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on 25 July 2016
During a sleepless night, feeling the need for something restful and soothing to read, I decided to investigate haiku. Most of my knowledge so far had come from my daughter learning about it in primary school and from seeing friends write and share their own haiku on social media, often accompanied by photographs of what had inspired it.

I've always thought there is a poetry gene, and that I lack it, but that haiku is a sufficiently accessible form of poetry that anyone might try writing it. The form also seems to mesh well with the current vogue for mindfulness, which encourages us to live for the moment and take more notice of tiny details of whatever is around us.

What better time, then, to find out more about haiku, not only to become a more informed reader, but also possibly to equip myself to try writing it. A quick search online threw up this Dover Classic as an e-book for just 49p for a quick read, as estimated by my Kindle, so it seemed just the ticket. It was worth 49p even for just the cover, a soothing Hokusai style painting of a classic Japanese scene.

The book is comprised of two parts, firstly a fascinating introduction to the history of this distinctive form of poetry in five – seven – five syllable form. I hadn't realised that haiku had also at one point been a popular activity for groups of poets to play a kind of tag game, working together to write an epic length string of them. It had also been a popular comic form - the format certainly lends itself well to one-liner punchlines.

The introduction also included interesting snippets about the nature of Japanese language, for example there are 10 vowel sound, and and that the words for poem is the same as the word for song. Fascinating stuff. The rest of the book consists of a series of haikuks from throughout their history, citing the work of leading haiku poets. Often the length of the footnotes outstrips the length of the haiku poetry, but the footnotes are well worth reading. Although the not essential to the understanding of the poems, they provide more insight into Japanese life and culture, including Zen Buddhists philosophy, and the reason why certain iconic images such as peonies and cherry blossom occur so often.

It was slightly frustrating to be reading the Kindle version, simply because the footnotes appear at the end of each poet's section and therefore only after you've seen all of the poems. I found myself scrolling back and forth quite a lot in order to match the footnote to the poem.

However, the total effect of the book was so enjoyable and memorable that I am going to buy the paperback version to keep on my poetry shelf for rereading.

This book would be interesting to any fan of Japanese culture and art, or who would like to know more about the haiku format and and its place in the history of poetry, or who is keen on mindfulness, or who would like to feel empowered to write their own haiku. By the end of the book, I certainly felt more confident about having a go myself – so that sleepless night was actually pretty fruitful after all.

(This review also appears on my bookblog.)
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on 10 May 2009
Many bibliophiles will love the Dover Thrift books for their beautiful (if slightly Kitsch) covers and layout. Often, however, their foreign language books suffer from overly-mannered or archaic translations. This one, however, is an exception. Not only do they offer a phoenetic version of the original, but in some cases they offer several translations. And generally speaking these Haiku translations are very good and convey both the melancholy and the humour that is evident in these miniature masterpieces.
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on 16 May 2017
very good.
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on 11 April 2017
good
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on 17 June 2011
This is an excellent anthology sampling the work of numerous poets & covering a wide historical range. It also effectively demonstrates the difference in interpretation which can be produced in translation.
Excellent value for money.
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on 1 February 2016
Subjective I know. But there are less dry books available.
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on 12 January 2003
The Japanese haiku has a long history. Its 17 syllables appearance may be deceptive for there is a rich tradition of literary allusions behind every poem. This book is incredibly inexpensive and worth much more than its price. The editor has found space for a great number of haiku, including a phonetic transcription of the original, and some brief, pertinent information about some of them.

The choice is well-considered and informative. It begins already with linked verse from the 15th century and ends with the last of the great masters, Shiki, who died one hundred years ago.
Bowers has also chosen to present very different styles of translation, occasionally more than one of the same original. Often you would not recognize them as attempts to render the same poem. There are divergent opinions on how to render haiku into English (or any other Western language) and here the interested reader will find ample material for a well-informed opinion.
This thin and unpretentious book offers great value, both in the presentation of the history of haiku and in the examples of widely divergent styles of rendering it in English. Anybody interested in Japanese haiku could profit from Bowers' anthology and the price makes no strain on the purse.
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on 28 February 2013
This is a really good introduction to haiku for anyone who is clueless (like I was). There is some great, touching poetry in this book, too. Good value for money.
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on 7 May 2017
Got it for my sister in laws birthday present. I have a feeling she'll love it. Highly recommended for all
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on 16 November 2010
Not much to say except that this is a fantastic compilation of haiku, with some notes acting as an introduction to the tradition of Japanese poetry as well as alternative translations of some haiku. The cover art is also very quaint and vivid, but I suppose that is a given since it is by Hokusai.
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