Haiku World:
An International Poetry Almanac

First published in Woodnotes #31, Autumn 1997, page 48. See also my poems from this book, and my review of The Haiku Seasons.

Haiku World: An International Poetry Almanac, edited by William J. Higginson. Kodansha, 1996, 408 pages, paperback, 5½ by 8¼ inches. $19.00 in bookstores. The publication of Haiku World, with its companion volume, Haiku Seasons, is a landmark of international haiku. While some observers may wonder about the efficacy of an international saijiki (an arrangement of haiku according to season words), Higginson removes doubts by showing how it can be done. Poems in this long-awaited book are presented in the four usual seasons plus “New Year” and “All Year” categories, with the seasonal sections classifying poems in the standard saijiki subcategories of the season, the heavens, the earth, humanity, observances, animals, and plants. This is certain to be a standard reference work for haiku poets for years to come. Already I have used it to answer questions posed to me about the seasonal appropriateness of certain nouns. Of course, that “appropriateness” is mostly according to traditional Japanese seasons, but Higginson notes well the varieties of seasonal experience, and does far more, I think, to counter the relative narrowness of Japan-centric classifications than any other discussion of season words yet published. This stance seems essential in attempting such an international anthology. This is indeed a far-reaching anthology, representing more than 600 poets with over a thousand poems (no more than three per poet, a wise editorial move). The poems were written in 25 languages, each poem serving to represent seasonal phenomena in a balance of both descriptive and prescription seasonal classifications. To give a sense of geographical context for each poem (essential to understanding the seasonal authenticity of the poetry), Higginson includes the poet’s country, state, or province after each name. If anything seems unnecessary (and overly didactic), it’s the author’s assignment of each poem to the categories of “hokku,” “haiku,” “senryu,” and “haiku or senryu” in a way that strikes me as perhaps having questionable value to many readers. While I find it mildly interesting to know if a poem is a hokku or not (the starting verse of a renku or renga), the other classifications are essentially distracting, and in some cases I disagree. But in any event, Haiku World is a supremely significant collection of haiku by the world’s leading haiku writers. In fact, the length and breadth of countries and languages represented is nothing short of amazing. William Higginson can be justly proud of the accomplishment represented in this book, and his erudition and thoroughness are highly commendable. There is no question that you need to have a copy of this book in your haiku library. A sample from Bill Higginson himself, under the category of “mountain dogwood” in the summer plants section:


Tips rising

as the sun burns through—

mountain dogwood.