[Reviewed by Nicole Arocho]
Leena Prasad’s Not Exactly Haiku is a book that was developed through an innovative route, and the results are just that, very fresh and different from anything else out there. Haiku is defined (in www.thefreedictionary.com/haiku) as “[a] Japanese lyric verse form having three unrhymed lines of five, seven, and five syllables, traditionally invoking an aspect of nature or the seasons.” Prasad utilizes this art form freely, without restricting herself so much with its technicality but focusing her efforts in the usage of nature as a metaphor and the short length of traditional haikus.
The author created the “haikus” that compose this book through a Twitter account (@notexactlyhaiku). Prasad would post her original pieces and people would retweet them, encouraging her to put them together in this book. Thus, this book was Prasad’s creative effort, but the tweets made the haikus known through social media before getting published in Not Exactly Haiku. This concept of using social media to promote literature is fascinating and shows how the industry is changing with the boom of social media and online publications complementing or replacing printed books.
The drawings on these haikus embellish the pages, but, more profoundly, they complement the authors’ metaphorical ideas on life. When I read the first haiku, titled “ants”, I could see that this compilation was going to be a very poetic journey through the mysterious ways our minds process what happens everyday. The author writes a neuroscience column for this same magazine, and I can see how her perspective on such matter has influenced her writing and rewriting of these haikus. Most of the haikus are pretty straightforward with their message, but some others mean more than what we perceive in the first reading. Such is the case of “grass is greener”: “some days the grass/ is greener, in my yard/ but, i do not see”. When I first read it, I thought it was simply talking of how season change and how that can reflect in our moods and such. But, as I read it again, I could gather the whole nature of the haiku. The grass represents our interior world; our souls, our hearts, our deepest desires and wishes, our knowledge, while the yard is the exterior world; our bodies, the people around us, nature, civilization. When our interior, the “grass”, is at its height, sometimes we are blinded by what is happening in the outside world (the “yard”) and its pressures and tribulations, such as stress, work, frustrations, depressions and many other variables out of our control. This way, we forget how truly amazing each of us are in our own unique way, and let the world get the best of us.
These drawings sometimes even changed the meaning of the haikus. This happened with “clouds”: “clouds hovering/the sky holds its breath/ before the storm”. After one read, this haiku was talking of a general idea of the moment before a problem comes to our lives, where everything is alright, but there are some signs of the “storm” coming to descend upon us. But the drawing is that of a pregnant woman with a man touching her belly while looking at the woman’s face. This made me as the reader focus on one event in life (pregnancy) that is the pre-event of childbirth and raising children, both of which can bring difficulties and problems to the parents. What the author couldn’t say with the haikus because of their minimalistic nature, she expressed through these sketches.
It is interesting how the author doesn’t use any capital letters in her writing. As a poet myself, it is a stylistic approach I can relate to, and that, aesthetically, gives the haikus a feel of continuity and impreciseness that heightens the effect of shortness that characterize these pieces.
Leena Prasad still has her Twitter account running, where you can read her latest haikus and retweet them, and a Facebook page to discuss them in order to continue on this literary effort.
You can contact the reviewer, Nicole Arocho, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Leena Prasad recently wrote an iPhone app which was inspired by Not Exactly Haiku. The app is currently available for 99 cents at http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/not-exactly-haiku/id495835142?mt=8