Out of India, Out of the Ordinary

Dr Santosh Kumar has edited a new collection titled Haiku: A Concise Anthology (Cyberwit.net, Allahabad, India). The anthology presents five haiku by each of 40 poets from more than 20 countries, including countries not often represented in English-language collections. For example, you will find haiku from Estonia, Cameroon, Israel, Brazil, Nepal, Vietnam and Montenegro.

Haiku - A Concise Anthology

While published in India, the intention is obviously to showcase poets from around the world as the only haiku by an Indian writer are those by Dr Kumar himself.

The best haiku in English combine a lightness of touch with unexpected depth; leaving room for the reader to experience the poem in a personal way. Poems of this sort can return to our consciousness again and again.

Having said that, many haiku published in the prominent English-language journals have a certain sameness to them. Yes, the format can vary from a single line to four or more lines. The syllable count can vary. The poem may, or may not, refer to a season. And yet, the feel of many poems can be similar.

Arguably, a broad consensus has developed internationally as to what constitutes a good haiku and this consensus has resulted in many, though not all, published haiku feeling as though they belong to the same school of writing. With haiku being practised so widely, it is perhaps surprising more distinct schools of haiku have not emerged around the world.

The first of my five haiku in Dr Kumar’s collection is:

cracks in the soil
her pumpkins crawl
across the yard

I would venture to suggest this a good example of an English-language haiku, in the sense that it follows the so-called rules of haiku and leaves space for the reader to engage with the poem. But, at the same time, it is orthodox. It conforms closely with the accepted global doctrine for writing haiku.

By way of contrast, other poems from Haiku: A Concise Anthology include:

Motionless trees
the sap runs in the branches
My son is ill.

(Jean Antonini, France)

borded up room –
the rainbow scent sneaking

(Lavana Kray, Romania)

at times I wonder
if everything is water
painted in water

(Margus Lattik, Estonia)

A lid knob of ancient clay pot
   mother’s thousand-generation-long nipple
   baby fingering every evening

(Le Van Truyen, Vietnam)

the Milky Way
putting three dots
at the very beginning

(Sergiy Kurbatov, Ukraine)

By a gentle wind
glass broken –
a rainbow dissolved in water

(Yoshihiko Furuta, Japan)

These poems all display the essence of a haiku, and yet they achieve this in a range of different styles that seem to bring added interest to the poems or, at the very least, point to fresh possibilities for the genre. How do these styles vary from more orthodox haiku in English?

.  Certainly, the structure of the poems varies; not always adhering to the usual phrase and fragment approach.

.  The rhythm of the haiku often differs from the norm; perhaps this is deliberate, perhaps it’s a result of translation.

.  While the subject matter is generally nature-based, it is not necessarily pure description, sometimes conveying ideas that are more abstract than concrete.

.  Perhaps different cultures have different ways of observing the world.

As might be expected from such a varied collection, I do not like every poem presented in Haiku: A Concise Anthology. But I do like the opportunity to read haiku from a wide selection of countries, and to experience a much broader than usual array of writing styles. For a writer of haiku, collections such as this open up new horizons and spawn new thoughts about what constitutes a haiku.

Haiku: A Concise Anthology is available from Cyberwit.net and Amazon.