Saturday, January 11, 2014

Haiku in English: The First Hundred Years, edited by Jim Kacian, Philip Rowland, and Allan Burns

Haiku in English is intended as more than simply a collection; its editors also want it to tell the story of how English language haiku has developed, from Ezra Pound's initial forays into the genre to poets writing today. For those familiar with the traditional form--seventeen syllables arranged in three lines of 5-7-5, nature themes, a break of some type separating one line from the other two--some of the poems in the collection will be jarring. While I was prepared for subject matter that veered far from nature, the wildly varying forms threw me. Since when is one line a poem, much less a haiku?  (An example, by Jon Cone: the cloud-edge on the horizon deer head in the freezer    Really, I'm not making this up.)

Clearly, I am of the haiku old school. While I am now pretty confident I don't know what distinguishes a haiku from any other short-form/minimalistic poem and certainly am unqualified to critique the works included,  I nonetheless enjoyed many of the poems and learned a bit about the evolution of English language haiku from the editor's essay that concludes the book (the essay also has some tedious stretches when the author is a little too wrapped up in listing who published in what journals when).

Favorites (you will note they are all pretty close to the traditional form):

The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.
--Ezra Pound

In the falling snow
A laughing boy holds out his palms
Until they are white.
--Richard Wright

secluded highway--
in and out of my headlights
a John 3:16 sign
--Curtis Dunlap

September morning . . .
sunlight in the impressions
of three thousand names
--Alice Frampton

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