Haiku in English

Haiku in English: The First Hundred Years

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I’ve spent a couple of weeks swimming around dazedly in this, which was officially published a couple of weeks ago, to coincide with Haiku North America. You probably want to get it if you haven’t already, though warning: it’s thick. Well, it’s a century’s worth of haiku. In chronological order, no less, so you can watch English-language haiku evolving before your very eyes.

As with all anthologies, it’s almost as much fun deciding what you would put in it instead of what the editors put in it (like me…what? what am I doing in here? still trying to figure that one out) as it is actually reading the poems. But in the end there’s not much to quarrel with. The fact that you could probably replace half of these haiku with other haiku and have an equally strong anthology is really just an indication of how many good haiku have been published since Ezra Pound did his thing with the metro station and the wet black bough.

At HNA there was a reading of the anthology, straight through, one poem to a poet. Those poets who were in attendance (there were a few dozen of us, which was kind of … amazing and terrifying, considering there are only 200-odd poets in the anthology) read their own work, and the absent poets had their work read by Sandra Simpson and Ron Moss. In case you don’t know, Sandra is from New Zealand and Ron from Tasmania, so to American ears they have lovely but exotic accents that made these poems, many of which are very, very familiar to us, seem fresh and new. The reading took an hour or so and it was a little like flying, high and fast, over the vast and varied terrain of English-language haiku, catching your breath every once in a while when you saw something particularly lovely.

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Sandra Simpson and Ron Moss read from "Haiku in English" at Haiku North America in August 2013.

(That’s Sandra and Ron up there reading and Jim Kacian emceeing and the Queen Mary being very regal and intimidating all around us.)

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To my dismay, the poem that I read has suddenly become timely again of late:

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radiation leak moonlight on the fuel rods

(written 3/13/2011, originally published in Haijinx IV:1, reprinted in Haiku in English: The First Hundred Years, 2013)

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the queen

The Queen Mary, docked in Long Beach, CA

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shipping containers
stacked up on the horizon
hollow cries of gulls

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Haiku North America (which ended two weeks ago) took place this year on the Queen Mary. If you were there, I’m glad to have seen you, and if you weren’t there, I’m sorry. Try to imagine it: A ship full of haiku poets, stalking around the decks with bags full of paper (books, notebooks, free poetry samples, lecture notes) and sitting in grandiose parlors clamoring about kigo and Basho and meditation and translation.

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the jellyfish and
their bioluminescence
a long summer dusk

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I was feeling old-school while on the Queen Mary, which after all is a very old-fashioned ship and reputed to be haunted (by the ghosts of those slain in haiku wars past?), so I wrote some 5-7-5 haiku. I actually find doing this somewhat addictive and oddly satisfying, like doing crossword puzzles. I’m not sure I would call it so much writing poetry as completing a linguistic exercise, but maybe that’s what all poetry is? Hmmm.

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a day with no breeze–
I doodle on a napkin,
forget to keep it

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It’s actually kind of amazing I’m writing anything at all. I hadn’t for months. On the second day of the conference I started writing again and now I can’t shut up. Sorry if you were enjoying the silence.

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late summer. a storm
so far off that all we hear
is our hearts beating.

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