BOOK REVIEW: Writing Haiku by Bruce Ross

Writing Haiku: A Beginner's Guide to Composing Japanese PoetryWriting Haiku: A Beginner’s Guide to Composing Japanese Poetry by Bruce Ross
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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Out: March 15, 2022

With this guide, Ross offers a compact guide to navigating Japanese poetic forms and the offshoots and variations that have evolved in America. The book does have a particular focus on the American and international style of haiku, and related forms, though the author always lays the groundwork by first exploring the “rules” of the traditional Japanese form. He also discusses concepts, such as wabi and sabi, that heavily inform Japanese poetry. However, most of the examples come from English language writers, and there’s extensive discussion of how American haiku differs in form and substance. This makes the book particularly useful for English-as-native-language writers who wish to capture the flavor of this spare and elegant poetic form, but who have limited acquaintance with the Japanese language and culture.

I didn’t think I’d need another guide for writing haiku after reading and re-reading William Higginson’s The Haiku Handbook, but Ross does cover a few topics in greater depth and detail, particular haiga (combining graphic arts with haiku,) renga (a partnered / team style) and several American variations, and ginko (a nature walk-based practice.)

The book has graphics as needed (i.e. in the haiga section,) and offers and extensive set of recommendations for further reading as well as resources.

While I’ve been writing haiku, tanka, and senryū for some time, I learned a lot from this book, and it got me excited to try some of the forms with which I’m inexperienced. I’d highly recommend this book for beginner, intermediate, and advanced haiku poets.


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BOOK REVIEW: Book of Haikus

Book of HaikusBook of Haikus by Jack Kerouac
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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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:

One flower
on the cliffside
Nodding at the canyon


Birds singing
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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