Monday, November 12, 2012

Book review haiku

I've written several times about my continuing fascination with "found poetry" -- phrases cut from books and magazines that are rearranged to make poems.  I particularly like finding/making haiku, the Japanese form in which you count syllables rather than following meter or rhyme. The poems are small, thus particularly appropriate for a technique that requires the entire line to be cut from a single line of printed matter. Since newspaper columns are only two or three inches wide, short phrases are about all that you can expect to find.

In the last several months I have started three different found haiku projects.  I've written before about finding poems in junk mail.  But I'm also using art and book reviews found in the New York Times.

The Times runs book reviews almost every day in its arts section, and most of them follow the format of showing a little thumbnail of the book's cover along with the book info such as publisher and price.  I paste the thumbnail box at the top of my collage, and put the poem beneath.  As supports, I use cards from an old library card catalog, salvaged when they went to computerized records.

I have been pleasantly surprised at how in 17 syllables it's possible to come up with a fairly decent plot summary:

recent immigrants
ambitious but good-hearted
clawing their way up

long, glory-stalking
master conniver

his health, his marriage
habit of swimming naked

Bread. Cheese. A beret.
thugs sic dogs on a gay man;
later, Russian troops

Chief Justice Roberts
a powerful intellect
playing the long game

And sometimes, a critical assessment:

much flab and fatuousness
it's entertainment

willfully banal
not only disappointing --
it's oddly bloodless

often tedious
illustration of these woes
almost blow-by-blow

At some point in the future I plan to bind the cards into a book; not sure exactly what that might look like.  Right now, I'm just trying to get them found and pasted up.


  1. What a fascinating project.
    Irene MacWilliam

  2. This is just so cool -
    Words grandly thrown together
    to make sense and fun.

  3. A couple of weeks ago, the Oxfam Bookshop yielded a copy - for £1 - of "One Hundred Great Books in Haiku" by David Bader (Penguin, 2005) -- putting the Great Books "within the reach of even the shortest attention spans". Making new, possibly ephemeral, offerings available to the attention-span-challenged is a noble effort. (Wish I'd thought of it!) As a former librarian, I wonder if the actual haiku can be slipped in to the cataloguing information in some way....