“Paris” – Exploring the City via 40 Haiku Poems

Paris: a city long admired and praised for its rich history, cultural prowess, and high quality baguettes, often identified and represented by its famous historical and cultural landmark-symbols like the Eiffel Tower, Champs-Elysées, etc. that are plainly “Paris.” While its landmarks rightly deserve recognition and esteem, I’d argue they do not provide a comprehensive, holistic picture of a city whose boundaries stretch beyond its illustrious center.

William Hart, Los Angeles based poem and fiction author, would say the same. Via his collection of 40 contemporary haiku, appropriately titled “Paris,” Hart seeks to capture the city’s essence through ordinary observations that’d otherwise go unnoticed, but tell a broader, more expansive story of the city’s quirks and quintessential qualities.

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Told from the perspective of an observant and attentive tourist, “Paris” leads the reader on a stroll through the city – from the Seine, to Napoleon’s tomb, to Rue Pigalle and onward, while commenting on the little things that are just as “Parisian” as the Eiffel, like a “sunlit planter” or “two dozing cats ring[ing] a tree.” Permeated by Hart’s obvious love and ardor for the city, the haiku are written and illustrated not only with purpose, but with affection, tenderness, and warmth, granting readers a pleasurable and satisfying “tour.”

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The final haiku bids goodbye and goodnight with a picture of soft glowing light and scattered rays from the sun and from a complex’s windows, pulsing to the heartbeat of a city that is for many a tourist stop, but to others – home.

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Though I do hope to experience Paris myself one day – whether as a tourist or resident, for now, I’m glad to admire it via Hart and other stories.

“still light, still shadow” – a Staple-bound Selection of Tiny Poems

For one weekend every April, the University of Southern California in Los Angeles hosts one of the most significant literary events of the year: the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books. Birthed in 1996 to promote and celebrate literacy, the festival features vendors, authors and publishers ranging from popular to obscure. When I lived in Los Angeles and had the pleasure of attending the festival, I was most encouraged by the overwhelming representation of works by new and unknown authors, most self-published.

One year, navigating my way through the bustle of vendors and kiosks and pop-up book stores, I happened upon a stand selling poetry collections influenced by contemporary haiku. Here I found still light, still shadow, which – with its modest, unfussy design – looked as if it’d been put together by hand. Short and sweet, Kevin Hull’s collection of “tiny poems” has become an indispensable addition to my traveling bookshelf.

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The haiku is a traditional form of Japanese poetry consisting of 17 syllables with three phrases of 5, 7, and 5 syllables. Though modern haiku stray from the traditional, Kevin Hull’s poems remain markedly true to traditional haiku by bearing the same characteristics, including what is known in Japanese as “kiru,” or cutting – a juxtaposition of two images or ideas – and “kigo,” a reference to season. A humble celebration of the cycle of life, Hull’s poems juxtapose death and decay with rebirth, restoration, and the promise of new life.

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True to the essence of haiku, Hull’s poems utilize briefness to capture the beauty, complexity, and emotional energy of a single – often overlooked – moment or occurrence. Though restricted to tiny parameters, Hull’s careful selection of words paints vivid and dynamic images slow to fade, evoking a specific emotional response one might describe as reflective, pensive – a meditation on the consequences of a seemingly inconsequential point in time. Still light, still shadow is not only a masterful example of contemporary haiku, but a thoughtful and reverent observance of nature and our relationship to it.

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(For further reading on how to write a haiku, stop by this site.)