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BOOK REVIEWS . SASSY: A COLLECTION OF LINKED POEMS by Alexis Rotella and Carlos Colón TAMARACK & CLEARCUT by Marianne Bluger JUMPING FROM KIYOMIZU: A HAIKU SEQUENCE by David Cobb BACK TO CONTENTS PAGE

SASSY: A COLLECTION OF LINKED POEMS

by Alexis Rotella and Carlos Colón 8 ½ X 11", paper, stapled, iii + 29 pp.; Tragg Publications, 1998, $10.00 ppd. Available from Carlos Colón, 185 Lynn Avenue, Shreveport, LA, USA 71105-3523 Picture a bold black title and bright yellow cover with a silhouette of a shapely woman on the run in high heels, papers spilling from her briefcase. An image that perfectly complements title and the fast pace of links in this collection. When two voices blend especially well, a renga is not only a joy to read but the resulting work often stands out above others. Such is the case with Alexis Rotella and Carlos Colón who are in perfect harmony, their links fresh and surprising. Twenty linked poems await your pleasure: renga, experimental renga created by Alexis Rotella, a tanka renga, and a comical poem of only three links that will leave you chuckling. In fact, humor is here in abundance but also moments of beauty, sensuality, sadness. But serious moments, like small butterflies, touch briefly before giving way to more humor. From "Mardi Gras Parade" : zen concert an air guitar slightly out of tune (CC) "I missed you so much" he cries then doesn't phone (AR) midnight sprinkler my neighbor's maple tree dripping with toilet paper (CC) twelve pelicans cross the sky one for each sign (AR) In this collection, several linked poems consist almost or entirely of verses with end stops. To this reader, they tend to stall otherwise swift transitions. Much preferred are those that flow as smooth as warm pudding, such as the above renga. Another favorite is the theme renga, "Sassy." A few teaser links: SASE the prolific poet pulls another from his teetering stockpile (CC) a stack of notes from Haiku (who think they're) Greats (AR) in a gunny sack just outside your door my deflated ego (CC) the crone with a long nose cackling back at crows (AR)
Alexis Rotella's brief and unusual renga forms are here as well. Briefly, rengaccio is a five-link poem about politically correct, foot-in-mouth, or embarrassing situations; rengatto is a nine-link poem with the mention of a cat therein; rendango consists of seven links that mentions a dance. Instructions on how to write each of these forms are included here. Altogether, these frisky poems frequently left me laughing out loud, and do so every time I go back to this delightful collection. The perfect antidote for whatever ails you! – reviewed by Elizabeth St Jacques TO TOP OF PAGE

TAMARACK & CLEARCUT

by Marianne Bluger Photography by Rudi Haas, 1997; paper, 96 pp., color photos, ISBN 0-88629-293-X. Carleton University Press, 1400 CTTC, Carleton University, 1125 Colonel By Dr., Ottawa, ON Canada K1S 5B6. $27.95 (price includes 7% GST). Who among us doesn't dream of having a coffee-table edition of our haiku? For Marianne Bluger of Ottawa, an internationally known poet with twenty years of experience as a haiku poet, it has become a reality with this slick 11" X 8.5" book. Among Marianne's haiku that are neatly arranged on smooth semi-gloss pages with ample white space between each poem, are full color photographs by the distinguished photographer Rudi Haas. Haas' work has earned numerous commendations, including the prestigious Art Directors Gold Medal Award. Quite a team. The book's unusual title, "Tamarack & Clearcut," appropriately symbolizes the positive and negative aspects of nature and humankind as illustrated in the four segments of this collection, each section subtly reflecting a season: Leafsmoke, Winter Dusk, Loam, and Early Evening Pieces. It is also appropriate that, as in life, these haiku lead us in a renga-like exploration along straight, ascending, descending and curved paths which add a pleasing balance to this collection. On these paths, we share Marianne's world in and around Ottawa (the poet's birthplace and Canada's capital city) as well as surrounding pastoral areas. Most of Marianne's haiku shine brightly with clear images and gentle flowing lines. An example from each season, beginning with Autumn: a scorched smell – burnt fields in the rain the boulders steam with the tip of her cane touching fresh snow New Year's morning a whiff of loam and the sun on my neck suddenly warm in ink-dark night resting my paddles to drift on floating stars Such haiku (and there are plenty) successfully arouse the senses and emotions, each poem speaking volumes. And delicate images, like the following, delight the mind's eye: resting on my shovel a swallowtail cloudy afternoon a white chrysanthemum just one thin light only the shadows of snowflakes But Marianne Bluger's attention is drawn not only to the pleasantness in life; she is very much aware of the darker aspects of reality: t.v. gunfire the sleeping child's eyelids flutter stiffening on frost-curled leaves a fawn's corpse But she usually counters with visions of hope to remind us that even amid devastation, life continues: mad shadows – a moth at the porchlight – I grip a cold key evening falls through his drowned grove a beaver glides a maple key spiraling into the gorge where a Chevy rusts While the author shows deep compassion in most of her work, it's unfortunate that a few haiku come across as lacking sensitivity, which I have no doubt is unintentional. For example, "bald from chemo/my friend Diana/a laughing Buddha" Also, had "dress clinging/sandals in hand – I walked/through the warm rain home" been presented in the present tense, I feel it would be more effective. Other times, the poet seems to try too hard, as in "all night/the spring rain/soaking my dreams." For the most part though, Marianne Bluger's haiku are tremendously satisfying and rich in content. Rudi Haas' splendid close-up and scenic photographs, rather than relating directly to the poet's work, show us instead other haiku (in pictures). Together, both artists create a special kind of symphony that surely will be appreciated for years to come. in a dark window Dad's pale face watching our bonfire soar – reviewed by Elizabeth St Jacques GO TO TOP OF PAGE

JUMPING FROM KIYOMIZU: A HAIKU SEQUENCE

by David Cobb Illustrated by Charlotte Smith. 4 X 6, perfectbound, 96 pp. 1996.; IRON PRESS, 5 Marden Terrace, Cullercoats, North Shields Tyne & Wear, NE30 4PD, UK. £ 4.99 It is safe to say that David Cobb of North Essex, England is a prolific haiku poet. Published in twelve countries – in no less than eight languages –he is the author of four books. His haiku song cycle Images from our Natural Path with music by Colin Blundell, had the honor of being performed in 1994 at the 2nd International Haiku Festival in Romania. David helped to establish the British Haiku Society in 1990 and co-edit IRON PRESS' Haiku Hundred, 1992. This hand-sized volume with a scarlet and pale lavender glossy cover and matching lavender flyleaf is a joy to the eye and the touch. Inside, two poems, with plenty of white space between, appear on each page and are framed in a thin black border. You will find a feast of crisply printed haiku – more than 160 – on fine white paper that resembles quality parchment. Exquisite black ink drawings by Charlotte Smith embellish this already impressive book to provide a complete work of art. On opening this collection, we find some interesting history about this collection's unique title, which is a Japanese euphemism for "taking a risky decision." David judiciously associates the phrase with the writing of haiku and life itself. Consequently, this collection revolves "around seasons of the human cycle rather than natural seasons."* Experienced enough, this poet does not equate "spring to youth, winter to old age", etc.; instead seasons here reflect "something of the 'rise and fall"# of events during a lifetime. Thanks to David's clear vision, all of this makes for a unique and memorable journey. While I have enjoyed David Cobb's haiku in various publications, this is the first time I have read a body of his work and he does not disappoint. The smooth rhythms, rich language and fresh imagery in most of these poems as well as the emotion they evoke are impressive. Consider the following: in the garden shed a screw turned tighter winds in a web pacing the streets for the tenth time passing that scrunched eggshell egg-and-spoon – only the Down's syndrome girl cheats without blushing couple aged eighty carrying a dozen eggs between them Understandably, David's haiku about war and death are deeply moving, but be prepared – he can draw a warm smile from you when you least expect: after the all-clear not remembering the bombs only the kiss day of his funeral still inviting messages after the tone While some humor appears in this collection, don't expect to find it in abundance or evoking ha-ha-ha's. Instead, most humor urges a smile, although sometimes you may get the impression the poet is trying too hard. An example of each: lightning bolt – the fax machine issues a blank receipt incontinence afflicts him, yet he goes on tying up sweet peas A few haiku here will make you shudder, but David Cobb is not one to walk through life with one eye shut: mauled blackbird with its last pulse squirting lime Wednesday market – the smell of onions in the mackerels' eyes As he stated in a letter to me , "I do not, as you see, write for the squeamish!" Indeed, but unlike certain modern others who write raw-reality haiku, David does not dwell on it, but finds more beauty, love and gentleness in life. Overall, Jumping from Kiyomizu provides a most satisfying read. The sequence holds interest throughout, moving along smoothly, the majority of poems being well-crafted. Highly recommended.
· Personal letter, Sept. 21, 1995 # Personal letter, Dec. 6. 1996 JUMPING FROM KIYOMIZU was a Haiku Society of America 1996 MERIT BOOK AWARD winner. – reviewed by Elizabeth St Jacques GO TO TOP OF PAGE