The winsome Japanese verse form can restore a sense of delight and creative adventure to jaded hearts, according to this poetry primer and anthology.
Mason, a poet and editor of the online journal The Heron’s Nest, offers haiku as a cure for “the subtle ways in which our culture and times estrange us from wonder.” It’s a popular form because of its friendliness to poets and readers alike: three brief lines (or occasionally two or even one), with no confining rhyme schemes or meters. (The iconic 5, 7, 5 syllable pattern can be broken at will.) The resulting bite-size poems go down easily, but, the author argues, they pack great power within their diminutive expanse. He discusses haiku in the framework of Zen aesthetics, illustrating with poems gleaned from The Heron'sNest. Haiku portrays the Buddhist principles of focusing on the ordinary and small-scale (“last night’s rain / cupped in a banana leaf / a small green frog” by Ferris Gilli) and finding a world in a grain of sand (“city sidewalk / colors swirl in a bubble / of spit” by Brenda J. Gannam). They capture life through rapt sense impressions (“autumn evening / the clink of carnival rings / on empty bottles” by Chad Lee Robinson). Evanescent and usually in present tense, they abide in the moment and evoke large meanings from concentrated images (“in the rest home lounge / the silent piano / its line of cracked keys” by John Hawkhead). And they traffic in everyday mysteries (“soap bubbles / how softly mother / bursts into laughter” by Kala Ramesh). Mason situates haiku in opposition to a Western mindset that perceives objects as discrete and atomized. Haiku, by contrast, flows from a holistic Eastern worldview that sees everything as connected, in which “our perception of boundaries…starts to give way.”
Debut editor Mason includes nearly 500 poems in this sparkling anthology, showcasing the extraordinary versatility of moods and subject matter haiku can address and the vividness of its stripped-down but potent imagery. There are many landscapes and nature scenes (“winter hills / with each boot crunch / the scent of sage” by Jo Balistreri) as well as lyrically grungy urban tableaux (“dumpster / the iridescence / of starlings” by Bill Kenney) and suburban nightmares (“suburban darkness / only the rumble / of garbage can wheels” by Robert Forsythe). There is sensual intimacy (“click-clack / of the bead curtain— / the sway of her hips” by Sandra Simpson) and social satire (“singing gondolier / the passengers’ / fixed smiles” by Kay Grimnes). There is birth (“circle of lamplight— / I complete the baby quilt / begun for me” by Carolyn Hall), aging (“sudden winter / the press of cold metal / against the paper gown” by Beverly Acuff Momoi), unbearable sorrow (“hot afternoon / the squeak of my hands / on my daughter’s coffin” by Lenard D. Moore), remembrance (“her last words / snow falling / on beech leaves” by Jeff Hoagland), and enigmatic hope (“she said she’d return / as a seagull / which one” by Mason).
A superb haiku collection for readers who thought they didn’t like poetry, richly expressive and very accessible.
A collection of poetry focuses on everyday beauty and wonder.
Over the course of 50 poems with straightforward titles, retired high school English teacher Hathwell (Between Dog and Wolf, 2017, etc.) explores the world around him. Nature is a touchstone of his poetry. In “Poplar,” he expertly describes the titular tree “catching a breeze, flutter sage and silver wings” while in “Sunflower,” he lingers on the “wide blank face” of the “saddest flower.” The author also showcases culture in his poems. “Fred’s Girl” is a propulsive ode to the Fred Astaire–Paulette Goddard duet in the film Second Chorus, and “Sunday at the Symphony” captures the ethereal experience of live classical music. But the poems aren’t limited to the author’s immediate surroundings. A visit to the Spanish Steps, where Keats died in 1821, is the subject of “Readiness Is Everything,” which encourages readers to “imagine the world without you.” Hathwell plays with humor in “Dust Is Winning,” about the futile fight to keep things clean, and shows his cynical side in “Red Dress,” which describes the “ruby radiance” of an ensemble depicted in advertising. The act of writing is another recurring theme in this collection. “Song” depicts a successful writing day, in which “I rise from my desk, / Majestic, and I dance,” while “Sure Thing” warns readers “that language is prepared to lie / When you ask it to.” Quiet moments are also rich material for the poet. Throughout, he matches his message to the pacing of the poem, creating an immersive experience for readers. In “Finding Myself in the Morning,” readers sink into Hathwell’s serene, solitary scene where he can finally “not wonder / who is speaking, or what comes next.” In “Ten O’Clock,” the audience can sense the descent into a “deep, forgiving sleep.” The one flaw of this collection is its breadth. Because everything from Astaire to flora is fair game, the individual poems don’t always flow from one to the next, and transitions can be jarring.
Like the demigod from which it takes its name, Defining Atlas is a durable, uplifting volume.
A strong current of self-affirmation, self-love, and self-confidence runs through this work, and readers will come away feeling their spirits improved. We feel some of this current in the clever “Limited”; Michaels takes the titular subject and turns it on its head: “I’m new, but I’m old / Not limited beyond my means and methods / But limited because I’m special / Special beyond the heavens and everything that surrounds me / That I’m among…limited.” Elsewhere in “From the ashes…I am,” he sings a hard-won song of renewal and rebirth: “I am victory in its rawest form / I am hope that never conform / I am the will, the drive, and the truth / I am like everyone, like you.” But Michaels does not hoard specialness or victory for himself; he wants it for his reader too, and in “Wake Up!” he urges us on toward a bright future: “There’s something good here for you / Your purpose can never be defined by just one blue / Your destiny awaits you.” Underpinning Michaels’ stirring message is a strong faith in God, whose presence infuses many of the poems here: “But I always thank God for the latter / For the strength and will it takes / Shines so bright / Shines so right.” Michaels often adopts a loose scheme of rhyming couplets, and this decision leads to one of the book’s few weaknesses. Too often, the poet picks awkward or odd pairings; e.g., “And if I could become a perfect saint / I would make believers out of the ones who say they ain’t” and the “you/blue” couplet mentioned above. But such missteps are infrequent, and they don’t dim the warm light that emanates from Michaels’ fine volume.