable absent, parody and irony, and the presence of the witness.

To complete the volume, Jim Kacian’s thought provoking essay An Overview of Haiku in English discusses the origin and history of haiku, including the importance of the ‘haiku anthology,’ the globalization of haiku, and some ideas about haiku in the next hundred years.

Where the River Goes- the Nature Tradition in English-Language Haiku complements the historical account of Haiku in English, but pays attention to the nature tradition, ‘informed by the meaning of ‘Nature’ from both Eastern and Western perspectives.’ The anthology of ‘forty essential voices’ identifies the key themes, subjects, techniques, ideologies and developments. Nature haiku is significant because it encourages connections between humans and the natural world essential to the meaningful survival of the species.

Both books conclude with a challenge for haiku: that of finding the right balance between remaining true to its roots and accommodating contemporary life so as to remain vital.

Janet Howie