EU's "Haiku Herman" launches first poetry book

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The president of the European Union, Herman Van Rompuy, set aside politics to launch his first anthology of Japanese-style poetry on Thursday.

The European Union's President Herman Van Rompuy signs a book collecting haiku - three-line Japanese poems of just 17 syllables - he wrote, during a ceremony in Brussels April 15, 2010. REUTERS/Yves Herman

Dubbed “Haiku Herman” for his love of the 17-syllable Japanese verse form, the normally quiet and serious Van Rompuy smiled and cracked jokes as he read several of his recent compositions to a packed audience at the book launch.

“A poet remains best away from politics, at least in political action,” the grey and bespectacled former Belgian prime minister said of his poet-politician double life.

“In that sense I am a politician. A haiku poet rather than a haiku poet-politician.”

The 40 or so poems in the anthology, written over the past six years, are collated under chapter headings such as “seasons,” “moments” and “on the road,” with the tight verses focused intensely on nature and the passage of time.

“In a nearby ditch

Toads mating passionately

Inaugurate spring,” reads one poem.

“They changed the water

of the pond. -- A few dead fish

are left behind,” reads another.

Van Rompuy, 62, was chosen to be the president of the European Council -- effectively a president for the 27 countries in the European Union -- at a summit last November.

Since then his love of haiku poetry has come more prominently to light, with fan clubs emerging on the Internet and poetry masters in Japan taking note. He said there had been calls for him to publish some of his work and he had obliged.

In a preface to the short hardback book, only 2,500 copies of which have been produced, Van Rompuy said he was drawn to haiku for its simplicity, its compact use of language and its concentration on nature.

Haiku poems are usually composed of three lines of five, seven and five syllables.

“Haiku literally means ‘playful verse,” he writes in the foreword, which like the poems is translated into English, French, Dutch, German and Latin.

“Its artlessness invites both the poet and the reader to pause for a while and take some distance from the daily hustle and bustle, in which we hopelessly and all too easily get entangled.

“Moreover, haiku is brief, which is convenient for people who have no time to labor over long poems,” he wrote.

The book covers the politician’s travel snapshots from places such as Australia, India, Taipei and Tibet.

Van Rompuy said he hoped his book would inspire those for whom poetry is more than a pastime.

“Hopefully I, with this publication, might make it easier for the work of other ‘real’ poets to be published. Together we share a sense of beauty and simplicity if given the nudge.”

Editing by Steve Addison