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Volume 35.3
Autumn 2004


book review

Haiku, [CD] by Alan Watts


Reviewed by Charles Trumbull

Haiku, by Alan Watts (locust50) and Zen & Senryu, by Alan Watts (locust49) (Chicago: Locust Music, 2004). Compact disks. $13.00 each, available in book and music stores or from the publisher’s Web site, <http://www.locustmusic.com>.

For years I have wished that the 1950s recording of Alan Watts’s program entitled “Haiku” broadcast on radio station KPFA-FM in Berkeley, Calif., which I have enjoyed on vinyl (Sausalito, Calif.: MEA, ca. 1958), would be cleaned up and reissued on CD. This, if only to provide a voice for the “haiku is Zen” side of the great haiku debate. Now, suddenly, we have available not only Watts’s talk about haiku, which still sounds fresh and thought-provoking after almost 50 years—with, on the “B-side,” the reading in Japanese by Sumire Hasegawa Jacobs of selected classical haiku and R.H. Blyth’s translations read by Watts—but also a second volume, Zen & Senryu, that I had not known about previously.

(Another collection of possible interest, This Is It! by Alan Watts and friends [locust48] was not included in our review package.) Zen & Senryu comprises a short introduction and forty-two Zen poems taken from Blyth’s Haiku and texts about Zen by D.T. Suzuki, Nyogen Senzaki and Paul Reps, and Watts himself and read by Jacobs and Watts. The senryu collection, from Blyth’s Senryu, includes the topics man and women [sic!], love and marriage, children and animals, professions, and miscellaneous subjects. The readings are punctuated by percussive sounds provided by Vincent Delgado on Japanese instruments. Both albums apparently were produced by the protean cultural ecclectic Henry Jacobs, Sumire’s husband.

Unfortunately, the recording level of these albums is so low that substantial effort is required to follow the voices, even with the pops and hiss of the phonograph records now gone. Liner notes are also sadly deficient; it is disappointing that the producers could not have provided information about the personnel involved, the cultural stewpot of the Bay Area in the 1950s that produced these landmark recordings, or the fascinating provenance of the sessions themselves. Still, these two disks are very welcome additions to a small but growing corpus of sound recordings of the haikai arts. They will be especially valuable for libraries and scholars.



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