Books on Haiku


There are a growing number of haiku books in English. I especially recommend the following:

Matsuo Basho, The Narrow Road to the Deep North and Other Travel Sketches, translated and with an introduction by Nobuyuki Yuasa (Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1966).

The story of five of Basho’s journeys written in the haibon style, i.e., a mixture of haiku and prose. “The Narrow Road to the Deep North” is the final selection and is illustrated with small paintings by Buson.

Cliff Edwards, Everything Under Heaven: The Life and Words of a Nature Mystic, Issa of Japan (Richmond: Virginia Commonwealth University, 1980). Also two private editions, Haiku Talk and Torn Banana Leaves (New York: Kyoto East Haiku Society). Van Gogh and God: A Spiritual Quest (Chicago: Loyola Press, 2002), The Shoes of Van Gogh: A Spiritual and Artistic Journey to the Ordinary (New York: Crossroad Publishing, 2004), Mystery of the Night Cafe: Hidden Key to the Spirituality of Vincent Van Gogh (Albany: State University of New York, 2009). Van Gogh’s Ghost Paintings: Art and Spirit in Gethsemane (Cascade Books, 2015)

This author, a popular professor of Religious Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University, presents a well-grounded and personal Christian reaction to the spirituality of haiku which makes his work especially valuable to me. His book on Issa is exceptional. In Haiku Talk he collaborates with Mariyana Shizuko, a Japanese journalist and artist. Torn Banana Leaves is a fascinating “haiku journal” of his father, a self-taught radio technician, who after his wife’s death went to the Canary Islands and took up haiku. Cliff Edwards approached the spiritual life of Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890) much as he does haiku. As the subtitle to Shoes puts it “ A Spiritual and Artistic Journey to the Ordinary.”

Robert Hass, The Essential Haiku: Versions of Basho, Buson, and Issa (Hopewell NJ; Ecco Press, 1994.)

The perspective of a former US Poet-Laureate on the poems of haiku masters.

Harold G. Henderson, An Introduction to Haiku (Garden City, New York: Doubleday Anchor Books, 1958).

This is a good anthology from before Basho to Shiki. The author’s translations are fine renderings of the spirit of the poem as well as the literal meaning. Each poet is introduced with a review of his life and poetry.

Issa, The Year of My Life, translated and with an introduction by Nobuyuki Yuasa (Berkeley: University of IMG_3231California Press, 1960 and 1972).

Issa collected many poems and prose comments into twenty-one chapters which span an imaginary year of his life.

Lewis Mackenzie, Issa: The Autumn Wind (Tokyo: Kodansha, 1984.)

250 haiku in English and Japanese sensitively translated by a Scot who grew up in Japan.

Mitsu Suzuki, Temple Dusk: Zen Haiku (Berkeley: Parallax Press, 1992.)

Born in 1914, and raised as a Japanese Christian she became a respected poet and Zen practitioner, Tea ceremony teacher and much loved helper of her husband Shunryu Suzuki, the San Francisco Zen Master.