Saturday, September 22, 2018



Hay(na)ku 15 edited by Eileen R. Tabios
(Paloma Press, Meritage Press, and xPress(ed), San Mateo / San Francisco / Finland, 2018)

Flipping Through
Hay(na)ku 15—A Commemorative 15th Year Anniversary Anthology
What can you say—really say—in just six words? When poet Eileen Tabios first introduced the hay(na)ku in 2003, I admit I was only politely intrigued. Six words, three lines? I thought. That’s kind of neat. I failed to realize how enthusiastically poets would respond to the form, and of course I never would have imagined that fifteen years later I’d be writing a review of Hay(na)ku 15: A Commemorative 15th Year Anniversary Anthology. But here we are.
The official definition of the hay(na)ku, as shared by Tabios in her introduction to the collection, says it is “a tercet-based poetic form [that] presents the first line as one word, the second line as two words, and the third line as three words.” There are several variations on the form including reverse hay(na)ku, the chained hay(na)ku sequence, the haybun, and the ducktail or rattail hay(na)ku. All of these variations, plus many others, make appearances here. One more thing: to fully embrace the notion of hay(na)ku, I believe the reader must know that its name is a riff on “hay naku,” an endearing Filipino expression that in today’s parlance translates as “OMG!”
I found that the best way for me to engage with this collection was to simply—pun intended!—flip. Several contributors explore the fraught political climate both in the U.S. and abroad. “This tortuous year—/hope dashed/daily” begins Luisa A. Igloria’s “Reverse Hay(na)Ku Reinstating Hope.” The hay(na)ku sequences of Iris Lee, Abigail Licad, and Eunice Barbara C. Novio excavate similar ground with their images of resistance, walls, and wrongful death. Jose Padua also takes up this theme in “Five Broken Hay(na)ku on the Theme of America.” Here, each tercet is composed of the same six words. I’m taken with the way this additional constraint allows the poet to nudge meaning this way and that. It’s like looking at the same view out of different windows:
was my
first broken heart
heart was my
first broken
America heart
was broken first
my heart when
America was
is broken
in the heart

Glimpses of nature offer a counterpoint to the disillusionment brought on by our current state of affairs. They also call to mind, of course, traditional haiku. This poem, written by Ivy Alvarez, plays like a silent film. And I love the way the sound of susurrus/brushing and bamboo/roof play off of each other in the second tercet:
races me
up the hill
of bamboo
brushing the roof

I found myself returning several times to this evocative piece from Lauren McBride. It leaves a trace of salt on my skin:
seashell spirals inward
enclosing ocean

On occasion, a note from the editor or the poet will appear at the end of a poem. Sometimes these are notes on form, translations, or terms that may be unfamiliar to readers. Occasionally they take a playful turn when, for example, the poet offers an alternative way to read the poem or, in the case of poet Amy Ray Pabalan, a confession that she misread the definition of hay(na)ku and so used variations of one, two, and three syllables rather than lines of one, two, and three words. The appropriate response to this can only be: hay naku!

I’ll end with a poem that I found unexpectedly moving. Written by Gabby Pascual Bautista, who was age 5 at the time of composition, it’s a set of simple, plaintive questions:
About the Hug
I wanted
What about the
Words I

This brings immediately to mind the 12,800 immigrant children currently held in detention with the blessing of a corrupt US President and his complicit administration. Upon re-reading, Gabby’s poem expands to include us all because don’t each of us—no matter our age—spend much of our lives asking a version of these very same questions?


Veronica Montes is the author of Benedicta Takes Wing & Other Stories (Philippine American Literary House, 2018). Connect with her at