Roads to the Interior

W. Hans Miller

Publisher: Pages: 132 Price: ISBN: 9781312362642 Reviewed: August, 2023

W. Hans Miller’s Roads to the Interior is a skillful homage to 17th century Japanese poet Matsuo Basho’s pioneering compendium of haiku and poetic travelogue, Narrow Road to the Interior.

The book is comprised of 96 poems arranged in two sections with seven additional poems included after the prose epilogue. While it’s significantly longer than standard poetry collections, its length effectively mirrors that of Narrow Road to the Interior.

Miller’s emulations are successful in style and spirit as modern-day reflections of Basho’s original project and Zen Buddhist sensibility. Throughout, Miller includes incisive descriptions and sensory-rich details from the natural landscape, such as: “From my perch on the fence I watch/ night bring snow for boisterous children” and “See them sit icebound in wintertime/ showing off their pretty sails,” as well as pithy insights like “Even Siddhartha had bad days” and “I pretend to sleep but there is no dream that will have me.”

Miller includes 12 poems titled “Haiku” well-spaced throughout, as evidence of his commitment to the poetic form Basho popularized. Numerous other poems not identified as haikus in their titles embody or riff elegantly on the form, as in the superb “Autumn Weeping”: “Many-colored season/ hides from auction./ Last leaf weeps.”

Miller’s collection is meticulously organized, acknowledging its debt to Basho in the opening epigraphs, note to readers and more. Yet while Miller is writing under Basho’s influence, his poems are decidedly not derivative. His work alludes to other artists and poets, including Milton, Blake, and Yeats, and he enhances his collection’s complexity with ekphrastic and epistolary elements, a cento (“Vincent Van Gogh”), and a concrete poem (“Paradise Lost”).

Miller occasionally veers into abstract and antiquated diction, as in “’Tis the Season to Rejoice,” but most of his poems foreground crisp imagery, lyric compression, and fresh insights.

This excellent collection is likely to hold great appeal for not only Basho scholars and haiku enthusiasts, but general readers as well.