Sun Through The Blinds: Montreal Haiku Today

by Maxianne Berger, Angela Leuck
ISBN: 1896754325

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A Review of: Sun Through the Blinds: Montreal Haiku Today
by Steven Laird

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, traditionally 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 adaptations in so many cultures shows that it is a supple, expressive, satisfying kind of poem.
Among the hundreds of worldwide haiku societies, organizations, associations and clubs is Haiku Canada. Former regional coordinator for Quebec, Angela Leuck, is also the founder of Haiku at the Garden/Haiku au jardin, an annual celebration of haiku held at the Japanese Garden of the Montreal Botanical Garden. From this association of 37 English, French and Japanese poets in Montreal comes Sun Through the Blinds: Montreal Haiku Today.
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 best 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.

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