The most famous Haiku by Nick Virgilio is the one engraved on his tombstone. It goes like this:
Out of the water…
Out of itself.
Notice that it does not follow the standard 5-7-5 haiku pattern. It’s more like 2-5-4. The president of the Nick Virgilio Haiku Association, Henry Brann, says the poet took American liberties with the Japanese form.
“He started out writing 5-7-5, which accurately describes the Japanese poem: 5 syllables followed by 7 syllables followed by 5 syllables,” said Brann. “But the Japanese language, they have sound patterns that include sounds for punctuation. So 17 syllables in Japanese could be expressed in 11 to 13 syllables in English.”
It was also the content of Virgilio’s poems made them distinctively American: he wrote about his hometown, Camden, and his brother, who was killed in the Vietnam war.
Virgilio died in Camden in 1989. Every year the NVHA stages poetry readings at his grave.
The new book, “Nick Virgilio: A Life in Haiku” (Turtle Light Press) contains about 100 never before published works. They are the tip of an iceberg.
Virgilio likely wrote tens of thousands of the tiny poems. The publisher of the new edition discovered Virgilio’s work at a poetry convention in Canada.
“That’s the first time I found out there were hundreds if not thousands of unpublished Haiku by Nick,” said Rick Black of Turtle Light Press. “You must be kidding — here’s a guy who is one of the best haiku poets in the country, and much of his work remains unknown.”
Nick Virgilio’s papers are archived at Rutgers-Camden University, where Black says only some have been sorted.
Here is a sampling:
the shadow of the bugler
slips into the grave.
Touching her sons face
with her hands in the moonlight
the blind woman smiles
Silent world series
over the play at the plate.