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.
Several years ago I had the pleasure of attending the festival. 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. Kevin Hull’s collection of “tiny poems” has since become an indispensable addition to my traveling bookshelf.
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.
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.
(For further reading on how to write a haiku, stop by this site.)