Book Review: Haiku (Poetry Basics)

Haiku (Poetry Basics), by Valerie Bodden

This book does not exaggerate when it calls itself a basic poetry book.  This book is the very embodiment of basic, and can be read profitably by even an elementary school reader who has an interest in learning about haiku in a very brief and introductory way.  This book is about 30 pages long and is very direct and brief, discussing the purposes of haiku poetry and their history as a short Japanese form that developed out of the longer renga tradition.  The book is richly illustrated with Japanese drawings and woodcuts that give an idea of the sort of material that inspires haiku poetry and talks about some of the famous Japanese poets of the tradition.  In addition to that, the author talks about the rise of modern haiku and their spread to the West.  After this historical introduction the author talks about the form of the haiku both in Japan where it consists of 5, 7, and 5 onji respectively in three lines, and then the less strict English version of the genre.  The author even talks about the tense and the use of fragments and breaks that tend to be characteristic of the genre.  The remainder of the work shows some examples of haiku in translation and the use of creation as an inspiration for many such poems, as well as further related forms to the haiku and some ways that the reader can think like a poet and play with syllables, after which there are suggestions for further reading, a glossary, and an index.

This particular book is not one that will be challenging to many readers.  That said, there are plenty of people who would likely enjoy learning about the haiku and being encouraged to become such writers themselves.  Some of us need no such encouragement–I have written haiku since I was at least a teenager, if not before, as I have always been fond of short forms of poetry that were deeply impressionistic and provided compelling and arresting content.  Whether or not that fits your own tastes, it certainly does fit mine, and this book is certainly appropriate for those who are learning about haiku either in the context of poetry as part of an exploration of literature or as part of a unit on Japanese history and culture.  It is perhaps unsurprising that such poems are very popular in our day and age and that they have proven to be an enduring important from Japan, where they result from elegant court games and an appreciation of witty reversals and poignant reflections upon creation and life.  Although a very short form of poetry, they can pack a great deal of insight for those who know how to write them well.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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