Frogpond is the subscription/membership publication of the Haiku Society of America, and for anybody the least bit into haiku or who would like to learn about haiku and the many forms of traditional Japanese poetry and modernized versions of it, this is one of THE publications to be reading.
Frogpond regularly publishes haiku, senryu, haibun, rengay (and other short sequential forms), renku (and other long sequence forms), essays, and book reviews. Each issues begins with a full page devoted to the winner of the Museum of Haiku Literature Award (currently $100) for the best previously unpublished work appearing in the last issue of Frogpond. Haiku and senryu fill the first several dozen pages, and though contributors can send up to ten of these short form poems, rarely have I read more than two published from the same author; even this is not common.
The content of the works is broad, some are meditations on nature, some on human condition(s); some are pensive and deeply emotional while others make me laugh out loud. Having read this publication for a number of years, my practice is to pace through the pages, intermixing the poems with time for reflection. Then, as I course through the essays and reviews, I go back through the poems, re-read them, recalling distinct images, recognizing those same feelings I had upon first reading, and in some cases, understanding the poem in a new way. One of the reasons I enjoy haiku (in all its forms) is because it is quick to read but lasting on impact. Frogpond, without a doubt, maintains this standard of selection.
Unique to this issue is the third in a series called “International Exchange,” in which HSA exchanges publication space with haiku organizations in other countries. Romania (Fp 36:2) and Serbia (Fp 36:3) have appeared previously; in this issue: United Kingdom and Germany (with the original German and translations side-by-side). The introduction provides information about the haiku organizations as well as comments on the unique cultural form of haiku.
The rengay and renku feature collectively written poems as well as individually authored long sequences. Two uniquely inspired pieces include “Devotional Calendar” by Randy Brooks, which he credits Carolyn Hall’s “Sept-ember” for inspiring his ‘broken’ technique:
my Janu(s)ary prayer
ma . . .
And “The Buson Variations” by Cor van den Heuvel, which he notes as being “inspired by the translations of Buson’s haiku by Makoto Ueda,” providing a page number in the original text for which van den Heuvel’s sequence of twenty-eight haiku are matched.
I hope I am making clear that this haiku publication, while adhering to the tradition of forms, is also interested in the new, cultural variations and experimentations. And what is that traditional haiku form: 5-7-5? Don’t we all remember being taught that in grade school, for better or for worse? That’s exactly what Charles Trumbull sets out to explore in his essay, “Magic-Mystery-Music: The Persistence of 5-7-5 in Haiku.” (Trumbull is former editor of Modern Haiku—another of THE haiku journals). Trumbull considers how we learn about and teach haiku, feeling in some ways bound to the form, driven by his question: “What can we do about the persistence of 5-7-5?” In determining the root cause of this persistence, Trumbull’s essay is a great “starter” piece for anyone trying to get a sense of what haiku is, from its Japanese origins, to translations, to the early forms in English. Trumbull looks at what we have “done” to haiku in bringing this culturally language-bound form into a new culture and a new language. What of it survives as true to haiku? What has been lost? What about it in English culture makes it a wholly new and unique form? In the end, the one question that Trumbull himself seems relegated to grin and bear: “What are those rules for writing haiku?”
A nicely placed companion essay is “A New Era for Haiku” by Toshio Kimura of Tokyo, Japan, first presented as a keynote speech at the Annual National Meeting of Haiku Society of America, September 2013. A sample excerpt of this essay is available on the Frogpond website. Kimura discusses the contemporary forms of haiku in the context of their history. A fascinatingly condensed survey with numerous examples in translation.
Included in this issue is the first part of the essay: “Haiku and War” by Paul Miller. This part examining “the landscape of war haiku,” looking at history and “why poets might choose haiku instead of other genres for their impressions of war” as well as authorship and themes. The second part of this essay will be published in the next issue. As a side note, the previous issue of Modern Haiku (45.1) features the essay “War Haiku and Hasegawa Sosei” by Hiroaki Sato; joined together, these two publications offer a powerful examination of this cultural aspect of haiku.
Lastly, the essay I thought I would find least connection with turned out to be an enjoyable read: “Haiku and the Beatific Vision of Jack Kerouac” by Albert Battistelli. It’s probably sacrilege to say I’m not a fan of Kerouac, but a compliment to Battistelli that I have a newfound interest in him given this consideration of his approach to haiku.
This issue of Frogpond also includes an “In Memoriam” to John Carley (1955-2013), “virtuoso haikai poet and theorist,” as contributed by Norman Darlington; book reviews, “briefly reviewed”; and a “Re:Readings” section in which a previously published poem is analyzed. I look forward to thumbing through this issue yet again and will probably lay it to rest just in time for the next issue, which I can’t wait to read. Haiku enthusiasts, those wanting to learn more, this is OUR publication.