This is Your Haiku Life

JULY 200

 This is Your Haiku Life


Susumu Takiguchi, Editor

Nobody likes to be labelled or stereo-typed and yet that is what we often do. Whenever the name of Cor van den Heuvel is mentioned, most people would think of “the” anthology.

This is of course THE HAIKU ANTHOLOGY – Haiku and Senryu in English, first published by Doubleday in 1974 and its third edition, revised and expanded, which came out in 1999 from W. W. Norton (paperback in 2000). van den Heuvel is its editor and this anthology has become his “trademark”, as well as being widely regarded as a definitive collection of American and Canadian haiku. The book is becoming an essential reference book of haiku lovers in the world. However, van den Heuvel would like to be known first and foremost as a poet, especially a haijin.

Very recently, a good news was conveyed to van den Heuvel, which could give him another label but which he could hardly complain about. The Ehime Culture Foundation announced in May 2002 that van den Heuvel was the co-recipient of the Masaoka Shiki International Haiku Prize of Yen One million (approximately US$ 7, 500) for 2002 shared with Satya Bhushan Verma (India). It would be unthinkable that the Foundation’s selection committee did not take van den Heuvel’s own haiku poems into consideration in making this decision.

In late 1950s, van den Heuvel was a reporter, after his three years in the United States Air Force and graduating from the University of New Hampshire in 1957. It was during these days that he began to try his hand at writing poems. Let us hear him talk about a decisive moment:

One day, I picked up a copy of the Evergreen Review featuring poems and prose of the “San Francisco Renaissance.” I was so impressed by the works of such writers as Gary Snyder, Robert Duncan, Jack Spicer, and Jack Kerouac that I decided to go west to see and hear this phenomenon for myself.

So, van den Heuvel went to San Francisco in the spring of 1958. He was to live for the next seven months in a small residential hotel, just around the corner from Grant Avenue, which leads through Chinatown into North Beach, the poetry center of the city. Soon, he was invited to attend the regular poets’ gatherings presided over by Robert Duncan and Jack Spicer, then held in George Stanley’s house on Telegraph Hill.

It was at one of these meetings that he had his first encounter with haiku. Gary Snyder, just back from his first stay in Japan, uttered the word haiku, and that became the trigger point of van den Heuvel’s odyssey of haiku literature.

Among my own favourite haiku by him, let me share some with you:

in the mirrors on her dress
little pieces of my

The late Dame Iris Murdoch was a friend of mine. When alive, she kept encouraging me to write a book on haiku, which she said she would love to read. I have written to van den Heuvel, saying that this haiku reminds me of Iris Murdoch and could well have appeared in one of her novels.

end of the line
the conductor starts turning
the seats around

His is certainly not the kind of haiku which have been written in Japan. It’s van den Heuvel’s haiku full stop. However, I also wish to pay tribute to America that has brought forth van den Heuvel, quite apart from his European ancestors.

the shadow in the folded napkin

Much ink has been consumed to comment on this famous one-line haiku. There are countless number of haiku about “shadow(s)” but this one is one of the most striking. As an artist, I use cloths for my still life paintings, much like Cezanne did, and therefore have a special interest in observing everything about them: spread, folded or kinked. I seek some dynamic or sculptural energy in them but here it seems that van den Heuvel’s folded napkin is a quiet, serene and static entity, accentuated by the shadow not “of” but “in” it. In terms of form, this is not a one-liner where three lines are folded into one. It is more akin to Santoka or Hosai’s poems. Considering all these points, it is intriguing to know how his haiku has developed over time.

Cor van den Heuvel was born in Biddeford, Maine, in 1931 and grew up in Maine and New Hampshire. Now passed the age of koki (seventy years old, which is called thus as it was an age rarely attained in ancient times), his career in haiku has spanned nearly forty-five years. Apart from writing haiku, has he developed his haiku theory? What are the true reasons in the final analysis for having been “obsessed” with haiku for so long? In his words:

The magic of haiku defies analysis. In its very simplicity lies its greatest mystery: the mystery of clear water and blue sky, of a petal’s tint and a bird’s song, of sunlight and shadows.

Just a glimpse at his bio amazes one at how extensive Cor van Heuvel’s activities have been as an architect of the development of haiku in North America. He has published eight chapbooks of haiku, the first in 1961. His haiku and related works have appeared in books and magazines in North and South America, Europe, Japan, and Australia. He has talked about haiku on the Charlie Rose Show and many other American and Japanese television programs. He has written about haiku for The New York Times Book Review, Mainichi Shimbun, and Newsweek.

He is revered by many. Hiroaki Sato, author of One Hundred Frogs: From Renga to Haiku to English and numerous other books on haiku, in his column in the Japan Times called van den Heuvel a “modern haiku master”. The Haiku Society of America (HSA), besides commending The Haiku Anthology, has given the poet three Merit Book Awards for his own haiku. The World Haiku Club hailed him in the year 2000 as a great achiever in helping the development of world haiku by conferring a World Haiku Achievements Award at the World Haiku Festival 2000, held in London and Oxford in August of that year. The announcement of his receiving the award states:

Little needs to be said in praise of this exceptional individual and his invaluable contribution to the dissemination and understanding of haiku through his excellent editorship of The Haiku Anthology – Haiku and Senryu in English, W. W. Norton & Company, New York, London, Expanded Edition, 1999. The Anthology is now a standard reading, excellent textbook and a Haiku bible.

van den Heuvel has also been a good leader and organiser. A past president of the Haiku Society of America (HSA), he headed the panel of judges for the 1987-88 Japan Air Lines English Haiku Contest — which attracted more than 40,000 entries — and attended the Tokyo press conference to announce the winners. In 1990, he was the United States representative to the International Haiku Symposium in Matsuyama. In 2000 he was named Honorary Curator of the American Haiku Archives at the State Library in Sacramento, California.

How did van den Heuvel acquire the knowledge and experience of haiku? And how was his haiku career formed? In fact, he has not stopped learning about the genre even now — an eternal student! His study of haiku began after encountering it in 1958 by first reading translations of the Japanese haiku masters in books by R. H. Blyth, Harold G. Henderson, and Kenneth Yasuda. By early 1959, he was back in New England from his stay in San Francisco, writing his own haiku in a small cottage in Wells Beach, Maine. That summer, he got a job reading his haiku, and translations of Japanese haiku at the Cafe Zen in nearby Ogunquit. In the fall, he moved to Boston where he gave readings of haiku and other poetry in “beat” coffee houses. He was the “house poet” at the Salamander and later at the Alhambra, where he read with a jazz trio.

The following summer (1960), he read at nights in a bar in Provincetown, Massachusetts, while working days on a fishing trawler. In the winter of 1960/61, he became part of the poetry-reading scene — along with such poets as Robert Kelly, Jackson Mac Low and Diane Wakoski — at the Tenth Street Coffee House in New York City, a precursor of the now well-known Poetry Project at St. Mark’s Church. He began printing his haiku on a small handpress and carried copies of his first chapbook, Sun in Skull, on a cross-country hitching and hiking trip from Maine to Seattle that he took in the summer of 1961, selling them for a dollar each or exchanging them for food. On the way, he hiked for a week in Glacier National Park. While living in Seattle for several months, he went backpacking in the Olympic Rain Forest.

For the rest of the sixties, van den Heuvel lived in New York City continuing to write and publish his poetry books under the Chant Press imprint, unaware of the growing number of other poets writing haiku. He married, had a son, and divorced. While working at Newsweek, in the editorial makeup department where the pages are composed for printing, he went to night school at New York University, receiving an M.A. in English Literature in 1968. What an industrious man he has been! (He would work at Newsweek for more than 25 years.)

In 1971 van den Heuvel joined the Haiku Society of America, and became friends with William J. Higginson, Anita Virgil, Alan Pizzarelli and others in the group. He also met Harold G. Henderson, whose Introduction to Haiku helped inspire the English-language haiku movement. In 1972, van den Heuvel began assembling The Haiku Anthology, which he dedicated to Henderson and R. H. Blyth on its publication in 1974.

While van den Heuvel was president of the HSA in 1978, the society began publishing its magazine, Frogpond. The same year, he and Professor Kazuo Sato, of the Museum of Haiku Literature in Tokyo, worked with others to bring haiku poet Sumio Mori and critic Kenkichi Yamamoto from Japan to speak in New York City. The HSA co-sponsored the event with the Japan Society and Japan Air Lines. It may have been the first time such important figures in Japanese haiku spoke publicly about haiku in the United States. Considering the poor communications and exchange of people between Japan and the rest of the world, this should be given a special praise as an early effort to rectify the situation.

In 1982 van den Heuvel married Leonia Leigh Larrecq, with whom he continues to live in New York City. He is presently putting together a volume of his collected haiku, The Ticket-Taker’s Shadow, for publication. A book of his haibun, A Boy’s Seasons, which was serialized in Modern Haiku, is scheduled to be published by Press Here (Foster City, California) in late 2002. He never stops.

* * *

 Haiku by Cor van den Heuvel, selected by himself


sailing the Maine coast
from a lawn among the pines
a flag snaps in the wind
summer breeze
a ladder leans against
the half-painted house
hazy heat-
at the small airfield
the windsock hangs limp
the sound of hoofbeats
fades a butterfly crosses
the bridle path
a last bit of pink
on the watermelon rind
Indian summer
the wet sidewalk in front
of the open firehouse
behind the curtain
the opera star carries her roses
through a dark forest
all my reflections
leaving the rest room
the face to face mirrors
the carp in the tank
swim slowly back and forth
an empty fortune-cookie
rainy day a closed gas station
a drop of water
floats by the canoe
on a curled leaf
in the pick-up
under the pines
pine needles
fallen leaves
the Irish setter points to
a stand of staghorn sumac
fallen leaves
the Irish setter points to
a stand of staghorn sumac
the rusted paperclip
has stained my old poem
wind in the eaves
my own pillow
autumn rain
neon puddles
in front of the waterfront bar
sound of a blues piano
watching the snowfall
from the bathroom window
the warm towels
deep snow
one light
in the amusement park
on the bathroom hamper
morning sunlight fills the sails
of a toy boat
in a wet board
under the cemetery faucet
the blossoming cherry tree
spring breeze
a cakebox sails across
the parking-lot puddle
far off
a few gulls land in the marsh
summer afternoon
the toy boat sets out
a light breeze flutters
the slack sails
evening chill-
from a tidepool, water winds
to the sea
small town morning
the cool shadows along
a back street
the toy boat sails
slowly into a sunlit cove
tiny fish pass below
summer night
the old gambler fondles
his cards
a hallway
in the small resort hotel
the morning sea
after the shower
the cool wood of the table
under the pines
at the trail’s end
i thank my hiking stick and
leave it against a tree
the toy sailboat sails
along a far shore

All haiku in “Sailing” Copyright © 2002 by Cor van den Heuvel

a haibun

Cor van den Heuvel

A cool warm March wind blows off the East River and along a side street near New York City’s South Street Seaport. The morning sun is coming out again after a spell of grayness. The light flows up the street, shines on the curbstone at my feet, flickers faint shadows along its irregular surface, and suddenly awakens within me the realization that I am once again in love.

Each spring I fall in love with granite curbstones. These natural looking rough-cut stones with their slightly rippled surfaces, their precise and monolithic solidities lining and defining a street from here to infinity, have for me the mysterious presence of mountains, the strange, halted stillness of great glacial deposits: at once stopped and journeying-waiting millenniums, yet instantaneously moving through space with their star, our star.

Some granite curbstones have smooth tops-not polished, but simply flat as if planed. These have an artificial look and sunlight is washed out on them. On the more common, rough-hewn curbstone the light is varied and soaks the stone with its magic, playing with shadows and intensities. On rainy days small pools form here and there along its top while the gutter stream flows below. The stone is closer to nature-wild and alive.

waterfront bar
the cobblestones glow
in the night rain

I grew up among the granite landscapes and seascapes of Maine and New Hampshire. From the mountains of New Hampshire and from rocky, mist-shrouded islands off the Maine coast have come the foundation stones of many of our towns and cities-for buildings and bridges, for statues and memorials, for cobblestones and curbstones. Still seen on little streets near the Boston and New York waterfronts are granite cobblestones many of which were quarried from Maine islands. There is a stillness about them on chilly, rainy days in spring or autumn that suggests such origins. Wet and streaming like the rocky islands they were carved from, they call up a vision of the Atlantic splashing up against lonely shores, the sun coming out to shine on great, wet rocks gleaming amidst the desolate reaches of the rolling sea. For a hundred or more years these cobblestones have been dusted and smeared with the grime of the city and washed again and again with sunlight and rain. Worn smooth like pebbles on a shore, they still have an unevenness that endears them to me.

Curbstones, with much of their mass hidden in the earth below the pavement, rise above the street and show the way. Though still beneath our feet, they can be guideposts to where and how we direct our steps. Witnessing with a calm impassivity our rushing about from here to there, they also stand as monuments to the peace and wisdom that come from being still.

fallen leaves
the wind uncovers
a granite curbstone

When I was a boy, curbstones were just right for sitting on, for looking at the passing of people, cars, and the passing of the day itself, or for just gazing off into space. On rainy days I would use them as banks from which to launch popsicle-stick ships into the streams that flowed along the gutters. Adventure-bound, these boats often disappeared between the iron bars of a drain, riding upon great waterfalling waves into the darkness, to continue their voyages beneath the earth.

After the run-off of spring rain, streaks of sandy dirt were often left behind in the gutters. Made up mostly of sand spread on the streets during the winter, these deposits sometimes took the wavy, rippled shape of the waters that had washed them into the gutter and that had flowed over and around them. As I would sit dreaming on a curbstone it was pleasant to shuffle my sneakered feet in this sand, making little designs with it and feeling its softness against the hardness of the pavement. Putting my hands down by my sides I could also feel the curbstone-the cool, smooth roughness, the solid reality of the world holding me. In the afternoon I would watch the stone’s shadow move slowly from the curb’s edge into the street along with my own. The sun-warmed sand would slowly cool in the shade and I would realize it was time to go home . . . before going, I pick up a handful of sand and hold it in the fading sunlight, then let it run through my fingers back into the shadows.

I am still drawn to granite curbstones, and in all seasons of the year-in the heat of the summer, in the coolness of the autumn rain, or in the cold winds of winter-but I am always surprised by the love I feel for them on the first sunny day in spring.

morning sunlight
under the Brooklyn Bridge
a curbstone shadow

“Curbstones” Copyright © 1992 by Cor van den Heuvel

List of Publications:

sun in skull, Chant Press, New York City, 1961 (haiku).
a bag of marbles (3 jazz chants), Chant Press, 1962.
the window-washer’s pail, Chant Press, 1963 (haiku).
EO7, Chant Press, 1964 (haiku sequence).
BANG! you’re dead., Chant Press, 1966 (poems).
water in a stone depression, Chant Press, 1969 (haiku).
dark, Chant Press, 1982 (haiku).
PUDDLES, Chant Press, 1990 (haibun).
The Geese Have Gone, King’s Road Press, Pointe Claire, Quebec, 1992 (haiku).
Play Ball, Red Moon Press, Winchester, Virginia, 1999 (haiku).

………As Editor:

The Haiku Anthology, Doubleday Anchor, New York City, 1974; Simon & Schuster, New York City, 1986; W. W. Norton, New York City, 1999.
An Anthology of Haiku by People of the United States and Canada, co-editor with several others, Japan Air Lines, New York, 1988.
A Haiku Path, co-editor with several others, The Haiku Society of America, 1994.
Wedge of Light, co-editor with Tom Lynch and Michael Dylan Welch, Press Here, Foster City, California, 1999 (haibun).
Past Time, co-editor with Jim Kacian, Red Moon Press, Winchester, Virginia, 1999 (haiku).

This entry was posted in Haiku, Vol 2-2 July 2002 and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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