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Montreal collected the poems for this haiku anthology from Japanese, French and English poets of Montreal, and assisted with the English translation. It includes the first Satsuki Kukai haiku to be published in English. A first for Montreal and a landmark anthology, bringing together haiku of the three cultures.

I can’t imagine preparing to enjoy a book like this by first setting out beside it-for easy, instant reference-one of those “definitions of haiku” that appear every now and then as products of a kind of professional boobery (a scholastic pomposity and irrelevance that is dead-on-arrival) that is almost unique to haiku literature, both inside and outside of Japan. How refreshing to read Leuck’s unruffled comfort with these poets who “are not bound by rules” and to note how she does not trouble herself to scold them.

Maxianne Berger’s follow-on essay, “Haiku Today,” is as fine a guide to reading and appreciating modern haiku as may be found in any recent anthology of haiku in English, and is all the introduction even a newcomer should need to pick up this book and begin to enjoy the party.

The book contains a modest sampling of representative work by 37 poets-about 250 poems total, with a convenient biographical note for each poet at the beginning of his or her selection. These notes, cumulatively, provide a kind of history of who has been doing what-and about when they did it-on the Canadian haiku scene generally, and in Montreal and its environs in particular.

For instance, about Hugo Dufort we read:

“Hugo Dufort spent his youth in the haiku-rich town of Mascouche, where he learned to watch frogs jump into ponds; he now lives in Montreal. His work has been published in Haiku et francohomie canadienne and Chevaucher la lune. He also writes modern poetry in French, and has been published in the journals Entrelacs and Pouet-cafee.” This poem by Dufort is just one among many standouts contained in the collection, written by poets who are new to me:

an image of harvests
decorates
the empty plate

Another poet that got my attention was Andre Duhaime, with these two pieces of senryu noir:

into our gossip
creep the living
and the dead

her new job
two newspapers on the table
two cellphones

Sherwin Sully Tjia is another personal discovery I was privileged to make, finding in his poems a breezy playfulness and humor that opens up new avenues for an authentic, urban-based haiku and senryu poetry:

call a taxi!
you’re too beautiful
to walk in the street

everyone needs
someone to look at
them with longing

More traditional haiku subject matter is frequently visited, too, as one would expect, but most of these poets have managed to overcome the cliches of repetition and mere tradition to achieve a direct encapsulation of the tone and tenor of their time and their place. Here are several more examples of work that I much admired. and which typify the very best this book has to offer:

between two tombstones
a flower grows
for nothing and for no one

–Jeanne Painchaud

it’s not me
but the full moon
that awakens her

–Marco Fraticelli

a terrifying sound
echoes the whip
of the thunder god

–Hwayap Lee Chung

In each case-flower, full moon, and thunder-here are haiku poets who know how to show us these things as if for the first time, independent of the thousands and thousands of haiku already written on these subjects over the past four or more centuries. Panache like this, and timelessness, are very much a part of “the Montreal Mix” so well displayed in this fine book.

Kathlyn Horibe, Montreal Bulletin (Volume 59, No 3 March 27, 2004)
Sun Through the Blinds: Montreal Haiku Today is a wonderful collection of one-breath poems, which reveals that writing haiku is about tradition–and also about breaking tradition…. The 37 poets featured in the book write in English, French, and Japanese, linked, though they are from diverse cultural backgrounds, to an expressive form that has no boundaries.

Jane Reichhold, Lynx: A Journal for Linking Poets (XIX:1 February, 2004)
Not only does this anthology represent the universality of haiku, it exemplifies the way people of greatly divergent cultures are finding a point on which they can share their ideas, feelings and art…The richness of the poetic material here proves that the haiku we have in common can feed and inspire each other.

Stephen Laird in Books in Canada, September 2004 (Vol 33, No. 6): “Swift, Sure, and Slender”
Just Google “haiku” on the Web. You’ll get a million-and-a-half entries from all over the world, all in Google’s famous “0.14 seconds.” That seems fitting for what is probably the world’s shortest and most recognized form of poetry. People write haiku in just about every country, varying its simple three lines and tight metrics (in English, about 17 syllables) only slightly from one language to another. There have been at least two major worldwide conferences, hosting poets from Russia, the Balkans, Europe, North America, Australia, the Middle East, and of course Japan. Haiku’s adoption and adaptions in so many cultures show that it is a supple, expressive, satisfying kind of poem.

Things have changed since you learned to “count out” haiku in school. The old rule about three lines of 5, 7, and 5 syllables, which was always at beat a rough guide to imitating the Japanese template, has given way in English to a variety of rhythms and line lengths, within a general short-long-short line pattern. This is only natural, as fewer and fewer people come to haiku through an interest in Japanese culture. Haiku in English, as in many other languages, offers controlled creative possibilities for a free verse form that rewards equally the effort of a considered craft and the sudden riveting insight that by its nature has to be dashed off.

Sun through the Blinds is an inventive, playful and wide-ranging collection. The poems range from the muscular (which way do we run? / is this the plane that drops food / or bombs?), to the rueful (after the argument / pieces of myself / in the broken mirror), the playfully provocative (pale poet lover / your pen is mighty – you say / but what of your sword), to an evocative elegance (at the antique store / deep in the empty dresser / the sun’s rays). In all of the poems in this anthology, there is a tension between the senses and reason that seeks, not a resolution, but what has been called a “dissolving of the poem as an exhalation into space.” Haiku traditionally is the length of a single breath; philosophically, it isn’t complete until received by the reader or listener.

It would be easy to go on quoting the poems, seeing how they work with – and often effectively undermine – the elements required in haiku. One example is the rule that there can be only one “season” word in the poem – and the trappings of death are definitely one of the cues for “winter” – broken in Marco Fraticelli’s “funeral home / he quiets his child / with Easter eggs.” The kiredji, or ‘cutting word,’ which is an often personal exclamation in the midst of the poem’s imagery that turns the direction of thought, has to be stood on its head for Sherwin Tjia’s “call a taxi / you’re too beautiful / to walk in the street.” Brevity and concrete natural imagery are well-known traits of haiku, but the play of Andrew Cook-Jolicoeur’s “thinning on top / i wish 4 / hip Mohawk cut” is a thoroughly updated and urban response to that requirement.

It is through this play against the expectations and traditions developed in one culture that an art form can be made natural and surprising in another. That the haiku has made the trip across so many borders so eloquently speaks to the slender, bare-bones strength and versatility of the form. Sun through the Blinds is a fine accomplishment to add to this truly international poetry.

Montreal Review of Books (Issue 14, Spring/Summer 2004):
All in all, Sun Through the Blinds delights.

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