A Few of My Favorite Haiku from the Anthology Haiku in English, The First Hundred Years (Norton, 2013)
I recently added Haiku in English, The First Hundred Years (Norton, 2013) to my library. The anthology includes over eight hundred haiku by more than two hundred poets from around the world. All of the poems were written in English, not translated from Japanese or another language. Here are just a few of my favorites in this collection, with some perhaps desultory thoughts on why I think I like them so much.
we are all in this
A bit dark, existential for sure. It’s hard not to “mishear” the perennial human optimism of “We are all in this together.” My mind’s ear wants to “correct” that “wrong turn.” But that’s the poem’s truth-telling. And the idea of people on a night train is such a strong image. I think of Hopper paintings, Tooker paintings. And while the people on the night train are nominally “together,” these are probably strangers with no connection beyond that ride.
turning sand dunes
Maybe this is what haiku does best: creating images, shading perceptions, evoking the phenomenal world without explaining it. It’s very much a minimalist landscape painting. I like the way sand dunes become snow, perhaps merely because of the change in the light, the way the white communicates to the eyes and the spirit. Or it might be actual snow. Even the vagueness is pretty.
so suddenly winter
baby teeth at the bottom
of the button jar
The strange pathos of this image! It seems the sort of place saved baby teeth might end up, with some precious old buttons (perhaps handed down from a mother or grandmother) in a jar. Maybe it’s even a repurposed old baby food jar. There might be buttons made from actual bone alongside the bone of the teeth. It’s a jarring juxtaposition of “memory items.” I feel the poem as a tactile one; that is, I can sense the various textures of the smooth buttons in different materials and then the texture of the teeth. The metrics of this poem are so smooth too. That the teeth are at the bottom of the jar lets us know it’s likely that many years have passed since those children were actually children. And the speaker of the poem is probably up in years. These implied things add a pathos to this sudden find. Lastly, one wonders if humans are any more meaningful than other things in the larger scheme of the universe. Are our teeth no more meaningful than buttons?
day after day
bits of a chained bicycle
It’s just such a mortal image. I think of an old person suffering in a hospital bed, undergoing operations, removal of organs. The slow attrition of human existence in the later years.
Paul O. Williams
gone from the woods
the bird I knew
by song alone
This poem is an elegy for a rather well-known haikuist, Nick Virgilio. It’s a stiletto way to communicate the respect Williams had for the work of this deceased poet, whom I am assuming he never met in the flesh. It’s an elegant image, a bit haunting.
Straining at the padlock,
the garage doors
I think I like the way it’s brought home here that the phenomenal world’s existence has nothing to do with our existence, really. Even the garage doors we lock are waiting to burst free. Everything that seems still is actually in motion, in process.
out of the haze
the dog brings back
the wrong stick
The universe’s Jedi mind tricks are countless. This poem is obviously about much more than a dog fetching a stick. How often does a desire turn out to be a detour?
inside an envelope
inside an envelope:
The strange ways we seek to protect things in the world. And the protection, we know, is a short term solution to an insoluble problem: the dissolution of all.
a trooper waves us
It make sense and it doesn’t. The police want the drivers to make way, to move their vehicles off the road. And here we are suddenly in wildflowers. The image is a dream image, but it’s an everyday occurrence in the real world. Haiku operate in those strange gaps where “everyday occurrences” take on metaphysical meanings.
There are so many others I loved in this collection. I highly recommend it. To tell the truth, I merely stopped randomly throughout the book just now and picked some poems that struck me. I missed so many that I loved the first and second time through this book. It’s the sort of book that rewards multiple readings.