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Haiku Guy reviews

Critical Praise for Haiku Guy

"When the Novel Met Haiku"—a review by Petar Tchouhov

"Takes us on a literary journey to Old Japan and contemporary New Orleans that transcends the limits of time and space ..."
—Randy M. Brooks, Xavier Review

"Set in a wind-blown, temporary world where time and lastingness are without meaning and one breath is the duration of human wisdom."
—Michael McClintock, Modern Haiku

"Darts back and forth between present day and centuries ago, in a mystical, funny, stand-up comic Flaubert way ..."
—Ralph Haselmann Jr., Exquisite Corpse

"The best textbook about writing haiku is a novel."
—Robert Hudson, Working Poet

"I enjoyed his lyrical muse...would recommend 'Haiku Guy' to all who write poetry, and to those who want to understand those poets."
—Judine Bishop Slaughter, Small Press Review

"Don't make the mistake that I made. I started reading Haiku Guy just before attending a dinner party. The few people there who did not already think I was a nerd were totally convinced as I tried to share my enthusiasm for this book about Cup of Tea and Buck Teeth and help them understand how cool it was that it jumps back and forth between the author's perspective in modern New Orleans to 17th century Japan."
—Gary Warner, Haiku World

Readers' Comments

"So you're getting ready for summer vacation and looking for a wonderfully fun and illuminating novel to toss in your carry-on. What's that? Did you say you're also intending to write a little travel haiku? Good for you! All you need are a blank notebook, a pen (nothing fancy—a blue Bic will work just fine) and Haiku Guy, a novel by haiku poet David G. Lanoue."
—Connie Post

"It's a pleasure to finally read a work by a 'haiku scholar', if that term is not completely oxymoronic, that is imaginative and funny, literary yet spontaneous, and even sprinkled with profundity in its approach to the workings of the human mind and the guiding aesthetic behind it. Unique and irreverent, fanciful didacticism."
—Zolo

The story advances with shifts of place and time, surrealistic in a Western sense but more mystical in an Eastern one. Romantic relationships provide some additional interest. Like the haiku, about which readers learn so much, the novel with its many intersections has revelations of its own."
—Thomas Bonner, Jr.


"There is so much to say about this book—its multidimensions ... the interplay of the writer with the characters, and with the reader; just WHO the writer is—writer, student, mentor, seeker, guide; the incarnations of the characters; the shifting time frames with theme preserved throughout; the part the reader takes on quite inadvertently just because s/he is reading it ... it's wonderful."
—Naya


"Haiku Guy is the first novel to introduce haiku writing in novelistic form. To some extent, I find Haiku Guy analogous to The Canterbury Tales, an account of a journey made by different characters until they reach their destination to pay homage to Thomas à Becket. In the same way, David's characters, too, persistently move in their quest in the haiku writing. The omniscient narrator beautifully tells the story, blending the cultural paradigms of the East and West with the help of life-like characters."
—Bam Dev Sharma

And these essays and comments from high school students...

My favorite characters were Mido the green poet, Shiro the white poet and Kuro the black poet because they all have that comical whimsy. Out of all these poets I think I relate the most to Kuro the poet in black. Mido was interesting because he was a party animal, the kind of crazy one. He would try and get Kuro to lighten up and wanted Buck-Teeth to be laid back instead of being all serious like Kuro. I was so sad when he died later in the book. I think that without him Kuro and Shiro might become, "the kings of pessimism and silence." He taught me and Buck-Teeth not to always be so serious ... My favorite of the three characters is definitely Kuro. I can definitely relate only on a much smaller scale. I too am a pessimist, but I still found Kuro over the top. His antics were very funny, and my favorite thing was when he talked to Buck-Teeth and said, "All cats are dead; they just don't know it yet." I almost fell off my chair laughing.
—Ainura Johnson, seventh grader
Paideia School, Atlanta Georgia

I have learned that trying to think of some amazing moment and putting it into a haiku usually ends in a bad haiku. I find that I write the best haiku when I just live my life and when I experience something that I think would make a good haiku I write it down. Reading Haiku Guy by David Lanoue really helped me understand the phrase, "Life is haiku; haiku is life."
—Lucas Mavromatis, seventh grader
Paideia School, Atlanta Georgia

My favorite characters in the book were probably Shiro, Mido and Kuro. One reason why I particularly liked them was because they were each extreme versions of qualities a haiku poet should have. Mido talked about having to escape your mind, and that's an important quality. Mido taught me to not overthink my haiku and other writing. Kuro talked about how everything is temporary, and how all cats were already dead and just didn't know it. I thought that Kuro was the most extreme out of the three poets, and he taught me about writing what really happens and not to just write happy, pretty things. Shiro didn't talk, and I liked his reasons why. Shiro taught me to stop and just look aat what's around me. I think he enforced the "stop, look and listen" the most out of the three poets.
—Cary Holley, eighth grader
Paideia School, Atlanta Georgia

No distractions.

One breath. In and out. Equal to the time span of about a half a second. We live our lives in the span of one simple motion. Running, talking, loving, we die in one breath. The job of holding onto these seconds and emotions is our poetry's greatest task. Since before we existed it has been so. Way before our skyscrapers and Internet. Way before our corruption and malice, our same hearts were beating, with the same rhythms. In and out, slow then fast. One breath. Haiku. [...]

Some poets believe that speaking a haiku out loud is wasted breath, that the poem's meaning dies as soon as it leaves the lips. In the subtlest form a haiku is an enigma, as people try and try their whole lives to write one great haiku. Some do; most, however, end up with semi-decent scraps of journal paper. The truth, as with most things, is relative. Broken down into structure and molecules and atoms a haiku is spoken in the span of one breath. This is the way it has always been. Since ancient Japan poets have been breathing one long breath, living one long life. With eyes and hearts open. Listening to the world speak. Breathing in, and breathing out. Maybe once in a great while, amongst all the bilge we exhale, words will stream together into poetry, poetry into power. We all live and die by the same processes.

Haiku is life, life is haiku. It's as simple as breathing.
—Sadie Frank, 9th grader
School of the Arts, Rochester New York

I really liked the character Lady Plum. Not because I like mean, cruel people. I liked her cause she was the bad guy. There is no such thing as a good story without a bad guy! The bad guy makes the story interesting and gives the story a plot. The characters that you hate and that make you want to bang your head against the wall are the best characters of all. I couldn't believe how awful she was and how she plays Lord Kaga for a fool. Though I felt really bad for Lord Kaga I know that Lady Plum wasn't worth his attention. The part with the tattoo was just a way to reel him back in, and it was all a plot. When the reader found out that the tattoo was temporary, I totally saw it coming cause it seemed like the kind of thing that Lady Plum would do. I thought of the temporary tattoo as A metaphor that their love was only temporary.
—Abby Shannon, seventh grader
Paideia School, Atlanta Georgia

All in all, I loved the book. Being introduced to new characters that correspond with the history of old Japan was great, and the book always kept me guessing. Also the humor was great. I nearly fell out of my chair laughing when Buck-Teeth visited a strip club in New Orleans without realizing it. It was fun and never got boring. Great book!
—Henry Laseter, eighth grader
Paideia School, Atlanta Georgia

I really think it's cool that in your book you switch back and forth from Buck-Teeth's life and your life. Something that I also really like in your book is that most of Buck-Teeth's life is related to yours and some of it's true. The book makes me really wonder about why you put those specific moments of your life into it. I think it's really interesting the way you created the book, and how two lives came together.
—Sara Cunningham, seventh grader
Paideia School, Atlanta Georgia

It took Buck-Teeth months of studying with master Cup-of-Tea, months of watching dew evaporate off the morning grass, months of listening and observing the haiku poets around him, for him to realize the ultimate point that master Cup-of-Tea was trying to convey to him—Life is haiku; haiku is life. And there's no single way of looking at either. Perhaps there are as many ways of examining this quote as there are of examining life or haiku, yet if we try hard enough, we may just be able to scratch the surface of the true meaning that lies within [...]

On his way to becoming a haiku poet, Buck-Teeth encountered three poets and friends of master Cup-of-Tea: Kuro, Mido, and Shiro. Each poet had a very different take on haiku and life as we know it. Kuro believed in the transient nature of things, that nothing we say or do matters, as it will undoubtedly be forgotten. Mido theorized that in order to achieve true art, true understanding, we must go out of our right minds. Shiro, the silent poet in white, simple stopped using words altogether, as he believed that they only corrupted the real meaning and beauty of things. When master Cup-of-Tea taught Buck-Teeth that there is no single way of looking at either haiku or life, he was trying to show Buck-Teeth that we must not approach haiku or life from only one point of view, as Kuro, Mido, and Shiro did [...]

Cup-of-Tea taught Buck-Teeth the secret of haiku, and in doing so, he also provided Buck-Teeth with an invaluable life lesson. For the whole of eternity, human beings may be forced to struggle under the burden of unanswered questions, or simply just learn to be content with the inexplicable reality that life has provided us. For now, maybe it is best to take our advice from David Lanoue that "...everything, yourself included, will be part of the picture; that nothing outside of that picture will be making the picture. Get the picture?"
—Elizabeth Gombert, 9th grader
School of the Arts, Rochester New York

My favorite part in your novel was when Buck-Teeth goes to New Orleans disguised as a tourist. I found it very entertaining to see how a young Japanese haiku poet from the past reacted to one of the busiest streets in the 21st century. But I was a little confused on how he was transported to New Orleans, and how he wasn't as confused as I imagine most people would be when they get teleported to a different continent 500 years in the future.

I also figured out that your memory is a wonderful resource when what you see, smell, taste, touch or hear sparks a fascination. I recalled one summer night lying in bed, experiencing a small case of insomnia, and I came up with this haiku:

summer nights
the crickets make the silence
seem so loud
—Grace Futral, seventh grader
Paideia School, Atlanta Georgia

My favorite scene in the book was when Mido, Shiro and Kuro all gave their opinions on what they thought haiku was. I really liked Kuro, that was the funniest. For the rest of my life, whenever I see a cat, I'll think, "All cats are dead; they just don't know it yet!" I also liked Mido's part, for in Mido I see a part of me. Somebody who's spontaneous, a free spirit, and someone who's not afraid to do what hasn't been done. And, finally, there's Shiro. I get that you needed to make someone say nothing, to show the form of a dibbit, but it would have been cool if Shiro said nothing, but instead of having a blank space on the page, to have a haiku that wasn't said.
—Miles Ezeilo, seventh grader
Paideia School, Atlanta Georgia

The setting is in Old Japan and Buck-Teeth, Cup-of-Tea's student, would like to be taught the art of haiku. At first the story seems clear cut with a basic plot. Yet already in the second chapter the reader is surprised. The chapter is a page out of a "How to Write a Haiku" book. The story begins to flip from being narrated to the narrator talking directly with the reader. Once the reader has begun to accept this interesting method of story-telling, the author throws in a third twist. The narrator tells of his life experiences in New Orleans and makes a modern-day story run parallel with the haiku. The author narrates the story with the impression that he is telling everything, that nothing is hidden between the lines. But I as a reader felt that amidst his hidden haiku the resonance was deeper than what it seemed.
—Giulia Perucchio, 9th grader
School of the Arts, Rochester New York

I really enjoyed reading Haiku Guy. Out of all the characters in the book, I'm most like Buck-Teeth. He reminded me of myself because we both worked hard to accomplish a goal. His to become a haiku master, and mine to become a good baseball player. I think Buck-Teeth's goal took a little less time to accomplish since he had help from Cup-of-Tea, one of the greatest haiku poets ever.
—Addison Owen, eighth grader
Paideia School, Atlanta Georgia

Buck-Teeth, Lord Kaga, Cup-of-Tea and you all had an interesting love story for each of your characters. Almost all of them ended in an interesting tragedy. Like when Buck-Teeth fell in love with Melanie only to have her dragged back to reality. Not that I know from experience, but I've watched movies, read books and heard stories, and I've learned that sometimes with love you have to let some people pass you by instead of chasing after them to find who you're really looking for.
—Katy Jordan, seventh grader
Paideia School, Atlanta Georgia

Haiku Guy is one part memoir, one part historical fiction, and one part, "How-to" book ... An interesting aspect to this book is that the events transpiring around Lanoue's life directly affect the story. While this happens in every book ever written, in this case, we actually read about it; it makes me feel like I am inside an inside joke. Since the narratives cross between fantasies and realities, the fact is that the reality might not be real at all either.
—Joe Sackett
School of the Arts, Rochester New York

My favorite characters in the book were Shiro, Mido and Kuro because I thought they added a funny twist to the story. My favorite out of the three was Mido. I like Mido the most because he seems to have a method to his madness. He seems to be an optimist who is just trying to live his life to the fullest. I feel I can relate with Mido because I believe I am an optimist also. Though I don't lose my mind or spend the night at bars, I like his idea of writing from an experience, and by losing your mind you can get a very unique experience.
—Ally Braden, eighth grader
Paideia School, Atlanta Georgia

To be honest, I wasn't crazy about learning haiku. I simply thought it was three lines of unrelated words, but the farther I got in your book the more I realized that haiku was more than that. I didn't have a clue that you had to separate the poem in two parts, or that it didn't have to have five syllables then seven syllables then back to five. Your book really brought this subject to life for me.
—Sam Brasher, eighth grader
Paideia School, Atlanta Georgia

Haiku Guy is three books. One is a fictionalized vision of Old Japan in which historical haiku writer Issa (known as "Cup-of-Tea" in the story) takes a burgeoning poet named Buck-Teeth on as his apprentice. The novel also fades out into a memoir as Lanoue describes his experiences while writing the book, which often parellel what's happening with Issa and Buck-Teeth's tale ... The novel also pauses and becomes an instructional guide to writing haiku. All three of these elements flow in and out of each other almost seamlessly, making the book hard to ever narrow down into a single thing.
—Alex Degus
School of the Arts, Rochester New York

Hearing about your writing group was almost like going behind the scenes of writing a book. It was very entertaining to see your process. I thought it added interest, but I think it was an odd decision that worked really well in the end ... It is a good sign when you can say you learned something from a book. That generally means the book has done its job. I am very glad that this book was the book we did in Lit. I really found it a pleasure to read. I will certainly be writing haiku for a while.
—Laurel Bliss, eighth grader
Paideia School, Atlanta Georgia

One thing that Buck-Teeth had to do to become a haiku poet that Cup-of-Tea told him to do repeatedly is to stop, to look and to listen. If you stop, look and listen, you can find that haiku is in everything. Haiku could be in that annoying fly you swatted at early this morning. Or that bright, shining moon out in the starry sky. Haiku is anything and everything, like life is everything. You just have to look closely to find it.
—Marisa S. Schwartz, seventh grader
Paideia School, Atlanta Georgia

David Lanoue addresses his readers, explaining that haiku isn't just a writing style; it goes deeper ... it's almost a way of thinking.
—Ted Mosher IV
School of the Arts, Rochester New York

I am very glad that my teacher, Tom Painting, assigned us your novel Haiku Guy. I especially liked the three color-coded poets. I get that you were trying to take the three elements that make a person a haiku master and separate them. I also like the personal narrative that you put in the book. It kind of mixed learning about haiku with a fictional story line. ... Inspired, I have become a better haiku writer. Here is my favorite:

the old hermit
never leaving
mail collects
—Carson Race, seventh grader
Paideia School, Atlanta Georgia

I think you portray haiku in a way that even a beginner could relate to and come to appreciate and love. In Haiku Guy, I find your characters deep ... Buck-Teeth, Cup-of-Tea, even Chaz and Micky had me pondering your work. Every single character, to me at least, meant something greater to the whole plot.
—Dani Skatharoudis, 9th grader
School of the Arts, Rochester New York

From reading your book, the main thing I learned was "haiku shows not tells." Finally, my first kind of good haiku was captured while taking a walk in my neighborhood on a bright sunny day. I saw the clouds in between the branches, and thought: "Maybe I should put this in words":

filling the space
of the dry oak's highest branches
white clouds
—Gwen Van Meir, seventh grader
Paideia School, Atlanta Georgia

My favorite character in the book is Mido because he was really interesting and I agreed with many of his ideas (not the one about drinking). He seemed like a fun guy, and I don't really understand why hou had him die. Mido made me laugh a lot, especially when he said, "To be a poet you have to go out of your mind!"
—Pearl Sullivan, seventh grader
Paideia School, Atlanta Georgia

Haiku Guy received a "Special Category Honorable Mention for Haiku Novel" from the Haiku Society of America: Merit Book Awards 2000.

about the book
Also by David G. Lanoue...
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