A Short Introduction to the Haiku

An overview of haiku as a poetic form

Many of the things we think we know about the Japanese poetic form of the haiku are inaccurate, if not downright incorrect. The common perception, or understanding, of haiku might be summarised as follows: ‘The haiku is a short Japanese poem containing 17 syllables, following a tradition, and a name, that remains unchanged after centuries.’ There are, however, several problems with such a definition of the haiku, which this short introduction aims to address and make clear.

Although the haiku as a verse form is centuries old, the word ‘haiku’ isn’t. Indeed, it was only surprisingly recently – as recently as the end of the nineteenth century, in fact – that people started referring to these miniature Japanese poems as haiku (never ‘haikus’: the plural is the same as the singular), when Masaoka Shiki (1867-1902) began referring to them as haiku as opposed to the older term hokku. Read the rest of this entry


A Short Analysis of William Wordsworth’s ‘Surprised by Joy – Impatient as the Wind’

‘Surprised by joy—impatient as the Wind’ is the first line of one of William Wordsworth’s most popular sonnets. However, the degree to which ‘Surprised by joy’ can be considered a truly great and successful poem is disputed by critics, so a few words of analysis may help to ascertain how far Wordsworth’s poem succeeds and how far it falls short of the greatness we expect from one of Romanticism’s most popular and enduring poetic voices.

Surprised by joy—impatient as the Wind
I turned to share the transport—Oh! with whom
But Thee, long buried in the silent Tomb,
That spot which no vicissitude can find?
Love, faithful love, recalled thee to my mind—
But how could I forget thee?—Through what power,
Even for the least division of an hour,
Have I been so beguiled as to be blind
To my most grievous loss!—That thought’s return Read the rest of this entry

Literary Leeds: The Poetry of John Riley

In this week’s Dispatches from The Secret Library, Dr Oliver Tearle reads the work of a neglected poet

One night in late October 1978, the poet John Riley was tragically murdered by muggers in Leeds, a horrific crime recently investigated in Paul Farley and Michael Symmons Roberts’ Deaths of the Poets. Riley’s Collected Works were published two years later by Grosseteste Press, the publishing house he’d helped to set up, but copies of this hardcover volume remain few and far between (I am currently reading the copy from my university library; the stamps on the flyleaf tell me it’s been borrowed three times previously, in 1983, 1995, and 2000). For 15 years, Riley’s poems lay largely forgotten except by a few devotees. Then, in 1995, it looked as though John Riley’s posthumous reputation would be given a leg up, courtesy of an edition of his selected poems, brought out by the poetry publisher Carcanet. But barely a year later, in the summer of 1996, the Carcanet offices in Manchester were damaged in an IRA bomb explosion, and virtually all copies of John Riley’s Selected Poems were lost. At the time of writing, a single copy is available for sale on Amazon. It will set you back just £10,000. I cannot find any other copies available for sale online.

I was fortunate enough, having kept an eye out for one for some time, to pick up a copy of this hard-to-find volume a while ago, on Amazon of all places, not for £10,000 but for just Read the rest of this entry