Simply Haiku: An E-Journal of Haiku and Related Forms
November-December 2004, Volume 2, Number 6

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BOOK REVIEW: Anita Virgil, One Potato Two Potato Etc
Reviewed by Robert D. Wilson

Few books of haiku leave me wanting more. But, when I opened a copy of Anita Virgil's book of haiku, One Potato Two Potato Etc, I found myself unable to stop reading until I had finished it . . . and when I was finished, I was disappointed. I wanted more!

hot afternoon . . .
the dripping beaks
of slow swans

suddenly the woods
with blackbirds

Anita Virgil is not one to follow the leader. Her voice is fresh. She has no room in her writing for trite observations. She takes chances, forges her own path, and doesn't have to market her image at haiku conventions to sell a book. She is, in my opinion, one of the finest of today's American haiku poets.

she turns the child
to brush her hair
with the wind

silent mountain . . .
sunshine and marmots
fleck the rocks

Says Virgil, "Haiku is like entering a sparsely furnished room. This apparent emptiness is unsettling. But once there, one gradually begins to listen more--and to hear: a distant bird, a small chirp close by . . . ; the eyes see in the soft light: dust motes, soft colors. The nostrils detect delicate scents--or unpleasant ones. (Nothing is without significance in this world.) And we become bonded to the very world about us, which heretofore escaped our notice. That is the special world of haiku."

Like Buson, Anita Virgil is also an artist and sees the world through an artist's eyes. She feels, she senses, she lets her subject matter speak to her. Buson would go for a walk in the outdoors and commune with nature. He'd sit down and wait for nature to speak to him. His mind open, a tabula rasa sitting at his subject's feet, a student listening to the teacher. Virgil has an affinity for Buson. And as a fellow artist, she can relate to his train of thought, the route he took when composing haiku. She "loves being in a home surrounded by woods, being close to all its creatures," some of whom find their way into her poems. Living near the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, she treasures the remaining farmlands which bring her their own kind of special moments.

across the fields
to the summer mountains

True artists do not copy or emulate another's work. They seek out and find their own voice. This is what Anita Virgil has done. Not one to rest on her laurels (and they are many), she takes chances and courts the cutting edge, all the while bowing respectfully to tradition and the poets she has studied and learned from. Says Virgil, I adhere to the Winston Churchill adage: "I am easily satisfied with the very best. I have that quote stuck on my den mirror."

rushing out
to hear bobwhite
in time to listen to the freight train freight train freight train freight train fre

the edge of the pine forest
in a hot breeze

talking to the garden snake
his tongue reaching
my warmth

According to Virgil, "The best haiku do not include opinions of the poet: they do not tell the reader what to think, they do not draw conclusions about the scene they depict. And they do not presume to teach lessons about life nor moralize about it. They simply present a slice of it. Because they aim for clarity above all, they are most careful of ambiguity--it must work for the sense of the poem in all its meanings.

"Haiku is a poetry of suggestion, of understatement in which nature is linked to human nature. It records those moments of special awareness that give one pause in the everyday world."

summer moon . . .
jellyfish dripping blue light
through the crabnet

a cloudy day . . .
suddenly all the crablines

a kettle of hawks
gathering up the clouds
of autumn

the coal train
slow along
summer foothills

a piece of night wind
in the hollow
of us

Buy her book. It is a treasure . . . an oasis in a desert sandy with what has already been said or doesn't need saying. Reading Anita Virgil's book is like sitting at the feet of a great teacher . . . so much to learn, lessons to be assimilated, gleaning what you can, as much as you can . . . knowing the teacher will not be around forever.

the porch toad
hops into summer
night music

Anita Virgil, One Potato Two Potato Etc, ISBN 0-09628567-0-3
$10 plus $3 S&H (More for international)
Peaks Press
202 Merrywood Drive
Forest VA 24551

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