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“…a tightly spun web of Maine haiku that do not lose their joint narrative and lyrical threads…if you want to reward yourself as a reader of good poetry, you can go no further than Lee’s book.” Alan Summers
All That Remains is both the title and the dominant theme of this book. After all, everything is in transition, and this collection captures intriguing aspects which we often neglect at our peril.
The book captures a bygone era, both in landscape on a broad visual scale, as well as on an intimate aural scale. Lee tackles landscape in original ways and deals with exterior/external and internal sub-themes.
The opening haiku works well as an introduction for the attentive reader on many levels, and is a clue for those readers who enjoy losing themselves into a good book.
no trespassing signs
where we used to play
There is the surface meaning of adults revisiting childhood haunts, and finding them changed; then delving deeper, there are layers of interior landscape as well as the physical geography of the countryside. We find how it affects the individual who almost always takes a personal geography of their upbringing to new places.
Do we allow trespassers into our own private interior landscape(s), and can we as a writer, even if we are actually willing to do so?
Lee attempts this.
Sense of place and identity are enduring and vital themes for writing in any genre, and perfectly suitable for haiku, the shortest of poems. One continuous theme is always a challenge whether for the writer or the reader. The writer still has to look for variety, especially in such a short poem choice as haiku.
Often haiku are composed with one very short first line called a fragment, followed by a phrase of two more short lines. Both sections usually create a juxtaposition of different, almost opposing images, jolting and jostling each other to create friction, tension, and resonance, for the reader to enjoy and interpret.
If the fragment is flat in textural meaning, and looks merely thrown in to start a haiku off, there is no frisson for the reader to get hold of, and shake, to see what comes out for them. There has to be a reward for a reader willing to enter into a contract with a writer. A flat fragment that doesn’t kick-start results in mundane formulaic layouts and templates, that are ultimately frustrating to the discerning reader, especially if they have paid good money on trust as part of that writer/reader relationship.
the shore ledge covered
by rock weed
Here the fragment pulls us into the haiku, and the phrase apparently goes away from the subject. But does it really?
Remember the opening haiku, no trespassing?
Do you want to be covered in rock weed, eventually to be choked. The subtle choice of reading this as a metaphor is offered, whether by design or not. I tend to think Lee writes direct observational haiku with a constant subtext to reward her readers. There are as many layers to a well-delivered haiku as there are labyrinthine layers to family secrets themselves.
how he lied
the missing names
of all those faces
tri-folded coffin flag –
dry leaves in a corner
of the empty pool
Do we need coffin and empty, are they not redundant due to the clear diction derived from the other words? As soon I read ‘tri-folded’ I knew it would be the American flag on a coffin, possibly for a military ceremony. Dry leaves would obviously be in an empty pool, not a filled one. But sometimes, even though haiku need not repeat the obvious, it can be a useful device when deployed thoughtfully, and when the author isn’t really, merely, repeating themselves, and the obvious.
“By the repetition of words the reader is encouraged to shift them around and consider various possible interpretations of the scene…It goes without saying that in order to work it must be done with considerable skill, or sensitivity.”
"Repetition - For Meaning and Melody" Florence Vilen (Sweden July 2001)
This haiku is both a time-honoured shasei model where direct observation is utilised: where the power and echoes of an instant’s sentient experience of a moment is carried forward and plunged into the editing process of a draft verse to emerge as haiku.
Shasei is often the technique borrowed for film-making, where a particular object (e.g. coffin) is zoomed in, then panned out, or away, to be zoomed into another area (e.g. leaves in a pool corner) leaving layers to be excised by the reader/viewer.
Death is the natural and only definite part of life, and we should never be surprised by that fact, and eventuality. Generations of families can disappear if death is not replaced by birth and an ongoing gene pool.
Is this what the author is implying?
Perhaps the tightly crafted openness and accessibility is a gift for the reader to take more from the poem if they wish to go beyond the surface meaning. Lee’s poems are rarely one-dimensional, if ever, and most proficient writers respect their readers too much to cop out in such a manner when composing haiku. A successful haiku is multi-dimensional, and there are many in this collection worth re-reading and exploring further.
My only criticism is that although there are many haiku directly or indirectly using sound, there are scarce mentions of taste and smell.
Is this a problem? I don’t think so, it just makes me want to embrace a companion volume from this author. I would love to give Lee an excuse, and reason, to capture the smells of home-cooking, at the house, and out on a (possibly rare) picnic, and packed meals for those tilling the land.
the old farmer’s
Good haiku can often work on metaphorical levels as we’ve discussed. Not every haiku needs to have a poet looking for a metaphor of course, as a reader or as the author. Well crafted haiku work on other levels for their readers, and it’s the layers of meaning, beyond the presentation of words first delivered to the reader, that make it a haiku worth reading, and re-reading again and again.
A haiku needs an audience, and that audience should be rewarded if they use diligence in their reading. This is the case with Lee’s work: a tightly spun web of haiku that do not lose their joint narrative and lyrical threads that delightfully entrap the most discerning of readers.
If you want to reward yourself as a reader of good poetry, you can go no further than Lee’s book.
The anthology showcases seasonally focused haiku from its members; a summary of winners from the Tokutomi Memorial Haiku Contest (2010); haibun; and essays.
Ann Bendixen’s fine interior art as folding inserts open out into larger pages that work as fine art subject dividers: a great idea, and very practical. An idea of her dramatic and effective touch of colour is shown with the full colour book covers.
I would like to state that this is a most beautifully put together book by a great team, and my only regret, and worry, is that the book may have already sold out but I see on their homepage that a second printing has been authorized. Do check the Society’s home page on a regular basis, and even ask if you can get advance orders, it will sell out!
So many haiku to choose from, but here are a handful:
a cloud slips away
from the moon
his oxygen tube
stretches the length of the house
Deborah P. Kolodji
it too has come to ruin
under the cherry tree
By way of a review I will be addressing one essay in particular as it covers a contentious subject, possibly even deemed controversial in some quarters.
This Editors' Greeting that introduces the anthology includes this paragraph:
The first three essays concern our core tools. Patricia J. Machmiller discusses the considerable value of the kigo. In 2010, she led several one-day seasonal workshops to study the use of the kigo in haiku. Her essay "Kigo: A Poetic Device in English Too" opens the essay section because the kigo is the bedrock of our study. Anne Homan, lead-editor of the San Francisco Bay Area Nature Guide and Saijiki (first published in 2010) shows us the importance of a saijiki (a kigo dictionary) and YTHS's process of constructing one. Deborah Kolodji addresses the ginko (the practice of writing haiku while walking).
The anthology's title is from a haiku by Patricia J. Machmiller:
the little child
wanting only to be held—
For anyone not familiar with Patricia J. Machmiller:
Machmiller approaches the subject in an intelligent open manner, giving a clean clear introduction about kigo for those new or even familiar with haiku.
She explains that kigo (plural and singular spelling) are devices used in haiku and renga and are symbolic of a season, and hold the power of allusion to literary, religious, and historical references. This simple statement holds a key, if not the key, to the ongoing debate whether non-Japanese writers can be allowed to use the kigo device.
Kigo have had two histories, one of a poetical device that resonated deeply with writers before, during, and shortly after Matsuo Bashō, on a level that may have included a genuinely deeply felt emotional set of triggers and insights for both writers and selected readers. But which readers, of what socio-economic or cultural background? Was kigo limited to aristocratic circles and later also to the emerging and dominant merchant classes of the new middle classes?
Bashō made renga and its starting verse of hokku (later to morph into haiku) more accessible, to a wider audience. But were the ordinary working class members able to be allowed access to enjoyment of haikai literature (namely renga, and standalone hokku, later haiku) and its devices including kigo?
My preamble is to wonder whether the kigo was purely an academically created and driven poetic (literary) device privy to just an elite, perhaps articulated in an exclusive manner from working class people’s awareness of the natural world around them via their agrarian ties. We know that the post-agrarian society entering the industrial age had access to writing implements, and paper and card, and may have utilised seasonal words and phrases in their greeting cards and letters, as well as poetry, but were these the same as kigo, or early naïve attempts?
The second history is of the increase of centralising kigo despite Japan’s different climates from the South to the North of its islands. Bureaucracy decreed that kigo became regimented, and pre-eminence given to those that related to the environs of the old capital of Kyoto, and the newly emerging capital of Edo aka current day Tokyo.
Is kigo really the Japanese people’s collective consciousness, and so all non-Japanese people must be excluded? Or the secured preserve of a few?
We know that hokku and haiku began to be readily available under two American actions, the mid 19th Century arrival of US black ships brokering an end to isolation for Japan and opening up of world trade; and the 1945-1952 Occupation of Japan after WWII. Japanese artists welcomed these actions and embraced Western art, which influenced haiku poetry, and of course the West were introduced to Japanese art including poetry.
Why the resistance regarding haiku’s most potent tool, namely kigo, when haiku already started to absorb some Western techniques under Shiki? Would we, should we, insist that Japanese writers desist from writing Italian (or English) sonnets if they so desired? Of course not, and at least sonnets in English have been done.
I wonder if the mystification of the Japanese people by Westerners is bordering on not only mistaken beliefs, as if the Japanese people were separate from all other cultures and races, but encompasses patronising characteristics which are disingenuous, and precariously close to an odd form of inverted racism.
The West is a larger group of poets than ever before, and joined by those in other nations, who look to Japan’s haiku as one kind of inspiration or another. The one great strength of Japanese haikai tradition is to share, and the non-Japanese nations also share by reading each other’s work unless there is censorship imposed on them.
These last two verses sum up my own approach to poetry, where I long ago left my early misinformed isolationist stance, and fear of contamination, so common amongst many poets first starting out; where we avoid the influence by others, of whatever nation or race.
It is a difficult world.
Each word is another bruise.
This is my nest of weapons.
This is my lyrical foliage.
We know poets concern themselves with form (or genre) with its shapes and techniques, and yet out of all forms and genres of poetry worldwide it seems there is almost an embargo on haiku with its most telling technique, that of the kigo. Where it is common practice in poetry to utilise and adapt new and old techniques from other lands, it is almost seen as verboten, and actually anti-Japanese to use kigo, and label it as such. I feel that both Bashō and Shiki would have been perplexed at this block in a poet’s attitude, and a potentially dangerous chink in their arsenal.
Merely calling something a season word or a seasonal reference, if a non-Japanese writer attempts haiku, could be misleading and unfairly limiting both to writers and readers of haiku outside Japan, especially if the word(s) go beyond just the spelling out of a season.
I agree with Machmiller when she says:
“…I do not believe that the Japanese have a lock on kigo…”
Unlike Machmiller I feel it’s time to make saijiki (the kigo dictionary) a regular actuality in countries where there occurs a large number of haiku and renga writers. This process needs to be fluid and inclusive: not an exclusive club for elite literati to dictate to lesser mortals. As well as potential new strains of inverted racism, I worry that an ongoing inverted snobbery has gone on for too long both in Japan, and in the West. Or is it misguided rose-tinted spectacles placed on a fainting goat?
Machmiller states how certain words and phrases in Western culture already operate as kigo. I don’t intend to quote or reveal any more of Machmiller’s essay, as I want the anthology (in its entirety) to be part of many a haiku poet’s reference library.
On a final note, it seems that the terms kigo and its partner term kidai are Post-Isolation Japan:
“After haiku became a fully independent genre, the term "kigo" was coined by Otsuzi Ōsuga (1881-1920) in 1908. "Kigo" is thus a new term for the new genre approach of "haiku." So, when we are looking historically at hokku or haikai stemming from the renga tradition, it seems best to use the term "kidai." Although the term "kidai" is itself new—coined by Hekigotō Kawahigashi in 1907!
Itō, Yūki. The Heart in Season: Sampling the Gendai Haiku Non-season Muki Saijiki, preface in Simply Haiku vol 4 no 3, 2006.
This was reviewed in:
Notes from the Gean Vol. 3, Issue 3 December 2011
Lynx: A Journal for Linking Poets XXVII:1 February, 2012
AWARD WINNING ANTHOLOGY
Wild Violets received Haiku Society of America’s Kanterman Prize Honorable Mention for Best Anthology 2012.
The judges, Carolyn Hall and Christopher Patchel, said
“This very attractive book (made so by a beautiful cover and foldout Chinese brush paintings by Ann Bendixen) includes two poems by each of 57 member poets, as well as haibun and informative essays by well-known haijin.”
Fay Aoyagi’s haiku collections are a must for anyone serious about haiku, in my
opinion. Fortunately for anyone who has missed out on her earlier work we have the
extra bonus that her latest collection also includes a Selected Haiku section
showcasing work from both of her previous collections.
David G. Lanoue has this to say about Aoyagi in his featured essay for Modern
In recent years San Francisco poet Fay Aoyagi has been exploring what she calls
“the inner landscape” with the same keen focus and subtle perception that traditional
poets of haiku bring to birds, flowers and the moon.
David G. Lanoue further states:
Personally, I believe that haiku is about discovery: the deeper the feeling of
discovery, the better the haiku, in my opinion. In a great haiku we sense the poet
finding out something in the process of composition, not reporting on a thing that has
been previously mentally digested.
Aoyagi’s first haiku collection was a landmark book when it looked worryingly
possible that haiku may finally, at least in English, become dried up like one of those
tumbleweeds you often saw in Westerns
to show a town had died, become a ghost town. That’s what seemed to be the final
logical outcome until books of the refreshing quality as in Chrysanthemum Love
appeared. Tumbleweed:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tumbleweed Aoyagi had this to say about her work, in the introduction to her 2003 collection
If you believe haiku must be about nature, you may be
disappointed with my work. There is a lot of "me" in my haiku. I write very
subjectively. I am not interested in Zen and the Oriental flavours to which some
Western haiku/tanka poets are attracted. I love the shortness and evocativeness of
haiku. I don't write haiku to report the weather. I write to tell my stories.
Aoyagi doesn’t do weather report haiku yet she still harnesses kigo in both her
Japanese and English-language haiku:
Saijiki are a treasure vault of kigo and sample haiku and I rely heavily on saijiki
when I write haiku both in Japanese and English. Moon in the Haiku Tradition essay by Fay Aoyagi Bill Higginson put it very forcefully, and unfortunately I agree with him. I’ve seen all
too often that formulahas become mistaken with form. Although in recent years,
along with Aoyagi, there are promising signs that haiku in English have never been
Yet, for years now, I have had the feeling that our haiku community was somehow
steering off in one or at most two narrow directions. On one road we have the Zen-
imbued notion of the haiku as a momentary blip on the screen of our lives.
other, haiku becomes a tool in the hands of the satirist, unfit for serious composition.
The yeastiness of that implicit conversation among the formalists, the anti-formalists,
the Zennists, the nature writers, the inventors of senryu on our continent, the haiku
psychologists, and the damned-if-I-won’t-do-it-my-own-way innovators seemed to
have dried up.
Book after book of same-o-same-o haiku seemed to come pouring from
the burgeoning presses of our haiku community, as well as occasionally from some
larger press. This is not to demean the numerous collections of fine haiku that have
appeared. Just to say that there seemed to be little coming out that was outstandingly
fresh or developing a truly world-class richness and variety in our fledgling tradition.
Chrysanthemum Love by Fay Aoyagi
reviewed by William J. Higginson Modern Haiku Vol. 35.2 (Summer 2004)
There may appear to be a lot of jockeying at present about who will be remembered
as a haiku writer, outside of Japan, on a world stage level. I would suggest, whether
you are new, or a seasoned reader, to haiku, to search carefully which books you add
to your haiku library. If you are a writer of haiku as well, only quality reading will
inform your own writing. Bill Higginson touches on this, in his important review of
Aoyagi’s first collection.
At the same time, new books on Japanese haiku should have been broadening our
view of haiku. It seemed as though Makoto Ueda’s greatest masterpiece, Bashô and
His Interpreters (1992), and the eye-opening Chiyo-ni: Woman Haiku Master by
Patricia Donegan and Yoshie Ishibashi (1998) had fallen under bushel baskets.
Where were the poets taking heed, building into our haiku the new richness and
diversity of even older Japanese haiku that these books revealed?
Chrysanthemum Love by Fay Aoyagi
reviewed by William J. Higginson Modern Haiku Vol. 35.2 (Summer 2004)
There are few haiku writers who can harness, seamlessly, the old and the new, or can
break out of a perceived mould of what a haiku should be, and what a haiku writer
should be. All I can say is look out for them, and keep their books close to your side,
and be particular about which haiku books build and increase your library.
I have my own list of authors who I see as the real thing, and some writers know that I
include them, and I am always on the lookout for new exciting writers. I have high
expectations after the stop start developments of the 1990s. Although the 21st
Century is still new, barely over its first decade, we need more writers of Aoyagi’s
qualities to cement haiku in the West as a true tradition, and not as a strange
experiment. Bill says:
Fay Aoyagi has lassoed and galloped beyond most of what we have learned about
how to write American haiku in five decades, and opened the way to a new century.
Chrysanthemum Love is a stunningly original book and a whole collection of “my
favorite haiku”—I hope you’ll make it one of yours. I guarantee, it’s the real thing.
Chrysanthemum Love by Fay Aoyagi
reviewed by William J. Higginson Modern Haiku Vol. 35.2 (Summer 2004)
Aoyagi is the real thing, and I urge you to beg, borrow, or steal her earlier collections,
and if you are quick, you can even purchase her latest collection.
Just a few of her haiku, but you’ll find youself both reading from cover to cover, and
dipping in and out. The book is a pleasure to hold and look at, and is a suitably
convenient size and shape to find permanent residence in a coat pocket.
low winter moon just beyond the reach of my chopsticks
who will write my obituary? winter persimmon
a specimen of my dream sent to the lab
father asks where I intend to be buried
slow ceiling fan
a town hall meeting
of the pet shop goldfish
for the budding willow
Beyond the Reach of My Chopsticks
New and Selected Haiku Fay Aoyagi
Blue Willow Press
The collection was a winner of both the Touchstone Book Award 2012 (The Haiku Foundation) and Mildred Kanterman Memorial Merit Book Awards 2012 (Haiku Society of America)
John Stevenson’s haiku “the reversible jacket” prompts me to feel there is, in many of us, only one side of that jacket we show to the world for work and play as we go out in a costume, even when there is no fancy dress party.
I always show
Often we only show the other side of that jacket to a chosen few. This author takes us on a multi-faceted trip round that side yet avoids the pitfalls of over earnest outpourings, of burying us in an avalanche of self-confessions that would require a mountain rescue dog to save us.
seated between us
If this wasn’t enough, we can learn we are the core of our own material: those intimate themes within the circumference of our body space that provide resources to write for ourselves: the author writes “so much/of what I do/involves my body.”
Some of those resources from this will be poignant, painful, awkward.
could talk to anyone
I know for a fact
the bottle’s half empty
Of course there are weaknesses in the collection, although intriguingly I’ve come back to them, and found I’m reducing them one by one. There is a cohesion to this collection, and possibly outside that structure one or two haiku aren’t strong enough to stand on their own two feet. At 92 haiku and senryu; fifteen tanka; one renku; and two haibun I defy anyone to keep such a low count.
This book is divided into two parts: Live; Again. I’ll be going back to this book again and again: sometimes to dip into, sometimes to read cover to cover. It won’t always be easy…
I put myself
in the shoes
of a dying friend.
He’d moved on by then
in his bare feet…
stares at me.
If I could
I’d have a look too.
John, I think you allow us to do just that from time to time:
we might as well build
An earlier version of this review was previously published in Blithe Spirit, Journal of the British Haiku Society; and haijinx IV:1 (March 2011)
Live Again is John Stevenson's third full-length book of haiku and related forms. The author has served the Haiku Society of America as President; Treasurer; and Editor of Frogpond, its international membership journal. He is currently managing editor of The Heron's Nest.
A statement says: “Earthlings is a thematic chapbook of 40 haiku by Allan Burns with artwork by Ron C. Moss.”
I would certainly say that a collection of 40 haiku is plenty, and that 70 is a good absolute maximum. Earthlings is the haiku eBook collection by Allan Burns, and the first individual collection released by Muttering Thunder that released the nature-writing anthology of the same name. His collection opens with a quote from Henry Beston, author of The Outermost House, and Robert Spiess, the much beloved past editor of Modern Haiku magazine (USA) which place the collection into its theme.
Burns is a nature writer where living (and sometimes dead) natural history become a companion:
prairie dog skull–
the attendant’s jumpsuit
darkened by sweat
All of the haiku have been previously published, and an earlier draft of the collection received an Honorable Mention in the Turtle Light Press Haiku Chapbook Contest.
“In a world older and more complete than ours they move finished and complete…they are not underlings; they are other nations…fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth.”
after the owl
an owl-shaped hole
in the cloud
Burns is highly knowledgeable about nature, and knows only too much about the trials, tribulations, and interactions of what we patronisingly call wildlife, or even animals as if we, the humans, are a species outside it. I personally feel we are just a parallel life-form and one with a penchant for many things good and bad that carry an impact on our fellow travellers. Fortunately Burns carries his impact, on the water planet we mysteriously call Earth, with haiku, where its powder is always dry, and he never tries to shoot, incapacitate, or capture, but shares beyond and ‘outside the common human mindset that we own and control nature’.
How far has the human species travelled on this planet with its words? Burns’ one line haiku:
far along the desert road a man under his hat
And if that is Burns on the desert road, he thankfully doesn’t keep his haiku under his hat for long. His “I” subdued haiku reveal the nature around him so that we experience the natural history for ourselves accompanied by the vivid art work of Ron C. Moss.
Burns commences the collection with this poem - a scene I imagine he saw many times, but perhaps always as if for the first time, again:
the asters trading
This brings me to a feature of some of the best haiku, and that is, if we use verbs are they merely per-functionary vehicles for carrying our concrete imagery? Haiku has been called the poetry of nouns, and perhaps as a practice verbs are required to be unobtrusive, although poets outside haikai literature thrive on its vivacity, where they share at least equal status with all other words and devices.
Should haiku be informed by verbs and by how much? Bob Spiess says no, that the verbal function can be taken over by other words, and well, yes, I agree. I admire haiku using the agent of nouns to present action and elements of our senses from “one to five”, and those senses in and on our peripheral. Well placed verbs that sit outside the neutrality expected of them within haiku can bring out astounding juxtaposition, revealing what our honed peripheral senses can reward us with:
one of the shrub’s leaves
is a katydid
This is a collection that doesn’t depend on a single trick, and the use of verbs has brought up some startling scenes that inform strong nature writing not limited to a safe and perceived world of wildlife, and a out-of-sightedness of what we do to our fellow citizens:
the caged chimpanzee
injected with hepatitis
This collection isn’t about otherness, it’s us recognising that we are part of “them”, that there is no real them and us or them or us; that we are not above or outside the rest of nature, that we can engage with the rest of ‘us’ via small eco-poetic hits like haiku verses:
ill this fall day…
a crow softens peanut shells
in the birdbath
Reporting the news has become a sinister trade embellishing what Joseph Goebbels (Reich Minister of Propaganda in Nazi Germany from 1933 to 1945) developed from the past, to the demise of one newspaper that was finally exposed as being far from the news of the world. Haiku is such a potent reporting tool: It can connect us to the small snippets that humans are in the bigger picture of things. Nature may be tooth and claw, but opposable thumbs give us space, just as one of my opposable thumbs creates space by tapping the space bar on my computer.
What will become of us as we wonder less and less about nature, and what stays with me, and resonates, is carried by the verb in this haiku:
what’s to come of us…
long into the night
a fox screams
As at least one U.S. State has outlawed/criminalised the mention of climate change on the planet, we do need to connect with our partner denizens, and haiku is a wondrous and beautiful way for us to consider connecting and re-connecting while we still have time.
the tanager drinks
his own red
We are all earthlings on this spinning floating rock and liquid thing called a planet which is, after all, one very large life-form in its own and collective right:
a migrant owl rests
on an earthship
I look forward to further collections from this author, containing such memorable scenes of natural history, where we can consider ourselves proud to be part of the earthship crew.
Published by the British Haiku Society's journal Blithe Spirit