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Archive for the ‘Individual collections’ Category

front cover

Bristol, RI: privately printed, 2008.

Pamphlet, 4.25×3.75 in (11×9.5 cm), unpaged. Free for s.a.s.e. to the author at 31 Seal Island Rd., Bristol, RI 02809.

Front cover image as at left (about 2/3rds life-size, depending on your monitor resolution and so on). Pretty neatly enigmatic, especially with the close-quote omitted, suggesting that there is more of the quotation inside.

With thanks to the author.

I’m particularly fond of small pamphlet haiku books, as their unostentatious size and format go nicely with the notion of simple and direct haiku, though of course haiku are not always so. And it encourages a one-to-a-page presentation, as found here.

After a title page with what appears to be a simple line drawing of one of the “pilgrim stones” mentioned in title and text, the booklet begins with a brief introduction to this subject, that is, stones that have migrated from one place or another to take up temporary residence in the author’s field of view, and more permanently in his poems. The first one:

ridge shadow
at the stream
with other stones

One from the pair at centerfold:

pebbled shore
she turns away
to breast feed

And one from about two-thirds through, that I happen to especially like:

quick-running brook . . .
a stone from the bottom
lighter than imagined

Nearly twenty haiku here, well worth the attention brought to their pilgrimage on the pages of this small piece received in the mail.

Bill

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[San Francisco]: Tangram, 2008. Hand-sewn, 5.5×8.5″, no page numbers, no price listed. (Colophon: “One hundred fifty copies printed from Monotype English O. S. on Zerkall.”)

With thanks to the author.

The cover image, I imagine by the poet-painter himself: a line drawing of a guy under a hat with a long staff, striding along, a moon looking down over a pine branch—maybe piñon? Hello, John, and a fine greeting this lovely letterpress pamphlet of poems, starting with:

First crocus
the nearest star
a little closer.

And then I notice, in finer type across the page to my left, the “Author’s note:”

When reading these poems, consider adding longer than customary silence between them, as if they were one to a page. Think of Miles on Kind of Blue, or Monk on Bags’ Groove, a hop-dwell-skip-jump across the middle of a stream.

Oh, yeah . . . Greetings, first crocus, hey, you remind me . . .

I leave off saying any more, here, just share a couple more, as usuall, randomly selected:

Travelers gone
the sound of the ferry
rocked by the sea.

Sky darkening
I fold a letter
before the ink is dry.

About 60 more, where those came from. And a deep bow to my traveller friend from El Rito, New Mexico.

Bill

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If you haven’t heard yet, note now that a haiku book, a small haiku book, all things considered, has been named one of two finalists for the extremely prestigious William Carlos Williams Award from the Poetry Society of America.

I won’t go into it all deeply here, except to say that I’ve just sent Roberta and Snapshot Press publisher John Barlow the following message:

Roberta, congrats, congrats, congrats! Obviously, you grabbed [Ron] Silliman’s attention not only with the well-crafted haiku, but with the carefully arranged sequence, their collective portrayal of a genuinely human reality that includes, but is obviously not limited to, what we might call “haiku stuff”. If all haiku books were so carefully crafted, we’d not have to ever make any apologies for our devotion to the genre.

This is obviously the way forward for haiku, in Japan and anywhere else, and your book becomes a guidepost along the way with this notice. Also, a bit of an answer to Paul Muldoon, Billy Collins, and others who would toy with haiku but not really enter what we might call haiku culture.

Brilliant. And brilliant, as Michael [Welch] says, that you took the initiative to enter the book in the PSA contest, for one of the most prestigious prizes in American poetry. Runner-up status here is akin to any ten awards in haiku-land combined, and more, a good deal more.

A low bow,
Bill

Here’s what this year’s PSA judge for the WCW Award has to say about Roberta’s book: http://ronsilliman.blogspot.com/search/label/Roberta Beary.

Glasses raised in a toast to Roberta, John, and Ron Silliman, from the Haikai Pub!

Bill

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Northfield, Massachusetts: Lily Pool Press, 2007. Art by Karen Fitzsimmons. Letterpress, sewn binding, 109 pages, 5.5×8.5″. ISBN 978-0-934714-35-8.

With thanks to the author.

Think beautiful. Think demanding, exquisite craftsmanship. Think words lifting from pages into our minds and hearts. Think “book”—in the finest examples you know of, the happiest marriage of text, type, space, and materials possible. (Think Ed Rayher at Swamp Press, and thank him for yet another stunning exhibition of his art.)

Marian Olson does not spew out haiku by the dozens to flood the desks of editors across the world, though many of the haiku and senryu in this substantial collection have been published in print and online journals and anthologies. And she graciously acknowledges several readers who helped her with “careful reading and suggestions on the working manuscript.” Thus, this book, like most well-made books, results from the careful, thoughtful work of its author coupled with a sense of community, a community of poet-friends and publishers and book-crafts people upon whom one calls for assistance with the things that matter.

Again, as is my usual practice, three poems from random openings of Desert Hours. This from page 29:

his eyes when he gives her black tulips

It is no accident that we call the active disk that controls light’s entrance into our consciousness by the name of a flower. A meditation on closely examined tulip superimposed on the iris of the eye, and all that these suggest beyond themselves, a gift. Then, from page 69:

the world having become
what it is
I plant a few bulbs

The poor we have always with us. Last millennium’s beggar in the marketplace has become today’s 24/7 cable news. Yes, we weep with Jesus. But if we do not plant? Ah, but we are not the only planters; here’s one from page 92:

wild irises!
the mountainside blues
in the early light

Understand, “blues” is a verb, here, if you hear it. See it.

And so, is that then the range? Topics from love, to world angst and meditation in the face of it all, to celebration of a glorious vision? Hardly. Here are two more to seal the deal, from pages 6 and 20:

the perfect apple
aaaaaaaon a branch
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaI can’t reach

all day circling
the one tree he knows
fledgling

The first, a self-revelatory senryu, the second a wry comment on a particular bird, on all of us, to be taken as haiku or senryu; depending on the mood in which we read it, it reads us.

In her brief introduction to Desert Hours, Olson says, among other things:

The meaning of pure beauty is looking into the moonless sky on a winter night seven thousand feet above sea level. Far from the air and noise pollution of low elevations, no other sky is like it. Moon and stars unlocked by night can bring a pragmatist to her knees.

One might be tempted to say “You had to be there!” I, too, have lived in Santa Fe and enjoyed the high desert atmosphere—my wife calls it “the place where air is made”—and might agree with that old expostulation. But, if you have memories of the place, its land, waters, sky, air, and people, you can bring them back with Olson’s book. And, if you’ve never been there, well, this collection is better than a day at the spa. All the richness of the physical landscape and the human and other lives that intertwine with it is here.

Not least, one enters Desert Hours through the portal of Karen Fitzsimmons’s striking cover portrait of a landscape, a seemingly natural melding of nearby hill, rivers in a valley plain, distant mountains, and clouds, yellow wildflowers in the foreground, and, oh yes, the remnant of a small house, or perhaps a morada, where some penitentes of the past may have contemplated the agonies of this life and the peace beyond it.

Thankfully, Marian Olson finds peace within it. But not without that sensitivity to our precarious situation which marks all true poets.

Desert Hours is available online through Santa Fe’s premiere book store, Collected Works (click on the link to see the cover, at the least!). Or it may be purchased from the author, at $22 postpaid:

Marian Olson
2400 Botulph Road
Santa Fe, NM 87505-5754

Viva Desert Hours!

Bill

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San Francisco, Blue Willow Press, [2006]. Perfect bound, 4.125×5.375″ (10.5×13.7 cm), 112 pages, $10.

With thanks to the author.

In 2004, I reviewed Fay Aoyagi’s Chrysanthemum Love for Modern Haiku magazine, and said, among other things:

Fay Aoyagi’s Chrysanthemum Love heralds what will hopefully become a new generation of America haiku masters. The poems are crafted, richly felt, and tactile as the first rain after a drought.

I think others expressed similar views at the time, and so I pick up her next collection with some hesitancy, hoping for no letdown. Of course, an author might well put out a next book with some hesitancy, too, after such a positive reception. We all want to think the next thing we do is at least as good as the previous success, but who knows?

Opening In Borrowed Shoes at random, three times, I find these:

on page 12:

to kill the pang
of sudden hunger
I open the atlas

on page 56:

letters offering
0% APR
lotus seeds pop

on page 93:

I will not let go
of the Dragon King’s tail
autumn sunset

Hmm! This random set certainly satisfies. I love the relatively obvious but so simply stated connection between hunger and an atlas, which now that I think on it works on more than one level. (Might one have turned to a page showing Darfur?) And even lotus seeds surely pop at the stupidities of our ever-present credit hawkers . . . but the lotus flower suggests another way of being on the planet besides always consuming this, consuming that, and building up debt. Lotus seeds, a better investment. Finally, I think I’m missing a reference here, as I don’t know any “Dragon King”—but imagining it a kite, I feel the tone of autumn in that pull, that wishing I could let go when I cannot, and yet . . .

I think Fay Aoyagi is still among the best we have. Now that I read more dutifully through In Borrowed Shoes, I see the reference(s) to Kurosawa, ponder movies I perhaps have never seen, though I have a set of his samurai epics from last Christmas; find myself leaning with her on a sun-hot wall on Hiroshima Day; count foreign numerals in my native tongue; see my eyes in a fearsome painting; find the connection between bitter fruit and bleached hair—and many more.

Like the haiku in Chrysanthemum Love, those in Borrowed Shoes seek a personal identity in the minutiae of the universe around us. And again, they nail us in the process. Who is Fay Aoyagi? Who am I? Ultimately, unknowable. But these are some of the clues. Here’s one to leave you with, from page 79:

Halloween—
I dress as the self
I left somewhere

Available from the author, $10 + $2 shipping (check payable to her):

Fay Aoyagi
c/o Blue Willow Press
930 Pine St., #105
San Francisco, CA 94108

More of Fay’s world of haiku online at http://bluewillowhaiku.com/. Note that Chrysanthemum Love, her previous collection, is sold out.

Bill

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New York: Vanguard Press, 1981.

Wow, that was a packed month! February saw Penny Harter and me giving readings in Pennsylvania, giving workshops as visiting writers in four different schools, attending a national conference in NYC, and judging regional Poetry Out Loud contests at two different venues–though we missed a third that was snowed out (rescheduled to this month). (Details on our “Events” web site.) And now I have a backlog stack well over a foot high to write about here.

I recently stumbled across William Heyen’s Lord Dragonfly in a nearby used book store, whose shelves I peruse once every 4-6 weeks. (Thank you Chatham Bookseller! Always a pleasure to look through your fine collection of good reading in excellent condition, on subjects like poetry, history, art, and nature, not to mention your fine collection of classical music CDs.)

I have been somewhat familiar with Heyen’s work for over 20 years, and particularly recommend his “An Open Letter to the Brockport College Community”, published in American Poetry Review in 1989, about the inanity of haggling over whether to include this or that work in the “canon” of what is taught, in a college English department meeting, when there is a fair possibility that the human species would be extinct within a hundred years. In that letter-essay, Heyen exposed an elegant unwillingness to suffer fools gladly, and a demand that we stay on point: Set aside partisan academic bickering and engage the true issues of the day that face all of us, regardless of age or occupation.

The brief “Note” Heyen includes at the front of Lord Dragonfly seems to me similar in tone, if aimed more at himself than, or equally, at the reader. It’s worth quoting entire:

Lord Dragonfly consists of five sequences of poems written between 1974 and 1979. I’ve arranged the sequences here not chronologically, but in an order that itself forms, it seems to me, a sequence of sequences, each a consciousness defining its crises, straining to know, coming to something it can hold to. There is a clearing in the white space between sequences, but then a circling back, if obliquely, until, I hope, Lord Dragonfly sees from all sides at once.

The title sequence, “Lord Dragonfly”, falls second in the book, but is central in its humanness, announced in the opening three-line verse, a haiku:

i.

A friend dies.
Another,
forcing the lilac to flower.

While not all of the verses in this sequence are “haiku” or even three lines, all are spare, and all revolve around a human awareness of the physical, natural world. Two more examples:

viii.

Pure white found
a wild rose to live in,
for now.

ix.

Half the mantis still
prays on my scythe blade.

Some more complex thoughts come across in longer stanzas, but not much longer. Here’s one, two verses from the end of this sequence:

xxxiv.

In the far galaxies,
collapsed stars,
yes, but here,
light escapes
even the blackberries.

Most of the other sequences here feature fewer than 36 verses/stanzas/short poems with more lines in each, though the round returns to a Japanesque 36 brief verses at the end with “Evening Dawning”. Here, too, haiku and haiku-like verses contribute substantially to the changes rung on nature and our life in it:

xxxv.

How long have I been here,
scent of pinesap
flowing through my chair?

Lord Dragonfly, seems to me, illustrates beautifully how haiku can enliven an ongoing self-examination that looks out at the world as well as inward at the light and darkness of a thinking being. It’s a book I’ll not soon let go.

Bill

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Portsmouth, NH: Single Island Press, 2007. 4.25×5.5″ (11×14 cm), approx 64 unnumbered pages, $14.95 from the publisher, 379 State St., 03801.

With thanks to Tom D’Evelyn.

With Shaped Water, editor, publisher and author Madeleine Findlay inaugurates her and Tom D’Evelyn’s “small press”* in fine style. From a four-color wrapper to the letterpress-printed interior in sewn signatures of deep cream Ingres paper bound in “Turner Blue” boards embossed with the book’s title, this book is a class act. Its one-to-a-page haiku, elegantly set in Pastonchi monotype by Ed Rayher at Swamp Press, speak quietly to inner places engaged with the outer world.

Some of Findlay’s haiku seem simple in the extreme, as in this almost uncommentable occurrence:

blown
across the kitchen floor
dead leaves

. . . but, on the facing page, we see that more is at stake in these poems, where each word approaches silent, subtle gesture:

out in the cold wind
I walk into my shadow
my back warm

But I have jumped ahead into winter, so let’s back up to see what we might discover in spring, toward the front of the book:

across the counter
and through a crack in the wall
snakeskin

Sounds like my grandfather’s old shed out back, where I found such things after a snowbound winter finally melted away and his worn hands sought tools for work in the soil.

This is a carefully crafted book in every dimension, a “year” to set above any other I know in haiku lately. A wonderful debut book for both press and poet. I’ll not give away any more of these poems here, but recommend that you check them out yourself. The price is low for a book of such quality, and there are only 200 to be had in this limited edition. Check it out further on the publisher’s web site: http://www.haikumuse.com/.

Bill

*Note: A “small press” is a publishing industry term that means a publisher who puts out only a limited number of books in a year, usually in editions of a thousand or fewer copies. Most purely literary publishers fit this description. Note also that the word “press” in a company name may refer to a publishing company, a printing company, or one that does both. Hence, there is nothing strange about having “Swamp Press” produce a book for “Single Island Press”. (Swamp Press also publishes fine letterpress books under its own imprint.)

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