Jun 14, 2015

Book Review - How to Haiku by Bruce Ross

howtohaikuI continue to find writing Haiku endlessly fascinating. It’s a form that I can return to again and again and still find something fresh.  So I am always keen to read advice on how to write Haiku.

I don’t tend to favour an overtly spiritual approach to writing the form and so Bruce Ross’ approach, which I feel does stem somewhat from this vein was initially …well not off putting, but presented a small hurdle (this is my baggage I think). The again, perhaps I am simply focussed on improving my technique and any “fluff” so to speak, how ever eloquent, poses an annoyance ( patience Sean-san).

How to Haiku doesn’t knock of its pedestal, Jane Reichhold’s  Writing and Enjoying Haiku - A Hands on Guide, as my number one recommendation for new Haiku writers. I did find it offered additional insight though.  So I think that its worth coming to, after you have had some experience and experimented with techniques outlined in Reichhold’s work.

In general I enjoyed Ross’ inclusion of relatively contemporary American Haiku in addition to traditional Japanese examples.  I felt that this gave me a sense of where tradition has been continued ( albeit slightly altered through the change from Japanese to English) and where contemporary Haiku poets have begun to experiment or diverge.

I also enjoyed the inclusion of other forms of Japanese Poetry ie Haibun, Tanka, and Renga/Renku. 

One of the things that I struggle with in reviewing poetry is the technical language with which to talk/ discuss it.  Ross’ explanation/analysis of the poems he presents was aimed at a broad audience (leading some readers to criticise it as boring) which I think acts to both give the reader some pointers on how to talk about Haiku in addition to providing an explanation of the content and techniques.  Better to over explain I think.

Like Reichhold I do appreciate Ross’ “Guideline” approach to the writing of Haiku.  He presents the tradition, gives you examples of that tradition – contemporary and pre-modern and leaves it up to you.  I think this allows for respect of the form without slavish adherence to rules that I think will ultimately restrict it and result in stagnation.  His discussion on the difference between the qualities of Wabi and Sabi was also helpful.

In each of the other forms mentioned above I gained something from reading Ross’ work.  I have struggled for sometime to attempt Haibun and Ross provided four different approaches and highlighted traditional and contemporary examples.  His identification of the divergent traditions of Tanka were similarly illustrative.  His explanation of the linking in Renga was perhaps the best I have come across.

So, a worthwhile addition to your library?  I think so.  Not a beginning point but certainly worth it for those with some experience/exposure to the form under their belt.

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Jun 12, 2015

Book Review – Haiku Moment: An Anthology of Contemporary North American Haiku

haikumLet’s face it.  If you are not “into” writing and reading Haiku then you might find the some 800 odd poems in this anthology a bit thin.  I think in most cases Haiku can be a bit of an acquired taste (though a relatively easily acquired one).  But I really did enjoy it.

Now it’s touted as contemporary, but the selections were made from poems published in the decade 1982 to 1992, making it 20-30 years out of date.  As an indicator of what’s going on in English rendering of Japanese form poetry currently, it possibly has less value.  It does bring together a good slice of North American poetry of that period, minus some noted poets.

There’s a succinct(okay it’s 30 pages but there’s a lot of info squeezed in) introduction to the collection that covers what elements make up Haiku, both in traditional Japanese and English language Haiku, the four masters Basho, Buson, Issa and Shiki are covered and the intersection with the Imagists Ezra Pound, Amy Lowell and later the Beat Poets.

The introduction should prepare you well enough to enjoy most of the works that follow - I come to it as a practitioner of the form so its hard for me to tell.  Being Haiku, the majority of the poems a nature/ observation based.  A note on the poems splits them roughly into two types:

…. these haiku are meant to reflect either the style of the Basho School of haiku with its emphasis on the presentation of temporal loneliness and emotional objectivity in the treatment of nature subjects (and occasionally, as in later Basho, an elevated warm-heartedness found in one's relation to commonplace things) or the haiku of Issa with their joyful evocations of the liveliness and empathic resonance found in the natural world. All of the haiku in this anthology, moreover, should convey a moment of insight experienced by a poet in real time through real beings and objects, a moment that the reader may enter and share.

Some of the difficulties I experience in finding good Haiku to read and learn from, is discerning good sources (this is becoming easier as a grow as a poet).  Anybody can attempt a Haiku (and many do) though I am not sure how many see it as anything other than writing something poetic in 17 syllables.  A search for Haiku on Kobo will give you hundreds of books of whose quality it can be had to determine.  Haiku Moment addresses that problem to some extent. It gives you a sense of what one well known gatekeeper thinks is quality Haiku and you can then attempt to track down works of the poets contained therein.

Here are three haiku to give a general idea.  Mind you there’s 800 to choose from.


Summer is over.
A horse walks its reflection
along the lake's edge

Ann Atwood


The way silence waits
     and waits ... for the next
          cry of the loon

Beatrice Brissman



                                        migrating geese
           one falls farther and farther

Charles Dickson


You could jump straight into the work having never read Haiku before, but the real value I have found is as a source for good examples of the continued lineage of the form.

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Book Review – Gentlemen of the Road by Michael Chabon

cahbonThis is the first book by Chabon that I have read.  It wasn’t the name that attracted me ( it was familiar) but the production of the hardbound edition by Sceptre.  The cover as you might be able to tell harks back to an era of adventure novels with gold embossed decoration and the inside covers feature a full colour map.

Ah maps, the value of a wonderfully rendered map.  Gentlemen of the Road also features some lovely black and white illustrations by Gary Gianni.

So the presentation caught my eye.  I can’t say that I would be stirred to pick it up if I had seen the paperback cover that this review links to at Booktopia.

Originally published as a serial in the New York Times magazine it does tend to move forward in small jumps.  Some reviewers found that this undercut the momentum of the story in novel form.  I just found it very easy to pick up, put down and pick up again.  I think the serialised approach to story construction may help some readers deal with the stylised language (beautiful paragraph long sentences in some cases) though after a few chapters I found myself delighting in the work of a skilled craftsman.

The African reined in the tottering horse with its flecked lips and wild eye, and the travellers dismounted, the African with a weary grace and no expression, the scarecrow with grimaces and a show of soreness in the underparts.

Much of my entertainment stemmed from Chabon’s prose.  The plot is nothing extraordinary, the action, for an adventure story isn’t really seat of your parts, but I don’t think this is what Chabon was really trying to achieve.

We have two Jewish rogues, on adventures getting caught up in situations they know they should avoid.  It’s light hearted adventure with smooth writing.  If I can make one observation (bearing in mind that I don’t generally read that type of adventure novel that Chabon is riffing off) is that the treatment of Filaq and certain things that happen to him seem to be glossed over and resulted in a crack in my suspension of disbelief (I am aware I am being a bit cryptic here but I don’t want to spoil things).

Its all very well to have a cracking good adventure and everything is squared away nicely at the end… but there were elements of a sexual and violent nature that I thought may well have sat fine in an adventure novel written in the 19th century but I’m not convinced they do so well here.

That being said, it was an enjoyable read.  You can purchase a paperback here at Booktopia.

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