Presented at a haiku panel for the May 2000 American Literature Association conference in Long Beach, California. Obviously, this material dates to that time, but I hope this essay still provides an informative snapshot of haiku activity in those days before twittering and social networking. I've updated or added some of the links, but otherwise this text remains unchanged. Not previously published.
As a teenager I lived in a small town just north of London, England. I remember one drizzly morning when my father—an architect—asked me to don rubber boots and a raincoat to help him lug measuring wheels, elevation rods, a theodolite, and an armful of wooden stakes out to a muddy field. We were off to survey the land for a new elementary school he was designing. Before beginning preliminary sketches, he wanted to know the site’s orientation to the sun and prevailing winds, and the details of slight elevation changes from one end of the site to the other. He wanted to record the locations of sewer lines, major trees, and other key features that might impact his design decisions. The information we recorded that day, though not a complete and professional survey, helped my father begin his design process.
What follows are survey results of a different kind. For anyone interested in haiku poetry in English, it’s useful to know the lay of the land—the organizations, publications, and events that shape this living genre of brief poetry. It’s a genre that has shown an enthusiastic flowering in English in the past fifty years, yet haiku is too frequently misunderstood by poets, teachers, and critics today. I hope the map I provide to today’s haiku in English will help you navigate its many valleys and mountains, and give you a context for an improved understanding of the genre.
I’d like to focus my survey on just part of the landscape, however. Much has been written about haiku theory and writing in Japan, and many excellent books of translations have appeared in English to open the world of Japanese haiku to the West. Any person who attempts to write haiku without knowledge of the Japanese masters of the past or present is not likely to write haiku of any significance. Likewise, anyone studying or teaching haiku, especially the writing of haiku in English, must do so in the context of haiku’s history and current practice in Japan. Consequently, no understanding of English haiku can be complete without including a study of Japanese haiku—at least in translation. With this caveat, my survey focuses on organizations, publications, and activities specific to English-language haiku, and especially on North American activity, but it is best understood only in the larger context of Japanese haiku that I regret that I can’t also summarize.
Haiku reached these shores primarily through the translations of R. H. Blyth and Harold G. Henderson in the 1950s and, also in the mid-twentieth century, through the influence of Zen writers such as D. T. Suzuki and Alan Watts, and Beat writers such as Jack Kerouac, Gary Snyder, and Allen Ginsberg. But what has happened since then? That is this survey’s focus.
Any survey of haiku in English has to begin with the Haiku Society of America, which began in 1968 in New York City. Founded by Harold G. Henderson and Leroy Kanterman, the group is now a nonprofit organization and has grown to have more than 800 members across the country. Its activities each year include four quarterly meetings, which often turn into weekend-long haiku celebrations as the meetings move to different places around the country. This year, national meetings have taken place or will take place on April 16 in Decatur, Illinois, on June 17 in Washington, D.C., on September 23 in New York City, and December 2 in San Francisco. The society also holds annual contests for haiku (including a separate contest for high-school students), senryu (a more humorous or ironic offshoot of haiku), and renku (the collaborative linked verse form that gave rise to haiku). The society also gives annual awards for the best haiku books in English, usually in such categories as individual collections, translations, anthologies, and books of criticism. In 1994 the society published A Haiku Path, an extensive history of the group’s first twenty years. In conjunction with the Haiku International Association in Japan, the society cosponsored two international haiku conferences, first in Chicago in 1995, and then in Tokyo in 1997. The group also publishes an annual anthology of members’ haiku. The cornerstones of the society’s existence, however, are the publication of its newsletter, currently edited by Charles Trumbull, and its literary journal, Frogpond, currently edited by Jim Kacian. The newsletter contains many pages of regional news, listings of new books, contest announcements and results, lists of new members and address changes, and much other information designed to foster communication and interaction among its geographically scattered members. Frogpond features a variety of haiku and senryu primarily by members (although you do not have to be a member to be published), as well as essays on haiku and book reviews. Anyone interested in haiku in English would benefit from seeing the varied examples of current haiku as well as the ongoing dialog among numerous haiku commentators.
Another group devoted to haiku in English is the Yuki Teikei Haiku Society, based in San Jose, California. Founded in 1975 by Kyoshi and Kiyoko Tukutomi, this group is devoted to a traditional approach to haiku (a syllabic form in the 5-7-5 pattern, using a kigo or season word). The group publishes a bimonthly newsletter called Geppo, currently edited by Jean Hale, where each member may submit three poems that are voted on as favourites by other members, and also has an annual contest for traditional-style haiku. The society has also worked on compiling a California regional saijiki, or almanac of season words, as used in traditional haiku yet modified to fit the California climate. The Yuki Teikei Haiku Society also sponsors an annual haiku retreat at the Asilomar Conference Center near Monterey that has had such featured speakers as Robert Hass, James W. Hackett, Clark Strand, and Jane Hirshfield.
Haiku has also been popular in Canada for many years. The Haiku Canada group was formed in 1977 by Eric Amann, Betty Drevniok, and George Swede. Like the Yuki Teikei group, it sponsors an annual retreat at which haiku is read and discussed, papers are presented, and friendships solidified. Haiku Canada also publishes a newsletter, currently edited by LeRoy Gorman, that offers poems by members, news, book reviews, and occasional articles. The group also publishes broadsides of its members’ haiku—usually as many as ten or twelve broadsides a year, each focusing on the work of an individual member.
One of several regional groups worthy of note is the Haiku Poets of Northern California, founded in 1989 chiefly by Garry Gay and Jerry Kilbride. From its outset this San Francisco group published an influential quarterly haiku journal called Woodnotes, although it became independent in 1996 and was discontinued nearly two years later, after 31 issues. HPNC now publishes a journal called Mariposa, currently edited by Claire Gallagher and Ebba Story, and also puts out a quarterly newsletter, edited by Carolyne Rohrig, and also publishes member anthologies. The group has held annual contests for haiku, senryu, and tanka poetry since 1990, as well as for a new form of thematic linked poetry called rengay. The group holds quarterly meetings and other events, and also sponsors an annual reading series in conjunction with the publication of a book of haiku by four featured readers. Its members played a key role in starting the Haiku North America conference that now occurs every two years around the continent and in establishing the American Haiku Archives at the California State Library in Sacramento.
Another significant regional group is the Boston Haiku Society. The group has met monthly in Boston since around 1989, publishes a newsletter known as Dasoku through the Kaji Aso Studio, and publishes occasional membership anthologies.
Other regional haiku groups have also been established in Chicago, Colorado, Little Rock (Arkansas), Long Beach (California), New York City, North Carolina, Portland (Oregon), Richmond (Virginia), Rochester (New York), Santa Fe (New Mexico), Seattle, Washington, D.C., Western Massachusetts, and elsewhere. Other groups that it would be remiss of me not to mention, though not in North America, include the British Haiku Society—whose president is currently David Cobb and which has been particularly active in recent years—and haiku societies in Croatia, Germany, Holland, New Zealand, Romania, Serbia, Sweden, Yugoslavia, and other countries.
A typical progression of many poets into haiku is from reading Japanese haiku in translation, then English haiku in anthologies, and then writing their own haiku. Major anthologies have been rare in the last three decades but have probably been more influential than any other factor in promoting haiku in English and connecting those poem who write haiku. Chief—by far— among these major anthologies is Cor van den Heuvel’s landmark The Haiku Anthology, first published by Doubleday in 1974, in a much-expanded second edition by Simon & Schuster in 1986, and in an even larger third edition in hardback in 1999 by W. W. Norton (a paperback version will appear this fall). van den Heuvel has proven himself to be the consummate haiku anthologist, and he maintains high standards while also showing great range by including both experimental and traditional poems. Many is the haiku poet who cites one of Cor’s anthologies for turning him or her on to haiku.
Another significant anthology is Bruce Ross’s Haiku Moment, published by Tuttle in 1993. A less experimental or wide-ranging collection than van den Heuvel’s, Ross’s collection emphasizes a stronger nature content that may appeal more to some readers.
Those who might believe or assume that haiku is a 5-7-5-syllable form may be interested to know that, in the second edition of Cor van den Heuvel’s anthology, 88.2 percent of the poems are not 5-7-5. In the third edition, the percentage of non-5-7-5 poems rose to 91.2 percent. Offering similar evidence that the great bulk of serious haiku written today is not 5-7-5 (and those that are are older poems from twenty or thirty years previously), in Bruce Ross’s Haiku Moment, a full 96.4 percent of the poems are not in the 5-7-5 syllabic pattern. A review of all the leading haiku magazines shows similar percentages.
In addition to the anthologies already mentioned, Garry Gay of Smythe-Waithe Press in California has made a significant haiku contribution with the 1992 publication of The San Francisco Haiku Anthology, as have Randy M. Brooks and Lee Gurga with The Midwest Haiku Anthology, also in 1992 (from Brooks Books).
Also of note in the last four years are annual anthologies published by Red Moon Press, primarily edited by Jim Kacian, that aim to collect the very best haiku poems published each year. Though the selection process remains flawed and the editor includes too much of his own work, this annual publication is beginning to serve a very useful purpose in attempting to collect the best haiku in English each year.
More recently (2000), Iron Press in England and Mosaic Press in Canada have jointly published Global Haiku: Twenty-five Poets Worldwide, edited by George Swede and Randy M. Brooks. Also, André Duhaime has edited Haïku sans frontières: Une anthologie mondiale in French and partially in English (Les Éditions David, 1998). Other anthologies by smaller presses also make their mark, and more collections are sure to appear in the future, each one presenting the editor’s vision of what makes a haiku successful.
On the subject of books, it would be a gross injustice not to also mention The Haiku Handbook by William J. Higginson with Penny Harter (McGraw-Hill, 1985; Kodansha, 1989). At once an anthology of Japanese and English haiku classics, the book is an essential, all-in-one guidebook to the art of reading and writing haiku in English. The book includes brief histories of Japanese and North American haiku, a lesson plan for teachers, and much other valuable information that has helped put many beginning haiku poets on a solid foundation in writing successful haiku. In fact, if I could recommend just one book on haiku, The Haiku Handbook would be it.
Every year Haiku Society of America newsletter editor Charlie Trumbull publishes an annotated list of journals that publish haiku. The list has been growing longer and longer. Indeed, many dozens of journals specialize in haiku or are particularly receptive to the genre.
The grand dame of all haiku journals is Robert Spiess’s Modern Haiku. Founded in 1969, the journal has continuously set the highest standards in excellence for haiku. Its greater significance, though, is that Modern Haiku is the journal of record for essays and criticism on haiku, and haiku book reviews. More recently, the journal has become an increasingly notable conduit for translations of contemporary haiku from Japan as well. Lee Gurga, currently associate editor, is set to take over as editor on Robert Spiess’s retirement, and looks to continue the journal’s high standard as the world’s flagship journal for haiku in English.
The Haiku Society of America’s Frogpond, previously mentioned, and currently edited by Jim Kacian, is the other main journal for English-language haiku. Second only to Modern Haiku in its reputation, Frogpond began in 1978, and is also a magazine of record for haiku book reviews, articles, as well as poems. While more diverse in content over the years than Modern Haiku—and thus uneven, due mainly to having many editors—it continues to set good standards for haiku excellence. Frogpond and Modern Haiku also enjoy the largest subscriber base for English haiku magazines—about 800 each, a significantly high number for any small press poetry journal.
Many other haiku-specific journals are worthy of note. One of these, published in Canada by Dorothy Howard, is Raw Nervz. While not nearly as “raw” (that is, alternative or experimental) as it purports to be or as its energetic and scruffy appearance suggests, it does, nevertheless, publish some items that would not be likely to find a home in other haiku journals.
It is not possible to describe all English-language haiku journals, let alone those in North America, but other journals most worthy of note are Acorn edited by A. C. Missias, black bough edited by Charles Easter, Mayfly edited by Randy and Shirley Brooks, and South by Southeast edited by the Richmond (Virginia) Haiku Workshop. Three journals that feature short poetry, and often or mostly haiku, are Phyllis Walsh’s fine Hummingbird, Don Wentworth’s Lilliput Review, and my own journal Tundra.
Other mainstream poetry journals do publish haiku on occasion, of course, but most often the haiku, even in otherwise reputable journals, exhibit few qualities that would distinguish themselves as acceptable haiku, let alone excellent ones. Those interested in reading contemporary haiku of the best quality would be wise to read Modern Haiku, Frogpond, and the other journals I’ve mentioned.
A major contribution to the haiku community is also made by a few small presses that specialize in haiku. Brooks Books, formerly High/Coo Press, is foremost among these publishers. Edited by Randy and Shirley Brooks, Brooks Books has published many dozens of haiku chapbooks, minibooks, and larger collections over three decades. The poets they’ve published are a who’s who of haiku in the twentieth century. My own Press Here, since 1989, has published about two dozen books of haiku, senryu, tanka, haibun, translations, interviews, and essays, and has won numerous Merit Book Awards from the Haiku Society of America. And Jim Kacian’s Red Moon Press, though more recent, has quickly distinguished itself as a significant player in its publication of several dozen haiku books and anthologies.
One of the most important events to happen to haiku in the last decade is the biennial Haiku North America conference. Started in Northern California in 1991 by Garry Gay, Jerry Ball, me, and Dave Wright, it occurred again in the San Francisco area in 1993, moved to Toronto, Ontario in 1995, Portland, Oregon in 1997, and Chicago, Illinois in 1999. Featured speakers have included William J. Higginson, Cor van den Heuvel, Jane Hirshfield, James W. Hackett, Janine Beichman, Sam Hamill, Stephen Carter, Lucien Stryk, Gerald Vizenor, and many others. Conference events include the publication of an anthology of poems by attendees, T-shirts, book fairs, and much reading and discussion of haiku over four days of events. In 2001, the sixth Haiku North America conference will take place in Boston, Massachusetts. These conferences have become much-anticipated watershed events in the haiku community, and do much to galvanize and coalesce haiku activity throughout the continent by bringing many leading and diverse haiku writers together in a stimulating environment.
The Internet is another hotbed of haiku activity, despite the rampant abundance of misinformation about haiku online. Haiku on the Internet is a topic for another presentation, but for starters I recommend the “Open Directory Project” portal page for haiku, hosted by William J. Higginson at http://www.dmoz.org/Arts/Literature/Poetry/Forms/Haiku_and_Related_Forms/; “English-Language Haiku on the Web” hosted by Randy and Shirley Brooks at http://www.brooksbookshaiku.com/; and the “Shiki Internet Haiku Salon” hosted by the Shiki Team at Matsuyama University at http://mikan.cc.matsuyama-u.ac.jp/~shiki/ [no longer active; replaced by http://haiku.cc.ehime-u.ac.jp/~sumioka/htdocs/nobo-guide.html]. Many other noteworthy haiku Web sites exist, and the Open Directory and Shiki sites serve as excellent portals to find them, but be aware that a great number of misinformed and superficial sites are littered about the Internet. Fortunately, William J. Higginson’s Open Directory site helps differentiate them, labeling the lesser ones as pseudo-haiku, if they are listed at all.
There is indeed a tremendous amount of haiku activity on this continent. Fortunately, many of the books, magazines, personal papers, photographs, audio tapes, and ephemera of leading haiku poets and the Haiku Society of America have found a permanent home. In July of 1996, State Librarian Kevin Starr and the California State Library opened its doors to the foundation of the American Haiku Archives, which is now the largest public collection of haiku books, journals, and related materials outside Japan. The collection includes more than 2,000 books, the complete runs of most leading haiku journals, the complete personal papers of longtime Frogpond editor and HSA charter member Elizabeth Searle Lamb, plus the papers of several other notable haiku poets—with much more slated to be donated. All books and papers are meticulously archived in acid-free containers, and destined to be preserved for many decades, perhaps centuries, to come. [You can visit the American Haiku Archives website online.]
With all of this activity in English-language haiku in North America—and there is more in Europe and elsewhere, and far more in Japan—poets, teachers, and critics may feel overwhelmed and not know where to start in learning about haiku. To know more about reading, writing, understanding, or teaching English-language haiku, here are some key steps I recommend:
Whether you are a poet, a teacher, or an observer of haiku, I hope this survey provides a useful map to all the goings-on in the English-language haiku community. As William J. Higginson concluded in Haiku Compass: Directions in the Poetical Map of the United States of America (Haiku International, 1994), “Bashō, you started something.”
Indeed, Bashō’s frog has leaped across the pond to North America, and has also leaped to many other countries around the world, largely through the influence of the Haiku Society of America and its foremost haiku practitioners. At an event called the Global Haiku Festival held at Millikin University this past April, one of the Japanese delegates, Emiko Miyashita, made a flattering and remarkable statement about world haiku. She said that the influence of haiku around the world is growing so significantly that the Japanese sometimes have to qualify their own haiku as being Japanese haiku. Outside Japan, the number of serious haiku writers probably numbers in the tens of thousands, a number nowhere near the estimated two to three million active haiku poets in Japan. Nevertheless, the global haiku stage has a very passionate and vocal minority, and the largest segment of that minority is the poets writing haiku in English. I hope this survey of haiku activity primarily in North America gives a clear sense of how active and vocal this growing minority is.
American haiku poets, you started something too.
The following were handouts for my presentation:
With an abundance of activity in English-language haiku in North America—and there is more in Europe and elsewhere, and far more in Japan—you may not know where to start in learning about haiku. To know more about reading, writing, understanding, or teaching English-language haiku, the following are some key steps to take:
Open Directory Project, hosted by William J. Higginson:
English-Language Haiku on the Web, hosted by Randy and Shirley Brooks:
Shiki Internet Haiku Salon, hosted by the Shiki Team at Matsuyama University:
Haiku Society of America:
Haïku sans frontières: Une anthologie mondiale:
American Haiku Archives at the California State Library:
http://www.library.ca.gov/ (see also)
Beichman, Janine. Masaoka Shiki.Tokyo: Kodansha International, 1986. Important biography of the fourth of the four great haiku masters, Masaoka Shiki (1867–1902).
Mackenzie, Lewis. The Autumn Wind: A Selection from the Poems of Issa. Tokyo: Kodansha International, 1957. A brief biography and extensive annotated anthology of haiku by the third of the four great haiku masters, Kobayashi Issa (1762–1826).
Sawa, Yuki, and Edith M. Shiffert. Haiku Master Buson. South San Francisco, California: Heian International, 1978. A brief biography and extensive anthology of haiku by the second of the four great haiku masters, Yosa Buson (1716–1784).
Ueda, Makoto. Matsuo Bashō: The Master Haiku Poet. Tokyo: Kodansha International, 1970. A comprehensive biography and anthology of haiku by the first and greatest of the four great haiku masters, Matsuo Bashō (1644–1694). Ueda has also written numerous other essential books on haiku, notably Bashō and His Interpreters (Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 1991).
Ueda, Makoto. Path of Flowering Thorn: The Life and Poetry of Yosa Buson. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 1998. A sorely needed biography of Buson, this highly readable book presents 180 of the poet’s haiku in translation, and places the poetry in the context of his paintings and prose and the rich events of his life.
Blyth, R. H. Haiku. Four volumes. Tokyo: Hokuseido Press, 1981, 1982. These four books on the history and development of Japanese haiku are essential to every haiku library. Originally published in 1949, 1950, and 1952, these four books introduce Eastern culture and present haiku by season. Blyth has written numerous other books on haiku and its history, senryu, and other facets of Japanese culture. This set is expensive and written from a Zen perspective (for which it has been criticized), but it is essential because it includes thousands of the best English translations of the Japanese masters.
Henderson, Harold G. An Introduction to Haiku: An Anthology of Poems and Poets from Bashō to Shiki. Rutland, Vermont: Charles E. Tuttle, 1958. One of the most important books ever written about haiku for an English-speaking audience. Although less influential today (many of its translations are burdened by rhyme and use the 5-7-5 pattern), for many decades this book probably influenced haiku in English more than any other.
Sato, Hiroaki, and Burton Watson, eds. From the Country of Eight Islands: An Anthology of Japanese Poetry. New York: Columbia University Press, 1981. A monumental collection of Japanese poetry in English translation. Includes numerous tanka, renga, and haiku. Places haiku in the larger context of its poetic heritage.
Ross, Bruce, ed. Haiku Moment: An Anthology of Contemporary North American Haiku. Rutland, Vermont: Charles E. Tuttle, 1993. Compiles 821 haiku by 185 North American poets. While mostly polarized toward nature poems (ignoring many other topics and approaches), this is still an essential reference for anyone wishing to see how haiku is being written in English today.
van den Heuvel, Cor, ed. The Haiku Anthology. New York: W. W. Norton, 1999. Compiles more than 850 of the best English haiku ever written. A vibrant, liberating book that demonstrates rather than just discusses the possibilities of haiku in English. This edition also includes the forewords from the previous two editions.
Haiku Society of America. A Haiku Path. New York: Haiku Society of America, 1994. An extensive, valuable, and engaging history of the Haiku Society of America in its first 20 years (1968 to 1988). Includes numerous articles and remembrances of major haiku figures, plus an anthology of all poems from the society’s contests.
Henderson, Harold G. Haiku in English. Rutland, Vermont: Charles E. Tuttle, 1967. A brief but fundamental book on haiku and its possibilities in English. Though now somewhat dated (as is Henderson’s An Introduction to Haiku), this book offers a succinct overview of the haiku form and its possibilities in English.
Higginson, William J., with Penny Harter. The Haiku Handbook: How to Write, Share, and Teach Haiku. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1985 and Kodansha International, 1989. Practically everything you need to know about haiku—its history, its major practitioners, its nature and form, and methods for reading, writing, understanding, enjoying, and teaching haiku. Refreshing and complete, this book is the best place to start for anyone wishing to learn haiku in English. In 1996, Higginson also published two other recommended haiku books: The Haiku Seasons and Haiku World (both from Kodansha), the latter an international saijiki, or almanac of poems arranged by season word.
Sato, Hiroaki. One Hundred Frogs: From Renga to Haiku in English. New York: Weatherhill, 1983. A comprehensive summary of the development of haiku from its beginnings in renga. Presents many renga and haiku written in English, plus one hundred different translations of Bashō’s famous "old pond" haiku. A useful survey of today’s English haiku. (Don’t confuse this book with a more recent Weatherhill truncation that presents only the hundred Bashō translations.)
Shirane, Haruo. Traces of Dreams: Landscape, Cultural Memory, and the Poetry of Bashō. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 1998. A landmark reassessment of Bashō and his poetry amid his cultural landscape. This books deftly de-Zens Bashō, and shows the vertical depths (links to history and culture) and horizontal breadths (links to his contemporaries) that Bashō reached in his haiku and renga mastery.