Review of A Haiku Path

First published in Woodnotes #26, Autumn 1995, pages 54–55. I was on the book committee that edited this book, and I also did all copyediting, proofreading, layout and design, and print management. Read my afterword, “A Look to the Future of Haiku in English.” + +

review by Ce Rosenow

A Haiku Path: The Haiku Society of America 1968–1988, edited by the Haiku Society of America Twentieth Anniversary Book Committee. Haiku Society of America, Inc., 1994, xiv + 402 pages, paperback, 7 by 10 inches. $21.95 postpaid for HSA members; $27.95 postpaid for nonmembers. Add $2.00 for postage outside the United States. Please send checks (payable to the “Haiku Society of America”) to Doris Heitmeyer, Secretary, Haiku Society of America, 315 E. 88th Street, Apt. 1F, #42, New York, New York 10128 [address no longer correct].

A Haiku Path is an in-depth look at the first 20 years of the Haiku Society of America (HSA). Its coverage of HSA’s meetings and activities, as well as its list of award-winning books and haiku, make it a valuable resource for members of the Haiku Society of America as well as for anyone interested in the development of English-language haiku in the United States.

The book is divided into three sections: “Finding the Way” (1968 to 1978), “On the Path” (1978 to 1988), and “Toward a Peak.” The first section contains information from official minutes, correspondence between members, and excerpts from haiku journals. It follows the origins of the HSA and the development of its official definitions of haiku, senryu, hokku, and haikai. It also includes a presentation made to the HSA by Cid Corman as well as papers presented at HSA meetings. Of particular note are the profiles of Professor Harold G. Henderson, to whom the book is dedicated.

Information in the second section of the book is presented primarily through articles published in Frogpond, the official journal of the Haiku Society of America, from 1978 to 1988. These articles depict the interests of the society during that time and include considerations of Bashō, Takahama Kyoshi, and Jack Kerouac. Three chapters in this second section are devoted to remembrances of Foster Jewell, Raymond Roseliep, and Nicholas Virgilio, pioneers in English-language haiku who have since passed away. These chapters include essays written by people whose lives were touched by the poets as well as excerpts from interviews and readings given by the poets themselves.

The third section of the book presents poems and books that have won awards from the Haiku Society of America, the Tokyo Museum of Haiku Literature, and the Japan Air Lines North American Haiku Contest. Substantial selections from the award-winning books and a full list of the winning poems allow the reader to see first-hand the directions of English-language haiku during the first 20 years of the society. This section also functions as an excellent resource for outstanding examples of American haiku.

A Haiku Path is a remarkable achievement on the part of the Haiku Society of America in that it presents such a wide range of detailed information. Not only does the text document the development of this important haiku organization, it also offers readers a chance to see step-by-step how and why certain decisions were made in the early years of the HSA. Readers are provided with a tremendous amount of information, such as the role of punctuation, nature, sabi, and sound in haiku. Not only will this information instigate additional discussions about haiku, but those participating in such discussions will be better prepared by knowing what has been studied before.

The chapters on Harold G. Henderson, Foster Jewell, Raymond Roseliep, and Nicholas Virgilio are particularly valuable for HSA members who never had the opportunity to meet or correspond with these important figures. The combination of these remembrances with the minutes, articles, and lists of award-winning books and haiku allows members to have a better understanding of the organization to which they belong. A Haiku Path has given the history of the HSA to its ever-growing membership and, in doing so, has allowed all of the members to participate in that history.

The book’s successful presentation of so much information is not only due to the book’s scope, but also to the manner in which the information is presented. Elizabeth Lamb’s introductions to each section give excellent historical surveys of the haiku movement in English and provide the reader with the larger context out of which the specific information is drawn. The design and layout of the book parallels that of a textbook, which makes the amount of information manageable for the reader.

With all of its benefits, however, there are still shortcomings in A Haiku Path. For the most part, these derive from the immensity of the project undertaken by the HSA. Given the amount of information collected during the organization’s first 20 years, the Twentieth Anniversary Book Committee was faced with the awesome responsibility of determining which information would be published in the book. It is important for the reader to understand how and why each work was chosen for the book, yet no information regarding the selection process was provided.

Why did certain articles merit inclusion? For instance, the chapter on African-American haiku is the only chapter that focuses on writers solely because of their ethnicity, and while it demonstrates that ethnicity was at least an issue being discussed by haiku poets in 1982 when it appeared in Frogpond, there is no explanation whether it was this or some other reason that determined its place in the text. On the other hand, why were certain things left out of the book, such as articles by Paul O. Williams and George Swede, two able commentators long involved in haiku? These questions should have been addressed in a primary introduction, separate from those written at the beginning of each section, wherein the selection process for the overall book could be detailed.

Much of the value of a text like A Haiku Path is in its capability to examine the information it is reprinting, not necessarily to deconstruct that information or to judge it by contemporary standards, but to note how it reflects the knowledge and attitudes of writers and the society when it was first written. This is especially true of a text that offers an organization’s history to its own membership, that claims in its preface to be of value to “historians and writers alike,” and that cannot, by choosing to include personal reminiscences of writers as well as articles that were specifically revised for this book, claim to be letting the facts objectively represent themselves.

Even with its shortcomings, A Haiku Path is extremely valuable for the information it does present. Missing information or lapses of explanation regarding the selection process fall easily into the business of a second edition, and one hopes that the HSA will choose to revise and reissue this book in the future, perhaps in tandem with a second volume chronicling the second 20 years. The collection of poems, excerpts from books, letters, minutes, papers, articles, and presentations—in short, the voluminous facts—offered in A Haiku Path make it an important resource for the study of haiku in English. By documenting its first 20 years, the Haiku Society of America has succeeded in strengthening itself and the development of English-language haiku by providing a uniform base of information from which American haiku will assuredly continue to grow.