A very brief history of the english language haiku

Haiku is one of the world's oldest regularly written forms of poetry, and Basho (1644-1694) is recognised as its foremost poet. In the early 1850s the West learns of Japan's incredible art, and Japanese artists are fascinated by the West's own techniques in art.

In the 1900s haiku influence James Joyce, D.H. Lawrence, Amy Lowell, Marianne Moore, Ezra Pound, Carl Sandburg and William Carlos Williams. R.H. Blyth's four volume Haiku becomes popular from the mid-late 1940s and attracts the attention of Beat poets Allen Ginsberg, Gary Snyder and Jack Kerouac.

Jack Kerouac publishes The Dharma Bums (1958), and Trip Trap: Haiku along the Road from San Francisco to New York, with Albert Saijo and Lew Welch, on a car trip across the U.S. in 1959. Kerouac states:

"A 'Western Haiku' need not concern itself with seventeen syllables since Western Languages cannot adapt themselves to the fluid syllabic Japanese. I propose that the 'Western Haiku' simply say a lot in three short lines in any Western Language."

Ginsberg publishes haiku throughout his long career, and in 2004, at the age of 74, Gary Snyder is awarded The Masaoka Shiki International Haiku Grand Prize for his contribution to the art of haiku internationally.

Richard Wright, novelist and poet, one of the early forceful and eloquent spokesmen for African Americans lies sick and bedridden in Paris in 1959, when he reads Blyth's four-volume Haiku: the result is 4,000 haiku which he sifts down to 800 and calls This Other World. Richard Wright's daughter Julia believes they are

"self-developed antidotes against illness, and that breaking down words into syllables matched the shortness of his breath"

and he continued, she said,

"to spin these poems of light out of the gathering darkness."

By the end of the 1960s the interest in haiku can no longer be considered a fad.

In 1985 William Higginson brings out his influential The Haiku Handbook, published by Japan's Kodansha International. In 1989, Japan's Modern Haiku Association; the Association of Haiku Poets; and the Association of Japanese Classical Haiku form Haiku International Association to promote friendship and mutual understanding among poets, scholars and others who share a common interest in haiku, though they may live in very distant parts of the world. Also in 1989 Kevin Bailey from England prints the poetry magazine Haiku Quarterly, now called HQ, which publishes haiku alongside other types of poems.

In 1990, the British Haiku Society comes into creation, holding close links with many contemporary Japanese haiku poets and organisations globally. From 1998 to 2000, as General Secretary of the British Haiku Society, I witness an amazing increase in haiku activities and the 21st Century sees haiku as the most popular form of poetry around the world. Above all haiku are with words we can trust, even for those who would never usually go near a poem in their life.


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