Many fine books of haiku have been published in English over the last century or so. So many, in fact, that it's hard for one of them to stand out from the rest. However, Jerome Cushman's recent collection of haiku, Amidst, does a good job of breaking away from the pack.
Amidst is filled with simple, unassuming, yet profound haiku. Some of them capture a fleeting but sincere moment:
young deaf lovers
sign in the moonlight
while others bring to light the tension and anticipation of an ordinary day:
still waiting --
the spider on the ceiling
The poems are accessible and easy to read, but they aren't easy to forget. Amidst is not a book that you read and then put aside or give away. The poems in the book will stay with the reader for a long time, and they lend themselves well to a second or third reading somewhere down the road. One of the best haiku in the book illustrates the the idea of yin and yang, give and take, and it makes you wonder why if horses can understand it, so many humans can't seem to grasp it:
head to tail
Amidst is very nicely printed and produced by café nietzsche press (which is a part of bottle rockets press). Stanford M. Forrester is responsible for the editing and the graphic design, and Dennis W. Burns provides the brushwork that appears throughout the book. The book is pocket-sized with a cardstock cover, and each of the 42 haiku (and the one haibun) is given its own page. The collection's title comes from a Cid Corman haiku, which is included at the beginning of the book.
Cushman writes in an unencumbered everyman kind of way. His haiku seem to just flow out of the moment, rather than sound like they've been workshopped and polished to death. There is still plenty of life left in these poems.
Amidst was published in 2007 and it is 53 pages long. It would make a good addition to any haiku reader's bookshelf, and it's a great collection to take with you on the go. The book can be hard to find, but FoundryBooks.com has it right now for $9.00.
(Originally published on Helium.com, September 2010)