Haiku Book Reviews

Modern Haiku, FALL 2001 - XXXII, No. 3

Chances: A Haiku Series, http://www.bytestudios.com/winke/ by Jeffrey Winke

Certainly, the Internet has impacted the growth and development of haiku in many ways – both good, and bad. Haiku poets worldwide now share their work, resources and opinions via email, mailing lists, and content-rich web sites. This proliferation of ideas and technology has spawned an age of great haiku experimentation and creativity.

So, it is no surprise that Jeffrey Winke has seized the opportunity to merge his considerable talents as a haiku poet with his creative technology skills in a new web-based, multimedia presentation he calls, Chances: A Haiku Series.

Be warned - this is not the static world of ink and paper. Rather, this is a powerful example of how the Internet is fueling a rapid acceleration in the development of English language haiku. From the moment you click http://www.bytestudios.com/winke/ you are transported to a funky, pounding, black and white world populated with lines of haiku that flash, stretch, roll, fade and drip like you have never seen before. Winke’s work is contemporary, and very urban:

savage moon
silence deafens
the 3am street
night parking lot. . .
sudden car horn
knifes my back
cooling grasses
tears that start in her eyes
run down my face
the curve of her lip
will never
feel my tongue

It is important to note that this is not technology for the sake of technology. Underlying Chances: A Haiku Series is a rich foundation of fresh and innovative haiku. What makes this work so successful is that Winke has heightened the haiku experience by creatively weaving haiku and technology into a fresh new medium – a medium you have to see to believe.

Modern Haiku, Fall 2000 - XXXI, No. 3

Past Time: Baseball Haiku, Edited by Jim Kacian & Cor van den Heuvel; Red Moon Press, P.O. Box 2461, Winchester, VA 22604-1661; 1999, 20 pp., paper, $6.95.

Play Ball: Baseball Haiku, by Cor van den Heuvel; Red Moon Press, P.O. Box 2461, Winchester, VA 22604-1661;1999, 20 pp., paper, $6.95.

The game of baseball is caught up in time. America's pastime defines decades, and marks millenniums. Although baseball takes up our precious time, it is timeless.

On the other hand, a haiku capsules a moment in time.

By releasing two haiku chapbooks devoted to baseball, Red Moon Press recognizes the unique possibilities of capturing the essence of baseball in the haiku form. Even the title of one of the books, Past Time: Baseball Haiku, plays with the idea of time. This anthology is both about "Past Time", and about a "Past Time." Like all haiku chapbooks, this is a compact book filled with tiny poems. Yet, Past Time: Baseball Haiku expands to fill the full breadth of time that is the game of baseball.

last day of April
the baseball makes
a track in the snow
Jack M. Krotzman
country field-
home run rolling
past the headstones
Bill Pauly
extra innings
a runner's shadow
down the third base line
John Stevenson
the young grass
kids get together
to hit a ball
Masaoka Shiki

Even if you're not passionate about baseball, this wonderful anthology would still appeal to most people. With one or two haiku per page, and a well-concieved series of black and white images, reading Past Time: Baseball Haiku is a great way to spend some time.

And of course, Cor van den Heuvel's Play Ball: Baseball Haiku, is the perfect complement to Past Time: Baseball Haiku. Both chapbooks share the same size, format, and overall graphic appeal. Yet, Play Ball: Baseball Haiku, is a more personal collection of haiku from the author, who played the game in his younger years.

Starting in spring, the haiku are generally arranged in chronological order, going full circle to the following spring. The life-size image of a baseball on the front cover aptly captures this circular, seasonal, theme.

lingering snow
the game of catch continues
into evening
baseball cards
spread out on the bed
April rain
changing pitchers
the runner on first looks up
at a passing cloud
autumn leaves
scatter across the infield
the pitcher blows on his fingers

Both Past Time: Baseball Haiku and Play Ball: Baseball Haiku are well-produced, insightful, and graphically pleasing chapbooks. And, with today's ticket prices, they are certainly more affordable than actually going to a Major League Baseball game.

Modern Haiku, Summer 1998 - XXIX, No. 2

Anniversary Haiku by Edward J. Rielly, Brooks Books, 4634 Hale Drive, Decatur, IL 62526, Saddle Stitch Chapbook (4” x 6.5”), 24 pages, $7.50 ppd.

Edward J. Rielly presents twenty-five years of marriage condensed into twenty-five haiku in his new book Anniversary Haiku. After reading this collection for the second time, I reflected on the daunting task that Mr. Rielly had undertaken in creating this book. Imagine trying to pick just twenty-five moments to represent twenty-five years of marriage, children, holidays, births, deaths, vacations, friends and relatives. Clearly this small book was no small task for Mr. Rielly.

Most of the haiku presented are intensely personal, and represent very vivid family moments:

our two children
red-faced, snow-covered,
freeze for the camera
first communion –
a white dress leans
toward the host

Writing a book as personal as Anniversary Haiku is not only challenging, but also risky. Risky from the standpoint of being too personal for others to understand the meaning and innuendoes of specific events. For the most part, Anniversary Haiku successfully presents Mr. Rielly’s personal experiences, while allowing the reader to gain a greater insight into the relationships and events that make up our lives.

Modern Haiku, Winter 1998 - XXIX, No. 1

Grass Sandals, The Travels of Basho by Dawnine Spivak, Illustrated by Demi, Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020, hardcover, 36 pages, $16.

Grass Sandals is a lavishly illustrated book retelling the story of the seventeenth century Japanese poet Basho. Although the book jacket states that Grass Sandals was written for children 6 – 9 years of age, illustrator Demi has dedicated this book to “ . . .children of all ages.”

The colorfully printed illustrations will immediately draw young readers to the story, as they span the full spread of the open book. This results in eighteen full color illustrations measuring a full 11 x 17” each. Nearly all of the spreads include one kanji character, one Basho poem, and a paragraph or two of the story. The result is a spacious, well designed page that invites the reader to explore the story within.

The story of Basho’s travels around his island homeland is nicely condensed for young readers. This is from the opening page of the story:

But let me tell you the story of Basho, who lived in Japan and walked all over his island country writing poems.
Three hundred years ago, he lived in a small house next to a river. A friend gave him a basho, or banana tree. He planted it near his house and liked this tree with ragged leaves so much that he changed his name to Basho.
Basho would sit in the doorway of his small house, sit with his breakfast bowl, look out at the river and mountains, and pour his tea in the company of morning glories.

Grass Sandals is a wonderful way to introduce young children to haiku and Japanese literature. It is also a great way for adults who love haiku to spend a quiet winter night.

Modern Haiku, Winter 1998 - XXIX, No. 1

Beyond Where the Snow Falls by Jeff Witkin, Tiny Poems Press, 170 Elm Street, Enfield, CT 06082, Staple bound Chapbook, $3 ppd.

Ripples Spreading Out: Poems for Bruce and Others by Elizabeth Searle Lamb, Tiny Poems Press, 170 Elm Street, Enfield, CT 06082, Staple bound Chapbook, $3 ppd.

Tiny Poems Press, a publisher of haiku and related poetry, has announced the publication of their 1997 Chapbook Contest winners. Among the four chapbooks offered are collections of haiku from Jeff Witkin, and Elizabeth Searle Lamb.

Jeff Witkin’s Beyond Where the Snow Falls is a very personal look at the process and pain of divorce. The haiku are arranged in rough chronological order, beginning in fall with the couple’s separation, and proceeding through the following spring. The first and last poems in this collection serve as “bookends” for this tumultuous period.

  a cloud splits
    the harvest moon
magnolia blossoms
  about to appear-
    soft spring rain

Although the haiku in this book convey the anger and emptiness associated with divorce, they also hint that hope and personal growth are possible in its aftermath. In fact, the author’s dedication, “To my ex-wife for her love that brought me all the way to here,” suggests that he has made this transition.

Beyond Where the Snow Falls successfully avoids the “travelogue” feel often associated with haiku series that chronicle an event or a journey in a person’s life. Each of the haiku in this collection can stand firmly on its own, outside of the book. This is a small but powerful book that will resonate long after your first reading.

Elizabeth Searle Lamb’s Ripples Spreading Out: Poems for Bruce and Others, is another very personal book, with each haiku in the collection dedicated to a person who has influenced the author in some way or another. The dedications include family members, artists and poets.

for Allen Ginsberg, 1926-1997

haiku, too!
that poet who wrote

As this poem indicates, much of the haiku in this collection depends upon the reader’s familiarity with the person, or the works of the person, to whom the haiku is dedicated. This “insider’s view” can result in a loss of depth and meaning should the reader be unfamiliar with the references inherent in the haiku.

Although some of the poems would lose aspects of their impact without the “fourth line” of the dedication, many stand on their own very well.

for Foster Jewell, 1893-1984
  across the desert floor
    and lizard’s shadow
   for Charles B. Dickson, 1915-1991
this May morning
  walking beside the acequia…
    one leaf floats downstream

Overall, this is an interesting haiku collection that presents personal observations and insights into the people who have impacted the author’s life and art.