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Reviews & Responses
Haiku: The Art of the Short Poem. A Film, by Tazuo Yamaguchi (Decatur, Ill.: Brooks Books, 2008). 1st edition. 96 pages; 5.5 x 8.5. Glossy four-color cover; perfectbound. ISBN 978-1-929820-10-8. Price: $28.00 from the publisher at 6 Madera Court Decatur IL 62526.
Reviewed by Bob Fritzmeier
If Tazuo Yamaguchi was not a gambler before he took on this project, I’d call him one now. And I’d dare to put Randy Brooks in that category, too. This cin-a-lit collaboration was quite a departure from what I’d known of haiku. For me it had always been print-on-page, or, at most, a poem in a poetry slam. Imagine the intrigue I felt when I first read an ad for the film on the Internet.
Yamaguchi was hired to document the 2007 Haiku North America biennial conference. His work on the project in Winston-Salem, N.C., in the summer of that year led him to create the first documentary film about English-language haiku. If you have ever enjoyed haiku in any medium whatsoever, then prepare yourself for an aural-visual expansion of that experience.
Haiku enthusiasts who have read works by the poets who appear here but have not met them will get pleasure from now being able to put faces and voices to the names and words on a page. It’s no wonder that an equal number of men and women poets are featured in the film. We find that an egalitarian spirit has been developing in the haiku movement for several centuries. To complement Bashô, the founder of the genre in the 1600s, we are given haiku by Chiyo-ni, one of the greatest female haiku poets, from the 1700s.
Not only is haiku poetry for sharing, as the late William Higginson posits (in the film), but I would submit that it’s also for challenging certain of our mindsets. Such for me was the poem by A.C. Missias:
veteran’s cemetery —
My uncle, whose name I carry, was a U.S. Army sergeant who was killed in the Battle of the Bulge in Belgium in World War II. In the large framed photo that I have of the “thousand white crosses” in a cemetery there, his is blown up in one corner so you can read his name and infantry unit on it. I have felt tremendously sad over the years about it, pondering the suffering of the soldiers who fought in that horrible winter. But Missias has truly liberated me, and I feel a pervasive peace about that situation that I could not find anywhere else. Her word “beyond” is the mot juste for expanding a reader’s consciousness in more ways than one.
In his film Yamaguchi has produced a playful and instructive work. It has been creatively shot and composed in terms of the variety of cinematic techniques. Also of a high order is the quality of picture and sound. The music is almost what I would call “Japanese John Cage.” It fits the quick cuts back and forth between the present and the past. The traditions of haiku are duly honored. The American and British variations on it in the 20th and 21st centuries are honestly presented. And all of it is done in eye-catching graphics, with sound effects to boot, like a dog barking during a poem about a fire hydrant.
The book that comes with the DVD includes all the haiku that are written out on the screen in the film, plus all those that are read aloud. Also included are some Japanese-language originals with the translations, quotes by some of the poets, and biographical notes on all of the poets. Brooks and his wife Shirley, the publishers, are to be commended for putting an attractive cover with subtly-layered meanings on the book, and lots of space between the poems and quotes.
There are surprises here for all viewers/readers, including even the poets who were interviewed for the film. So whether you want to enjoy this treasure at home, or teach it in a classroom, it will serve you well.
Modern Haiku 40.2, Summer 2009
February 12, 2009
Cleveland Poetics the Blog
Book & Film Review--Haiku: The Art of the Short Poem by Tazuo Yamaguchi
Tazuo Yamaguchi has earned a national reputation as a poet, touring performer, and filmmaker for almost a full decade through his solo tours, his films, his long list of collaborations with some of the nation’s finest poets and artists, two national haiku championships, and his "provocative" poetry workouts and workshops that guide the voices of youth to the elders. Direct descent to Shigin Poets and Royal Samurai, Yamaguchi has published 4 books of poetry, 6 recorded volumes, and produced 2002–2007 national Poetry Slam dvds.
His most recent film is Haiku: The Art of the Short Poem, distributed with an accompanying book by Brooks Books Press. Based on the Haiku North America Conference of 2007, this is the first feature length film about haiku in English, and contains not only panels and readings from the conference, including a head-to-head slam hosted by Yamaguchi himself, but also many insightful interviews with the poets and editors from the conference, including William J. Higginson, Jim Kacian, Bruce Ross, A. C. Missias, Peggy Willis Lyles.
What is interesting about the film are the many questions which it addresses. Discussions and interviews are focused on not only the history of haiku or the history of haiku in English, but also what it means for a form to be carried (translated?) from one culture to another, and what works in the new language and what does not. For many of the haijin interviewed, the seventeen syllable form is not as important as capturing a single moment which can resonate in the reader. That seems to be the only point on which they converge, with each author presenting their own take on how to capture that moment. This provides an interesting discussion and broadens the definition of haiku beyond the trappings of syllable count with which many students of poetry are familiar. The film also shows moments from readings and panels at the conference.
Of particular interest were comments made by Sonia Sanchez on her relationship with haiku, as well as the connection between haiku and the blues, in terms of emotion and immediacy. Though the film is the center piece of the project, the book serves as a companion, highlighting specific haiku from the film as well as pertinent quotes. There is nothing in the book that isn't in the film, but reading the haiku on the page allows readers to reflect a bit longer than allowed in the film. This is not to blame Yamaguchi for rushing. The film allows each haiku the length of space needed to breathe; however, like any good poem, a haiku should linger with the reader, and should be something they can revisit throughout the day or week to savor, and presenting the haiku in the book allows for this experience.
In the film, the late William J. Higginson asks "What is haiku for?" and answers "for sharing." Tazuo Yamaguchi has captured this aspect of haiku in his film Haiku: The Art of the Short Poem; I encourage all readers and lovers of poetry to receive the gift.
July 31, 2008
Haiku: The Art of the Short Poem is the first feature-length film about haiku in English. It is based on interviews conducted with poets at the Haiku North America conference in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Some of the poets, like Sonia Sanchez, are better known for other kinds of poetry. Other poets, like William J. Higginson, are well known in haiku circles. Tazuo Yamaguchi blends the interviews with these poets into a tapestry of ideas and passions about haiku in English.
A Haiku North America conference is basically a gathering of people whose lives have been changed by haiku. Several poets in the film describe their first encounter with haiku by the Japanese masters—how something in these poems flashed across oceans and centuries and touched them in a profound way. Other poets describe the need, in the words of Sanchez, “Not just to learn the form, but to transform the form.” Another layer is Yamaguchi’s own perspective, that of a Japanese-American whose family photos often show haiku on scrolls in the background; a performance poet who has won titles in national head-to-head haiku competitions; a videographer who has spent most the last decade capturing poetry on film.
Robert Hass once said of Japanese haiku, “What is in these poems can’t be had elsewhere.” Listen to the haiku poets in this film as they search for that something.
—Dave Russo, HNA 2007 organizer
Winter issue, Riverbed Haiku
The 2007 Haiku North America conference played host to haiku poets from across the haiku community and one ambitious idea: to create the first haiku documentary film in the English language.
Tazuo Yamaguchi used the gathered resources of the English-language haiku community to compile interviews with the leading English-language haiku voices of our time. Interspersed with haiku readings and presentations from the conference, an invaluable window into the world of English-language haiku is formed. In addition to the wealth of information gleaned from the conference, Yamaguchi gives us an introduction to the form itself, allowing the uninitiated to receive a crash-course in modern English-language haiku.
This information becomes packaged in a concise multimedia package within the film, giving the audience the treasure of not only haiku—but also the voices behind many of the influential poets active today.
Accompanying the film is a book presenting many of the haiku we hear in the film, as well as quotes from participants regarding the haiku experience. Also in the book are brief biographical notes introducing these poets. This film and book will be treasured by teachers of modern English haiku—and enjoyed greatly by both students and enthusiasts of the form. Yamaguchi has successfully presented the subject in a manner appropriate to high school students, yet interesting enough for seasoned haijin to appreciate.
—Brock Peoples, Editor, Riverbed Haiku