Recommended Books on Haiku

This list of recommended books began as part of a paper for a haiku panel I coordinated at the May 2000 American Literature Association conference in Long Beach, California. I’ve added a few more books here, but this list deserves several more additions, especially of books published since 2000, which I’ll add in due course. Books are arranged alphabetically by the categories of biographies, translations, anthologies, and other books. Many of these books are also available in different editions with different covers. See also Tom Brincks Haiku Book Reviews.
 
= essential for beginners.

Biographies of the Japanese Masters

Beichman, Janine. Masaoka Shiki. Tokyo: Kodansha International, 1986. Important biography of the fourth of the four great haiku masters, Masaoka Shiki (1867–1902).

Donegan, Patricia, and Yoshie Ishibashi. Chiyo-ni: Woman Haiku Master. Boston: Tuttle Publishing, 1998. Chiyo-ni is too often omitted when naming Japan’s great haiku masters (usually limited to Bashō, Buson, Issa, and Shiki), but Chiyo-ni deserves equal stature. This book is the definitive guide to the life and work of this under-appreciated haiku master.

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.

 

Translations

 

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.

 

Anthologies

 

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-language 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.

 

Other Books

 

Friedman, Abigail. The Haiku Apprentice. Berkeley, California: Stone Bridge Press, 2006. An engaging memoir about an American diplomat who learns to write haiku in in Japan—in Japanese. Particularly useful is the chapter about Zen in haiku (haiku isn’t the Zen art that some people think it is) and the helpful suggestions for starting your own haiku group. [Read my introduction to this book.]

 

Gurga, Lee. Haiku: A Poet’s Guide. Lincoln, Illinois: Modern Haiku Press, 2003. The best alternative yet to William Higginson’s Haiku Handbook, first published in 1985. Gurga’s book is recommended for its more recent example poems, and its emphasis on haiku as an established Western genre of poetry.

 

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. [I was one of the main editors for this book, and also did the layout and design. Read my afterword.]

 

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 and 2010. 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. These two books are essential for anyone interested in the tradition of kigo, or season words, in haiku.

 

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-language 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.