Review: The Way of Haiku | By Naomi Beth Wakan

Shanti Arts | 2019 | 110 Page | $15.95 | Purchase online

Review by Janet Vickers, author of Infinite Power (Ekstasis Editions, 2016)

“Outside of truth there is no poetry” Uejima Onitsura”

This quote, by Onitsura, is one that Naomi Beth Wakan uses to begin her introduction to haiku-writing and haiku-reading in her latest book, The Way of Haiku. She defines haiku as “small verses, centred in the here and now.” There is a seasonal reference that “presents juxtaposed images in a way that opens the moment described to a deeper depth of understanding, not just of that particular moment, but of all moments in space and time.” She makes it clear that haiku don’t tell you what to think and don’t tell you what you should do. The moment doesn’t possess a ‘should’ or a ‘must.’ Naomi shows the variety of ways in which haiku are written these days, even very minimal ones, like the one-word haiku by Cor van der Heuvel: “tundra.” For me, this is an image that has meaning, attitude, and seems to say, “look— nature has its own language.”

Naomi understands what makes a haiku a haiku and why we should care. The chapters in this book give us guidance and clear instructions. They include the use of seasonal words and topics; cutting words; Japanese sensitivities; haiku and emotion as well as a history of haiku’s development. Naomi also tells you what to leave out and discusses related forms such as haibun (haiku diaries). I feel you don’t have to read the whole book cover to cover before you begin writing haiku, but I do feel it is helpful to read it through in your lifetime, whether you are a writer or not.

The bigger questions are – how will it benefit you, the reader, and how will it benefit humanity? For me, my simple answer is that it’s an effective counter-argument against the accumulating noise that enters my mind when I think I know a lot, therefore it’s good to let nature speak [through haiku] because I don’t know everything. Naomi quotes Bashō, the father of haiku, showing there are other worlds:

fleas, lice

the horse peeing

near my pillow

I feel that these images say there are things happening that I would never hear of in my life. The sound of a “horse peeing near my pillow” is not an experience I am likely to have. The image stuns me. I imagine the fear that some of the pee might end up on my pillow. Yet fleas, lice and the horses have all helped people survive, if only through the constant reminder we must share our living space with others.

Haiku, and a change of scenery, real or literary, are medicine for me. Our thoughts, or at least my thoughts take over the whole world and create highly personal responses and feelings— the good and evil that demands winners and losers. The way of haiku is through the level gaze, a necessary observation for the species who prides itself on creating history even though there are so many competing histories.

So many ideas, such as these, came to me from the reading of The Way of Haiku. The book even inspired me to write a haiku:


for the perfect haiku

the fire goes out

I’m sure it will do the same for you. This is an important book.

The Way of Haiku is part of a trilogy (the other books are The Way of Tanka, and Poetry That Heals) (Shanti Arts). The books can be obtained in Canada from [email protected] They are $20 each and $50 for the complete set.

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