Drawings Among Haiku by Ion Codrescu. Editura Muntenia, 1992, 100 pages, paperback, 6 by 8¼ inches. $6.50 postpaid from the author at Str. Soveja Nr. 25, Bl. V2, sc B, Apt. 31, 8700 Constanta, Romania (use international money order). [address no longer correct]
Few new haiku poets have made such a rapid and dramatic splash in the haiku pond as has Ion Codrescu. His energy seems boundless in publishing his haiku in journals around the world, editing the new bilingual haiku publication, Albatross, and in organizing the International Haiku Festival held in Romania in 1992. The American haiku community, however, has perhaps become too enamored of Ion, taken in by the “novelty” of such an active haiku voice singing out from a country about which most Americans know nothing. But a truer test lies in judging Codrescu’s haiku. With his new book, Drawings Among Haiku, we are able to make that assessment with a sensitive and well-crafted body of haiku evidence. There are many fine haiku in this collection—still and aware—with poems offered in Romanian, English, and Japanese romaji. Readers of English haiku publications will recognize many poems. But they rise from a borrowed culture, rather than from Romania. I cannot presume to guess what the true Romanian spirit is, but I can say that the poems, like the book’s many illustrations (as fine as they are), are too Japanese, and not as genuine or as true to Codrescu himself as they could be. The author wrote many of these poems while living in Japan, as the preface explains, so he is not insincere. But too many poems are about Mount Fuji, ikebana, stone gardens, Japanese temples, or themes strongly associated with Japan, such as cherry blossoms. Where is the Romania in his poems? Perhaps that is the next step in Codrescu’s growth as a haiku writer. If he can find himself in his haiku, if he can find the voice of his Romanian soil, he will have found the true haiku universal.
A little thread on his pen
Thickening their forms
My fundamental concern with this book was that it frequently dressed haiku in a kimono, which is too often done by those new to haiku. No, Western haiku do not have to be about bamboo, Buddhas, and stone lanterns just because the haiku we read from Japan might naturally include such subjects. I was particularly sensitive to this issue at the time, and would be less sensitive about it today, although it can still be an issue with some poets, or at least some poems. Ion Codrescu was not all that new to haiku at the time this book appeared, but one point I overlooked is that this collection is a homage to time he spent in Japan, and that it is unlike other publications before and after (though I could not know the “after” yet) , where he seldom dressed each haiku in a kimono. Still, the general rejoinder remains—we should be wary of the dangers of travel haiku, and especially wary of appropriation and excessive cultural borrowing in our poems, trusting our own culture, wherever we live, to provide ample subject matter.
—13 July 2023