Haiku in English Language Poetry Anthologies: Part 1
I have posted before about how syllabic Haiku, that is to say Haiku written in the 5-7-5 syllabic shape, has become a part of American poetry. We can see this by the large number of works published by ordinary people, on a wide range of subjects, using the 5-7-5 format.
Another way of seeing how deeply syllabic Haiku has sunk roots into American culture is to look at how Haiku are now appearing in poetry anthologies. I am not referring to anthologies of American or English Language Haiku; those are mostly done for a small, targeted, audience. They are like Sonnet anthologies in that they target people who are interested in a specific form.
I am referring to general anthologies of English language poetry, meaning anthologies that have the purpose of presenting to the reader a broad swath of English language poetry. Naturally these anthologies include a wide variety of forms including sonnets, villanelles, ballads, lyrics, free verse, etc. Recently, such anthologies have begun including syllabic Haiku. I think this signals that there is a general, wide-spread, recognition that syllabic Haiku now has a place in the garden of English language poetry. There are three examples I am aware of: The Giant Book of Poetry by William Roetzheim, American Poetry: The Twentieth Century, Volume 2 published by the Library of America, and the Norton Anthology of Poetry: Fifth Edition.
The first example is The Giant Book of Poetry by William Roetzheim. This is a personal collection. The criteria of selection is simply poems that Roetzheim particularly likes. In the ‘Introduction’ Roetzheim writes, “This book started out as a flurry of yellow sticky notes. I was new to poetry and as I devoured hundreds of books of poetry over a four year period, I pasted yellow sticky notes on those poems I especially like . . . Eventually I decided to organize these into a single document . . . It was a very small step from that document to this book.” The book has received glowing reviews; the book has endorsements from people like Ted Kooser, Mark Strand, and Billy Collins. I have enjoyed this anthology. Because it is one man’s selection based on his own personal responses, there appear in the book poems you might not find that are more historically based.
For example, Roetzheim includes translations of poems into English that have had a significant impact on him. This is unusual for poetry anthologies, but I can see the logic of doing so. It is as an English poem that Roetzheim became acquainted with them, rather than in their original language.
It is translations of Haiku that Roetzheim includes in his Giant Book. The translations are from the four books published in the late 1950’s by Peter Beilenson. Beilenson uses a distinctive layout: the Haiku is given the basic three line format, but the second line, the seven syllable line, is indented and divided into two parts. Here is the first Haiku from the Giant Book, it is by Moritake:
ONE FALLEN FLOWER
RETURNING TO THE
BRANCH? . . . OH NO!
A WHITE BUTTERFLY
And here is one by Ryusui:
A LOST CHILD CRYING
THE DARK FIELDS . . .
Note that Beilenson uses an all caps typography which Roetzheim keeps. This four line, or perhaps 3-1/2 line, format is one that some contemporary American Haijin have adopted. The best example of this is Peter Britell, though Britell drops the all caps typography. The breaking of the long line into two parts has some justification in East Asian prosody. It is one option for mimicking the caesura that such a line is supposed to have. Though I do not use it myself, I think it is a reasonable approach to take.
But back to the Giant Book. Here is a Haiku by Jokun:
AH! I INTENDED
TO GROW OLD . . .
LISTEN: NEW YEAR’S BELL!
And here is one by Shiki:
BY THAT FALLEN HOUSE
THE PEAR-TREE STANDS
FULL-BLOOMING . . .
AN ANCIENT BATTLE-SITE
And finally, there is one by Roka:
WINTER RAIN DEEPENS
ON THE GRAVE . . .
AND MY OLD SADNESS
That’s it. Just those five. In an anthology of about 600 pages these five Haiku constitute a modest presence. But what I find interesting is that they have a presence at all. Roetzheim includes these Haiku in the same way that he includes four Rubai from the Fitzgerald translation of Omar Khayyam. I also find his choices interesting in that he does not include any Haiku by Basho, Buson, or Issa. His choices are personal: he really liked these Haiku poems so they were placed in his anthology. It’s an interesting collection. All five of the Haiku are seasonal, which one would expect from traditional Japanese Haiku. Four of the Haiku use seasonal words, and the last Haiku names the season explicitly. All five of the Haiku have a turn in the last line, giving each Haiku the classic two-part structure. All in all I think this small collection does well in presenting the basics of traditional Haiku to any reader who might happen upon this anthology.
The Giant Book of Poetry
Edited by William Poetzheim