XVIII:2 June, 2003

A Journal for Linking Poets    
  Embracing the Firebird: Yosano Akiko and the Birth of the Female Voice in Modern Japanese Poetry by Janine Beichman. University of Hawai’i Press, Honolulu: 2002. Trade bound paper, 339 pages, 6 x 9 inches, an Appendix of kanji of the poems and each poem is accompanied with the romaji version, $23.95. ISBN:0-8248-2347-8 is available in bookstores.

Haiku Noir by R. Gray. 2002. Perfect bound, 8.5 x 5.5, unnumbered pages, $9.95. ISBN: 0-7414-1395-7. Contact or call toll-free (877) BUY BOOK.

Jamaica Moments by L. A. Davidson. DLT Associates, 3245 Village Green Drive, Miami, FL 33175 Perfect bound, 5.5 x 8.5 inches, 50 pages, $9.75 + S&H $2.50.

Pensées of copyrighted by Stanley Pelter. A Hub Editions, edited by Colin Bundell, Longholm, East Bank, Wingland, Sutton Bridge, Spalding, Lincolnshire, PE12 9YS, England. Perfect bound, full color cover, 5.5 x 8.5 inches,£5.50. ISBN: 1-903746-25-6.

Spirits Of The Wind:Tanka  by Gerard John Conforti. Aha Online Book:2002. 

Take a Deep Breath by Sylvia Forges-Ryan and Edward Ryan. Kodansha International, Tokyo: 2002. Hard cover with jacket, 130 pages, 5.5 x 7.75 inches, US$16.00. Available at all book stores as ISBN: 4-7700-2885-7 or offers it with a 30% discount.

Where Dog Dream by Kit Whitfield. Barron’s Educational Series, Hauppauge, New York: 2003. Series Editor Leanne Bryan of MQ Publications. Hardcover gift book with jacket, 6 x 6 inches, 96 pages with full color photographs and ink drawings. Available in stores with ISBN: 0-7641-5640-3.

TWO ROOMS: A Journey into the Interior of Poetry
Review of Four Zero Four and In the Time of the Fall of the Two Towers by Michael Helsem AHA Online Books, 2003.
By Gordon Hilgers

Writing and Enjoying Haiku: A Hands-on Guide by Jane Reichhold (Kodansha International, 2002), 165 pages, $15.00. Available at all book stores as ISBN: 4-7700-2886-5 or offers it with a 30% discount. By Carlos Colón

ITO Sumie




Embracing the Firebird: Yosano Akiko and the Birth of the Female Voice in Modern Japanese Poetry by Janine Beichman. University of Hawai’i Press, Honolulu: 2002. Trade bound paper, 339 pages, 6 x 9 inches, an Appendix of kanji of the poems and each poem is accompanied with the romaji version, $23.95. ISBN:0-8248-2347-8 is available in bookstores.

If you have wondered how a young girl, from the provinces of Japan, who had been running the family’s candy store, could suddenly be rocketed to fame and fortune with her first book of tanka, this is the book that will tell you the story of Yosano Akiko’s early life. Janine Beichman takes a fascinating story, tells it well and manages to work into it an amazing amount of translated tanka. Being a scholar, and long-time expert on the works of Yosano, and because she also collects valuable editions of her work, Beichman brings to both story and poems a breadth of experience and understanding of the work possessed by no one else.

She begins the life of Yosano (1879 – 1942), by accounting for her grandfather and how he began a confectionary store on a busy corner in the town of faded glory - Sakai on the Inland Japanese Sea - telling in full of Akiko’s birth, her rejection by her family, and how the courage and drive of this girl brought her, by the age of sixteen, to be running the business. Even more incredible is the tale of her meeting with Yosano Tekkan, a famous editor of the Tokyo poetry magazine, Myoojoo – Venus, and how she fell in love. The rich poems, from this first flush of love, titled Midaregami (Tangled Hair), were published in 1901, just two months before the couple managed to marry. The major focus of Embracing the Firebird, is on the times in which these poems, that made Yosano the most celebrated tanka poet of the last century, were written.

Beichman was able to piece together the story with the utmost detail and realism due to the incredible mass of literary material left behind by Akiko Yosano. Never again able to capture people’s hearts as her first book, this did not stop Yosano from writing over 55 books and articles. She continued to write tanka, and critic tanka, but after she began having her 13 children, she wrote also fairy tales and other books for children. Having read The Tale of Genji several times as a child, and having earned money for her growing family by teaching and lecturing on the subject, she retranslated the whole book twice (her first draft was burned in the fire after the earthquake in Tokyo in 1923), from archaic to modern Japanese. Lest I lead you astray, let me remind you that Embracing the Firebird, though the title is taken from a later Yosano poem, only covers the period of her life up to the publication of Tangled Hair and the event of her marriage.

In her discussions of Tangled Hair Beichman comes up with an amazing theory. No one could figure out how Yosano had arranged the tanka in the six sections. They were not chronological, nor based on the real time of her growing love for Tekkan Yosano, nor in the order the poems were first published in his magazine. Beichman advances the amazing idea that Yosano linked the poems in a sequence according to the methods of renga. Since we have no complete English translation of Tangled Hair, Sanford Goldstein and Sershi Shinoda’s Tangled Hair contains only 165 of the 399 poems (and is out of print) and they are not in any order or sections, this fascinating prospect will have to be proved by Japanese readers. From the samples Beichman does give in translation, it seems she has made an important discovery.

From my small inventory of Japanese words, it certainly seems to me that Beichman’s translations are much closer to what Yosano was trying to say. When one person finds chikara to mean "my supple breasts" and Beichman writes "my powerful breasts" I would guess that with Yosano’s attitude toward life and love, that she was thinking powerful. Yosano’s poems are, almost without exception, full of sexual innuendoes, references, metaphors, double meanings and direct statements of her pain and mostly her pleasure in her body and its sexual aspects. Writing as boldly as she did can be daunting to men and the squeamish, but it is there and it needs to be brought across into English with the grace and accuracy she used.

My one problem with some of the Beichman translations, and every translator will pick on another because none of us use the same methods, was her decision to shape some of the tanka into three-lines and even worse, (ala Seidensticker), into couplets. When she does this, the line breaks have nothing to do with the sense or meaning of the words or phrases, but are purely typographical constructs. Under each of her translated poems, no matter how it looks in English, something she admits does not interest her, is the Japanese romaji with slashes to indicate these five well-known parts of the tanka but the reader of English has no sense of how these two versions relate. Not only does her use of a non-reflecting shape for the tanka disturb the sense and understanding of the way the parts of the tanka interact, I am afraid that people wishing to imitate the power and force of Yosano’s work will try to imitate these three or two-line versions of the English without understanding the underlying structure built on sound units which has no representation in the English. In her introduction to the book, Janine Beichman spent several pages defending her methods, and she also wrote to me:

"The main reason is that some of the poems that I included, particularly in the early chapters, are there because they are important to the story of Akiko's life, but do not have great literary value in themselves. For such poems, it was most natural to use a three line or, in some cases, a two line form. I kept five lines for poems that deserved it – where I wanted the reader to slow down and savor the poem, or where there were certain complexities in the original that called for unfolding the poem and having time and space to give a greater sense of sound/image complexity. Also, you have to remember that I was working within a template of prose: the poems, with their broad margins, are nestled within blocks of prose, with their narrow ones. Therefore, to present a poem in five lines is to be making a statement about it, namely, that it is important, in a literary sense, worth slowing down for and thinking about."

I can understand and accept her reasons as valid for her, but this does not lessen my pain at seeing the English versions of Yosano’s words treated with such disregard for them as reflections of the tanka poems of a genius. My complaint does not in any way diminish the magnificence of Beichman’s accomplishments with Embracing the Firebird, nor should it stop you from getting this book and studying it like a Bible. Tanka readers, and writers, have been given another chance to catch the magic of Akiko Yosano. Take it!


Haiku Noir by R. Gray. Infinity Perfect bound, 8.5 x 5.5, unnumbered pages, $9.95. ISBN: 0-7414-1395-7. Contact or call toll-free (877) BUY BOOK.

Again, a title took me to my French dictionary for the complete connotation of "noir" which are given as "black, swarthy, gloomy, dismal, foul." I suspect that Bob Gray, if picking one word of translation would pick "gloomy" because one gets the feeling he thinks his haiku come from the dark side of life. In many cases this is so, but yet, in the sense of the poem, or the reverberation from the ideas in his poems, I found them to be positive and uplifting, as haiku are thought to be.

near death
the old woman enraptured
by a vase of flowers

This means his haiku are well written and often very deeply connected to great moments of insight, as the above poem shows; they are, each in their own way, small way markers to deeper thought and consideration. Yet when he makes a small, haiku-like joke, it contains elements of sadness as in:

nudist family
around a picnic table
dad’s toupee

This man looks at life with the raw eye of our fragilities, the brevity of our humanness, and yet comes to haiku for cane and banner pole.

The poems are presented one to a page, dead center on the pages with the acres of white space that helps dispel the "noir" of the title.


Jamaica Moments by L. A. Davidson. DLT Associates, 3245 Village Green Drive, Miami, FL 33175 Perfect bound, 5.5 x 8.5 inches, 50 pages, $9.75 + S&H $2.50.

For the fans of the haiku of L.A. Davidson, Jamaica Moments finally brings a satisfying portion of her poems, which previously readers could only find in the numerous anthologies and haiku magazines. Since the publication of her last book, The Shape of a Tree twenty years ago, we have hoped every year would bring us such a book as Jamaica Moments is.

First impression is the in-your-face red-pink hibiscus that fairly dances off the cover. There is no doubt that this is a powerful book with all those red vibes waving like flags around the room. Even without opening the book, there seems to be a bouquet of flowers in your hands. No shrinking violets here under the false modesty of a little Japanese poem!

This collection of poems centers around her visits to Davidson's daughter, Laura and her husband, Dhiru, in Jamaica and the friends and experiences Davidson had there. As reader, one gets the feeling that she was in haiku mode much of the time and took the care to record her innermost thoughts no matter what they were.

having come so far
to visit them both again
to the beach alone

Just reading the haiku for information gives a wide and varied impression of what life must be like on this tropical island. The haiku are carefully arranged so that wisps of stories emerge, merge and float back and forth from incident to event.

after the firm "No!"
peddlers pass along the beach;
the surf louder

But one can also read her haiku for examples of well-written haiku techniques as she is a very practiced writer and one worthy of study and even imitation. With four haiku to each page, in a large, easy-to-read font, it is hard to stop with just one. The reader wants to peruse the whole book and then page back through it for favorites.


Pensées copyrighted by Stanley Pelter. A Hub Editions, edited by Colin Bundell, Longholm, East Bank, Wingland, Sutton Bridge, Spalding, Lincolnshire, PE12 9YS, England. Perfect bound, full color cover, 5.5 x 8.5 inches,£5.50. ISBN: 1-903746-25-6.

The title is the French word pensée for "thought" that gives new meaning to our cliché, "pansies are for thoughts" since pensée can also mean "pansy."

Sometimes a book is advertised as being "a steal," meaning that its price is so low one is getting it almost for nothing. Stanley Pelter takes this phrase into actuality. He has "written" a book about haiku in which he takes liberally from everyone who has ever written on the subject, wreaths their ideas with the complications of his words and offers it up in a jumble of stream of conscious writing that denies comprehension in the way of a French intellectual. In the same way you would enjoy the play of words and thoughts in, for example Joyce’s Ulysses, you can learn about haiku in Pensées.

I loved the artwork on the cover. I think I have rarely admired one as much as I enjoy looking at this one. It is extremely apt for the book. The title, written in a grid of the art-school style, peters out where the author’s missing name should be on the cover into a mass of faces (I suspect that are photos of the author) made unreadable by slashes of lines of black or smears of color. It is fascinating artwork and completely true to the material in the text.

Pensées contains no poetry except the flights of fancy of the author of the book. As he pontificates on telling the reader what a haiku is and how to judge one, our senses are jangled by digressions and explosions of extraneous thought ala Roland Barthes. Once he has impressed us of his worth, his wide reading and his ability to quote anything from everyone, and his understanding of haiku, he seems not interested in the actual poetry. Perhaps this, the lone three-liner in the whole 110 closely-set pages tells you more than I can.

ancient vine
now more dead
than alive

Occasionally he does credit others for quotes, but beyond these are vast masses of borrowed material, trimmed and expanded to seem his own which is very disconcerting. The publisher, Colin Bundell writes that Pelter wanted to publish the book anonymously, but he as publisher, to protect himself? puts in a very curious copyright notice.


Spirits Of The Wind:Tanka  by Gerard John Conforti. Aha Online Book:2002. (Click on the title to read the whole book now)

Spirits of the Wind is Gerard John Conforti's third book of tanka and in this one, his desire to dedicate his work to his friends and family expands as has his circle of support. Due to his childhood years being raised in an orphanage, his several years in and out of various mental hospitals and recovery programs, Conforti has had to learn to surround himself with an atmosphere of love and friendship as has no other person I know. Much of his time not spent on his writing goes to the care and nurturing of this group of people. Thus, when he writes his tanka poems, his awareness of the closeness and the necessity of these people is so actual that he dedicates each poem to his thoughts of that person.

Writing on Staten Island, Conforti finds nature everywhere at his fingertips, yet he presents it in such a universal manner that geography disappears in the intensity of his feelings.

An excerpt from
For Maureen

This coming summer
the heat of the noon sun
will rise from the traffic
and the roofs of houses
blazing on the steaming earth

In the summer rain
our embrace
will cool the heated winds
but for this relief
there are furious storms

After the passing rain
I can smell the green grass
and the honeysuckles
growing on the fence
across the building steps

I have traveled many States
and seen many mountains and meadows
fill with the life of spring
or frozen solid in winter
I have traveled many States

The clock on the night table
is ticking in the silence of night
each second claiming a life
and each second a reborn
the crying sound of a child

From out of the womb
comes each birth
and it is easier to be born
but difficult to die
which we avoid at all costs



Take a Deep Breath by Sylvia Forges-Ryan and Edward Ryan. Kodansha International, Tokyo: 2002. Hard cover with jacket, 130 pages, 5.5 x 7.75 inches, US$16.00. Available at all book stores as ISBN: 4-7700-2885-7 or offers it with a 30% discount.

Take a Deep Breath is my idea of the perfect haiku book. To have it lying in their hands must seem like a dream come true for the authors – this husband and wife team. It seems nearly every haiku writer wishes someday to have a small, tastefully made collection of their poems. An even greater dream is to have someone else take up the poems, gently one at a time, to discuss them, enlarge upon them and to bury them deep in the heart of the reader. Ever since R.H. Blythe did this for the old masters of Japanese haiku, no one, until now has taken haiku so seriously, and to use the force of words to expand the haiku to fill a position in meditation.

Edward Ryan has done this for the haiku of his wife, Sylvia Forges-Ryan. The couple takes only forty-four haiku, which are tastefully presented on the left-hand page, framed as if a photo in an old-time album, and on the right-hand side, for just one page, Edward writes a meditation on the subjects of the haiku. Suddenly the haiku seem accessible, engaging and inspiring as the reader’s mind is stretched out into the vastness of feeling and understanding of the importance of awareness.

Though not touted as haibun, and certainly a collaborative work, as haibun usually is not, the whole of this book becomes an excellent example of what a haibun could and can be. There is enough of a reference in the prose to the haiku to maintain a connection, and yet the forces of inspiration are moving in different directions to expand, exponentially, to the farthest horizon. A haiku cannot ask for a better treatment.

The two authors have equally flawless work. Not one word of the many haiku comes off as needing more polish and the meditations are variable and yet enough alike that the reader can relax into Edward’s way of thinking. You can’t have excellent haiku without drawing near to religion, so the meditations are ecumenical enough to incorporate the feelings and ideals of both Buddhists and Christians. He teaches the Christians how to breath and the new Buddhists how to see value in the religions of their childhoods.

Interestingly enough, the couple had the fortitude and the understanding of psychology enough to make a change in the way the seasonal poems are arranged. Instead of starting with spring, as the Japanese do, the poems in Take a Deep Breath begin at the summer solstice. This allows them to begin with the full and joyous poems of that season and, best of all, to end with the hopefulness and inspiration of the spring poems. This is a new and absolutely marvelously apt, for a psychological book, to grab the readers and then send them back into the normal world with happiness and uplift instead of starting good in spring, like a young life, and ending with the death and solitude of winter.

This hardcover book, perfect as a gift, is done with taste and style from its sexy cover through its cream-colored pages with just the right amount of print in the right places. The cover illustration, by Noriko Murotani always brings a smile to my face. It shows a photo of a temple made of two hands with one red tulip pushing up into the cavity between them. The tulip, cut away from its bulb, has roots hanging from its stem! It is certainly eye-catching, as much as the book is breath-giving.


Where Dogs Dream by Kit Whitfield. Barron’s Educational Series, Hauppauge, New York: 2003. Series Editor Leanne Bryan of MQ Publications. Hardcover gift book with jacket, 6 x 6 inches, 96 pages with full color photographs and ink drawings. Available in stores with ISBN: 0-7641-5640-3. $9.95.

Again, Leanne Bryan, has managed to guide another of these expertly designed and dreamed books into being. Using a variety of editors, she has gathered amazing collections of short poetry into charming books – perfect for gift-giving. What I admire most is that she does not separate haiku and tanka out into a side channel, as is usually done with books in these genres, but integrates the English poems of these Japanese genres right beside short or partial English poems from such well-known authors (in the case of Where Dogs Dream) such as Emily Dickinson, John Muir, William Carlos Williams, Helen Keller, John Masefield, and Walt Whitman. Thus, in this company you will find Robert Spiess, Anita Virgil, Elizabeth Searle Lamb, and the editor, Kit Whitfield. I have endless applause for these efforts to integrate the genres in the name of enjoying poetry.

In Where Dogs Dream, as you can imagine, the poems and the photographs are about – dogs. But the vision of the work goes beyond into reading the mind of a dog and our relationships with our dogs. The metaphysical is everywhere waiting on you to discover it. The perfect book to give or to pick up at odd moments for a Dalmatian spot of inspiration.

If you are cat lover, there is a companion book, Where Cats Meditate (ISBN: 0-7641-5638-1).

Jane Reichhold



A Journey into the Interior of Poetry
Review of Four Zero Four and In the Time of the Fall of the Two Towers by Michael Helsem. AHA Online Books, 2003.
(Click on the title to read now)
By Gordon Hilgers

"Abide by rules—then throw them out!  - Basho

            On an early summer night, you will stand beneath a huge, full, orange moon and realize something quietly breathtaking: Someone somewhere is also looking at it, but has come to their vision of the moon accompanied by a completely different chain of circumstances and influences.  Who is it?  And who are you now?  Classical Japanese poetry is a little like that.  The relation between two human beings or one human being and a poem can be described as the relation between two rooms.  

But what is that called?  Codependent origination is perhaps the closest English equivalent to a Buddhist idea that all things and events are fully interdependent and that nothing is self-originating. The haiku and tanka, especially, juxtapose images that are interpenetrating and, once again, interdependent - as they operate by indirection to generate often astonishing observations about both the laws of nature and those of society.  Better, the little poems are short, easy to memorize and, for many people in many times and places, have served as tiny koan or bits of ambiguousness that, when cracked open like pistachios, awakened them to wisdom or spiritual insight.  Traveling with a haiku or a tanka on your mind is like moving through the desert while sucking on a small stone to alleviate thirst. 

Classical Japanese poetry also operates under a number of literary ethical standards, or what have we, and the most important of these is known as sabi: An undertone of aloneness, hollowness, like the rainy tones of a Japanese Shakuhachi wood flute, pervades both the ideal Buddhist experience and the essence of the very finest Japanese haiku and tanka.   

In today’s world, however, it’s almost impossible to be alone.  Even in remote natural settings, the hollow and empty beauty of a pristine lake on a morning spiced with mist is often interrupted by passing 18-wheelers roaring across the flatlands five, six and seven miles away.  Perhaps the technological whine makes the scene even lonelier.  A tanka would probably describe the mechanical moan as the shadow and sadness between opposites, the moment just before or after a kiss, a birdcall or a leap off a cliff. 

"I have a theory about Japanese prosody, or rather a feeling about what I know of it.  I see the lines written out on a picture, & the pattern is plain: like the dots on a domino face, in fact.  Or like a drumbeat composed of one sequence of staccato beats, & then four more…," writes Michael Helsem in a short, Basho-esque introduction to Four Zero Four, one of two short online collections of tanka this Dallas-born poet says he has been accumulating and writing intermittently since 1982.  As in Basho’s famous vision quests, particularly The Narrow Road to the Deep North, literally a journey into the interior or core of poetry, Helsem’s two enigmatic series of tanka contain short prose breaks that serve to both illuminate the reader and tighten the spell of his wide-ranging tanka. 

Helsem, who admits haiku has heavily influenced him in nearly all his poetic experimentation, approaches his tanka in another way similar to Basho’s method: Both believe the essence of the craft is encapsulated in the act of "watching and walking."  That seemingly simple activity, however, entails much more than literally walking through the woods and watching the procession of natural events before you.  Rather, one of the rarefied miracles of classical Japanese Buddhist thought is that the world itself is poetic and that each and every detail within the natural world is akin to a metaphoric communication from primal reality to those who are attuned to it. Loosely, the Japanese term for this highly trained way of seeing the world is kokoro—the ability to feel the essence of an object or a relationship between objects, the presence of mind to literally relate to the heart and mind of something.  Kokoro, however, is often translated simply: heart.

Basho’s world, however, was quite a bit different than Helsem’s is, not only in that the steady hum of the automobile neither lurked nor loomed in the future or otherwise, but also because the spirit of poetry in 17th Century Japan was wholeheartedly social. 

Renga, the expansive "threads" of linked verse with which both haiku and tanka are conventionally associated, originally developed when groups of rich courtiers, sitting together and drinking tea, began composing witty, conversational poems that were loosely connected between the second and third lines or third and fourth lines by a common image, a retort or (to Basho’s consternation) an apt metaphor: Geese flying in the sky, in one famous example, are linked to the dumplings in a poet’s soup.   

The tanka in Helsem’s Four Zero Four and In the Time of the Fall of the Two Towers spring wholly from the mind of a single poet.  This severing of traditional social characteristics of a classical form is widespread and common today, but it also shows how divergent the abstractions of the world we accept are from those of Basho’s day.  To further exacerbate the so-called wound it seems, Helsem has filled his own tanka with dozens of technological, conceptual and entirely imaginary images: clocks, screen doors, skylines, napkins. 

From In the Time of the Fall of the Two Towers:

poems in the shower
arise as clear as wires
  & then I lose them
streets I miss for years, returned
to on an idle errand

 In Helsem’s vision of tanka, clearly shown in both short online books, contemporary Western culture has invaded the psyche of the individual with a disconnected emptiness qualitatively different from the sabi of Basho’s day.  Sure.  The witty repartee remains intact by the poet’s whim.  But the verbal joust takes place in only one mind.  Which, of course, is really cosmic from a Buddhist perspective.  The second big disconnect between the organic nature of the classical Japanese culture of Basho’s day and the inorganic meld of a postmodern amalgam of fast food and existentialism is the thrall to abstraction and illusory construct into which we all seem forced. 

"I would have liked to use a lot of nature imagery, but about all of that I’m usually exposed to these days is the changing light at different times of day and the birds that are not deterred by city living. In lieu of that, I spend a lot of time in the car," says Helsem.

However, sometimes it seems as if Helsem has gone too far in incorporating imagery that flouts basic tanka tradition.  But that’s a matter of personal taste. The phrase "Matterhorn seatbelt," for example, almost pokes out your eye.  The use of the French volta, a word that essentially refers to an ornamental turn executed by trained horses or a sudden fencer’s thrust, may not only confuse some readers but could disrupt the Japanese aware, or the pathos inherent in the relation of natural beauty to the primal mind. 

One more observation: the arrangement of Helsem’s tanka on the page may also confuse readers into thinking they are reading either one long poem or a connected cycle of tanka.  Helsem says he understands the problem and insists each tanka is to be taken as

the history of an isolated experience.  But he also seems to enjoy the illusion. What would a traditionalist think?  If it were only possible, each individual poem in Helsem’s Four Zero Four and In the Time of the Fall of the Two Towers would be more effective caringly isolated on a single electronic page. An electronic page?  What would Basho have made of that? 

Gordon Hilgers is a poet and writer who lives in Dallas, Texas.


Writing and Enjoying Haiku: A Hands-on Guide by Jane Reichhold (Kodansha International, 2002), 165 pages, $15.00. Available at all book stores as ISBN: 4-7700-2886-5 or offers it with a 30% discount.
by Carlos Colón

This well-written, easy-to-follow guide is for everyone who loves haiku, from the beginner to the more experienced.  Reichhold starts with an overview section which explains how to read haiku and how the conflict of counting syllables in English-language haiku developed.  She then outlines "Six Basic Haiku Rules":

1.   Write in three lines that are short, long, short without counting syllables.

2.   Make sure the haiku has a fragment and a phrase.

3.   Have some element of nature.

4.   Use verbs in the present tense.

5.   Avoid capital letters and punctuation.

6.   Avoid rhymes.

Following these haiku rules, Reichhold lists 24 "Valuable Techniques" for writing haiku.  These include comparison, association, sabi, wabi, and wordplay.  After the haiku writer completes a poem, s/he is advised to review Reichhold's 19-point checklist for revision, so unnecessary punctuation, adverbs, articles, and gerunds are removed and so the final poem is concise, polished, and not a product of unintentional plagiarism. For writers who wish to be even more engaged, Reichhold offers 65 additional rules/methods for writing haiku. The only noticeable omission is the method of writing a balanced haiku with fewer than 17 syllables (e.g., using a 4-6-4 or 3-5-3 pattern).

In the chapter "Enjoying Haiku with Others," Reichhold advises how to copyright, publish, publicize, and teach haiku and how to share haiku at a public reading.  The final section, "Using Haiku Skills in Related Poetry Forms," gives a short history and explanation of other Oriental forms including tanka, renga, rengay, and haibun.  The reader is also given a resource site at for an extensive bibliography.

Reichhold's guide would have been a stronger, richer book had she used more contemporary haiku examples besides her own and a few others.  Nevertheless, her book is a perfect complement to Cor van den Heuvel's The Haiku Anthology for an up-to-date understanding of English-language haiku.

Carlos Colón, widely published in books and magazines, is also known to Lynx readers for his renga and valuable contributions to the "Participation Renga."


ITO Sumie

             Most often it is very hard for Japanese persons to read or appreciate the so-called haiku written in other languages than Japanese. To us, they are not really haiku even when the writer tries to follow all of our rules. We have tried to teach others how to write haiku, but the results are so very different from our own work.

            Yet, we now have a new book by Mrs. Reichhold called Writing and Enjoying Haiku: A Hands-on Guide published by Kodansha International in Tokyo. When the book first arrived on my desk, I was prepared to not like it because I did not think a Westerner, and a woman, should be teaching how to write haiku. I looked down the table of contents and saw that she was also going to teach about tanka and renga. Who did she think she was?

            In Japan we keep these different forms, or styles of writing poetry separate. We either are haiku writers or tanka poets. The idea that a writer can hop from style to style is not one that we practice. So even more I was unhappy with this book. But then I began to turn the pages and read Mrs. Reichhold’s words.

            She writes very simply and clearly. I could understand everything she was saying. She writes like a haiku writer. Very exact without confusion. Page by page I followed her thinking across the words. To my surprise I suddenly realized that she had understood Basho. What she was writing about was a way to understand the way he worked.

            Basho had a very special way of putting words together to make understanding that stood outside of the words. This is what makes him so great in Japan and why we love his work so much. But because we love and admire his poems so much we never think about how he worked. I was very surprised to see this truth coming back at me in English.

            I felt angry at first but as I thought over her 24 techniques I thought she had found something very precious and worthy that we had overlooked in haiku. I think that according to Mrs. Reichhold haiku in other countries is more sacred that some of the people have thought it to be. I liked this because we feel that too. I later enjoyed opening my book of Basho’s works and seeing if I could find the techniques she had given names. Yes this idea works.

            When I came to the part of the book on tanka I did not know what to think. Again I did not think a non-Japanese person could understand our poetry. Here again she surprised me because she does. Her study of haiku had strangely prepared her for tanka poetry. This idea is painful for me but it seems to work. We often do not think of the two forms being related but in her words they are. In many ways they work alike but she did understand the difference or at least she explained it a way that was clear to me.

            It was uncomfortable but a good surprise to read that Mrs. Reichhold could write more about renga, or linked verse than I knew. I have not considered this a literary style since Shiki Masaoka declared it dead in the Meiji era. Here in this book it seems other people have continued with it and have breathed new life into the old form. It is painful to think we threw something away that now has meaning for other writers.

            I think is it important for Japanese who read English to study this book. Though we feel we know how to write haiku from our bones and the earth that makes our food she has lighted a lamp that makes us see better our own masters and our own work.

            As I said before in this letter, the haiku outside of our country, are growing up in ways very different from ours. I am not a fortune teller or one who reads the future so I cling to old ways. It is best for people to learn from our old masters. In my mind it seems Mrs. Reichhold is one who is teaching Basho’s way.


Snapshot Press is proud to announce the publication of 'Ebb Tide: Selected Haiku' by John Crook. 
Many people in the haiku world were saddened by John's death in 2001, after a long and brave struggle with cancer.  This posthumous collection has been edited by Brian Tasker with close cooperation from John's family. Further details and haiku are available on the redesigned Snapshot Press website:
in various currencies, or by mail order
£1 for every copy of the book sold will be donated to the Katharine House Hospice, where John spent his last weeks.

summer solstice -
the sun reaches a new place
on the fridge


Submission  Procedures 

Who We Are

The next deadline is 
September 1, 2003

  Copyright © AHA Books 2003.

Read book reviews in previous issues of Lynx

XVIII-1 Book Reviews
XVII:3 Book Reviews

XVII:2 Book Reviews

XVII:1 Book Reviews
XVI:3 Book Reviews

XV:2 Book Reviews

XV:3 Book Reviews

XVI:1 Book Reviews

XVI:2 Book Reviews


Read the previous issues of Lynx:

XV:2 June, 2000
XV:3 October, 2000
XVI:1 February, 2001
XVI:2 June, 2001
XVI:3 October, 2001
XVII:1 February, 2002
XVII:2 June, 2002
XVII:3 October, 2002
XVIII:1 February, 2003