Book Review

Hillary Clinton Haiku by Vera G. Shaw

This isn't a real review of a real book, IT'S SCOTT ON SOCIAL ANXIETY!!!

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I’ve picked an odd time to read this, but I’ve had this proof copy of a novelty book of haikus about Hillary Clinton sat on my pile of books since just before the disastrous – though (imo) inevitable American Election last month. Having read and reviewed a different book of novelty haikus a couple of months ago, a friend who works in publishing slipped this one to me on a weekend morning after he’d beaten me at a game of squash. (That is not a joke.)

Obviously, it was written and packaged and printed to be sold alongside Hillary Clinton’s (now failed) presidential campaign and was released in time for Christmas last year. A stocking filler, if you will. There are around 75/80 haikus here, all of which – from my counts of a few – fit the classic 5/7/5 haiku syllable count. In terms of utilising this ancient form in its traditional style, Vera G. Shaw’s collection makes use of one tenet of the historic style, frequently breaking other “rules”. Few of these poems work, thematically, as a haiku, i.e. many are not a singular image/idea evoked succinctly. Hillary Clinton Haiku is not a work that has been produced in expectation of a deep and involved literary review. It’s a coffee table book and/or a “toilet” book, it’s a trash bit of throwaway fun that isn’t meant to be read and reread by an adoring fan of literature, it is instead something meant to be smiled wryly at whilst waiting for someone to take a shit, or while taking a shit.

Whichever room in the house Hilary Clinton Haiku is destined to be left in, it is not a book that will be carried around and avidly read, page after page after page, during a commute or over dinner. No one is going to be late for anything because they were reading Hillary Clinton Haiku, though someone – someone like me – may use Hillary Clinton Haiku as a block, an excuse, to not go somewhere, to not do something. “Oh, I didn’t come out because I was reading,” I often anxiously say, whereas what I anxiously meant was: “I was reading because I couldn’t come out.”

Social anxiety is pretty destructive.

There are several ways to deal with it, but even the short-term, bad, ones involve engaging with it head-on.

Being vocal and communicative on the internet is not the same as being free and confident in real life: my open behaviour online doesn’t help me feel less anxious when in public. Being intoxicated is a foolish cheat to escape social anxiety: although the anxiety may evaporate on the occasion you’re forcing yourself to attend, all the inevitable social faux pas you make play over and over in your head for days, weeks, months, YEARS afterwards. Not seeing people, ever, doesn’t help with social anxiety either because then there’s even more internal pressure on the occasions where you are forced to leave the house. You miss things you want to attend because you’re scared of making small talk, you often don’t do things that require a tiny bit of interaction because you’re scared of that tiny bit of interaction. You avoid the cinema because you have to speak to at least one person to get from the street to your seat, even if the ticket machine is automated. You avoid buying more groceries than you can fit into an automated bagging area because you’re scared of how the cashier might judge you. You avoid driving because you’re scared of strangers getting annoyed by your presence on the road, you try to hide when you’re on public transport which is absolutely impossible, you apologise a thousand times a day even though you’ve been trying to train yourself for years to not constantly apologise. You sometimes behave obnoxiously on purpose because it’s easier to knowingly make people dislike you than it is to risk making them dislike you because of who you actually are. You lie and misrepresent yourself out of shame, you’re so desperate to avoid talking about yourself that you don’t ask other people questions you wouldn’t want them to ask you, and as this includes most classic small talk questions it’s a real problem. When people ask you how you are, you want to tell them, “Bad, really bad, I’m thinking about suicide all the time again and I’m worried about this, this, that, this, that, that, this, that” but you know that’s unacceptable, so you pretend to be far more jovial than you are and people end up thinking you’re either a morose saddo if you’re honest or a smug upbeat dickhead if you try to behave how you think people are meant to and it’s fucking exhausting either way. Every single interaction with every single person occurs within an intense system expecting judgement for doing the wrong thing or the weird thing or or or And b/c ur worrying about everything so much you do fuck up, you do do bad interactions, and these ones just chain themselves to your fucking conscious and confirm all the thoughts you had before you left the room you sit in to watch Netflix and cry, or sit on the toilet for half an hour reading a book of fucking novelty haikus to celebrate an election that’s already over and the fucking baddies won.

I don’t think the world is a nice place to be. I find it tense and stressful being with other people, being alone, being at work, not being at work, being… But there’s no escape, no escape at all, it doesn’t stop, it doesn’t end, it doesn’t pause and it doesn’t get better. You can hide from reality either by disappearing, by dropping out of society, not seeing anyone you already know again or anyone new twice. You can spend your whole life staring at screens and pages and your dog, but is that fulfilling, is that happiness? No. Happiness is the sense that tomorrow might be better than today, or at the very least it will be as good as today, but that’s only reassuring if your today was a day you were glad you experienced.

///

Hillary Clinton Haiku cheats at haikus, because pretty much every single one uses the title as part of the poem. Some titles are long and almost all of them refer to an image, an idea or an object that is not then mentioned within the body of the haiku but are essential to its understanding. The title of Shaw’s haikus functions as an extra line, an undisciplined line that she can extend to any syllabic length she wishes, thus rendering her project as false and justifying my dismissal of the collection as not real literature. Yeah, it’s fun, it doesn’t shy away from controversies w/in Clinton’s life, but it breaks its convention frequently and knowingly. That is why I didn’t read this collection twice, as I am confident in my judgement that this frothy book isn’t meant for real discussion. It’s a toy with words in, it’s unpretentious. (Appropriate illustrations by Emmy Reis throughout.)

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