1998 Merit Book Awards

First published in Frogpond 23:1, February 2000, pages 87–92. Originally written in December of 1999. Addresses listed were accurate in 1999.

The purpose of the Haiku Society of America’s Merit Book Awards is to recognize the best haiku and related books published in a given year. Every year sees a fresh crop of fine individual collections, anthologies, translations, and books of criticism. The volumes published in 1998 ranged from an anthology of Spam pseudo-haiku to a collection of rock-star haiku (by Michael Stipe of REM and others). The year’s more serious haiku books ranged from self-published, photo-copied chapbooks to deluxe letterpress editions, as well as professional trade and academic press publications. However, it is ultimately the text—the poetry or the prose—that matters most, along with the poetic images or intellectual ideas and the craft exhibited in presenting them. Choosing the best books of the year has surely been a daunting task for past judges, as it has been for us. We particularly recommend the following haiku books as the best of 1998, and regret that we could not acknowledge more books. We encourage you to support the winning authors and publishers by buying and reading these books. We have enjoyed considering these books, and are grateful for the opportunity to choose these award winners.

—Mary Fran Meer and Michael Dylan Welch, judges

First Place

Fresh Scent: Selected Haiku by Lee Gurga. Brooks Books, 4634 Hale Drive, Decatur, Illinois 62526. Hardback, 128 pages, 5.75 by 8.75 inches. $22.50 postpaid from the publisher. An exceptional collection of Gurga’s haiku and senryu, culling the best poems from several books and many years of dedication to the haiku genre. Also noteworthy is the aim of publisher Randy Brooks to present, beginning with this collection, a series of clothbound books featuring the selected haiku of outstanding poets who have made a significant contribution to the art of haiku.

                fresh scent—
                    the labrador’s muzzle
                        deeper into snow

Second Place

Favorite Haiku, Volume I by H. F. Noyes. Red Moon Press, P.O. Box 2461, Winchester, Virginia 22604. Saddle-stitched paperback, 64 pages, 6.5 by 5 inches. $13.00 postpaid from the publisher. A simply produced, wide-ranging, and satisfying collection of poems by numerous poets, each enlarged with prose interpretations by H. F. Noyes. At once a haiku anthology and a book of insightful commentary, above all this book celebrates the spirit of community and sharing in the worldwide haiku community.

Honorable Mentions (in alphabetical order by author)

A Raindrop, A Flowing River. Photographs by Graeme Matthews; haiku by Ernest Berry. Graeme Matthews PhotoImage, Blenheim, New Zealand. Hardback, 144 pages, 11.5 by 10.5 inches. $35.00 postpaid from Red Moon Press, P.O. Box 2461, Winchester, Virginia 22604. A stunning book of award-winning photos enhanced by haiku of New Zealand poet Ernest Berry. This smooth amalgam of images transports the reader into realms of imagination and wonder. A perfect coffee-table book with photographs that any haiku poet would be proud to couple with his or her haiku.

Spring Morning Sun by Tom Tico. Belltower Press, 721 18th Avenue, San Francisco, California 94121. Perfectbound paperback, 112 pages, 5.5 by 8.5 inches. $12.00 postpaid from the author (at above address). Despite writing haiku for thirty years, this is Tico’s first book publication. His haiku march down the page in unwavering steps. Many reflect first-hand observations from a man living out years of homelessness, but his work celebrates both joyful and soulful moments with a light touch. This book celebrates the work of a long-recognized poet . . . with the sun at his back.

Haiku: This Other World by Richard Wright. Arcade Publishing, New York, New York. Hardback, 304 pages, 5.5 by 7.25 inches. $23.50 in bookstores. When American novelist and activist Richard Wright died in 1960, he left an unpublished manuscript of 817 haiku selected from several thousand he wrote in the last year or two before he died. While the poems show weaknesses that seem a result of Wright’s writing in isolation, a significant number of the poems are remarkably good, especially considering that Wright penned them in the late 1950s while in failing health. That this collection should now be published makes it historic.

Special Category Winner for Haibun

Six Directions: Haiku & Field Notes by Jim Kacian. Illustrations by Stephen Addiss. La Alameda Press, Albuquerque, New Mexico. Perfectbound paperback, 88 pages, 6 by 6 inches. $10.00 postpaid from Red Moon Press, P.O. Box 2461, Winchester, Virginia 22604. A journey to uncharted horizons, a taste of wildness, sets this journal’s tone. Weaving haibun with haiku sections, Kacian skillfully portrays his ongoing fascination with the wildlife, the mosses and stones, the rivers and mountains of Virginia. Readers are transported through each new season, witnessing an artful tale as it unfolds. An awakening has taken place and a quiet resolution: “Six Directions . . . stretches out again in space and time . . . becomes the place where I live, this place, this home.”

Special Category Winners for Criticism

Traces of Dreams: Landscape, Cultural Memory, and the Poetry of Basho by Haruo Shirane. Stanford University Press, Stanford California. Perfectbound paperback, 382 pages, 6 by 9 inches. $16.95 in bookstores. A landmark reassessment of Basho and his poetry amid his cultural landscape. This books deftly de-Zens Basho, and shows the vertical depths (links to history and culture) and horizontal breadths (links to his contemporaries) that Basho reached in his haiku and renga mastery.

Path of Flowering Thorn: The Life and Poetry of Yosa Buson by Makoto Ueda. Stanford University Press, Stanford California. Hardback, 226 pages, 6.25 by 9.25 inches. $39.50 in bookstores. A sorely needed biography of Buson, this book presents 180 of the poet’s haiku in translation, and places the poetry in the context of his paintings and prose and the rich events of his life. This highly readable book opens up the poet’s life and poetry, and joins Ueda’s other books as a classic in haiku criticism.

Special Category Winner for Translation

Chiyo-ni: Woman Haiku Master by Patricia Donegan and Yoshie Ishibashi. Tuttle Publishing, Boston, Massachusetts. Perfectbound paperback, 280 pages, 6 by 9 inches. $14.95 in bookstores. This translation is dedicated “to all women haijin known and unknown who lived the way of haiku or who are now living the way of haiku.” It was a daunting task for the authors to unravel the biography of this remarkable woman and translate her poetry. In eighteenth-century Japan, politics allowed only men to become haiku masters. Nevertheless, with her talent and resourcefulness, Chiyo-ni broke through the ranks to be honored as the first woman haiku master during her lifetime.

Special Category Winner for Anthology

The Second New Zealand Haiku Anthology edited by Cyril Childs. The New Zealand Poetry Society, Inc., 58 Cecil Road, Wellington, New Zealand. Perfectbound paperback, 92 pages, 5.75 by 8. 25 inches. NZ$20.00 (about US$10.00, cash only) postpaid from the publisher. Over 300 best works from thirty-five of New Zealand’s most accomplished writers appear in this book. Emphasis is on haiku with Kiwi origins and colloquialisms, and about its environs and people. Biographical snapshots bring each poet to life. This collection previews many new voices to be heard and enjoyed.

Special Category Winners for a Series

To the Spring Street Haiku Group for its series of annual group anthologies: The Parakeet’s Mirror (1993), Woodshavings (1994), A Small Umbrella (1995), After Lights Out (1996), In the Waterfall (1997), Absence of Cows (1998), and continuing. Spring Street Haiku Group, New York, New York. Saddle-stitched paperbacks, 24 pages, 4.25 by 5.5 inches. $3.00 each postpaid from Dee Evetts, 102 Forsyth Street #18, New York, New York 10002 (earlier books may no longer be available, so please inquire before ordering). Remarkable for their consistently high quality of haiku, these brief yearly chapbooks showcase just a few excellent haiku from each member of this dedicated group of poets.

To Stephen Addiss with Fumiko and Akira Yamamoto for their series of haiku translations paired with entertaining Japanese artwork: A Haiku Menagerie: Living Creatures in Poems and Prints (1992), A Haiku Garden: The Four Seasons in Poems and Prints (1996), and Haiku People: Big and Small in Poems and Prints (1998). Weatherhill, New York, New York. Hardback, 112 pages, 6.75 by 8.25 inches. $16.95 each in bookstores. Each book artfully presents a set of poems thematically grouped with vintage Japanese prints.

~     ~     ~

The judges would also like to informally acknowledge three other books that showed themselves to be noteworthy for 1998:

Journey to the Interior: American Versions of Haibun, edited by Bruce Ross (Charles E. Tuttle, Boston, Massachusetts; perfectbound paperback, 224 pages, 5.5 by 8.5 inches; $21.95 in bookstores). This milestone book is the first anthology of haibun to be published in English.

Haïku sans Frontières: Une Anthologie Mondiale, edited by André Duhaime (Les Éditions David, 1678, rue Sansonnet, Orléans, Ontario, K1C 5Y7, Canada; perfectbound paperback, 442 pages, 6 by 9 inches; $27.50 postpaid from the publisher). Contains ten haiku each by 180 poets from around the world. Poems appear in their native language (some in English) and are also translated into French. All introductory text and author biographies are also in French (only).

The Iron Book of British Haiku, edited by David Cobb and Martin Lucas (Iron Press, 5 Marden Terrace, Cullercoats, North Shields, Northumberland NE30 4PD, United Kingdom; perfectbound paperback, 112 pages, 4.5 by 8.5 inches; £6.50 plus postage from the publisher). An historic collection of the best haiku from more than 70 poets in the British Isles.