A Box of Zen

First published in Woodnotes #31, Autumn 1997, pages 51–52.

This collection seems to have been published in Germany as a single book under the title of A Little Book of Zen.

A Box of Zen, edited by Manuela Dunn Mascetti. Hyperion, 1996. Three books of 56 pages each, hardback, 6¼ by 6¼ inches. $29.95 in bookstores. This attractive “box of Zen” includes a book each on Haiku, Koans, and Sayings. Each volume begins with an introduction by T. H. Barrett followed by a generalist essay on each topic by the editor. Each sumptuously designed book also includes numerous four-colour illustrations from ancient and more-recent Japan. The haiku book of this trilogy offers 16 to 18 haiku for each of the four seasons. The selection of haiku is quirky—it includes classics by the usual haiku masters, and also one poem each by such English-language contemporaries as Kenneth Tanemura, James Kirkup, Patricia Neubauer (although her name is misspelled in the book), and Charles B. Dickson. The introduction says, curiously, that the book contains work from Kōko Katō, but no such poem appears. The English-language selections all come, however, from Kōko Katō’s 1991 Four Seasons anthology (and from no other source), suggesting that the editor of A Box of Zen is not widely read in English-language haiku. Indeed, rather than being at all representative of the art of haiku, the book is peculiarly quirky and narrow in its selections. The book’s bibliography and books for further reading strike me as similarly unbalanced. In addition, the Koans and Sayings books also touch but lightly and unevenly on their subjects. Nevertheless, this is an attractive set, even if expensive. Meanwhile, speaking of Charlie Dickson, here is a sample poem from his pen:

Flickering campfire—

I kneel by the mountain spring

For a drink of stars.