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Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Fay Aoyagi and Beyond the Reach of My Chopsticks - A Haiku Collection Review by Alan Summers

(photo by Garry Gay) 

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 Haiku:
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.

Something with Wings: Fay Aoyagi's Haiku of Inner Landscape by David G. Lanoue, 
Featured Essay, Modern Haiku Volume 40.2 Summer 2009

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.


Aoyagi had this to say about her work, in the introduction to her 2003 collection Chrysanthemum Love

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 formula has become mistaken with form. Although in recent years, along with Aoyagi, there are promising signs that haiku in English have never been healthier.

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. 

On the 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

plum blossoms
a specimen of my dream 

sent to the lab

simmering tofu–
father asks where I intend

to be buried

slow ceiling fan
a town hall meeting
of the pet shop goldfish

pastel-colored day
a password
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)   

Fay Aoyagi's website: 

This review was published:
Notes from the Gean Vol. 3, Issue 3 December 2011

A shorter review was published in 
LYNX XXVII:1, February, 2012:

1 comment:

S.M. Abeles said...

S.M. Abeles said...
Yes, love Fay A. Thanks for posting Alan.

high summer moon
just beyond the reach
of my roach clip

-- S.M. Abeles (after Fay Aoyagi)
Saturday, July 04, 2015