Some of you, in looking about on the Internet, may have come across search topic headings like these:
Hokku: Writing Traditional Haiku in English: The Gift to be Simple, by David Coomler(Springfield, Ill …
Of the former, Higginson writes: “Coomler‘s book not only attacks modern Japanesehaiku, but ignores all post-Blyth books and other resources.”
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People familiar with my writing are often puzzled to find those search entries, because they lead to a very negative article that does not seem to fit what they know of me and my views.
The article is a review published in a journal (to which I have never been a subscriber) called Modern Haiku. It was written by the late William J. Higginson.
Those who know the real history of this review and who compare it with the actual book will likely see it as a particularly disingenuous manifestation of what was apparently Higginson’s peculiar literary territorialism and antipathy to any attempts to revive the traditional hokku. And from all evidence, Higginson certainly wanted the hokku thoroughly dead and buried and forgotten, as evinced by his active effort to get reference publications such as dictionaries and encyclopedias to declare the word “hokku” obsolete, and his opposition to the more traditional views of Harold Gould Henderson, who was one of the two foremost Western writers on the topic in the mid-20th century, the other being the incomparable R. H. Blyth.
Paradoxically, Higginson’s very negative and seemingly deliberately misleading review was published in an issue of that journal called the Robert Spiess Memorial Issue. Robert Spiess was the editor of Modern Haiku who had passed away shortly before the “memorial” issue appeared.
What is paradoxical about this is that Spiess himself, before his passing, had surprised me with a letter, telling me that he had read my book and that he was “highly impressed with it” and would give it a “very fine review” in Modern Haiku. However, he passed away before that promised “very fine review” appeared, and in its place suddenly and strangely appeared Higginson’s bitter review, expressing a view of the book quite the opposite of that held by the late editor, whom that particular issue was purportedly memorializing.
This had seemed rather odd to me, given what Spiess had promised, so I sent the new editor of Modern Haiku a copy of the letter Spiess had sent me, suggesting it be published as a more accurate reflection of the late “memorialized” editor’s views, and as a counterbalance to Higginson’s review. I received not a word in response, and of course the letter of Spiess that would have made his own opinion of my book quite clear was never seen by readers of Modern Haiku, and is never mentioned in copies of that review on the Internet.
In any case, those who have read the book may form their own opinions. I do not and have never subscribed to Modern Haiku. I teach hokku, not modern haiku, and consequently would not have submitted anything to that publication for review — which accounts for my surprise on receiving the commendatory letter from Spiess. As for the promised review of my book that editor Robert Spiess originally intended for publication in Modern Haiku, it of course was mysteriously replaced with that of Higginson; but here is the actual letter Spiess wrote me, so readers may see for themselves what Spiess thought of my book — in contrast to what Higginson had to say.