Adventures in Reading

A Haiku Menagerie edited by Stephen Addiss (1992)

“The caged bird
envies the butterfly–
just look at its eyes!”

During my freshman and sophomore years at university I became quite a poetry addict as a result of the various creative writing courses I signed up for (and of course a broken heart or two). In retrospect I was never much of a writer but poetry is yet another genre that has gone fallow in regards to my reading habits. It seems 2008 has become my year of broadening my reading habits and I am also now going to try and include more poetry in my reading stack.

The other afternoon I checked out A Haiku Menagerie: Living Creatures in Poem and Print edited by Stephen Addiss with Fumiko and Akira Yamamoto from work, which is a brilliant collection of haiku [1] interposed with Japanese woodcut prints. The premise of this collection is how “The earliest of Japanese writings reveal a world where humans and animals exist side-by-side” juxtaposed with the idea that in the modern world increasing numbers of people exist in a “concrete jungle” and “As we lose contact with other living beings, we are in danger of feeling ourselves alone in the universe; the arts of poetry and painting can help us to awaken to our interrelationships with everything that lives” (7).

The introduction to this collection looks at the history of haiku and Japanese woodblock books and the relationship these two media have. Addiss discusses their printed relationship as well as direct influence such as Shibata Zeshin’s “Swallow” as a direct inspiration from an Issa haiku. The layout of the collection fortunately includes both the English translation as well as the original haiku (when reading translations I do prefer that the original accompanies the new text) and a beautiful woodprint on every other page.

I have always been delighted by haiku as a result of the complexity that exists within the simplicity of the poetical structure. I suppose it is similar to my fascination with short stories and what an author (or poet) can accomplish in a physically smaller area. Addiss’ collection is beautiful and includes nearly 30 artists and more than 40 poets (with interesting biographical material on nearly all of them in the back of the book).

[1] I checked in the Oxford American College Dictionary for the plural of “haiku” and both “haiku” and “haikus” are acceptable.

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