Oct 28, 2015

Haiku in English–The First Hundred Years

haiku-in-englishI previously reviewed The Haiku Anthology by Cor van den Heuvel, Haiku in English is perhaps best seen as a companion collection to it. 

Some of the content is duplicated in each volume but they both have different objectives. 

The former is a third edition of mainly North American Haijin (the third edition IIRC dropped some important early contributors like Janice Bostok from Australia) and it tends to provide a number of poems from prominent Haijin, enabling the reader to get a real sense of each poets oeuvre.  I believe Cor attempted to choose the best examples of the form he could.

Haiku in English broadens the field of poets to include European, UK and Australian Haijin (current and historical) and attempts to reflect the history of the form, showcasing proto-English Haiku at the beginning and highlighting experiments in short poetry that stem from this Japanese form.

Indeed the jacket copy calls it “the first anthology to map the full range of Haiku in the English tradition”. So, as the editors forewarn in their foreword, it’s not a collection of the best of the best in the form. Which is not to say that those haiku selected are deficient in any way.

Where a Haijin may have made an impact or pursued a variation to great enjoyment and success, only selected poems have been chosen to illustrate the achievement. Some poets only have one Haiku listed and it may not be that which is considered best from their body of work, more that it might illustrate an important step in the tradition.

To that end Haiku in English is more about the form and its English history than individual poets or groups of poets.

We begin with Pound’s:

In a Station of the Metro

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

Examine parts of Wallace’s Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird:

Amoung twenty snowy mountains,
The only moving thing
Was the eye of the blackbird

and then it’s more or less off into more familiar Haiku territory.

There’s some 800 poems here including those from many top poets still active in the form.  The collection is capped off with a comprehensive historical essay by Jim Kacian, which in conjunction with the various introductions collected in The Haiku Anthology, serve to preserve the history of the form and the important achievements of its Haijin. 

There is a very real danger that due to a lack of interest from the core of Western poetry tradition (despite works being included from Heaney and Collins) that much could be lost. This collection serves to head off this possibility.

Haiku in English should form part of a core reading cannon in anyone seriously attempting the form.  There’s also sufficient variety in the Haiku selected, that as a reader of The Haiku Anthology I don’t feel as though I have paid for the same material.

Haiku in English is currently available in hardback, though a paperback version is slated for release in January.

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