In my great, misguided desire to track down every obscure English-language Godzilla book I could find and review them for Toho Kingdom, one day I stumbled upon this poetry collection, Godzilla Attacks A Truck, for an exorbitant fifteen dollars on Amazon. Too expensive, I thought. But it's the only copy available, I said to myself. And that title is hilarious, I continued. What if it's something wonderful, a collection of genre poetry, focusing on Godzilla characters? How can I pass this up?
I should have passed up Godzilla Attacks A Truck. This unfortunate publication, put out by a publishing house the author Louis Cuneo started himself, is almost as insultingly bad as Godzilla is in Purgatory. I don't understand how this is fine haiku, let alone fine poetry. And only the titular haiku has anything to do whatsoever with the Big Guy.
Alright, I admit, I am not an expert in haiku. I have only had the briefest training in the form in college. I know that the art form focuses on syllables, with three lines altogether—the first five syllables, the second seven syllables, and the third five again—and that the subject matter focuses on nature and the seasons. The reason haiku pays such close attention to syllables is because of how written Japanese works. Japanese, outside of kanji, is written with syllabaries, with each written character representing a singular syllable. (Kanji is a different matter I won’t go into here.) Thus we have か, which is “ka,” し, which is “shi,” ゴ, which is “go,” and even ん, which is “n” by itself, which functions as a standalone syllable in Japanese when written with that character. Thus the rules of haiku are tied to the language. There are those who argue that true haiku cannot be written in English. After reading Godzilla Attacks A Truck, I start to agree with the critics.
At the beginning of the book, Cuneo explains just what haiku is (sort of like I did above, minus the language explanation), and goes on to say that haiku written in America “can be more experimental and less traditionally influenced” (1). What this seems to mean is that you can write just about anything, so long as it’s short and within about three lines, and call it a haiku. Thus, we get examples of poetic beauty and insight such as:
you have made it
whole day. (3)
in yourself. (19)
Cuneo is doing some interesting things with eccentric spacing, but this doesn't seem to add much meaning to his writing. Instead, we have incredibly banal comments on life or even commonplace pithy statements. I am baffled as to how this can be passed off as great poetry, poetry that someone actually expects folks to pay money for. I mean, according to the subtitle, these poems were specially selected from all of Cuneo's haiku work between 1972 and 1980. This is his top-notch stuff! His best work! And yet we get drivel like "have faith in yourself"? Anybody with functional English could write this junk with no prior training, in about thirty seconds. I honestly don't want to tear apart Cuneo in this review, but I just expect more from poetry that I am paying for.
Now, Cuneo does a few interesting things in his poetry. I like some of his nature-related works (revealing my bias), and one of his poems has become something of an in-joke between my younger brother and me. He also includes a “short story” written in poetry, but which actually includes a misspelling. One comes to expect the occasional misspelling in novels and such, but not in poetry, because every single word counts when you are putting a poem together. Everything is supposed to contribute to the meaning, and that is doubly so with a syllable-counting style like haiku. The overwhelming impression I got was of carelessness on the part of the author.
One more thing: While reading this book, I came across a page where some kid scribbled a drawing of a fish on the page, and then signed his name under it. It's a poorly-rendered fish by any measure, and I was less than pleased to find my poetry book defaced in this way.
Then I discovered that the fish is supposed to be a “haiga,” which, according to the back cover, is a form of “Zen art,” and that it was rendered by Cuneo's son, Pablo. I did some minimal research online to find out what a haiga is, and it turns out to be a picture meant to accompany haiku, apparently often drawn with the same brush used to compose the haiku. I scanned the pages of Cuneo's that include the haiga, but I can’t help but think Pablo didn’t draw the fish to accompany anything particular in his father’s writing. Instead, I would imagine Cuneo included the drawing because it fit his theme of “being a kid,” which is also where the one Godzilla poem comes in:
Godzilla attacks a truck
then it falls,
boy at play.
The writing instructor in me wants to yell “IT?! That’s an unclear referent! We don’t know if Godzilla falls, or if the truck falls! Write your poem again!” Funny thing is, Cuneo has been (and perhaps still is) a writing instructor as well, and, of course, poetry often disregards normal rules, so long as, by disregarding those rules, a literary effect is established. If Cuneo intended his effect to be coming across as lazy, he won.
For Godzilla fans, Godzilla Attacks A Truck is nigh worthless, and for poetry fans, well, I can't speak for them, but I wouldn't think this book would prove very fulfilling. The entire volume can be read in less than twenty minutes out loud, and doing so is a bit depressing. Next time Godzilla attacks a truck, I hope the outcome is a bit more exciting, and substantial.