Complex Echoes: A Review of North Lake

First published in Modern Haiku 37:1, Winter-Spring 2006. See also In Front of a Boundless Ocean: Foreword to Pacific.


North Lake by Ce Rosenow. Hillsboro, Oregon: Mountain Gate Press, 2004. 72 pages, perfectbound, letterpress (by Swamp Press). ISBN 0-9643357-1-9. $15 postpaid from the author at 815 E. 28th Avenue, Eugene, OR 97405.


One can be drawn back to a book because it is a thing of beauty—a finely crafted object with tactile effects from its paper stock, colours, and weight. One can be drawn back to a book because of the tone of the place to which it takes you—the feeling of satisfaction, contentment, or an amplification of some lonely or exalted sense of where you were, or were moved to, when you first consumed the book.

        Ce Rosenow’s North Lake is such a book, and it is easy to be drawn back to it. It is a finely crafted object, yes—letterpress refinements of laudable pleasure. The poems, too, are finely crafted—individual and sequenced haiku that appear unassuming yet linger like a robust wine on the tongue and in one’s nostrils. One feels not just the taste of individual poems but the underlying and complex echoes from poem to poem as flowers, birds, the moon, and water in various forms reappear throughout the book—made different each time by the varying way in which objective wind casts its subjective ripples.


                the water’s surface


                a fisherman casts in the rain


The word “broken” in this opening poem from the Spring section slows the reader down, not just for the sake of this poem, but for the entire book. We are subtly brought to attention, like the fisherman casting his line, as we break the surface of the book by entering it. Yet is it us as readers who have broken the surface, or is the natural world already doing that, like the rain upon the water, and we are merely there to witness it?

        North Lake is a place in Washington state, a little south of Seattle. It is where the author grew up, a place that has “shaped the poet,” as Phyllis Walsh says in the afterword. As Walsh notes, Ce Rosenow is “not only a sensitive observer . . . but interacts with the natural world she inhabits.” These poems are records of that interaction, records, as Walsh also notes, that “take on the quality of rituals.” The sense of ritual arises from reverence and recurrence, most prominently evidenced by water appearing in more than a third of the book’s sixty poems.


                wind in the pampas grass

                                  the rowboat strains

                        against its mooring

                                                                                                                                cleaning trout

                                                                                                                                in the late day heat—

                                                                                                                                blood beneath his nails

                deepening with nightfall


                against the fishing boat’s bow


Rosenow quotes a poem by Cid Corman to begin the Autumn section, in which he declares that “Water is a shrine.” Indeed, we can sense a reverence for water throughout this book, and it extends to the way the common and everyday is worshipped by each poem, regardless of subject.

        Flowers and birds also recur prominently (each about ten or so times). Here is one of each:


                my yard                                                                                                limbing the fir—

                my neighbor’s yard                                                                         eagle’s perch

                camellia blossoms fall into each                                                 falls to the ground


Yet, as shown by these two poems, other themes recur—in this case, falling, a return to the earth—beyond the surface subjects of flowers or birds.

        The echo could be loss or absence, as in these poems paired on the same page:


                Christmas Eve—                                                                               missing you—

                hanging her ornaments                                                                 windows rattle

                without her                                                                                        with the wind


Or the subject could echo after a separation of many pages:


                striking a match                                                                                power outage—

                to another candle                                                                            vanilla candles

                All Hallow’s Eve                                                                                 dripping wax


Or it could be the shape of the poem that satisfies by judicious repetition:


                crocus                                                   mini                                                       first

                bud                                                        a                                                              sky

                                                                                ture                                                       stars

                its                                                           rose                                                       fad-

                tremble                                                                                                                ing

                                                                                dew                                                       into

                beneath                                               drop                                                      dawn


                drops                                                    on




        Whatever the echoes, they often lie beneath the surface of the poems’ objective descriptions, and also echo within us as readers, resounding with our own experience, our own memories of time and place that are as personal for us as North Lake is for Ce Rosenow. Fortunately, North Lake is never too personal that we cannot enter. And once within, the poems often compel us to plunge well beneath the surface. As Phyllis Walsh observes, “The reader comes to feel North Lake is not only an appealing place to visit in these haiku, but to embrace in one’s own inner space.” Enter this book once and you will be readily drawn to enter it again to hear its complex echoes.


                autumn chill—                                                                                   starry night:

                drawing the axe                                                                                    the Shetland bites into

                against the whetstone                                                                       another apple