Review by Ruth Mittelholtz; published in Haiku Canada Review, October 2015 Volume 9 Number 2.
Note: The haiku quoted and translations are copyright the poets and translators.
A VAST SKY: An Anthology of Contemporary World Haiku. Edited by Bruce Ross, Katō Kōko, Dietmar Tauchner and Patricia Prime. 2015. Tancho Press, Suite 127, 499 Broadway, Bangor, ME, USA. ISBN 978-0-9837141-2-5. Perfect bound. 184 pages (second printing reviewed).
The vast sky does not mind the floating clouds.
Sekito Kisen (700-790)
The above quotation prefacing A Vast Sky sets the tone for an important addition to the haiku literature, an anthology of haiku written between 2000 and 2014 in many languages and cultures around the globe. With its consistently high-quality haiku it is a volume which will not only be studied, but also deeply loved. The book presents more than 500 haiku by about 475 poets from about 55 countries. There is no other anthology of this scope.
Bruce Ross, the general editor, is past-president of the Haiku Society of America, editor of Haiku Moment, An Anthology of Contemporary North American Haiku, 1993, and editor or co-editor of numerous other books on Japanese-style poetic forms. He is also known for his theoretical investigations into the nature of haiku. To mention only a few of the activities of the other editors, Katō Kōko, Japan, is editor of Kō, the first international Japanese haiku journal, Dietmar Tauchner, Austria, is founding editor of Chrysanthemum, an international electronic haiku journal, and Patricia Prime, New Zealand, is co-editor of Kokako, an international journal of haiku and related forms.
The haiku are gathered into four sections: Japan, Europe, The New World and The Rest of the World, each with an introductory essay by the section editor. The alphabetical organization of haiku within sections and the index to poets make it easy to find haiku by country or poet. Ross provides a wide-ranging General Introduction, as well as the introduction to the New World section. The list of acknowledged sources extends through seven pages, and includes journals, (electronic and print), anthologies, chapbooks, contests, blogs, and newsletters. The haiku selected from these numerous and diverse sources and calls for submissions reflect the dominant form the editors observed world-wide: the traditional three-liner, and, mainly in English, occasional monostiches as well.
The few examples quoted in this review can only hint at the breadth and depth of the collection, which includes haiku by poets both familiar and not, depending on where in the world readers live, and what they have had the opportunity to read. (All Japanese haiku were translated into English by Katō Kōko and David Burleigh. Haiku from other countries were printed in English, as well as an original language if submitted.)
die dunklen Fӓden
the dark filaments
Simone K Busch, Germany
if we could just talk
this uncertainty out
lily pad frog
Guy Simser, Canada
genshiro no mumyō no jikan yuki ga furu
The dark illusion
of a nuclear reactor –
snow is falling
Ogawa Keishū, Japan
The introductory essays to the four sections, although brief, cover a great deal of past history, present trends, and thoughts about the future of haiku in their regions, and touch on regional tendencies in topic, attitude, sensibility, and style. An observation by Ross in his General Introduction might be said to pull it all together: “. . . contemporary haiku are expressions of their own cultural backgrounds, natural settings, and modern idioms, circling universally around nature, the seasons, emotional breakthroughs, human nature, temporality, mystery, dreams, memory, and the like.” He notes that underlying the different approaches is the essential nature of haiku, and refers to his theory of the “absolute metaphor.”
Some readers (like myself) previously unacquainted with Ross’s absolute metaphor may find parts of the General Introduction difficult. The first page, the “entrance” to the Introduction, is particularly opaque. I found that a reading of his previously published essay, The Essence of Haiku, opened the door to the Introduction and its valuable discussion of not only the essence of haiku but also history, language, culture, publications, and more. I found the essay at Modern Haiku Vol. 38.3, Autumn 2007, by googling; there is no bibliography. It is well worth reading for its own merits.
Interesting though the supporting essays are, the great joy of the book is the haiku — just as they are. Every page is adorned with small gems, such as these:
lighting butter lamps
your death anniversary
what else can I do?
Sonam Chhoki, Bhutan
o vulpe rănită linge
sângele de pe lună
frozen puddle –
a wounded fox licking
the blood on the moon
Cezar-Florin Ciobîcă, Romania
ob loncu civilizacije le še zvezda za zvezdami
at the end of civilization star after stars
Metod Češek, Slovenia
just enough sun to moisten the lips of the wild lily
Marlene Mountain, USA
A Vast Sky is the culmination of what must have been an enormous job of choosing hundreds of haiku from perhaps thousands, and organizing them, and printing them in the original languages in addition to English. The editors are to be congratulated and thanked, and the book highly recommended to readers at all stages of their haiku journey.
Perhaps in a world filled with conflict between nations, readers will find hope in this volume, for as Katō Kōko suggests in her essay: “We may say that the haiku has become a quiet ambassador of peace and harmony underneath the vast sky embracing the earth and its future.”
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A review by Beverley George in Frog Pond, The Journal of the American Haiku Society quotes many more of the haiku. It can be read at: