World Haiku Review, Volume 7, Issue 1, March 2009

Book Reviews, March 2009



 

Jack Fruit Moon 

by Robert D. Wilson; 

published by Modern English Tanka Press, Baltimore, Maryland 21236, USA;  pp. 204; ISBN 978-0-9817691-4-1; preface by Dr. Steven D. Carter; forward by Sanford Goldstein.

 

Review by Saša Važić

 

 

You've known me for years, better than anyone else. That's what Robert says. And I stop to think.... Never seen that man. Does he even exist? Could be as I used to get a coltrane's e-mails with a bulk of haiku, tanka, haibun... almost every day for some two or three years... I did not even have time to take a breath, to calm down my feelings. It was almost unbearable. The e-mail man never asked how I felt nor such a banal question as is: do you like my poems? I used to call him shadowman....a man from the shadow during those days. He had nothing against each other... So, we agreed. I know him.

 

 

almost 60

this gnarled tree reminds

me of an old

man riding a bicycle

in his underwear

 

 

I first encountered Robert Wilson at the door of Simply Haiku, he owns and edits (my thoughts about its uniqueness and quality are presented in an interview I did with him for Haiku Reality). And I thought: just the right thing... as simple as haiku... as simple as is Robert, though he may appear weird to many who are unable or unwilling or haven't had a chance to sense his inner being shaped by so many, to him mostly difficult, experiences -- inward and outward --, but also by fresh moments when he becomes one with everything and everyone -- within and without.

 

Most of us know the story: Robert used to live both in the USA and the Philippines (now only in the latter), Robert suffers from Vietnam War related post traumatic stress syndrome, Robert was first introduced to haiku by his late father, Robert fell in love with Japanese short form poetry at first glance (and it has never left him, contrary to... what/whoever may think), Robert does not attend conferences, Robert was a teacher for "thrown away kids" (as he puts it in his Introduction to the book)... This is the background... Experiences, impressions, images, hard and light moments, dreamlike or reality-like have been written themselves in the first palpable, paper world of a tanka/haiku book – Jack Fruit Moon.

 

When I read it, and I'm reading Wilson's book again, I've also been reading The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy at the same time, I am sure I can bring these two books into connection. Just as the story of the latter is light and "made possible" and real in the way it describes the destiny of our small planet and its inhabitants' behavior and speaking while a few of those chosen from human and "out-of-earth" species travel through the galaxies as if there is nothing strange in that, so are Wilson's dreams, shadows, nightmares, sufferings, pains, inexpressible joys, encounters with the living and the dead... Everything is possible; nothing is impossible; his endless search of his own self and safety in his unstable and ever-changing - for the worse or better - worlds.

 

 

i settle with

the dust, a pile

of leaves

swept away

into tall whispers

 

 

trees . . .

i reach past them

into heaven

 

 

is that you

sitting on the

star above

me crawling out

of a dream

 

 

 

In his poems he opted for what he is – a shadowman – a dreamman – a nightmareman – an emphaticman – a memoryman – all of us are or could or might be. The problem is, the difference is, the fact is -- he dares be what  he is. 

 

Memories and keen desires attack him from all sides, every single moment, in every situation. No matter where he really is – in time and/or place. Things slip from his hands, things slip from hands of others:

 

 

i step

into this tree

sprouting leaves,

knowing they

will fall and wither

 

 

ants carry

pieces of me

into a

story i'll write

later between moons

 

 

 

ebb tide . . .

half a world

away my

reflection sings

to you in mirrors

 

 

 

there you are

midway through a

dream, telling

me the moon

is made of paper

 

 

One may say, especially those who view themselves as authorities on Japanese short form poetry, that many of Robert's haiku and tanka are not in line with the prescribed policy. Too many metaphors, allusions, illusions, imaginaries, reminiscences? I'd say just the opposite. Art must develop or it dies.... Robert has created two original things: tanka/ haiku strings and the way of expressing past moments/memories/reminiscences/dreams/...in the present moment. As for the first, it will be obvious to those who have read or who will read the book. When it comes to the second, nothing is past if it keeps hunting us day and night:

 

brown water . . .

watching death float

between my legs

 

 

summer heat . . .

an empty-eyed

woman plods

past me into the

gecko's mouth

 

 

Even when he writes about "normal" things we all normally write about, he does it in his own, "twisted", way, with unexpected turns. He asks the reader to stop and deeply think about what he/she reads, sees and feels:

 

 

at midnight,

a dead mouse lighting

lanterns

 

 

the morning

sky hovers  

over me, weighted

down with the gray

eyes of vendors

 

 

a small mound

of dirt, the stillness

of words

caught between a

siren's echo

 

 

Living in the Philippines, his everyday encounters with and empathy for, first of all, the poor who he has labeled "the invisible people," lead to many touching poems. He wants to warn the world, to call its attention:

 

 

 

he fishes

inside of a

still born moon

mumbling words he

can't remember

 

 

 

still water . . .

the stench of a

newborn moon

 

 

 

she sleeps through

noon on a cement

slab scented

with peanuts and

stale memories

 

 

I cannot recommend this book as the one you can learn from. We can only be grateful to Robert for letting us into his world. And his world is not limited to Earth only. The universe is boundless, we all know that. His poems flow, fly, collide with each other through space and time. If dare enter Robert's boundless world, be warned: it won't be easy. You will have to take a firm running start and fly off to capture them.

 


 

ZenRiver Poems & Haibun

By Chris Faiers

Hidden brook Press (www.hiddenbrookpress.com) 2008

ISBN: 978-1-897475- 25-6

perfectbound, English language, $15.95 CDA

 

Reviewed by Terry Ann Carter

 

Shaving his head and donning the robes of a Zen monk, Matsuo Basho and his travelling companion and fellow monk, Sora, set out on a journey between Miyagino and Matsushima, Japan, in the spring of 1689. From early 1690 into 1694 Basho wrote and revised his “travel diary” Oku-no-hosomichi the narrow road within; the narrow way through the interior. Oku-no-hosomichi is much more than a poetic travel journal. Its form haibun combines short prose passages with haiku; yet, the heart and mind of this little book, its kokoro, cannot be found simply by defining form. His account grew out of arduous studies in poetry, Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, Shintoism and some very important Zen training. Basho was a student of Saigyo, a Buddhist monk-poet who lived five hundred years earlier (1118 – 1190), and who is the most prominent poet of the imperial anthology, Shinkokinshu. Like Saigyo before him, Basho believed in a co-dependent origination, a Buddhist idea holding that all things are fully interdependent, even at the point of origin.

 

And like Basho before him, Chris Faiers, an English language haiku poet, meditator, custodian of a Buddhist retreat, ZenRiver Gardens, believes in the interdependence of all life, the reflective power of creative meditation, the reverence for walking and dreaming. Faiers, a long time devotee to the Japanese literary forms of haiku and haibun, has established himself as a haijin (teacher/poet) and leading voice in the haiku community. His poems have appeared in forty anthologies and scholarly works including those published by McGraw-Hill and Simon & Schuster. His poems have been praised by major Canadian poets Al Purdy and Irving Layton. Even George Harrison (of Beatle fame) enjoyed his poems in the late 60’s.

 

Faiers’ newest collection, ZenRiver Poems and Haibun is a little book filled with a large heart mind (kokoro) spirit. Although Faiers is the main contributor, there are selections also by Stan White, Warren Fraser, James Deahl, and Katherine Gordon. The book consists of an introduction, seasonal haibun, and three haibun written during an earlier period: A Psychedelic Basho, Lavenham, and Formentera.

 

The haibun is a literary form that consists of a short prose piece concluding with a linked haiku or a longer prose piece with interspersing haiku; haiku being that (often) three lined (or shorter) seventeen syllabled (or shorter)grasp at the aha moment. January Thaw, although not the strongest piece in the collection, serves as an introduction to the poetry and to the new year to follow. Filled with temperature reports and the antics of his beloved dog, Chase, the first haibun concludes with a haiku by Warren Fraser, containing a beautiful image of snow drifting by sumacs. It is not until Faiers heads into Hangin’ With Bubo that things get really interesting. Faiers’ description of the Ontario trails near the old quarry hamlet of Malone and references to Buddha, sundogs (parhelions) and rainbows, reminds a reader of the grace of his mentor, Basho, and the linked haiku

 

Buddha so beautiful

a veil is required

 

becomes stronger with each subsequent reading.

 

The haiku sequence titled Crow Visits Wolf includes haiku and haiku-like poems. Perhaps the Zen presence is giving way to words like “consciousness” and “blue sky practice” appearing in haiku when (traditionally in North America) abstract notions have been omitted. blue sky mind crow call/ Milton Acorn? might have been better suited to a longer homage to the Canadian people’s poet.

 

In Snow Melt Meditation, Faiers’ explains his meditation, “ to not slow down the process with any rituals of any kind ...” and later “I’ve been practicing meditation for forty years, as long as I’ve been writing haiku. Sometimes I’ve been a devout and regular meditator, but more often meditation lightens my “monkey mind” thoughts... occasionally I compose poetry during inspired moments entering or leaving a session, and every now and again, I’m privileged to sit with the Buddhas.” We are privileged to join Faiers on his self exploration, his experience of white light, as he writes, “the river carrying the white lightness of the spring snowmelt so bubbly and fast flowing.”

 

As the haibun move through the seasons, so we as readers progress through daily meditations and reflections. Not a morsel goes unnoticed by the keen senses of this finely tuned poet. We find great blue herons, shaman carvings, haunted pumpkin walks, palm frond reflections, the flap of prayer flags, the carcass of a frozen whitetail deer. One of the finest haiku in the collection is this one:

 

dry leaves

fill the basin below

moss covered falls

 

With its allusions to opposites (the dry leaves, the waterfall) the presence of absence, the shape of the dry basin clearly outlined against the growing moss covering fallen stumps which gives its own olfactory resonance, this haiku captures an ordinary moment with extraordinary skill.

 

If the seasonal haibun give us glimpses of Faiers’s thoughts as he hikes (present day) through the ZenRiver Gardens with his trusted companion Chase, then it is the ending haibun that give us great chunks of his heart as an earlier poet, a peace activist during the Vietnam War era, a traveller in Britain with an aging father, an explorer of the remote and mysterious island of Formentera, off the coast of Spain. It is in this last piece that prose becomes its sweetest and the linking haiku, a gem.

 

“The next day we roamed around looking for a place to rent. This was a dharma time for me, and I met an American who was about to return to the States. He offered to let me rent the crude farmhouse he had been living in, as he still had a month’s rent left. I paid him a few hundred pesetas, and Mette and I prepared to move in the next day. The farmhouse was stone, and beautiful in a rustic way. There was a well in front, and the name “Maria Jerome” painted over the front door. There were only three rooms, a kitchen, a bedroom and a den with an open fireplace, but to us it was a mansion. “

 

constellations

of sesame seeds

in honey

 

As in every poetic collection since the beginning of written time, some offerings are stronger than others. Faiers is a poet of constancy; he keeps true to the lineage behind him and the vision he sees in front of him. He is quick to add his own twists and turns, even keeping a keen sense of humour (frogs croak/spring horniness/April Fool’s Day). The kokoro of this little book is mighty.

 

Terry Ann Carter is a haiku/ tanka poet who travels the world with a small spiralled bound notebook. She has composed poems in the rainforests of British Columbia, the mountains of Peru and Tokyo Central Station. She participated in the Basho Festival in Ueno, Japan, in 2004 and has given readings in Canada, the U.S., Japan, Taiwan, China, Singapore. Her poems appear in haiku and tanka journals world-wide.