BASHO IN AMERICA by Sander Zulauf


Email this review


Perceptive and meditative haiku, primarily about the natural world and its effects on the poet’s imagination and perspective.

Early in this quietly exceptional collection, Zulauf (Where Time Goes, 2008, etc.) puts forth a sweeping but compact artistic vision for the haiku: “lightning bugs at dusk / fly too slowly to escape / running children’s hands.” Like fireflies, good haiku are luminescent and relatively easy to grasp, but they can also be electrifying to a receptive imagination, and Zulauf’s best poems accomplish all of these things. Set on New York state’s Lake George, these haiku capture, then release, moments charged with immanence and instinctual insight. The author contextualizes these moments in concrete, lived experience, often evoking multiple senses in a brief flash of 17 syllables, as in “pine island perfume / clings to the cicada’s song / like hot summer sun,” in which the almost oppressive sweetness of pine needles and the insects’ droning song mingle heavily under a blanket of stifling heat and blinding glare. The effect, which appropriately takes place in an imaginative space outside the poem itself, is almost overwhelming. This poem also shows the author’s willingness to adapt a haiku to the moment rather than the other way around. In the American tradition, haiku are typically limited to the natural world, as this poem is, but they aren’t metaphorical. Zulauf’s expansive uses of the form are even more apparent in his metaphysical musings (“one clock’s ten fifteen, / another eight fifty four— / which do I believe?”) and his nods to how experiences, even those of nature, are technologically mediated (“when i found basho’s / lake biwa on the internet / basho found lake george”). In his paradoxical freedom within a prescribed form, Zulauf most closely resembles his idol, Basho, one of haiku’s progenitors. And although Zulauf’s haiku are a little too self-contained at times—they rarely have the revelatory aftershocks so common in the works of Peggy Willis Lyles or Ruth Yarrow, for instance—their finished quality suggests, at least, a task completed, a well-earned rest and perhaps even a “yellow zinnia / temporary home to / sleeping bumblebee.” Overall, these poems are evocative conduits of the waves breaking peacefully along the shore of Lake George, which are echoes of Lake Biwa’s soothing murmur of “…peace…peace…” that inspired Basho himself.

Poems that are simultaneously traditional and cutting-edge.

Pub Date: Sept. 26th, 2014
ISBN: 978-1491742396
Page count: 52pp
Publisher: iUniverse
Program: Kirkus Indie
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1st, 2015


IndieRAGBAG by Elisabeth Stevens
by Elisabeth Stevens
IndieUNCLIPPED WINGS by Ramona Harvey
by Ramona Harvey
IndieTHE WONDER CODE by Scott Mason
by Scott Mason