Review: The Roman Empire in 100 haikus

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The Roman Empire in 100 haikus
Stuart Laycock

Amberley, £12.99
ISBN 978-1445693309
Review by: Matthew Symonds

Much has been written about the Roman Empire, but seldom in the form of haikus. Attempting to tell the tale of an enormously complex entity in 100 terse poems might seem to be an endeavour so obviously doomed that the outcome could only ever hope to be an amusing and eccentric novelty. But that is not the case. Restricting the number of subjects, and then further restricting the number of words that can be said about them, allows author Stuart Laycock to distil the Roman empire into what he considers to be its very essence. Like the overall concept, the choices are sometimes bold – two entries on both hairstyles and ancient celebrity culture, against nothing on Hadrian’s Wall – but they are also thought provoking. Seeing the empire laid bare in haiku form also gives it an unexpected freshness, even to those of us who sometimes feel like we’ve spent our entire adult life reading about nothing else! The haikus themselves are invariably well judged, trimming away extraneous material to get straight to the point. Somehow, they also find space to be funny, sad, foreboding, or poignant. Here’s one about the rise of Augustus:

From beneath the cloak
Of the Republic the boot
Of an Emperor

For those desiring just a little more information about Rome’s first emperor there is a follow-up paragraph – as with all of the haikus – putting some flesh on the poetry’s bones. It probably helps if you already have some grasp of the subject, but anyone seeking a truly original take on the Roman Empire will find much to enjoy here.

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