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Spring 2006, vol 4 no 1

Haiku Wars
by David Lanoue
A Review by Robert D. Wilson


Is it or isn't it? Maybe and maybe not. David Lanoue, the man with a love affair for Kobayashi Issa's haiku, who shares with subscribers a daily offering of Issa's poetry, and has done more to promote the haiku master's haiku in the English speaking world then perhaps any other occidental on the planet, has written a fictional novel entitled Haiku Wars. Well, sort of fictional. An American professor in Louisiana with the help of a reincarnated bodhisatva dwelling in the body of a pet ferret, put together a haiku conference for the National Haiku Society. The haiku leaders that assemble resemble, in many ways, luminaries who populate similar conferences in real life. There are two Japanese men, both heads of world haiku associations, with a long standing feud: a scholar named Kusuban; the other, a stocky man with a rabid personality named Akibi Muya. Also attending are R.W. Wright, the tart tongued proctologist and editor of Contemporary Haiku; the eccentric, spontaneous Brad Eggleston, the grand old gentleman of American Haiku; and the publisher of roman candle, Sam Samford, the current president of the National Haiku Association. Ring any bells?

The book is a hoot to read and nearly impossible to put down. It's interspersed with haiku and senryu, some written by Issa, and others penned by Lanoue. The storyline is nicely developed, the dialogue second to none, and I was kept guessing throughout my reading of the book as to who is who or if there is a who.

An excerpt:

"And yet," Eggleston butted in, "I see ideas all over your haiku, Mr. Akibi. For example:

war monument
the tower of cellos

Does this convey the idea of war's brutality? The fragility of cultured civilization? It does to me."

"You have ideas about it, they are your ideas, not mine. My haiku is only image: a monument, a tower. Image!"

"But is image enough?" the Contemporary Haiku editor R. W. interjected. "Where are you in this 'haiku' of yours? What do you feel about your tower of cellos? What does it mean to you, emotionally? Frankly I wouldn't publish it."

"I would." Sam Samford jumped into the fray. "I'm interested in the whole spectrum of haiku, from personal moments to the far, far-out. Art is about variety, individuality . . ."

"Piss in a cup ain't art," R.W. noted wryly.

"I agree with R.W.," Eggleston said. "Haiku that lack emotion, a clear sense of the poet's deep, personal feeling . . . Of course, the best ones communicate these gut-feelings without emotional words and, usually, without the I-pronoun. But emotionless haiku, in my opinion, aren't."

"Aren't?" Muya's English skills weren't quite up to following the older man's syntax.

"Aren't haiku, I mean," he clarified. "Unlike this one, written by Sam here:

silent night, holy night
at a bar

Who can hear this and not feel the human emotion of this haiku moment?" "Stop it!" Muya shouted, making me jump in my cage. He had obviously forgotten to take his meds this morning, I figured, because the next thing, he was cackling, as if at a stupendously funny joke that only he got.

A true story? Says Lanoue: Other than the fact that it's narrated by a talking ferret, there is much in the book that will ring true to certain people. Some of its characters might even possibly resemble "persons living or dead," though my disclaimer at the beginning urges that any such resemblance is "purely coincidenta".l

This is not a treatise on haiku nor is it a translation or a book that will increase your knowledge of the genre. But it is a lot of fun to read and gives one a glimpse into the politics existent today in the world haiku community.

Says Lanoue: Haiku Wars is a light-hearted romp through the world of haiku written by someone (me!) who knows the subject, the players, and even where some of the skeletons lie buried. But the tone is never mean, I hope. This novel is my love letter to haiku people everywhere, even those I may seem to be making fun of (but again, any resemblance to real persons is purely coincidental).

If you want to purchase a copy--and believe me, you should--only a hundred copies have been printed. The book was completed and sent to the publishers while Lanoue was on a forced hiatus from his teaching duties last year when Hurricane Katrina devastated the city of New Orleans where Lanoue lives and works.

Copies of this whimsical 169 page book can be purchased through Lanoue's website for $15, which includes shipping and handling at:

Haiku Wars
By David Lanoue
(There is no ISBN number.)