HCSHR 5:12 - Jim Kacian et al, string theory: the Red Moon Anthology of English-Language Haiku 2021

HCSHR 5:12 – Jim Kacian and the Red Moon Editorial Staff, string theory: The Red Moon Anthology of English-Language Haiku 2021. Winchester, VA: Red Moon Press, 2022. 978-1-947271-93-7. 212 pages, soft cover 5.5”x8.25”, $20 US. Redmoonpress.com

Review by Pearl Pirie

Each year Red Moon Press releases an anthology of haiku and haiku-related writing that is judged to be that year’s best by nominations received from those published in books, journals and on the internet. string theory: the Red Moon Anthology of English-Language Haiku 2021, is the most current edition of the series. Featuring haiku, linked forms, haibun, and essays, this book at 212 pages is a solid representation of the writing within the genre.

string theory provides high caliber haiku. I will not give too many spoilers, but let me share Dan Curtis’ haiku, p. 30:

family reunion

one acorn, then another

hits the roof

How woven it is, simple and complex. The silence of hearing an acorn and the notion of inheritance implies that the nut does not fall far from the oak. Through a second level, it suggests that a bad temper is a family trait, making the peaceful silence an edged silence. What an economically phrased transformation.

Another standout poem of the anthology is from Terry Ann Carter, p. 26:


I hold

my own hand

Carter surprises her reader with the twist at line three. This haiku is deep, self-assured, self-aware, and strong.

The haiku and related forms are winnowed from over 3000 submissions, down to a selection of just over 150 haiku and related work by 11 editors. It presents the reader with linked forms and, through a variety of essays, the philosophy behind the form. Included among the linked forms is the haibun “Finally Found" by Bryan Rickert. Here, Rickert communicates that universal urge to be in night quietude, ending with an unexpected twist.

string theory shares essays which, while weighty, contribute valuable insights and are not daunting to read. 

As we know everything evolves, including haiku. In an interview of Jim Kacian by John Zheng entitled “What is Monoku?”, Kacian points out what was normative to the best poets of previous generations is no longer competitive for the best poets of the current generation."

Worth the price of admission is the entire article by Lee Gurga on "Normative Haiku and Beyond". Gurga points out that haiku can move from normative, direct, literal, external experience transcribed in one line caesura, two lines to new concepts created of inner and outer in the space of a haiku. Lee Gurga's poem, published in Modern Haiku, exemplified this, p. 128:

floating in the sonogram summer moon

Gurga includes a notable quote from Richard Gilbert: there are three genre features of haiku: perceptual disjunction, misreading as meaning, and overturning semantic expectation.” This ambiguity of pivot and double-read meaning is a key part in satisfying haiku. Maxianne Berger in the spring 2021 Haiku Canada Review examined this kind of caesura in An Infrequent Structure for 3-Line Haiku.” She found two juxtaposed thoughts with a hinge that reads either with line 1 or line 3 an infrequent but effective strategy.

Theres also an article by Chuck Trumbull, from his series, A Field Guide to North American Haiku. Trumbull has compiled 480,000 haiku in this life project and is here focused on waterfall haiku, which can fall either way with a given reader.

Brad Bennett gives food for thought in his essay, "Hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia".  He reflects on the use of long words in haiku and encourages judicious exploration. He cites haiku by many women including p. 114:

takes all day

snail's circumnavigation

of a stone


— Jeannie Martin


His considered article points out that long words can slow the reader and force the reader to act out the poem as the poem enacts what it represents.

What makes best practice for haiku are good questions to ask as we compose. We cant keep in our heads the half million English haiku to know whats already been said, but studies like these remind us to dig deep, reflect on what is included and excluded by internalized norms. The title poem is by Randy Brooks as he wrestles, monoku by monoku, the deep questions, not of physics but a page of non-sequitur perceptions of what is composition-worthy, p. 93:

         hiding the break in the one line haiku just because

         he poses and supposes one line at a time

My only critique isn't for the book but for the haiku community, or more accurately, society. While haiku may reach for the transcendent, I expect a gender gap is still linked to the discrepancies of economics and wage between women and men. Overall, there are about three women for every four men publishing haiku in this anthology. Reasonably close, but all the essays are by men. We need more women to write in-depth essays on haiku.

That said, we have a treasure in Red Moon Press and should endeavour to support the excellent books they make and support one another by continuing to read and listen to each other.


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