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Volume 39.2
Summer 2008

book review:

From Haiku to Lyriku: A Participant’s Impressions
of a Portion of Post-2000 North American Kernular Poetry
,
by Bob Grumman

Reviewed by Charles Trumbull

From Haiku to Lyriku: A Participant’s Impressions of a Portion of Post-2000 North American Kernular Poetry, by Bob Grumman (Port Charlotte, Fla.: The Runaway Spoon Press, 2007). 256 pages; 5 x 8. Glossy gray-green cover; perfectbound. ISBN 978-1-57141-076-7. $20.00 from the author/publisher at <http://bobgrumman.com/FromHaikuToLyriku/>.

“Quirky” doesn’t even scratch the surface in trying to describe From Haiku to Lyriku, Bob Grumman’s full-length exposition of his theories and taxonomies of the far reaches of what we like to call haiku. “Sloppy” is a start. On the Web page for the book, Grumman warns: “there are many typos and other errors in the book, beginning on page 2 where I misattributed two of the four haiku I was discussing.” Elsewhere, on page 29, he literally scratches out a long passage of text and writes in by hand, “How’s this for tacky? See p. 83,” where the same haiku is discussed, mostly with identical wording. Evidence abounds throughout the book (doubled commas, dropped letters, misspellings and typos, etc.) that the manuscript was not proofread or edited; rather it was almost certainly cut-and-pasted from various Internet and other sources. This is a first draft, not a finished book. Now, I might not normally make such a big issue of this, but this book is about visual poetry, and funny little marks, letter spacing, punctuation, etc. can be vital to the meaning. For example, in Dan Waber’s two poems (62)

poem1

I need to know if the dot by the “h” is supposed to be there in the first one and if the order of the letters is correct in the second. Although in most cases Grumman uses facsimile copies of the originals for works like this, my confidence is much undermined. In my copy of the book, for example, there is a stray mark after Cor van den Heuvel’s “tundra” (39). I’m fairly sure it’s a flaw in the paper, but ...
“Baffling” is another appropriate adjective to describe the book. Grumman’s main interest is in “taxonimizing” and describing various kinds of poems that go beyond normal text into lexical and graphical experiments. To do so he has developed his own lexicon of terms. Many of these he presented in his Modern Haiku article (indeed some terms he introduced in the title?!?), “A Divergery of Haiku, ToxanAtomyzd” (34.2, summer 2003, 20–29).

Some terms are readily fathomable —“surrealistic poetry,” “plaintext haiku” — but most require a bit of study and examples — “sprungrammar” and “springrammar,” “lyriku,” “alphaconceptual poetry,” “mathematiku,” “kernular poetry,” “infraverbal,” “juxtaphor,” “pwoermds,” etc., etc. Grumman’s taxonomy is as dense as Linnean Latin. I’m not sure what to make of all this, frankly. Maybe his work is pure genius or maybe he is painting himself into an intellectual corner. At any rate, I know I often have the devil of a time getting a cohesive idea of what he’s going on about.

“Defensive,” too, applies to Grumman’s book. Sprinkled throughout are Dangerfieldian moans about how his work and writings get no respect. He is especially sensitive about his relationship with Modern Haiku, alternately chiding us over our perceived lack of receptiveness to the poetic avant-garde with asides such as “for a change of pace, an otherstream haiku by Geof Huth that somehow got into an issue of Modern Haiku” (3) and being miffed at our alleged inattention to him personally: “My career with Modern Haiku seems to have ended after my last essay for them, an attempt to provide taxonomy of haiku which most of its readers seem to have taken as a satire on poetics. In any case, I haven’t been asked to review anything for it in over two years.” (10) We’ll consider all this as acclamation by faint criticism.

OK, when you get past the horrendous typos, Grumman’s impenetrable terminology, and his slightly whining tone, this book is a lot of fun. It will give your mind and poetic senses a brisk workout. His capacious definition of haiku and his frequent justifications of various strange-looking constructions as real haiku are more than just interesting. For example, here is Grumman’s own poem, “Mathematiku No. 10” and a partial explanation (53):

poem2

I claim this to be two haiku. One of them says, “heart times poetry / somewhere, minutely, / a widening.” The other, “existence / minus what poetry brings about; / existence.” The piece has 18 syllables. But that excludes the heart and the long division apparatus. So, I guess I can’t really call it a haiku, — it’s too long.

He goes on for a page and a half debating whether this poem can be a haiku. Grumman is nothing if not a committed haikuist!

Later he brings us

poem3

by Eugen Gomringer (177) and hastens to (over)explain its appearance in his book:

Why is it here, in a book purportedly about haiku — North American haiku? Because the poem is so centrally a classic concrete poem, which makes it a centrally-classic visual lyriku, that needs to be here as surely as Basho’s “old pond” does, as a centrally-classic haiku.

Well, maybe.

Grumman never keeps his readers in the dark about what he thinks of the works he is discussing, or even developments in the poetry world at large. Witness this characterization of language poets (160):

The language poets are a heterogenous [sic] group of poets terrifically talented in pr who are known for obscure language, abuse of the rules of grammar, indifference to “emotion” and human relationships, scorn for lyricism, near-foaming attachment to extremely left-wing political points of view and a belief that what poetry does socio-politically is far more important that what it does aesthetically.

Some of the work Grumman discusses will be familiar to middle-of-the-road haiku poets, and poems such as Emily Romano’s

poem4

(a fusional infraverbal poem, in case you can’t place it), from which meaning is extracted from the overlapping words “ouzel,” “elfin,” and “finesse,” can be relatively easily grasped. More challenging will be Geof Huth’s fissional infraverbal poem (151):

poem5

which Grumman himself had trouble making out, he says, until he saw the “echo” in it, and LeRoy Gorman’s mathematical pluraestheic poem “the birth of tragedy”:

poem6

which Grumman scans as “tragedy equals a blur of exclamations and questions multiplying against each other” (250). Interestingly, Grumman cheerfully acknowledges it when he doesn’t understand a work, yet he is willing to discuss it and even judge its quality. All this makes for a jaunty read.

For our adjective describing From Haiku to Lyriku, let’s settle on “wild” or “heady.” If a bareback ride on a runaway stallion through the far edges of the forest appeals to you, this is a book for you !

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