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More on Haiku: Books


More on Haiku: Books

Okay, so I have managed to screw up your worldview on haiku. Yes, Virginia, there is no Santa Claus and haiku doesn't necessarily have seventeen syllables. And even worse, we have to think about things like anthropomorphism and suchness. Well, calm down now folks, we aren't alone in our search for haiku. There are volumes and volumes of books on the subject. I will try to touch on a few of these, the ones I have used and found helpful in my studies and writing.

It all goes back to my days in college in the mid-seventies. Yeah, I'm one of those flower child wannabes who was born just a few years late. Anyway, back in college I had some interest in haiku, so I picked up a book. It was a paperback, with an off yellow colored cover. Titled simply The haiku Anthology, it was a nice anthology of some "English language haiku." Little did I know, back in those days, I bought one of the best English language haiku books available. Yes, that simple little anthology has now been expanded through three editions to hold over 800 haiku.

The book, edited by Cor van den Heuvel, has an excellent preface that discusses the history of English language haiku and goes into some detail about syllable count, the use of nature and seasons, and more. I recommend that you put this book at the top of your booklist. It is available in hardback for $27.50 (well worth the price) and also in paperback. It had been out of print for some time, so when the newest edition hit the shelves I think I turned a few heads in the bookstores. Once the people realized it was just me jumping for joy and not some passionate escapade between the bookshelves they turned away again.

Another book I found very helpful in relearning haiku was The Haiku Handbook, How to Write, Share, and Teach Haiku. This book written by William J. Higginson, with Penny Harter, covers the history of haiku, the art of haiku (including excellent discussions on the basic precepts of the art), teaching haiku, and other forms. It was in reading this book that I began to understand how much I did not know about haiku. This book outlines some of the basic first steps in learning and re-learning haiku. The last part of the book discusses other forms of Japanese poetry including tanka, haibun, senryu, renga and dodoitsu. And no, I did not dodoitsu on your shoe!

R.H. Blyth -- I let the name here stand alone. If you read my earlier article on suchness, you might have seen the name. Blyth is often quoted when it comes to haiku because he has said so much on the subject. He has written, if I may stoop to infomercial techniques, not one, not two, not three, four or five... but six large volumes on haiku. These include A History of Haiku Vol. One and Two, and Haiku (Volumes 1-4). While these books are out of print (according to Amazon.com) I have seen A History of Haiku, and the first volume of Haiku on the shelves at Borders Books. I was able to pick up the rest of the books at Ebay. I did pay a pretty penny for several of the volumes, but for me it was worth it.

The four volume set starts with Haiku Volume 1, Eastern Culture which discusses the form as written in Japanese. In this volume Blyth discusses the spiritual origins of haiku, the state of mind for haiku, haiku and poetry, the four great haiku poets and the techniques of haiku. He includes hundreds of Japanese haiku as examples throughout all volumes. The other volumes discuss the use of season's in Japanese haiku: Haiku Volume 2, Spring-Summer, Haiku Volume 3 Summer-Autumn, and Haiku Volume 4 Autumn-Winter.

Robert Haas has compiled an excellent collection of haiku from three of the four great Japanese haiku poets: Matsuo Basho, Yosa Buson, and Kobayashi Issa in The Essential Haiku, Versions of Basho, Buson & Issa. The book offers a brief biography of each poet, followed by English translations of their haiku and other writing. Beyond the excellent haiku, Haas includes some fascinating excerpts from the writings of each of these poets. Basho’s comments are particularly interesting:”Learn about pines from the pine, and about bamboo from the bamboo.” (p233) Through these writings, you get an insight into the origins of haiku.

Another excellent anthology of English Language haiku is edited by Bruce Ross. Haiku Moment, An Anthology of Contemporary North American Haiku presents over 800 haiku by 185 North American haiku poets. With only a short preface, the book offers page upon page of haiku. It’s a great source of inspiration.

Historically, haiku has been dominated by men, with the vast majority of fanfare going to male poets. Far Beyond the Field, edited and translated by Makoto Ueda is the only collection of haiku by Japanese Women. It features over 400 haiku written by 20 different Japanese Women. The haiku here, date from the second half of the twentieth century all the way back to Basho’s seventeenth century. It offers some wonderful haiku from a distinctly different viewpoint.

I could go on and on about what is good, and sometimes bad about these books, instead I will simply recommend you grab one or several of the books and begin (or continue) your haiku journey. I will close this article with a haiku by my favorite of the four pillars of haiku: Issa.

In the wintry grove,
Of long, long ago.

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