Book of Haikus by Jack Kerouac
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
For a guy who didn’t realize “haiku” was singulare tantum (like “deer,” having only a singular form,) Kerouac crafted poignant and evocative haiku. This Beat writer, best known for his semi-autobiographical novels (e.g. On the Road and The Dharma Bums) sought to create a sub-form that he called “American Haiku.” Like many English language haiku poets, Kerouac abandoned the 5-7-5 syllable format, but where others traded in the rule for a more English-friendly one (e.g. 2-3-2 stressed beats,) his American haiku used three simple lines and no strict counts. [Note: The relatively long syllables of English can cause the stark, sparse feel of Japanese language haiku to be lost.]
Lest one think this Beat poet jettisoned all the rules, he’s truer to the rules of content than to those of form. He uses season words widely in evoking a state of mind. Also, he sticks to pure observation to a surprising degree. [Traditionally, haiku merely suggested imagery, letting readers reach cognitive and emotional insights on their own.] There are some poems that are actually senryū [a poetic style that is the same as haiku in form, but which deals in humor and human foibles,] but not as many as I expected. Kerouac deals much less in political rage and shocking content than his Beat contemporary, Allen Ginsberg.
To give a taste of his haiku, here are a couple fine examples:
on the cliffside
Nodding at the canyon
in the dark
In the rainy dawn
I delighted in this collection. It reflects Kerouac’s Buddhist insights, plays off the work of Japanese haiku masters, and blends classic haiku with rare touches of uniquely American irreverence. I’d highly recommend it for poetry readers.
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