While the rise of the charmingly simple, brilliantly evocative
haiku is often associated with the seventeenth-century
Japanese poet Matsuo Basho, the form had already flourished for
more than four hundred years before Basho even began to write.
These early poems, known as hokku, are identical to
haiku in syllable count and structure but function
differently as a genre. Whereas each haiku is its own
constellation of image and meaning, a hokku opens a series
of linked, collaborative stanzas in a sequence called
Under the mastery of Basho, hokku first gained its
modern independence. His talents contributed to the evolution of
the style into the haiku beloved by so many poets around
the world-Richard Wright, Jack Kerouac, and Billy Collins being
notable devotees. Haiku Before Haiku presents 320
hokku composed between the thirteenth and early eighteenth
centuries, from the poems of the courtier Nijo Yoshimoto to those
of the genre's first "professional" master, Sogi, and his
disciples. It features 20 masterpieces by Basho himself. Steven D.
Carter introduces the history of haiku and its aesthetics,
classifying these poems according to style and context. His rich
commentary and notes on composition and setting illuminate each
work, and he provides brief biographies of the poets, the original
Japanese text in romanized form, and earlier, classical poems to
which some of the hokku allude.
Subjects: Language & Literature, History
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