I Smell Something Foul

First published in Woodnotes #31, Autumn 1997, pages 47–48.
This is an example of a review of pseudo-haiku that I did at that time. More recently
I would not even bother reviewing such books.

I Smell Something Foul by Alison Herschberg. Andrews and McMeel, 1996, 96 pages, hardback, 4½ by 7¼ inches. $9.95 in bookstores. This unfortunate volume is yet another accident in modem American haiku publishing, perpetuating misunderstandings of the haiku genre and demeaning haiku as poetry. Here the author and publisher have turned haiku to private and perverse purposes—in this case, complaint. Each of these poems laments the problems and foibles of daily living (“haiku expressions of everyday angst,” the cover threatens). The poems show a bare inkling of haiku strategy (most exhibit a pause, or kireji, for example), but are frequently clipped and telegraphic (mostly, each of the three lines is a separate staccato sentence ending with a period). They are written in 5-7-5 syllabic form (although they are not usually padded to fit), and are often frivolous, analytical, and intellectualized rather than imagistic and objective. The Seattle-based poet introduces the volume by saying that “haiku began . . . as a form of comic social commentary,” which sounds more like senryu, and indeed, these poems are more rightly senryu than haiku, although the publisher’s intended audience probably wouldn’t understand the distinction. The public has heard of haiku, but not senryu—“haiku” is more marketable. This book may be humourous on occasion, and the hoi polloi that doesn’t care what haiku really is may enjoy it in a perverse way, but I Smell Something Foul does a disservice to haiku as literature and poetry. I do indeed smell something foul. Here are two reasons why:

Walking down the street,

Something soft under my shoe.

Remains of the dog.

Watching Melrose Place.

A dose of reality

Is good for the soul.