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Volume 34.2
Summer 2003

book review

Writing and Enjoying Haiku:
A Hands-on Guide

by Jane Reichhold


Reviewed by William J. Higginson

Writing and Enjoying Haiku: A Hands-On Guide, by Jane Reichhold (Tokyo: Kodansha International, 2002), 166 pages, 5.25" x 7.5", perfectbound paperback. ISBN 4-7700-2886-5. $15.00 at booksellers.

Haiku Labyrinth

Jane Reichhold begins the foreword to Writing and Enjoying Haiku with: “Though the word ‘enjoying’ is the third word in the title of this book, for me enjoying anything and everything is the primary function of our lives” (7). Reichhold has been an active member of the English-language haiku community for decades. By focusing her discussion of haiku on enjoyment, she gets us out of the pseudo-Zen business that permeates some other books on the subject. However, there’s at least as much trouble afoot in Writing and Enjoying Haiku as in any other guide to writing haiku published recently.

Consider, for example, the first “haiku” she presents, by her own hand (8):

between words

Aside from the extreme brevity and short-long-short rhythm, one has to look very hard to find any hint of haiku in this poem. (a) It is a general statement. (b) It has nothing to do with the seasonal cycle or nature outside of human nature. (c) There is no concrete image. The definitions or descriptions of haiku that I know of would exclude this on any one of these grounds, much less all of them. Not even Reichhold’s own online essay “Another Attempt to Define Haiku” suggests that a poem may go this far away from haiku ideals and remain a “haiku” (<http://www. ahapoetry.com/haidefjr.htm>).

Reichhold boldly goes where no one else would ever have thought to go with simple factual material as well. After a lengthy paragraph about the differences between haiku in Japanese and haiku in other languages, she takes note of one particular Japanese response to the situation:
Finally, in 2000, one of the largest haiku groups in Japan—the Shiki Salon of Matsuyama University—issued a manifesto decreeing that non-Japanese haiku were not required to contain a kigo or season word. (25)

Yes, the latter half of the sentence is true, but no, not one of the particulars mentioned in the first half of the sentence, before the second dash, is factual. The sentence should read:
Finally, at the Shimanamikaido ’99 Haiku Convention held in Matsuyama in September 1999, sponsored by the Ehime Culture Foundation, a group of Japanese and international haiku poets and scholars issued “The Matsuyama Declaration,” saying among other things that non-Japanese haiku were not required to contain a kigo or season word.

The Matsuyama Declaration is available online, at

[no longer available]

and the site clearly states when, where, how, and at whose hands it came into being. The Ehime (pronounced “eh-hee-may”) Culture Foundation is a quasi-government agency of Ehime prefecture (= “state” or “province” in North American terms).

By contrast, the group responsible for the Shiki Haiku Salon, which was indeed hosted at that time on the Matsuyama University Web site, consists of five to eight individuals who operate a series of Web-based discussion groups. The most prominent of these, the “Shiki List” (recently re-established under the name “NOBO”), has involved a few hundred English-speaking online participants worldwide. The Shiki Haiku Salon never was a “large haiku group in Japan.” The group’s online activities continue, now hosted at Ehime University’s Web site,

http://haiku.cc. ehime-u.ac.jp/

Reichhold’s paragraphs frequently mix facts and misunderstandings in a topsy-turvy weave that takes considerable work to clarify, as in this passage on senryu (the asterisk indicates the omission of Reichhold’s spurious pronunciation guide; in five short, clipped syllables, the word is pronounced something like “ma-eh-coo-zoo-kay”):

In Japan, it is clear to anyone that a senryû is a haiku-like verse that lacks a kigo or season word. Because the senryû grew out of the practice of the maekuzuke [*]—a game of poetry in which bar patrons attempted to write a response link to a poet’s hokku based on vulgarity and saloon humor—the genre is yet today seen as much less a high art than haiku. Haiku are signed with the author’s name; senryû are not—for obvious reasons. (40)

To take up the first and last sentences together: Both haiku and senryu appear routinely in popular weekly magazines in Japan with authors’ names. Sections of senryu anthologies from the earliest times have celebrated the seasons, as in the following poem, translated by Makoto Ueda, from his book Light Verse from the Floating World: An Anthology of Premodern Japanese Senryu, where it appears in a substantial chapter entitled “Let Us Laugh with the Seasons” (Columbia University Press, 1999, 207):

asleep on the ground
holding a spray of blossoms
an elegant drunkard

Also, R.H. Blyth’s biggest book on the subject, Japanese Life and Character in Senryu (Hokuseido, 1960), devotes ten percent of its 600 pages to senryu by the seasons. In fact, not very many years ago, a leading modern senryu poet, Byakko Okuda, published a widely-distributed Senryû saijiki (Sôgensha, rev. ed., 1987). This 1,000-page, seasonally-organized book presents clear explanations of seasonal phenomena and some 10,000–15,000 senryu illustrating them, just like a haiku saijiki. (One wonders how many seasonal senryu it would take to dispel the myth that no senryu have season words.) All of the poems in Senryû saijiki are signed with their authors’ full names (often pen names, just as haiku poets often use pen names). So, presence or absence of a season word does not define and has never defined Japanese senryu, and most experienced Japanese haiku poets know it. Anyway, Reichhold’s “it’s clear to anyone” approach usually fails when used to discover information about cultural phenomena; try asking random people in a New York subway during rush hour “what is a limerick, and how is it different from a sonnet?”

In the passage quoted above, Reichhold’s longish middle sentence involves several misstatements of fact and a kind of snobbery. To take it piece-by-piece: “Because the senryû grew out of the practice of the maekuzuke …”—okay so far. “[A] game of poetry in which bar patrons attempted to write a response link”—the word “attempted” seems gratuitous; indeed, the patrons of Edo-Era teahouses did write response verses. One Japanese book in my collection contains about 40,000 such verses from the Edo Era (Senryû zappai shû, Nihon Meicho Zenshû Kankôkai, 1927).

Going on, the sentence continues “to a poet’s hokku”—not really; a hokku is the starting verse of a linked poem; the challenge verse or maeku of maekuzuke was specifically conceived of as a possible interior verse of a linked poem, rather than as the first. The leaders of such games normally wrote their maeku in two phrases of seven “sounds” each, not the typical 5–7–5 form of a hokku. “[B]ased on vulgarity and saloon humor”—yes, what we now call senryu were among the more “common” or “vulgar” of haikai verses, but in the Edo Era all haikai verses were considered “common” or “vulgar” in the sense that they generally did not aspire to the high sentiments and restricted diction and subject matter of the courtly waka. Finally, Reichhold states “the genre is yet today seen as much less a high art than haiku”—yes, by some snobbish haiku poets. In fact, however, the single most prominent Japanese haiku poet—a national celebrity and president emeritus of the Modern Haiku Association, Tohta Kaneko—has often collaborated with other top haiku and senryu poets to produce popular TV shows. I hardly think Americans need to adopt the snobbish attitudes of lesser Japanese haiku poets.

I have taken apart this particular paragraph of Reichhold’s book at length to illustrate the incredibly interwoven texture of half-truths, biases, and ignorance that occurs here and there throughout Writing and Enjoying Haiku. Here are some other problems one comes across in the book, especially noteworthy where Reichhold veers off her main topic into advising readers about copyright and publishing. Speaking of other people stealing an author’s work, Reichhold says “Changing one word or inverting the line order makes the poem new, and no longer yours” (90). While some participants in grammar school haiku contests may try this, such deliberate plagiarisms soon come to light if published, and are universally despised throughout the literary world, not just the narrow niche of haiku. (In Japanese haiku, poets may borrow a line or image from an earlier poem, but this practice is not as simple as what Reichhold describes.)
Reichhold discusses a number of alternative methods of sharing haiku with others, but here again, she can’t keep her facts straight. For example, she notes that “Australia has adopted the practice from Japan of carving famous haiku on large boulders” (100). Actually, the town of Katikati, New Zealand, boasts the riverside park where haiku grace boulders along a “haiku path”—the only such assemblage that I know of (I have a poem there myself); in Japan, haiku are carved into “haiku stones”—often vertical posts or obelisks four to six feet tall—not “large” or unfinished boulders.

In talking about publishing, Reichhold describes the code that uniquely identifies every trade book as “an ISBN—an International System Book Number” (95); correctly, it is an International Standard Book Number, as the documents assigning such numbers to each publisher clearly indicate. Reichhold operates a fairly substantial small press herself, and you would think she would at least pay more attention to the everyday terms of her trade. What is worse is that no editor at the publishing house caught this rather minor, yet glaring—and easily fixed—error.

Another, less obvious misstatement occurs when Reichhold discusses the lengths of linked poems in Japanese: “. . . it is no wonder that [Bashô] devised a renga form using only thirty-six links” (125). In fact, as Donald Keene observes, “The [kasen] form . . . goes back to the fifteenth century, but it first acquired importance in the seventeenth century with such men as Saitô Tokugen (1559–1647), who described the essentials of kasen composition in Haikai shogaku-shô (1641)” (World Within Walls: Japanese Literature of the Pre-Modern Era 1600–1867, Secker & Warburg, 1976, 109). Note that Tokugen’s work appeared three years before Bashô was born. While the kasen form for linked poems certainly typifies Bashô’s works in the genre, he was its perfecter, not its inventor.

Later, in a brief section on “The American Form of Rengay” (148–49), after an erroneous and unneeded guide to the word’s obvious pronunciation, Reichhold states that the form was invented in the “mid 1990s”; it was invented in 1992. She goes on to describe the form, in rather confusing terms, as a sequence of six alternating three- and two-line stanzas, 3–2–3–2–3–2. In fact, the sequence of stanzas in a two-person rengay consists of lines arranged thus: 3–2–3–3–2–3. In other words, there are only two two-line stanzas, each centered in its respective half of the whole poem. This new pattern of stanza lengths and the thematic unity of rengay set it apart from Japanese-style linked poems. Reichhold also fails to name the form’s inventor, Garry Gay.

Some of the errors discussed above were spotted in random openings of Writing and Enjoying Haiku, before I sat down to read it through. They are not alone. Seeming technicalities aside, one should ask how well Writing and Enjoying Haiku delivers on its prime objective, helping readers to enjoy and write haiku. The fifty-page chapter entitled “The Guide to Haiku Writing” has some good points. Reichhold merrily debunks the tendencies of some “authorities” to write lists of haiku rules or do’s and don’ts by promulgating her own lists of rules, which often pointedly contradict each other. For example, in one list the first six “rules” all deal with counting syllables, and are mutually exclusive. Another list of nineteen items provides some useful ideas about revising haiku. Reichhold’s list-making gets away from her, however, with twenty-four “techniques” for writing haiku, many of which seem minor variations on one another, or which ignore the time-honored vocabulary used to name and discuss such things. She does not seem to understand the meanings of such words as “metaphor” and “simile,” for example.
As for the haiku dotted here and there—too infrequently for my taste in such a book—the main question seems to be, as always, are these good haiku for beginners to read and emulate? Despite the incredible miscue of the first poem in the book, cited at the beginning of this review, many of the poems here come off quite passably, both as to their immediate purposes and as haiku qua haiku. Still, some of the poems seem written to suit the need of the moment, and suffer for it. For example,

long hard rain
hanging in the willows
tender new leaves

This poem exemplifies “The Technique of Contrast,” which Reichhold explains thus: “All one has to do is contrast images” (56). Unfortunately, while these images contrast quite well on their own, Reichhold has not applied item 9 from her own “Checklist for Revising Haiku” to this poem: “Is there any word that could be removed without losing the sense of the verse?” (74). What is lost if we remove “tender” from the last line of this poem? Nothing, except perhaps the extremely obvious way the poem satisfies the condition that the images contrast, with the words “hard” and “tender” in opening and closing lines. I would argue that omitting “tender” allows the actual tenderness of the “new” leaves to grow more strongly in the reader’s mind, thereby enhancing the contrast.

One would hope that most of the instruction rises above such obvious set-ups, and some does. Reichhold provides an unusual comment on Bashô’s old chestnut, the pond/frog poem, as follows:

old pond
a frog jumps into
the sound of water . . .

The mind puzzle this haiku creates is how to separate the frog from the water, the sound of water from the water, the frog from the sound it will make entering the water, and the sound from the old pond. It cannot be done because all these factors are one, but the reader arrives at this truth through the jolt of having the senses scrambled. (58)

It would have been better had Reichhold identified logic, rather than the senses, as being scrambled here, and unfortunately she wrongly classifies this as an example of synesthesia (taking one sensation as if perceived by a different sensory mode, such as “colors of music” or “sweet pain”). Her version of Bashô’s poem, however, comes far closer to the original than most translations, and the “mind puzzle” certainly does exist in the original, though it fails to show up in most of those other translations.

Reichhold is quite capable of the occasional striking and original haiku, as here (60):

another red tongue
on mine

Rather confusingly, however, in a lengthy paragraph of pure rhetorical invention, she identifies the technique in this poem as “simile”—not “metaphor” as would be correct.

In addition to the many annoying errors mentioned above, Reichhold’s book has one major disadvantage: she wrote virtually all the sample poems in it herself. Thus, a reader new to haiku cannot discover how others solved various compositional problems, or even judge whether her poems actually represent the genre very well (like the one immediately above, her best tend to be emotionally or erotically charged). A Japanese haiku guide written this way would never see print, unless perhaps self-published. (I am told in a personal communication from the author that this was not Reichhold’s original intention, but that the publisher talked her into it because of time and space considerations. Perhaps these same considerations discouraged fact-checking.)

Reichhold’s Writing and Enjoying Haiku also has one major advantage. Much of the best material in the book appears, perhaps in slightly different form, on her Web site, including her various lists (see the pages indexed at <http://www.ahapoetry.com/haiku.htm>). And she knows—unlike Coomler and Bruce Ross [see my review of his book, How To Haiku, in MH 33.3]—that growing haiku readers and writers need a wide range of other resources. To handle this, she refers readers to a special section of her Web site devoted to augmenting the book, saying “Conventionally, in this part of the book, the reader just finds long lists of more books to read.… I have compiled one of those lists—about forty pages long. To save a few trees, that complete list has been put on the Web (http://www.ahapoetry.com/aguide)” (156). This online resource guide not only lists an extensive array of books without comment, but has a more helpful annotated list of haiku resources on the Web. It is the best part of the book. Aside from that, I cannot recommend this book to those newly interested in haiku.




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