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BOOK REVIEWS






NEWS FLASH: we have just learned that SIX DIRECTIONS has earned The Haiku Society of America 1998 Merit Book Award for Best Book of Haibun. Congratulations, Jim!
 

 SIX DIRECTIONS by Jim Kacian

 a raindrop, a flowing river by Ernest Berry

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SIX DIRECTIONS: Haiku & Field Notes by Jim Kacian, 1997. Foreword by J.B. Bryan and illustrations by Stephen Addiss. La Alameda Press, 9636 Guadalupe Trail NW, Albuquerque NM, USA 87114. ISBN: 0-9631909-4-6, perfect bound, paper, 6” X 6”, 88 pp., $10.00. Also available from Red Moon Press, PO Box 2461, Winchester VA, USA 22604-1661.
 

Jim Kacian humbly defines SIX DIRECTIONS as “haiku & field notes.” Be that as it may, most of this captivating volume reads more like an haibun journal. Granted, some aspects are not quite what I expect in haibun – for example, each prose entry is followed by a series of haiku. Yet each series successfully broadens and enhances. Also different, two of the six prose entries here contain philosophical comments that, while interesting, shift from haibun tradition. But then Jim Kacian makes no claim that these are haibun. Nevertheless, the texture and presentation tempt me to classify this work as haibun and related haiku.

Inspiration for this book stirred when the author moved from Still Pond, his home of many years in White Post, Virginia, to an old quaint house in nearby Wickliffe, which the poet came to name “Six Directions.”  The book focuses on “a particular place over a particular time … a conversation with the land and its inhabitants about what it and they do every day.” Also, the realization that through change, one discovers a widening of one’s universe and a sudden understanding that “the only way out of a circle is through its center.” To chronicle such new-found discoveries, haibun and related haiku seem most appropriate instruments indeed.

The circle and center to which Jim Kacian refers translate into the re-establishment of one’s roots, in finding “a sense of home.” His opening entry, “All Day Long the Day,” describes his new hinterland from which we get a clear sense of place and his approach to it. For example, from his past, he has brought only a couple of boxes because “The inheritance of the past can never wholly satisfy the needs of the present” he says. Instead, he reaches out to this new environment: listening to the wind, a barn owl’s cry, noting the (seemingly) new distance of the stars, the rising moon …
 
 

out of the dark
gradually
the outlines of things

 
cocoon
the life inside
knotted

 
bitter night
the sink drip
slows

We accompany Jim Kacian as he prepares a garden, explores an old cemetery in which rests the builder of Six Directions, meets a stray dog (that promptly adopts the poet) and other fascinating creatures, slowly melds with land, sky, river and mountain – all of which make up his home. Each step of the way is a discovery layered with wonderment, respect, a warm sense of oneness and contentment . . .
 
 

after plowing
the even writing
in my journal 

 
smell of mint
still on the fingers
that plucked it

 
oarstrokes –
the order of stars
whorled up anew

 
mountain tarn –
a little of the sky
has fallen in

Disappointments in this collection are few indeed. In fact, classifying these few as “disappointments” seems too harsh. More appropriate would be the phrase “less surprising.”  For example, “a door slams shut –/no one around/but the south wind” and “tilling the soil/grackles follow me/two rows behind” With different line arrangements and/or slight revision, these could have enjoyed splendid “aha!” finales.

Overall, however, the mix of eloquent prose and haiku here are a pleasing blend that flows like a smooth melody. Clearly expressed, rich in content and presentation, SIX DIRECTIONS is indeed about conversing with the land and its inhabitants. Even more, it is a celebration of communion and the true meaning of place in one’s chosen home, within the universal home.

Surely, Bashô and Thoreau join my applause to Jim Kacian for sharing these tender experiences with us.
 
 

                       morning dew –                                  icicles –
                   no hiding the way                               the shape
                        we've come                               of gravity

Reviewed by Elizabeth St Jacques

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a raindrop, a flowing river by Ernest Berry, photographs by Graeme Matthews, 1998. Published by Graeme Matthews PhotoImage, Blenheim, New Zealand. ISBN: 0-473-05106-0; hard cover, 10 ½” X 11 ½,” unpaginated. Available in North America from Red Moon Press, PO Box 2461, Winchester, VA 22604 for $35.00 US ppd.
 

For some time, Graeme Matthews, a professional landscape photographer, had been trying to find a unique way to present his photographs that would enable the viewer to connect on personal and emotional levels. As it was, he felt that captions prevented free association. The solution, however, evaded him until reading an article in the local newspaper about a haiku workshop headed by Ernest Berry. Examples of Ernest’s haiku revived the photographer’s interest in haiku, an art form he had “seen and liked” in earlier years. Of particular interest to him were “the ‘layers of meaning’ that the haiku contained (and the fact that) readers can bring their own experiences to the poem to interpret it for themselves.” It was the solution Graeme Matthews had been seeking.

More than 100 magnificent full color photographs on quality glossy paper make up this hefty coffee-table book. The photographer takes us to various parts of the world and focuses solely on Nature, covering a wide range of subjects, perspectives, seasons, and varying moods. The span is great: from a full view of an African sunset to a thundering waterfall to a daisy thriving in a rugged mountain’s crack, to delicate blue-white frost crystals, to a translucent leaf.

Throughout these photographs are fascinating plays of light and shadow, suggestions of tranquillity or turmoil. Yet even in a stone, for example, one feels its energy.  The effect stimulates the spirit and holds the willing observer in its strong yet tender grasp. An illustration of Graeme Matthews’ remarkable photographic eye: set in an ancient forest, a huge, uniquely shaped tree that stands covered with lush green moss clearly resembles a dinosaur sitting on its haunches, head turned back, as if to check over its shoulder. One of many arresting images that lure me back again and again.

The prolific New Zealand poet, Ernest Berry, was given the assignment to write a haiku for each of these photographs. When we consider the large number of images, all of which derive from someone else’s experiences, Ernest has come through extremely well.

The poet effectively captures the primary subject and mood/emotion in and from the image(s) in each photograph while skillfully integrating his own perceptions that serve to enhance and deepen. Following are a few favorites that dwell on a particular fascination of my own –light:
 
 

                         redwood forest
                        after the shower
                        puddles of light

 
        short of light     a travelling bird       brings its own

 
                             alpenglow
                        the granite peaks
                                soften

 
                          almost night
                       the grasses dance
                        to different light

The majority of haiku in this collection are carefully crafted, arousing the senses with suggestions of color, texture, sound, scent, and/or taste, highlighting inferred movements of/from an image to present a fresh exhilarating view:
 
 

                       camel-thorn tree
                    the sand storm tears
                         another strip

 
                            hirosaki
                     the old gingko tree
                         out of itself

 
    close of day       the lupin pods           clicking shut

 
                         sun shower
                     the sudden scent
                            of stones

As impressive as are most haiku here, a few could have benefited from revision. For example, in the otherwise superb haiku “cliff-top/the ti-tree/wind-shaped” a hyphen in each line tends to distract. (A hyphen seems necessary only in the final word.)  Then there’s “tweet tweet/says the yellow leaf/in the hollow of her hand” that I find difficult to classify as haiku. Also, it’s unfortunate the use of “the” (that appears in all but a few haiku) had not been used more sparingly; as is, the word becomes rather tedious. A few flaws are forgivable, however; after all, perfection is expected only from the gods.

By and large, haiku in this collection more than satisfy and are of excellent quality. In fact, several haiku are remarkable, even memorable. Surely, this is no small accomplishment for so great a task.

Together, the talents of photographer, Graeme Matthews, and haiku poet, Ernest Berry, have created a work of art that deserves a place of honor on coffee tables throughout the haiku community. Moreover, a raindrop, a flowing river deserves recognition in the annals of haiku history as well.
 
 

                     maori moon
                    fern shadows
                  supply the moko

Reviewed by Elizabeth St Jacques

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