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Book Reviews

WHR March 2019


BOOK REVIEWS


Four books are reviewed in this issue. In the first two reviews, I wish to talk about book-making (binding, or getup: how a book looks like when made) rather than the contents. (There are three world haiku anthologies introduced in this issue at: From the Editor’s Desk.)


Alone on the Shortcut, An Anthology of Haiku and Senryu, Vasile Spinei

Do not Touch Me – Haiku, Zoe Savina

The Way of Haiku, Naomi Beth Wakan

Wild Rhubarb one-line haiku, Stuart Quine


1.



Alone on the Shortcut,
An Anthology of Haiku and Senryu
, Vasile Spinei, English version by Mihaela and Ion Codrescu, Cover and sumi-e by Ion Codrescu, Photography by Mihai Potarniche, 256 pages, ISBN: 978-9975-87-426-7, Bons Offices, Republica Moldova, www.bons.md, bons@bons.md


I have my humble opinion about how haiku books are made and presented, outside Japan; binding or getup, i.e. their appearances whatever the content. Let me share it with you. I get haiku books sent to me as review copies or simply gifts. They are piled high up the length of a long corridor of the house, occupying more than their fair share of the space.

There are certain characteristics which are common to 99% of these books. In a nutshell, it is MODESTY. Modesty is a virtue, and for me it is one of the highest values of us human ‘animals’. Other ‘animal’ animals do not possess modesty, or do they? Are dogs modest, sometimes, perhaps? Maybe. I used to keep a bearded collie bitch whom people praised as modest. I think she was just timid and simply following the strict pecking order of the canine society.

What I really wish to talk about is false modesty. All these chap books, tiny editions, thin volumes, books of coarse and cheap paper, books with self-effacing titles etc.are sweet. The theory goes like this: Haiku is or should be a product of modest spirit, personality and attitude. Put the other way around, it is not, and certainly should not, be a product of an inflated ego. This includes most of the negative things having ‘self’ with them (e.g. self-serving, self-important, self-promotional, self-indulgent, self-aggrandisement etc.). 

If haiku were modest in nature, whatever it is represented would have to be modest as well. Hence, modest haiku books. This is in line with the theory that we haijin should use lower case, no “I” or ego in haiku, show not tell, not looking like a Hollywood star, not extravagant in all things, etc. And of course, there could be other reasons why haiku books are like I described above, including pecuniary considerations, as we all know that haijin are not normally like Bill Gates. So far, so good.

If these sentiments of modesty are genuine, they should be praised sky high (whichsounds a bit like immodest!). If they were false, I for one would feel slightlyuncomfortable. There are two types of falsehood. One is those who are not modest at all in all other aspects but who in haiku would wish to look modest to hide their true colours. Then, there are those who are not too concerned about the modesty issue but choose to go with the flow as far as haiku is concerned, including modest-looking haiku books.

Having had such modest scepticism about haiku books, I had a pleasant surprise to receive two haiku books recently, which are wonderfully ‘gorgeous-looking’.

Alone on the Shortcut, An Anthology of Haiku and Senryu by Vasile Spinei is a thick book, to start with (255 pages), with charming cover and back cover, printed on heavy and high-quality paper, properly and strongly bound and beautifully and satisfyingly heavy in one’s hands. It looks and feels like a proper book worthy of rich men’s bookcase next to Wordsworth or Tagore, let alone poor men’s reading space, though rich men are perhaps the worst judges. 

The man responsible for the covers and all illustrations is no other person than Ion Codrescu, a noted Romanian scholar and artist. It is not easy for non-Japanese to acquire the skills and spirit (especially the latter) of suiboku-ga, or sumi-e, at the best of times. It is even more difficult to succeed in combining sumi-e technics and feelings with one’s own painting skills and style such as Western oil paintings, as these  two different things can clash, destroying each other, oras is often the case one’s sumi-e skills and spirit are not good enough to create a decent synthesis. I think Codrescu has managed to achieve such a synthesis. The secret may be that he never seems to stop learning sumi-e like an eternal student (Now, that is true modesty!).  I have long seen his sumi-e works and constantly been impressed by the fact that he is always improving.

Now, this is not a usual book review. There are a lot of haiku I like and wish to recommend with my comments and analysis but that require another article, which I plan to write for the autumn issue of WHR. Here, I will introduce samples to wet the reader’s appetite.

         bare-footed
        behind the plough
        he sows warmth

        rainy day-
        the village street lit
        by acacia in bloom

        in the cart full of hay
        the starry sky
        seems so near

        I try the dew
        on different herbs-
        the same taste

        the sun sets
        giving priority
        to the cloud

       alone on the shortcut-
        the sound of water
        in his boots


        in my childhood yard
        no walnut tree, no swing-
        just the wind


        the dance of the fireflies
        accompanied by
        crickets

        I rescue an ant-
        maybe God will forgive
        my sins?


        mosquito
        be reasonable this evening-
        my love is coming

        smell of hay-
        only the stars and I
        are listening to the crickets

        he is alone again-
        the grasshopper leaves
        the float of the fishing line

        the war is over-
        in the pit made by the shell
        a pond with fish

        I fly over
        my native village- only mother
        could know that

        since today the sparrows
        wait for the old man
        in vain

        the hermit agrees
        both of us
        failed in something

        before I wake up
        I forget the best poem
        never written

        hot on one side
        damp on the other-
        the love pillow


2.


DO NOT TOUCH ME – HAIKU, Zoe Savina, 2018,
Aristic design, general editing elaboration and electronic processing by the author, English translation by Constantine E. Fourakis, Drawing by Alexandros Moustakas, www.kostopoulosprinting.gr, ISBN 978-618-5083-21-2, Greece

DO NOT TOUCH ME – HAIKU looks completely different from any other haiku books. At first sight, it looks more like a book of religious scriptures and it is very Greek. In addition, it is extremely heavy for a haiku book like a brick, even if there are only about 260 pages. At any rate, it gives one the impression that one is handling something very special – a luxury item, or some kind of a special edition. Its image is far removed from the likes of the haiku books I was describing in the outset.

The book is gorgeous and extravagant. The paper used is thick, heavy and beautiful. Every single page is illustrated with drawings by the artist & sculptor, Alexandros Moustakas, Zoe Savina’s own son. The book is divided into 15 sections with different titles, each section having a title page with a vignette by the same artist. The Editorial of the current issue of World Haiku Review talks about karumi. This book is anything but karumi. In a sentence, this book is like nothing else in the library of haiku.

But then, Zoe Savina is like no one else. She is unique in this wide world. She is a complete individualist in haiku as well as in all her other writing activities, a ‘one and 
only’ human being. Which is a high praise coming from someone who values highly a person of originality, newness and inventiveness. It is no exaggeration to say that she is a phenomenon in the history of world haiku! You may well be interested to hear what I thought about her haiku but here I am only talking about how the book looks like, and any comment on her haiku will have to wait for a future issue of WHR. Nor can I give you some sample haiku which I like because poems of each section of the book should be read in their entirety to be appreciated, which is a very different way from how haiku is usually written and appreciated. You may well be disappointed if what you wanted was to hear what I thought of Zoe’s haiku, including the author herself.

Till next time.

What Zoe’s book teaches us is that one does not need to feel shy or inhibited about producing a haiku book as one pleases in terms of its looks, rather than blindly  following the overwhelmingly general trend which narrows it into only one type of presentation, i.e. modest-looking appearances.


3.



The Way of Haiku, Naomi Beth Wakan, published in 2019 by Shanti Arts Publishing, Shanti Arts LLC 193 Hillside Road, Brunswick, Maine 04011, www.shantiarts.com, Cover image by Christine Brooks Cote, Crow Haiga by Carole MacRury, ISBN: 978-1-947067-67-7 (softcover), 109 pages, ISBN: 978-1-947067-68-4 (ebook), Library of Congress Control Number: 2018964699, USD15.95


Naomi Beth Wakan has produced a very useful introductory book on haiku. If it is meant to be a text book, then it is one of the few least harmful of the haiku text books around, outside Japan. 

The targeted audience may be a haiku novice but it would also make good reading among those general readers who are curious about haiku but have not yet got around to getting to know it. They would lose their prejudice that haiku is an insignificant frivolity and get interested in it but still would stay within reason, rather than being carried away to become another haiku fanatic.

This is because the book is a guiding hand along the path of haiku-writing, an ‘horsd’oeuvre’ in the author’s words, to whet the appetite, encouraging the reader to find his/her way to the main course.

One could even say that this new book can be useful for those so-called seasoned haijin who, inadvertently, may have taken wrong turns or gone astray in their haiku journey but do not, or would not, recognise it.

Ideally placed to bring out such a book, Wakan is well-informed about the haikucommunity present and past, well-balanced in her appraisal of different schools of thought and is good at presenting her own personal opinions and experiences along with the views of established commentators. One can only admire her capability of explaining such a convoluted subject as this with such lucidity and in plain English.

The book deals with all that is needed for a beginner of haiku-writing and more. It covers basics of haiku, its history, main topics for discussion, controversial points, quotations of some leading commentators and some exercises and useful tips. 

The moment one starts reading this book, one gets a reassuring feeling that the author is presenting her case with a kind heart in the hope that the book will really help the reader, rather than forcing her dogma down the latter’s throat. Thus, warmth is the first characteristic of the book.

It also spreads an infectious feeling that learning is an enjoyable business and that the author is also a learner who would wish to share her experience and discuss it with the reader rather like in a seminar. In this sense, she is a ‘ichi-jitsu no cho’, or  
more knowledgeable than the reader but by only one day. Thus, a feeling of joy and camaraderie wafts along the pages. 

Why do I get this impression that this book is somehow different from other similar  
books on haiku?

Textbooks are dangerous beasts. They teach. The reader would tend to just learn
(swallow) what is taught, because it is all based on the assumption that the teacher (the author of a textbook) knows, whereas the reader as a student doesn’t. What if the teacher is mistaken? There may be a smart and critical student but even he/she cannot escape all that can be wrong, or at least misleading. The moment a haiku practitioner starts to teach, his/her haiku starts deteriorating, or at least starts improving no more. Teaching is a very difficult art, indeed. Among many jobs Wakan has taken, and still does, in her very long life, she has done quite a bit of teaching and acquired her own way of doing it through her on-the-job experiences.

The Way of Haiku completes Wakan’s trilogy. The othertwo are: The Way of Tanka and Poetry That Heals. She is a prolific writer, having authored more than 50 books of essays and poetry. Writing must come to her like breathing. The book reflects it. It is written with clarity, openness, balance andsympathy. All these four qualities are necessary when writing about haiku which is one of the most obscure, controversial, confusing and touchy subjects under the sun. 

Picking up this book, I have immediately thought of the famous book by Professor Harold Gould Henderson. His Haiku in English, published more than half a century ago and a bestseller (is there such a thing in haiku publications?), is a small and thin book, of 74 pages (his another book, Introduction to Haiku, is 192 pages). Wakan’s book is also a smallish and thin book, of 109 pages. Beware of small and thin books, for once in a long while you may come across a gem. These books show that haiku books need not be big and thick to be really good

So, why do I feel her book is different? The answer, I think, comes from many  contributing factors. First and foremost, she is widely travelled, increasing her understanding of different peoples in different cultures and in different countries and regions. This includes crucially Japan where, like Prof. Henderson, she lived, for two years in her case. I assure you that this would make a world of difference. She is not an academic but her hunger for knowledge of, and curiosity about Japan are just as insatiable. Other countries which are important to her include India and Morocco.

She was born a British in London, earned her degree in Social Work from Birmingham University but emigrated to Canada after getting married, where she had her children. The two countries seemingly have a lot in common but they are different countries after all, and she must have found many differences in Canada after actually started to live there. Living in more than one country (normally your motherland) gives different perspectives and view points, which can only be a good thing in haiku.

She has undertaken many different jobs and disciplines. These include psychotherapist(specialising in early childhood traumas), Flamenco dancer, folk dance teacher, maker and store keeper of toys and dolls, builder, maker/seller of anything that could be sold (woven rug, basket work, hats, dandelion coffee), ESL (English as a second language) teacher, photojournalist, social studies teachers, educational book publisher, poet, essayist, artist and last but not least a mother and homemaker. Jack of millions of trades and master of them all!

Thus, she has experienced everything, which has given her versatility, broader 
horizons, understanding of real people, acceptance of the vicissitude of life and diversity, in short better grasp of humanity and the world. She has learnt the importance of creativity, adaptability, flexibility, resourcefulness and resilience, which I can detect in her book. She has added to her innate warmth and kindness, tolerance and compassion derived from life experiences.

She knows abject poverty (she was once penniless), serious illnesses (she survived two bouts of cancer), unhappiness in human affairs (she had to leave her beloved twin-sister behind in Britain when she emigrated to Canada) and life’s tragedy (her first marriagebroke down). Faced with misfortunes, human beings either turn bitter or moreunderstanding, tolerant, bigger and better. She belongs definitely to the latter.

Her career as a writer, however, started late, to put it mildly. It happened when she was  in her 60s. She made a publishing house eat their humble pie for losing her manuscript into agreeingto publish the replacement she sent. That became her first book. Then, she was asked to be the Inaugural Poet Laureate of Nanaimo, British Columbia (2013-16). She is now a member of Poetry Gabriola, Haiku Canada, the League of Canadian Poets, Tanka Canada and is a life-time honorary member of The Federation of BC Writers and their first Honorary Ambassador. In other words, she is now a well and truly-established writer and poet. Before too long, she will soon achieve the grand old age of beiju, reverential designation for 88 in Japan, where a haijin is still a mere chicken and would not be taken seriously until he/she hits the age of 80.

Going through The Way Of Haiku, I cannot help thinking that the life of the author and the author as a human being are as interesting and important as what is written in it. I salute Wakan bringing out this wonderful book to be added to haiku poets’ bookshelf, or on their smartphone, perhaps next to Henderson or Higginson?  I also wish to offer my parting words, which I sincerely hope would not be interpreted as a sting in the tail but a serious concern which needs to be addressed properly by people such as Wakan.

It is that despite all the admirable exposition of the book, part of which I have introduced in this review, the whole presentation which is done in 2019 is still based, and therefore hinges, on the haiku moment fallacy and on the Zen obsession. Considering the splendid independence of mind of Wakan, this for me is a surprise and a bit of disappointment as it is hoped that Wakan would initiate courageously a reappraisal of these two pillars of non-Japanese haiku, especially that practiced in the West. 

If these two pillars were shaken, it would rock the foundations of 50 to 70 years of Western haiku. Small earthquakes are called for, large enough to do the job but small enough not to kill people. Perhaps, one of the biggest problems for that to happen lies 
in the tendency in which everybody starts learning haiku by reading pioneering studies done or prevalent about 50/70 years ago, such as Blyth, Henderson, Suzuki and the like, which are no doubt excellent but also are heavily biased toward Zen doctrines. 

Subsequent writers and/or commentators have basically swallowed their teachings and then copied each other, perpetuating these teachings as gospel. Even when they dug deeper into history of haiku, they looked for and cherry-picked those bits which would fit in with and reinforce their biased beliefs. What these people say and write is now swallowed hook, line and sinker by today’s beginners – the eternal cycle of misconception. So, the starting point is wrong. We need to seek alternative routes to true haiku-learning.


4.




Wild Rhubarb one-line haiku, Stuart Quine, published in 2009 byAlba Publishing, UK, www.albapublishing.com , ISBN 978-1-912773-19-0, edited/designed/typeset by Kim Richardson, cover image by Chris Hill, UK £12,
US $16, €14

Features, customs and conventions of exotic cultures look to the eyes of unaccustomed foreign observers more striking than they do to the natives.

This phenomenon, however, often leads to surprising and even peculiar misinterpretations. As Japan was (and still is) regarded exotic by Western
people, haiku cannot be an exception. There are so many myths about haiku based on such misunderstandings that someone sometimes needs to stand up and play an iconoclast to put things right. The belief in one-line haiku is a typical example.

Strictly speaking, to say “Japanese haiku is a one-line poem.” is plainly wrong. At best, it is not quite right. Let me explain:

Few Japanese (perhaps none) define haiku as a one-line poem. They simply have never heard of it. Then, which outsider can say so? Odd, isn’t it?

Haiku is not a three-line poem either (Nevertheless, I for one have approved of and embraced it as being a good Western invention and contribution).

“Lines” are important for Western poets, almost a be-all and end-all, alongside rhyming and other rules of prosody. It originated in the Latin word, vertere, meaning to turn. 
Its noun form, versus, means furrow, line or row. Ancient peasants went from one furrow, line or row to the next. 

When books were invented the word was given an additional meaning: to turn the pages, or, you guessed it, to read a line until it hits the end to (re) turn to the next line (A typewriter or smart phone is based on the same principle). This became the most essential part of Western poetry, so much so that verse now means poetry. 

Many haiku commentators outside Japan have been vociferously advocating that haiku 
is not poetry, in their earnest crusade to emphasise its unique and special position as opposed to the Western poetic tradition. They have had to make haiku look special, otherwise they themselves could not possibly have been special. Anything belonging to the Western poetic tradition, rhyming, subjectivity, intellectualism, florid language etc., have been banned and thrown away. Why on earth is it, then, that they have chosen, in haiku-writing, to cling to one of the most fundamental prerequisites of Western poetry: lines?

If you consult one of the biggest and most prestigious Japanese dictionaries for the account of shi (poetry, poem, verse) you will find a good definition but it does not 
contain a single word forlines. Line is a concept which the Japanese learnt in the Meiji Era (1868-1912) from Western poetry, since when not only a countless number of Western poems have been translated into Japanese as they become very popular, but also the Japanese poets themselves have started a new style of poetry called gendai-shi, based on lines. Of course, the Chinese have long had the tradition of organising poems according to lines. The Chinese poems, or kan-shi, became one of the most important disciplines of Japanese education and of the life of the literati, but they have been strictly separated from haiku, albeit having had some influence on it.

There are no law or rules or regulation in Japan that a haiku shall be written or printed 
in one single line. In reality, most of the Japanese haiku are indeed written and printed that way. Why? It is only because of expediency, economy and practicalities. Imagine that each haiku is printed in three lines or four lines in a haiku magazine: They would have to triple or quadruple its size, making the resulting price out of reach of every single haijin. In modern Japan, haiku is written in one line in magazines, books, letters, haiku competitions, kukai or online. However, it is not because haiku is intrinsically or by definition a one-line poem as such, but because it is merely a matter of expediency. 

Traditionally, haiku has been written in Japan in two, three, four, five or more lines as well. This is done for a different and arguably truly genuine purpose haiku is made the most of. For want of better words, I shall call it an artistic purpose. This is normally done in Japanese calligraphy, i.e. brush and ink:

Shikishi and tanzaku have been used as presentation formats and given to friends and acquaintances as a present. Tanzaku is a narrow strip of Japan paper pasted on hardboard (roughly 36 cm x 6 cm). It being narrow, a haiku is hand-written in one line mostly, but more often than not in two lines, and occasionally three, depending on the mood of the haijin, how the calligraphy pans out, or what else he/she wants to write on it (such as date, their name or the place the haiku was composed, and a seal).

Shikishi is made in a similar way but much bigger and broader (roughly 25 cm x 23 cm), which gives the poet an opportunity to write haiku as he/she pleases, 3, 4 or 5 lines, depending on how it goes or how he/she intends to present the haiku in the best way visually and content-wise.

There are other formats such as blank fans or fans with one’s own or someone else’s drawings or watercolour paintings (i.e. haiga), in which case a haiku is never written in one line or even two lines as it would look ghastly. Haiku has often been used as a decoration of works of art such as lacquer work, beautiful boxes of all sizes and styles, tea cups, inro (a portable container for medicine or tobacco), andon or bonbori (both lamps using a candlestick or other devices), chest of drawers or byobu (decorative screen). For artistic purposes haiku has never been written in one line in any formats, except for tanzaku.

To conclude: If non-Japanese haiku poets are writing one-line haiku because they believe that the Japanese haiku is a one-line poem, they are completely mistaken. And the one-line haiku poems thus written are meaningless from that point of view. If on the other hand they do so not because the Japanese haiku is a one-line poem, which it is not, but because it is usually written or printed in one line for expediency, then they are, say, 
50% right and 50% wrong.

They are 50% wrong because they disregard the fact that English, for instance, is completely different from Japanese and there is no guarantee that what works without anydifficulty in one language can also work in another. In Japanese, people can tell without any difficulty where to put a breath pause, or break, or what is called ma, 
even in a long and complicated sentence. It should be fundamentally the same in ordinary English, though the breath pauses are fewer and the breaks are reinforced by  punctuation. Perhaps, this is due to the fact that Westerners’ lungs are larger than those of the Japanese! What works in Japanese does not seem to work in English. So, special considerations are required for one-line English haiku, such as its length, clearer breath pauses, or none use of too many nouns.

So, let us just settle the matter by saying that the one-line haiku theory is another Western invention. Then there is only one key question (We concern ourselves only in English here) : Does it work? One of the crucial questions to follow this is: If it works,  
do the resultant haiku have any literary merit? If so, is it unique to one-line haiku, i.e. is it because it is written in one line?

Any one-line haiku needs to clear a number of fundamental tests in order to work. Some examples:

1) Does it read easily, clearly and naturally in English without using devices such as punctuation to indicate a pause or break (one of the most important functions of “lines”)? Has it not become a sentence, or something similar, in order to satisfy this point? If on the other hand you use punctuation or a space where the pause should be, is it not basically the same haiku as the three-line haiku, except for how it looks?

2) Similarly, one-line haiku is more difficult to read or make out than the three-line 
haiku, unless it is more like a sentence in which case it would lose its reason of being as a form of poetry. It is especially so when (many) nouns are used without viable predicate. It would be like trying to read an ancient scroll.

3) Often one-line haiku gives a false impression that it is composed by someone whocannot write properly. This is certainly a disadvantage of this format. The author of one-line haiku is therefore required far more severely to write so much better to compensate for it. (Maybe this challenge is one of the attractions of one-line haiku which seems to be surprisingly popular.)

4)Visually, it cannot help looking like a sentence rather than a form of poetry, or a news summary on an electronic notice-board, as opposed to three-line haiku. It certainly does not look like haiku. So, what is the point of it.

5) From the aesthetic point of view, writing haiku in one line is definitely not regarded to be pleasing to the eye in Japan as we have already seen, except when written on tanzaku. One-line haiku in English, printed or hand-written, looks odd and rather unpleasant even. How does your one-line haiku overcome this drawback?

6) Is writing in one line the only viable choice to make your haiku best? Turn it
into a three-line haiku and make sure that the result is not better than, or just as good 
as, your one-line haiku. In other words, one-line haiku should be a better form for a specific haiku than the three-lines which has many advantages. In fact, to rival three-line haiku would be a tall order.

7) Is it not just another gimmick to make your haiku look different, special and important?

8) Haiku in 2, 3 or 4 lines can often get away with a breach of grammar or any other departure from the norm (more positively, this is a creative and new writing), making itself a good haiku. One-line haiku looks as though it cannot enjoy such luxury. Does yours address this issue and solve it?

9) Perhaps, all this has a lot to do with its name, one-line, which could justifiably be said to be a misnomer. I’ve seen some other names proposed to replace it. 
If the word “line” is removed, it may cease to be compared with three-line haiku, for example. Some exotic, or obscure, but attractive-sounding word to make it a totally independent and new form of haiku. Or, it is so good as a form of poetry that it does not have to be called haiku in the first place. Why cling desperately on to the name value of haiku? If this brand name were removed, would the one-line ‘whatever’ amount to nothing?

10) After all is said and done, the ultimate question is: why should it be a one-line haiku?

By presenting all this negativity against one-line haiku, am I proposing that the
book under review should be burnt? The answer is categorical NO.

I have always wholeheartedly endorsed innovation and encouraged people to have courage to experiment. All I have been doing is to point out misunderstandings and mistakes. Once they are sorted out, one can look forward to watching with keen interest the development of such innovation and experiment.

The author, Stuart Quine, has the experience of serving as a co-editor of Presence. So, he is in the know as far as haiku is concerned, especially the one-line haiku which he himself has been writing consistently for the last twenty years or so. One assumes that he knows all about the controversy surrounding one-line haiku, including the points I have made above, and that he has his own answers and standpoint to them. I have a completely open mind as I am an observer or bystander (not even a critic) as far as 
one-line haiku is concerned. If something is good I would say so. If something is bad I would say so as well.

The one I like best in this anthology is:

        plucking out
        my first grey pube I find another


I like it not because it is about something ‘down there’ close to sexual organs but
because it passes most of my tests, and satisfies my other wish lists of good
haiku generally, into the bargain. (I do not normally go in for what I call toilet-bed haiku’, pee, poo & sex, especially if it is not written naturally but for effect 
or just because Basho did it with a horse urinating.)

I find no problem in reading it, loudly or in silence. After “out” there is a very subtle hidden pause, and after “pube” there is a natural breath pause. The meaning is clear and every word/expression is specific and well-chosen. It flows well. Such smoothness often makes a haiku slightly flat and boring but this one defies it.

The ochi (punchline) is of course the last three words (“I find another”), which gives the surprise element. And this surprise is more or less completely shared between the author and the reader. The former gives a wry smile to himself, and then to the reader. The reader laughs in sympathy. To my consternation, I myself found a grey pubic hair about 18 months ago but decided not to pluck it out but to keep it as a talisman. I have not yet had a second one.

The sub clause (“plucking…pube”) has all the setting-the-scene, background informationand the author’s frame of mind functions. It tells his age, his resistance against getting old (rage, rage against the dying of the light), his vanity to conceal the evidence, his surprise at finding a grey pubic hair for the first time. It sounds as if it is telling his whole life which has led to this particular point in time. It is almost like seeing a well-crafted portrait painting by Edgar Degas or Stanley Spencer. It has pathos, a gentle sense of humour and abundant feeling that he is very human.

This scene setting suddenly becomes a lot more serious and funnier when we come to the main clause. We are taken by surprise but start laughing. This strange sensation reverberates after reading it all. The overall effect from the point of view of the reader is that it is a very funny, very human and underneath very sad poem. The author has gained the reader’s sympathy.

The interesting point is that the author is depicting a very private conduct done in his privacy. People might be surprised by or admire the courage of his revealing it virtually to the whole world. He practices Zen. When he found the second grey pubic hair, he 
might have been struck as if by lightning and promptly reached satori (enlightenment). Or, was he plunged into an intractable dilemma: Shall I pluck out the second pubic hair, or shall I not?

Now, if the first “p” is in capital and if there is a full stop at the end, this is a complete sentence. Does it matter? In this case, I don’t think it matters at all.

Should it be one-line? The answer to this is also YES, I think. If you turn it into a
three-line form, it would be over-doing it, and the light touch (karumi) which is an 
essence of humour would be lost. Also, if it’s three lines, it would become too analytical and lose its naturalness.

Let me show you some more poems which I also liked and which I thought were good, this time without my comments:

        night bus a buckled beer can zigzags down the aisle


        mocked by crows down icy cobbles I tumble home


        first light my coughing starts up the crows


        alone on the shore tasting the salt of my tears


        beyond the shallows the deeper blue of deep water


        stepping out of the gate to taste the midnight rain


        lassitude and languor these days without rain


        just a little light on this short night fireflies in a jar


        with every sweeping a little dust defies the dustpan


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