Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Review: Haiku Wars

Lanoue, David.  Haiku Wars.  Winchester, VA: Red Moon, 2009.  184pp.

Let's start off with a brief summary of this haiku novel.  A bodhisattva reincarnates in the form of the telepathic pet weasel of a man identified only as Poet.  Poet is a member of the...

*snaps fingers*  Are you still following me?  I thought I saw your eyes glaze over there for a second.

I want to deal with the key problem of Haiku Wars before I get into the fact that I actually basically loved it.  See, there are the jokes that you know you can tell in any situation.  Up the risqué-factor, the offensive-factor, or the absurd-factor, and you're going to start losing some people.  But in losing some people, the ones you keep are going to love the joke all the more.  It's why we got beaten up in middle school for quoting Monty Python's Flying Circus all the time but were free to do so to our hearts' content during Chess Club.

(I hope that's a "we" thing.  I really do.)

I want to quote just a bit more than what could commonly be called "fair use" to illustrate this best.  The members of the New Orleans Haiku Club-- of which Poet is a member-- are debating the need for juxtaposition in the haiku form, which in turn descends into a discussion of whether the haiku needs to be defined at all:


"Does haiku need defining?" Sylvia's quiet voice piped in.

"Oh yes, definitely!" Poet answered, and I could tell by the increased urgency of his petting that he was winding up for a lecture.

"Without definition, the word 'haiku' ceases to hold meaning.  Or, putting it in another way, if it's not defined, then anything can be a haiku.  Why not a sonnet or a limerick?  What makes a limerick not a haiku?"

"There once was a man from Nantucket..." Van interjected.

Poet ignored this.  "If we don't have definitions in mind when we use words, we can't make sense."

"If defining's so important, why don't we just check the dictionary?" Janette suggested.

"Because" (Poet in full lecture mode now) "the dictionary only records common usage: what the majority of people speaking the language think when they use the word, 'haiku' at the time of the dictionary's publication.  But this can lag way behind what poets of haiku are saying... and discovering.  Haiku is an art, so someone's always pushing its envelope.  A great innovator, a trailblazer, might take haiku where it's never been, and then the world, and dictionaries, will follow-- but later.  There's always lag-time."

"So!" Van slapped his knee.  "You admit that haiku is evolving!"

Poet squeezed me hard, but then his fingers relaxed completely as he realized the corner into which he had painted himself.

"I rest my case," Van said.


The common reader is going to take this scene (as narrated by the telepathic weasel, mind you) to be obscurely scholastic at best.  But I can guarantee you any reader who has been in a few creative writing workshops has sat through this same debate before.  And once we get into the convention being held by the New Orleans Haiku Club, the intense rivalry between Kusuban-san and Muya-san, the missing manuscript of incredible import, and the "Head-to-Head Haiku Death Match," our audience keeps getting narrower and narrower and our narrow audience keeps laughing harder and harder.

I think a few parts of this are a little hokey, sure.  Even as the author is attempting to create a farce, I think the use of an animal narrator just becomes a little too weird to deal with, especially when Poet is trying to get suspected manuscript thieves to pet his weasel to establish a firm telepathic bond.  (In other news, "pet my weasel" is my new pickup line.)  But as much as I kept wanting to distance myself from the people in the book, I kept realizing that each laugh proved how much I was a member of that circle.  

After all, I'm writing a review of a book called Haiku Wars.  

So all in all, if you read High Coup Journal, you're probably going to like this book.  If you don't read High Coup Journal, you're never going to hear my warning about the book anyway.  I feel obliged to put both of my ratings below-- but don't fool yourself into thinking anything but the first applies to you.






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