Addiss, S. cloud calligraphy. Winchester VA, Red Moon Press, unpaginated, perfect softbound, 4 x 6. ISBN 978-1-893959- 92-7, 12 USD <www.redmoonpress.com>.
Stephen Addiss is the author or co-author of many books and museum catalogues on East Asian culture, serves as co-editor of South by Southeast Haiku Arts Journal, and has had his poems and paintings published and exhibited frequently. He is currently honorary curator (2009 -2010) of the American Haiku Archives. His poetry and his art, as one would expect, are influenced by Zen.
The painting on the front cover, and the ink and brush artwork and poem that begin each of the six sections in the chapbook are done by Addiss himself and they look very good to me. There are six poems in each section and one to a page. They are contemporary in form: three lines, a few one-liners, eight to 12 syllables, some punctuation—usually the dash, no periods or capital letters except for things such as K-Mart, and a fixed line arrangement: a straight left-hand edge with the middle line two spaces to the left.
Of the 42 poems in this collection, as many as 15 or more use personification and all but a few of these are obvious, weak or trivial; many are trite and some are clichés. The following are only a few examples: humming softly / the bumblebee /goes out for lunch; an exultation / of crickets— / tap-dance class; warm gusts / tickle / the riverbank willow. A more careful selection might have worked, but there are far too many of these kinds of poems. Yet the following haiku, in which personification is only one possible reading, is exceptional:
full of rain
East and West, images of faces at windows have proven to be a rich source of some of the best urban haiku ever written. Addiss’s haiku is one of them and stands alongside this haiku by Saito Sanki (1900-1962): On the window pane / in front of an ailing face / snowflakes have stuck  ; or this one by Wally Swist: sad faces stare / out of the diner’s greasy window— / a pay phone rings.  If you read the poem as three lines with a short pause after each one or as one line then two, you have a traditional urban haiku, and the tension in the poem is found in the juxtaposition of the eyes and the windows, both of which are full of rain. If you read the three lines continuously, which unpunctuated haiku always permit, you have the metonymy: “tenement windows’ eyes,” which creates a second level of tension between reality and perception, between the traditional haiku of plain fact and the poet’s imagination. This is a perfect example of when personification works: when it is subtle, creatively used and is only one level of interpretation. The same is true of all Western poetic devices in haiku. The image can also be seen as surreal and I love it.
There are poems that fail to communicate: lifting her skirt / the little girl / runs into K-Mart; no sign of dawn but dark is darker; or communicate so little: going down to breakfast /the youngest cat / leads the way. The obviously Zen poems are obviously Zen poems: I flap my arms / and sparrows /fly; morning mirror—/ the stranger becomes / me. And in some of the humorous poems Addiss is trying much too hard to be clever: the fisherman / nets / a fisherman; age 66 / stand on my head / and I’m 99.
In most of Addiss’s poems it is his sense of humour that makes the poem:
for a family picture—
the red-haired postman
two hours late
Addiss understands how fragile and tenuous separation is, and his ballet poem is exquisitely beautiful, elegant and refined. It is a marvelous erotic love poem:
old sweaters and the suit
casebefore I leave 
of her arms
against the pillow
The following is an outstanding concrete senryu in which Addiss’s technical ability proves seamless and his experimentation with form is brought to perfection:
The shape of the poem coincides with the fixed pattern Addiss chose for the poems in this collection and it defines the shape of the table, a concrete poetry technique I call “the intentional accident.” There are only three vowels and four different words in this very short poem and to sustain the repetition of one word three times so effectively in 11 syllables is not easy. The tone, sound, rhythm and cadence of the poem are perfect.
The capital letters are not mechanical reproductions of old ideas. They are alive with visual, sound and semantic content. The poem is an acrostic that can be read both ways: UOI or IOU. The fact that IOU emerges backwards says something about the way things are and suggests that the real motives of the participants are hidden or disguised only to be revealed if necessary. The table can be many things but the fundamental relationship at the table is expressed with only three letters, which is minimalism at its very best. Everybody knows what the table is for. All of us have sat at one.
I would describe Addiss’s work as free-spirited and experimen- tal with little or no concern for the so-called rules of haiku, and in which the Zen influence is present but rarely obvious. Overall, though, I was disappointed because so many of the poems are weak, for whatever reason. I am familiar with some of Addiss’s writings on Eastern culture and his artwork, both of which are excellent, so my expectations were high. There are, however, some gems in here and some very fine writing, and it was fun to read. But when you push the limits as Addiss does, something I would like to see more of in haiku, not every experiment is going to work.
1. Modern Japanese Haiku, Makoto Ueda trans., University of To- ronto Press, 1976, pp. 229 and 237.
2. UNMARKED STONES, Wally Swist, Burnt Lake Press, Sher- brooke, PQ, 1988, unpaginated.
3. This poem is done in brush and ink, vertically down the page but I have presented it in the fixed pattern Addiss uses because of the space limitations.
Sedlar, S.J. SUCHNESS 2. Edited and translated by Sasa Vazić, illustrations by Dragan Peric. Batajnica, Pilotska 13: SVEN Nis, 2010, 266 pages, perfect softbound, 7x 5 1⁄4. ISBN 978-86-7746-216-1, price not given.
Suchness 2 is a well produced book in both Serbian and English, and is Slavko Sedlar’s second in a trilogy entitled Suchness. It contains three introductions and 258 poems numbered consecutively from 254 to 512, which would appear to be the order they were written in. The three introductions are written by Milijan Despotović, Ranko Pavlović and David Lanoue. Throughout the book there are some fine illustrations by Dragan Peric that are well suited to the poetry.
The outside of the book is very plain and matter of fact, perhaps in keeping with the title of the trilogy, with only the names of the book, the author and the publisher on the front cover. In the book itself there is no information about the series, the translator, and the authors of the introductions or the artist.
I do not speak Serbian, so I have to rely on the translator and take the poems and the two translated introductions as they are in English. Since I have very little knowledge of the cultural heritage of the poet, I will likely miss any such allusions or references and their significance.
Sedlar uses capital letters to begin each line. All are three line poems and “do not stray to a large degree” from the 5/7/5 syllable structure. Sasa Vazić’s translations do not follow this pattern and most of them are slightly shorter than 17 syllables, many are longer and some have as many as twenty. In the majority of his poems Sedlar does not use punctuation and around a third of them could be considered senryu. Most of his poems are descriptive and most include the human element. The vast majority of his images are visual, some employ sound and occasionally touch, and there are none, as far as I can tell, that involve taste or smell.
Sedlar was one of the first in the former Yugoslavia to write haiku some 30 years ago and Suchness was his first book. He was born in 1932 in Jezersko, in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and he “adopted” haiku and Zen in 1980. His work has been published in a number of literary journals, nationally and internationally, and he has been the recipient of many awards and recognitions.
The introductions are sincere and well intentioned but they do tend to lecture to and alienate the reader. They are far too repetitive and create very high expectations. Sedlar is called a haiku master and is obviously considered something close to a Zen master as well. They tell us that Sedlar sees haiku as an expression of Zen and he focuses exclusively on suchness, the thing as it is, as if it alone is the essence of haiku and its imagery. Notwithstanding this, what Henderson said of Basho’s haiku applies equally well to Sedlar’s: “The vast majority of [his] haiku are not obviously religious, whatever the Zen content may be.” More importantly, Zen is only one of many influences on the history and development of haiku, including Basho’s, and when taken too literally the Zen perspective is a narrow one.
The most perplexing aspect of the introductions is the extent to which so many of Sedlar’s poems contradict what the introductions say about them. If it were simply the usual disconnect between art and art theory this would not be surprising or that troublesome, but since we are reading poems in translation, serious concerns are raised as to their accuracy. It is the suchness rule of Zen haiku that is at the root of all of the so-called prohibitions in haiku. Yet in many of Sedlar’s poems you will find abstraction, ideation and explanatory lines; direct expression of emotions, thoughts and ideas; personification, metaphor and symbolism. There are, for example, some 40 poems in which Sedlar uses personification.
Consider the following poem, cited by David Lanoue as an example of suchness:
The edge of a roof
strings a live necklace
made of pigeons
This poem contains not only inanimate personification but also metaphor, while the words “strings,” “live” and “made” are redundant, a common problem with adhering to the 17 syllable count. Nevertheless, the poem could be classified as a modern-contemporary haiku. It is a striking image, quite beautiful, majestic and memorable, but all it is, is an image of an urban scene.
Pavlović says that: “Slavko Sedlar does not write haiku: he records it.” Later, he describes Sedlar’s poetry as “Nothing but an image, a Mandic type watercolor. More exactly, a sketch.” Perhaps Pavlović did not mean his words to be taken literally, but there are too many poems that are “Nothing but an image” and that are merely sketches. The following are only a few examples: Suddenly apricots / turn yellow / in the breeze; The swallow keeps flying / through the evening sky / behind the apricot trees; City square lights / A child plays / with his shadow; Standing by its mother, / a calf seriously chews / a blade of clover.
In most of his poems Sedlar writes about the small things and while his insect haiku are reminiscent of Issa, some are delightfully so:
Come on, cross the road,
cerambycid, I am in no hurry
All of Sedlar’s better poems expressly invoke the human element:
Two or three
hearses wait . . .
The ellipsis, which Sedlar uses, is the perfect punctuation mark. It makes you wait with the hearses and you can see the drops of spring rain in it, both a fusion of form and content. It implies the rain is gentle and because it comes at the end of the second line before the rain appears in the third line, it tells you that the poet felt the rain first before he realized it was raining or he just noticed the rain or it may have just begun. You linger in the second line trying to determine if there are “two or three hearses” and what it is they are waiting for. This uncertainty and anticipation is at the heart of spring. The dark funereal scene, on the other hand, contrasts sharply with the season and this perfect juxtaposition of opposites is where the depth of the poem lies.
This haiku would likely be seen as an example of suchness. True, the images are objective but the poet has to subjectively choose which ones even if this is a subconscious act. Moreover, spring is an abstract concept and, like a season word, one of its functions is and has always been metaphorical.
A number of Sedlar’s senryu, which Despotović calls “humorous haiku,” are particularly good and some are excellent. My two favourites are the first and last poems in the book:
Back from work, holding a flower,
and on her back some
baker’s white fingerprints
Mother’s pain: “Before the war
he wanted a switchblade,
and I had a dinar . . .”
They exemplify Sedlar’s skill as a storyteller in that we are given only the basic outline of a scene that begins in the middle of the narrative, a style that Cor van den Heuvel calls “broken-narrative” and attributes to Rod Willmot. In the first poem Vazić has even managed to translate sound from the original that unifies the poem and makes it read so well in English, something that is understandably so often lost in translation. The delicacy of the moment, its tenderness, its tentative nature, its innocence and the poet’s remarkable ability to observe the simplest of things that say so much, make this an outstanding poem.
The second poem would be equally outstanding except for the opening phrase “Mother’s pain.” It is one of a number of poems in which Sedlar starts or ends with an explanatory line, but in this case the poem is so powerful it still works.
Sedlar writes well on the topic of war, perhaps because he has experienced it first hand. I consider the following haiku to be the best in the collection and one of the best war poems I have ever read:
My childhood oak
blasted by the war: now birds
make nests beneath the stars
An advantage of the longer haiku is that more detail can be presented and this haiku, like many of Sedlar’s poems, is rich in detail. It is a clear objective description of a scene in the present, just as it is. There are, however, no less than five time frames brought together in this moment. There are the childhood memories, the memory of the war and when the tree was blasted, the present scene, the future implied in it and the eternity of the stars. Compare it with this modern haiku by Kato Shuson (1905-1993), who also experienced war first hand:
The winter tree
I am leaning on has turned
into a tank’s roar. 
What I like about Shuson’s haiku is the immediacy of the image and its vivid recreation of the experience. Sedlar’s haiku is just as effective, immediate and vivid, though subtle and not as dramatic or technically original. In Shuson’s haiku the tree has no particular significance to him other than a temporary place of respite. Sedlar’s first line gives three very significant details about the tree: “My childhood oak,” which suggests many possibilities. The oak tree is huge, strong and sturdy; big enough to climb, hide and play games in; long lived, late to bloom and late to lose its leaves; it gave the boy a deep sense of security, his independence, a place to be alone, to hide if necessary, a sense of excitement and adventure; perhaps he had his first kiss in it or played war games beneath its branches.
This is a perfect heaven and earth haiku in which the destructive impulses of men are absorbed into the creativity of nature. Yet there is no moralizing judgment, only the infinite gaze of the universe. There is no theory of Zen, haiku or nature, only the words of the poem.
It is difficult for me to give a final assessment of Suchness 2 not only because I can only read the poems in translation, but also because the theory of the introductions and the poems themselves cannot be reconciled. However, my purely subjective inclination is that Vazić’s translations can be relied upon. Myself, I intend to obtain the other two volumes although a book of Sedlar’s selected poems might be more representative of his best work and more accessible to a wider audience.
1. From a review of Suchness by Vladimir Devide: <http://haikure- ality.webs.com/bookrev17.htm>.
3. An Introduction to Haiku by Harold Henderson, NY, Double Day,
4. Traces of Dreams, Haruo Shirane, Stanford University Press, 1998, pp. 48 to 49.
5. The Haiku Anthology, Cor van den Heuvel ed., W.W. Norton & Company, N.Y., London, 1999, p. xxii.
6. Modern Japanese Haiku, Makoto Ueda trans., University of To- ronto Press, 1976, pp.217 and 219.