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Volume 33.3
Autumn 2002

book review

The New Haiku
edited by John Barlow & Martin Lucas


reviewed by Lee Gurga

The New Haiku, edited by John Barlow and Martin Lucas (Liverpool: Snapshot Press, 2002). 224 pages, 5.325" x 8.5", four-color cover, perfectbound. ISBN 1-903453-03-7. $20.00 postpaid in U.S. bills from Snapshot Press, PO Box 132, Crosby, Liverpool, L23 8XS, U.K.

The New Haiku is an anthology of over 300 of haiku and senryu, celebrating "the dissemination and ultimate consolidation of the English-language haiku, and the resultant elevation of the form from its previously considered position as an example of ‘exotic verse’ to its rightful place in the canon of contemporary English poetry." The editors restricted their selection to poems that had appeared in the British and Irish journals Blithe Spirit, Haiku Spirit, Presence, and Snapshots. Poets included naturally incline to those of the British Isles, but other well-known haiku poets around the world are also to be found.

The book also features a fine "Introduction to the Origins, Mechanics and Aesthetics of English-language Haiku" by Barlow, which contains a useful distinction between pseudo-haiku and spoof haiku:

This limited knowledge has led to the proliferation of self-proclaimed "spoof" haiku (statements or light-hearted poems written in strictly seventeen syllables) and "pseudo" haiku (serious poems written in seventeen syllables, often with titles), neither of which essentially show any regard for the aesthetics of the genre [176].

As Barlow correctly observes, the spoof haiku are "entertaining and harmless," but the pseudo-haiku pose a problem for developing haiku:

What is of concern to serious haikuists, however, is the output of pseudo-haiku writers. As these poets actually believe they are writing genuine haiku, and their poetry is of a serious nature, it is far more likely to cause confusion in others with limited awareness of the form. Indeed, most of the few haiku found in mainstream poetry journals are actually pseudo-haiku, or at best imitations of classical Japanese verses, and their inclusion only fuels misunderstanding and a general dissatisfaction with the genre [177].

Well thought out and useful stuff, this. (Note the confusion, however, even in this short paragraph, between haiku as form and as genre.)

Having made the distinction between haiku and pseudo-haiku, Barlow unaccountably fails to distinguish between the two in his discussion of mainstream poets. He appropriately describes as Seamus Heaney’s "Dangerous pavements/But I face the ice this year/with my father’s stick" as successful, then laments that fact that the haiku in Paul Muldoon’s Hay were ignored in mainstream poetry reviews. Surely "haiku" such as "A muddle of mice./Their shit looks like caraway/but smells like allspice." deserve no better fate? Even Muldoon seems to have come to his senses and stopped calling his seventeen-syllable poems "haiku," as in his more appropriately titled seventeen-syllable "News Headlines from the Homer Noble Farm" [The New Yorker, October 29, 2001].

Overall, though, this is a fine anthology and a significant addition to the haiku literature. Given the limitations inherent in the editors’ selection criteria for the poems, this anthology contains many worthy haiku and senryu. A few examples:

     baby’s due date . . .
through winter mist
     the moon rises

Claire Bugler Hewitt


before the interview
my calmness
unnerving me

Janice Fixter


cold evening sky
the blackbird’s beak
opens in song

Fred Schofield


sleepless night—
playing only
the black keys

Thom Williams

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©2002 Modern Haiku • PO Box 68 • Lincoln, IL 62656