Haiku in English Poetry Anthologies: Part 2
In this second post on Haiku in Poetry Anthologies I’m going to look at Haiku in the Norton Poetry Anthology: Fifth Edition, and Haiku in the ‘American Poetry: The Twentieth Century, Volume 2’, published by the Library of America.
The Library of America has published a multi-volume collection of American Poetry. The purpose is documentary. The intent is to publish a thorough history of American Poetry. I believe it is the most extensive documentation of that history; its volumes range from the 17th century to the two volumes covering the 20th century. (I believe there is a third 20th century volume in the works.)
The Norton Anthology is focused on the entirety of English language poetry and as such is a larger undertaking. The purpose is to put in a single volume the significant poems from the entire history of English. It starts with Old English poems and finishes with late 20th century efforts.
Haiku appears in both of these volumes in the form of selections from Richard Wright’s Haiku. As far as I know, these are the first appearances of Haiku written in English appearing in general anthologies of English language poetry.
The ‘American Poetry’ anthology also includes some of Wright’s early, free verse, poetry. Though Wright is best known for his novels and autobiographical works, Wright published poetry early in his career. The ‘American Poetry’ anthology places his late Haiku in the larger context of Wright’s early poetry, which is helpful. I haven’t seen anyone else do this.
The ‘Norton Anthology’ only includes Wright’s Haiku, not his earlier poetry. The ‘Norton Anthology’ is an immense undertaking. To try to distill the entire history of English Language Poetry into a single volume is a herculean task. I find myself in awe of the result. It is an amazing in its scope. It is a really fine job. No doubt everyone who peruses the volume will find specific poets that are not included that they would like to have seen therein. I would have liked, for example, to have had selections from the King James Bible; but I can understand the logic of excluding poetry done by a committee. It must have been difficult to winnow this vast field of verse and I bet the editors had many long discussions about just who to include and who to pass over.
The inclusion of six of Wright’s Haiku in the Norton Anthology is due in particular to Mary Jo Salter, one of three editors. In an interview she specifically mentions how good she felt about getting Wright into the anthology. Salter is a good conduit for the inclusion of Haiku in such an anthology because she has written Haiku herself and has spent time in Japan.
If you compare the six Haiku found in the ‘Norton Anthology’ with the nineteen Haiku found in the ‘American Poetry’ anthology there is a difference in emphasis. This is likely a reflection of the editor’s stylistic preferences. The ‘American Poetry’ anthology covers a wider range of Wright’s Haiku, nicely balancing landscape Haiku with Wright’s more human-centered Haiku. The anthology begins with the well-known opening Haiku from Wright’s collection:
I am nobody:
A red sinking autumn sun
Took my name away.
The ‘Norton Anthology’ includes the often quoted Haiku 31:
In the falling snow
A laughing boy holds out his palms
Until they are white.
Interestingly, between the two anthologies they share only one Haiku, Number 21:
On winter mornings
The candle shows faint markings
Of the teeth of rats.
I’m intrigued that this would be a Haiku that both editorial groups would be drawn to.
The Norton Anthology also includes some haiku-like poems by Ezra Pound:
In a Station of the Metro
The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.
Some writers regard this as the first Haiku in English. And there is Pound’s version of Ts’ai Chi’h:
The petals fall in the fountain,
the orange-colored rose-leaves,
Their ochre clings to the stone.
But in terms of Haiku that is consciously written as Haiku, Wright is the significant presence in both of these anthologies.
The presence of Wright’s Haiku in the Norton Anthology is a sign, I think, that Haiku has become a presence in English literature. While the presence of Wright’s Haiku in the ‘American Poetry’ anthology is also significant, because the American Poetry series is multi-volumed, and has a documentary approach, it makes sense that there would be room for Wright’s poetry.
The Norton Anthology has a much broader scope in time and therefore the winnowing process for inclusion is stronger. In short, the editors had to be much more selective. They wanted to include exemplary poems spanning the entire history of English language poetry. For this reason, the inclusion of Haiku is evidence for Haiku having become fully a part of English language poetry.
I am aware that some ELH Haijin have a different approach to Haiku than Wright took. And this might generate some ambivalence about the inclusion of Wright as representative of ELH. This isn’t unusual in poetry. Some people have a specific view, for example, of how an English Language Sonnet should be constructed and the inclusion of Sonnets not aligned with this view might be a cause of some discomfort.
But I would like to suggest that the inclusion of Wright’s Haiku in a book like the Norton Anthology is a significant step for ELH in general. It is an acknowledgement that this form has a place in our poetic heritage; that is to say that as a form it has a presence along with forms like the Villanelle, etc. In this sense, whether one agrees with Wright’s approach, or advocates for a different approach, one can still celebrate the appearance of Haiku in this anthology context.
From the larger perspective of syllabic poetry in general, I see the inclusion of Wright’s Haiku as a significant step for syllabic poetry. There are other examples of syllabic poetry in the Norton Anthology; e.g. Marianne Anderson, and some poems by Dylan Thomas. But, in my view, Wright’s Haiku are the first inclusion in an Anthology of the prestige of the Norton Anthology where a specific syllabic form is given space. I mean that a form that is shaped by the counting of syllables as opposed to the counting of poetic feet.
As I said above, I think the inclusion of Wright’s Haiku in these anthologies is a cause for celebration among ELH poets in general. It is a first appearance of the form in a general anthology context. I suspect that in the future, now that the door has opened, a broader range of Haiku will become noted; just as different approaches to the Sonnet are now routinely included. That is something we can all look forward to.