THE NICK OF TIME: Essays on Haiku Aesthetics, by Paul O. Williams. Edited by Lee Gurga and Michael Dylan Welch. Foster City, CA: Press Here Books, 2001, 112 pp., paper ($12)

What is a haiku, really? How do we know one when we see it? Are English-language haiku less authentic than Japanese haiku? And how do we know if a haiku is bad? These questions are answered and more are raised in this important and delightful new volume of 16 essays by master haiku poet Paul O. Williams. His ruminations on the art, craft and love of haiku will go a long way toward furthering the discussion of what constitutes this ancient form today.

The book is aptly named after this quotation from Thoreau: "In any weather, in any hour of the day or night, I have been anxious to improve the nick of time, and notch it on my stick too; to stand on the meeting of two eternities, the past and future, which is precisely the present moment."

And precisely where haiku reside. In "The Burst of Haiku," Williams writes, "Haiku discovers the unusual and significant in daily life, shows it is not quotidian but often startling. Things happen. Haiku sees the astounding nature of these things, or the universality, or the fineness of quality there, or the uniqueness and significance. . . . We deal with wonders on a daily basis. It's a matter of astonishment, and haiku tends to point out that surprise of discovery we feel when we perceive these new dimensions."