Recommended Books on Haiku
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, such as Robert Hass’s The Essential Haiku, and especially of books published since 2000, which I’ll add in due
course—such as Steven Addiss’s The Art of Haiku and Jim Kacian’s Haiku in English: The First Hundred Years. 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 Brinck’s Haiku Book Reviews.
★ = essential for
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
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
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.
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
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
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.