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Volume 42.2
Summer 2011

 

book review:

Seulement l'echo: anthologie de haïkus francophones
edited by Dominique Chipot

Reviewed by Charles Trumbull

Seulement l'echo: anthologie de haïkus francophones, edited by Dominique Chipot. Sumi-e by Manda (Rennes, France: La Part Commune, 2010). 351 pages; 4 x 6. Matte beige and four-color card covers; perfectbound. ISBN 978-2-844182-09-8. Price: US$18.00 from the publisher at <www.lapartcommune.com>.

In his introductory remarks editor Dominique Chipot places this new collection in the historical continuum of French haiku anthologies, pointing out that the earliest collection and the most recent, those of Jean Paulhan (“Haïkaïs,” in the journal La Nouvelle Revue Française 84 ([1920]) and Jean Antonini's Anthologie de haïku en France [2003]), respectively, are organized according to the poets. This gives the opportunity for the reader to learn a bit about the voice and the past of each. The anthologist's other option is a thematic arrangement of the haiku, such as was done by René Maublanc in 1932 ("Le haïkaï français, bibliographie & anthologie," in Le Pampre 10/11), which can reveal the evolution of haiku and treatment of themes across time. Chipot has not only chosen the thematic approach but he goes so far as to cite and analyze, over about 50 pages, some of the haiku selected by Maublanc for each topic.

Maublanc's and Chipot's topics are a study in themselves. They go far beyond the traditional seasonal orientation of a Japanese haiku collection and are more inclusive than the Welsh anthology reviewed above. Topical divisions of the book include each of the seasons, Animals & Plants, Observances, Night, The Mountains, Water, The Sea, War, and, bien sur, The Heart. But there's more: other chapters include July 14 [i.e., Bastille Day], The Poetic Art, Quatrains in Japanese Haikai Fashion, and Philosophical Tercets. This comes very close to a declaration that seasonality in haiku is unimportant as well as an endorsement of the "keyword" approach to composition.

According to Klaus-Dieter Wirth, who is represented by eleven haiku in the book, Chipot sorted through some 2,500 submissions from 130 poets, eventually selecting 542 poems by 103 people. Sampling haiku from an anthology is a hopeless endeavor, of course, but here are a few chosen at random to give a slight flavor of the work. The topical section name is given first; translations are mine.

Summer

dans ma poche
un petit galet
de l'été dernier

in my pocket
a small pebble
from last summer

Patrick Calsou

Children

rêve d'enfant —
sur son ardroise gris
un bateau sur l'eau

a child's dream —
on his gray slate
a boat on the water

nekojita =^..^=

Philosophical Tercets

     Pas de coffre-fort
pour abriter les richesses:
     seulement une âme

     No strongboxes
to safeguard riches:
     just a soul

Marie Népote

Unfortunately the book provides no biographical information whatever about the poets, or for that matter data about previous publication. It is puzzling, for example, that although Chipot’s book is subtitled “Anthology of French-language Haiku,” none of the poets from outside France—most notably the French Canadians—who appeared in André Duhaime’s 2001 anthology of contemporary haiku in French, Chevaucher la lune, are represented in this new volume. In fact, I was able to identify only two Canadians in Seulement l’echo, Jannick Belleau, with ten haiku, and Robert Bilinski, with one. Prominent Francophone Belgian haikuists Serge Tomé and Bill Bilquin are also absent. On the other hand, work by non-French writers, including Wirth and Geert Verbeke (who probably wrote in French) and poets from places such as Italy, Romania, and the West Indies, whose contributions were likely not originally written in French, made it in. Go figure. Is this a result of a topical rather than poet-oriented selection process?

Thus, while it would be hard to argue that this book presents a snapshot of French-language haiku today, it is unquestionably a fascinating and worthwhile project. It's only in French, of course, but it surely bears looking into.

 

 

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