Book Review – Haiku: An Anthology of Japanese Poems by Stephen Addiss with Akira & Fumiko Yamamoto

haikucovThis anthology collects together a number of well known Haiku from the acknowledged masters Basho, Buson, Issa and Shiki as well as lesser known poets, many of whom were students of the aforementioned and later became masters in their own right. There’s also a number of well known Haiku by anonymous poets.

The span of history covered by the collection runs from about the 1640’s until the present day, with the volume weighted towards the earlier periods.  The collection includes a lengthy intro that covers a brief history of the form (there’s not much new here if you have been seriously writing haiku or reading them for some time) and a good concise bit of information on the difficulty with translation and maintaining the historical form.

The collection is organised thematically into three categories: The Pulse of Nature, Human Voices, and Resonance and Reverberation. From there they are presented in cyclical/seasonal order. This ordering, especially the seasonal arrangement can lead to repetitiveness ie, repeated uses of Spring rain.   The trick of course is to spend time examining each poem rather than scanning them ( a habit that’s easy to fall into when you read a lot of prose, or indeed longer poetry) for the two seconds required to read most Haiku.

For someone new to reading Haiku I’d recommend Jane Reichhold’s Writing and Enjoying Haiku - A Hands on Guide. paired with this.  Haiku can seem underwhelming when you are used to a poet spending an entire page getting their point across and I think a lot of emphasis is lost in translation. The lack of most readers (me included) knowledge of Japanese Literature can also make it difficult to gain full appreciation of some of the allusions made in individual Haiku.

There’s a biography section on the poet’s included after the three categories, which will be handy reference for some of the less well known Haiku poets and notes on the artists and time of painting for the illustrations included.

Overall I am a fan works is similar to Basho - The Complete Haiku, where the translator appends notes for each Haiku, explains plays on words that don’t come across in the translation. 

Still I did find works that I hadn't come across before and that worked well in English.


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