Thursday, September 24, 2009

Book review: Zombie Haiku

Okay, so I finally got around to reading Zombie Haiku by Ryan Mecum. I've had the book (suggested to me by Don Wentworth) for many months now, and last week I wrestled it out of my growing pile of unread books.

As a fan of both zombie poetry and haiku, I was really looking forward to reading this book. The idea is unique -- the book chronicles the life and times of a zombie, in haiku form. HOW Books did a great job producing the book; it's very professionally printed, with a full-color cover and interior photos and illustrations. There is even a whole website set up to promote the book (, complete with a three-minute YouTube trailer and zombie haiku written by famous people like Billy Collins and Doug Benson.

But the book itself didn't lived up to the hype. I was expecting more from the author -- from what I've read by him on the Internet, he has a great sense of humor and a talent for writing.

Zombie Haiku isn't bad, it just isn't as good as I thought it would be. The haiku are all written in 5-7-5, which seems arbitrary and unnecessary to me. Very few poets can put together a good haiku using that strict syllable count.

There were certainly some haiku that stood out from the others
little old ladies
speed away in their wheelchairs,
frightened meals on wheels.
and made me either laugh or cringe
Blood is really warm.
It's like drinking hot chocolate
but with more screaming.
but for the most part, the haiku were more narrative than anything else. The same joke (which was funny the first time)
He tends not to flinch,
though I'm yelling in his ear,
which is in my hand.
was repeated twice more with different body parts.

The book is 140 pages long, which is a lot of haiku to write about the same subject. I give Mr. Mecum kudos for writing the book, but if he had developed the poems more as haiku (drop the syllable count, focus on things like juxtaposition and the haiku moment) rather than just as a vehicle to tell the story, I would have liked the book a lot more.

As a whole, I sort of liked the book. It takes a pretty cool idea and presents it in an interesting way, but the majority of the haiku would not stand so well on their own. I would recommend this book for fans of horror poetry, but not for fans of haiku. If you love zombie poems, then you'll probably want to pick up a copy of Zombie Haiku, regardless of what I say. And you'll probably enjoy reading it.

You can get the book from HOW Books, Barnes & Noble, Amazon, or the F+W Publications Bookstore for $9.99.


Charles Gramlich said...

That's definitely a very long haiku book. I can see the danger of repitition. I've liked the stuff I've read at his website too.

MkCrittenden said...

Greg, I am not one to bash a new idea... not that zombie literature is breaking ground at this point (it seems to be flooding book stores and saturating movie themes). Still, How much poetry would it take to elevate the state of being a walking rotten apple? I'm just not sure i can wrap myself around the idea. I feel like the more someone tries to make a plot within a zombie story (especially when the zombies are trying to regain some humanity) the idea just falls flat, and leaves to much to be desired. Am I just being a...rotten apple?

Greg Schwartz said...

Charles - yeah, i don't think i could come up with 140 pages of unique zombie haikus.

Mark - there's definitely a lot of zombie stories/movies/poems out there. Writing a zombie's journal in haiku form was a pretty neat idea, but i don't think the book succeeded on that front. there definitely were a few funny haiku in there, though.

Taylor Wolfe said...

I personally really liked zombie haiku. I disagree with the statement that he should have strayed from 5-7-5 format. It is called zombie haiku for a reason. It is an easy and enjoyable read in my opinion. Mecum has a great gift for narrating in this interesting poetry form. Not easily done.

Greg Schwartz said...

Taylor - thanks for stopping by. Glad you liked the book; seems like a lot of people did, because he just came out with Vampire Haiku last month.

Haiku need not be written in the 5-7-5 format in order to be called haiku. In fact, that syllable count for English-language haiku was created erroneously, based on haiku written in Japanese, which make use of a completely different sound system. Most haiku poets writing today use less than 17 syllables, typically somewhere between 10 and 14.

Dave Metz said...

That's great that haiku "need not be written in 5-7-5 format," but that is what the majority of the American public identifies as haiku. Therefore, the author did an excellent job not only relaying a great zombie narrative, but also appealing to the masses in a form that they are familiar with (since every high school english teachers says that haiku is 5-7-5).

Greg Schwartz said...

Dave - I agree, most people in this country probably identify haiku as a 5/7/5 poem because that's how they were taught it (whether right or wrong).

However, the majority of the people who actively read haiku know that this syllable count is arbitrary, and that there are many things more integral to the essence of the haiku -- such as the focus on the haiku moment -- and the poems in this book (for the most part) lack those aspects.

They do serve to relay the narrative, and they do a good job at that, but they are not true haiku. That's why I say that horror readers and zombie fans will probably like the book a lot more than haiku readers.

Trevor said...

Still, the book Zombie Haiku is the best book of zombie haiku I'm aware of.

The form really works with the subject matter: quick, sharp bites. This guy's got a Vampire book out now, too. Haven't read it yet.

Greg Schwartz said...

Trevor - yeah, there definitely aren't a lot of full-length zombie haiku books out there. Josh Gage is working on one right now, and Aurelio Rico Lopez III has a cool book of horrorku called Jolts that has some zombie poems in it.

I haven't read the vampire one either, but I'd expect it to be pretty much the same thing.

MkCrittenden said...

Greg! You are needed. And any authors out there worth your salt...a call has been issued. Please come to my blog and view the uppermost post. ( Writers are needed for a very special and interesting anthology from Sam's Dot Publishing. I promised i would pass it along to the best i know.

Greg Schwartz said...

thanks for the heads up on this one, Mark! Sam's Dot always puts out good anthologies. I'll post a link to the guidelines.

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