Now Reading: Jane Hirshfield

To read a haiku is to become its co-author, to place yourself inside its words until they reveal one of the proteus-shapes of your own life.
Hirshfield, Jane (2011-06-21). The Heart of Haiku (Kindle Single)

The Haiku form is something I return to often. Not as a writer necessarily, but as a reader. It is the quintessential poetic form, language at its most compressed and expressive. This appropriately small “Kindle Single” is the perfect introduction to the Haiku form and its greatest practitioner, Basho.

In addition to being a great poet herself, Jane Hirshfield has done a great deal of poetry translation over the years. Her translations of Basho are wonderful. And her ideas about the form are enlightening.

Hirshfield’s prose at times here is almost as wonderful and her poetry. Here are some of my favorite lines so far:

In this mortal frame of mine, which is made of a hundred bones and nine orifices, there is something, and this something is called a wind-swept spirit, for lack of a better name, for it is much like a thin drapery that is torn and swept away at the slightest stir of the wind. This something in me took to writing poetry years ago, merely to amuse itself at first, but finally making it its lifelong business.
Hirshfield, Jane (2011-06-21). The Heart of Haiku (Kindle Single) 

by taking a verse form of almost unfathomable brevity and transforming it into a near-weightless, durable instrument for exploring a single moment’s precise perception and resinous depths.
Hirshfield, Jane (2011-06-21). The Heart of Haiku (Kindle Single).

When the space between poet and object disappears, Bashō taught, the object itself can begin to be fully perceived. Through this transparent seeing, our own existence is made larger. “Plants, stones, utensils, each thing has its individual feelings, similar to those of men,” Bashō wrote. The statement foreshadows by three centuries T.S. Eliot’s theory of the objective correlative: that the description of particular objects will evoke in us corresponding emotions. The imagist aesthetic introduced to Western poetry near the start of the 20th century by Ezra Pound, Amy Lowell, William Carlos Williams, and Eliot is so deeply part of current poetics that few recognize its historical origins in Asia.
Hirshfield, Jane (2011-06-21). The Heart of Haiku (Kindle Single)


Plot Summaries from

(One of the things that has traditionally kept me from doing book reviews here is plot summaries. I hate writing them. I am solving that now by quoting from, and providing a link to, Follow the links to learn more about these books.)

The Heart of Haiku by Jane Hirshfield
In seventeenth-century Japan, the wandering poet Basho developed haiku, a seventeen-syllable poetic form now perhaps the most widely written type of poetry in the world. Haiku are practiced by poets, lovers, and schoolchildren, by “political haiku” twitterers, by anyone who has the desire to pin preception and experience into a few quick phrases. This essay offers readers unparalleled insight into the living heart of haiku—how haiku work and what they hold, and how to read through and into their images to find a full expression of human life and perceptions, sometimes profound, sometimes playful.


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