From The Asian Reporter, V13, #5 (January 28-February 3, 2003),
A new haiku book, a Japanese tradition, and its translation
Writing and Enjoying Haiku: A Hands-on Guide
By Jane Reichhold
Kodansha International, 2003
Paperback, 144 pages, $15.00
By Oscar Johnson
Special to The Asian Reporter
In an attempt to unveil the mysterious simplicity of Japan’s
400-year-old art of haiku, Jane Reichhold’s Writing and Enjoying
Haiku seeks both to explain and challenge the precepts of this
Informative, the book attempts to translate the essence of the Land of
The Rising Sun’s contemplative poetry for today’s would-be Western
practitioner: our view of nature, simplicity in scribing, and
"Let go of any preconceived ideas and simply do whatever brings
you enjoyment," Reichhold begins. "This is your life. The book
you are writing."
Perhaps her opening stanza about the world of subtle obviousness, which
impregnates the pauses between a Haiku verse, is best voiced in what soon
For Reichhold, Haiku is clearly a spiritual journey. The enthusiasm
with which she encourages her readers to enjoy both reading and writing it
blossoms. Her appreciation for its Zen-like mastery of seeing,
contemplating, and expressing what she almost euphemistically calls
"the here and now" is poignant — and poetic.
The text extols the virtues of awareness, openness, reverence, oneness,
simplicity, and humility that the author asserts are essential for
grasping the haiku mystery. But there is also an academic, if not
contrasting, vein to the book.
As in profound poetry itself, there is a point where conflicting
principles kiss. Sometimes they can even contradict. In Writing and
Enjoying Haiku, it is where tradition and its translation converge.
Where does preserving the vehicle of haiku’s essence end, and
formulaic dogmatism begin? When does the poetic translation and
retranslation of a principle start to become something else?
If either the above virtues, or academic argument, are essential for
grasping Haiku, is there adequate openness and humility — or scholarly
inquiry — regarding the Japanese language in which it was derived?
Well-versed in classical Asian poetry or not, the discerning reader
will find that Reichhold’s Writing and Enjoying Haiku leaves them
pondering such questions.
In contrast to the art form’s regiment of three-line, 17-syllable
poems — in syllabic rhythms of five, seven, and five — the book calls
on contemporary times, language, and cultural differences as evidence that
today’s haikuists should break from this and other aspects of tradition
if they feel inclined.
Noting past "furious ink battles which have raged over
haiku," Reichhold takes it upon herself to introduce haiku’s Magna
Carta of a new age: replace syllable structure with three alternate long
and short lines, include a fragment phrase, say something about nature,
use the present tense, and avoid capitalizations and rhymes.
These revisions of a centuries-old Japanese art form — like the tea
ceremony, flower arrangement, or the warrior Way of Budo, which are
reputed to attune the practitioner to inner and outer realities beyond
mere form — beg important questions.
Like the ripe silence between haiku verses, however, the reader must
discern the answer from this, and perhaps other more traditional works on
the topic, for her- or himself.