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Winter 2007, vol 5 no 4

Eavesdropping: Seasonal Haiku
by Alexis Rotella
A Review by Johnye Strickland


According to the Acknowledgments, the poems herein were originally published by Hal Roth in Clouds in My Teacup (Wind Chimes Press, 1982), though those selected for reprinting have been revised and reorganized to follow "the five seasons according to the Chinese Five Elements (the fifth and forgotten season being late summer)."

The author notes that some of these poems are senryu, a genre for which she is well known. They were included because "they were written in the season in which they appear."

The collection opens with the title poem:

on the leaves

Following this apt beginning, poems appear three to a page, leading the reader progressively through the year. The first poems quickly remind us of the depth of our relationship with autumn, touching on both the passage in our life's journey as well as the richness of harvest time in Nature's cycle:

Hometown fair—
a face I kissed
at seventeen. (p. 7)

in the hickory nut,
scent of autumn wind. (p. 7)

Most of the poems in this collection, though they begin with a capital and end with a period, are literary fragments, rather than sentences. But there is also stylistic variation, including one-liners and minimalism:

A jet cuts through Orion's belt. (p. 19)

On the stone altar   snake skin (p. 43)

                  away. (30)

For subject matter, the author tiptoes around Psychology:

today's role dangles
from a metal hanger. (p. 11)

Philosophy (?):

Flying cross country—
I read Thoreau
in a cloud. (p. 10)

And Antiquities:

all those hands,
all those pigeons. (p. 11)

Assonance and alliteration enrich the sounds of some of the poems. But for this reader, the most impressive aspect of the author's style is her angle of perception, often providing a surprising word choice for an image so familiar it could be a cliché:

After the first snow,
the white cat
brings her tracks. (p. 16)

Piled in the parking lot,
of blizzard. (p. 17)

Not every poem in the collection comes off as well as the ones quoted above. For example, this one would be more effective, in my opinion, if line one were resituated in final position:

Deep in the tulip,
a painted lady
powders her nose.

If instead of giving us the setting first, the author had let the drama unfold, it would have left us with a sense of discovery—since it could be anticipated that the poem was a senryu, until the locale is revealed:

A painted lady
powders her nose,
deep in the tulip.

But this is the exception that proves the rule—this is a collection worthy of republication. And while I would not go so far as Kirsty Karkow in the quote on the back cover that "[t]urning the pages of this book is a magical experience," I do agree with Kirsty that "this book [is] a gift to be treasured." And just in time for Christmas!


Eavesdropping: Seasonal Haiku
by Alexis Rotella
Copyright 1982, 2007
Cover Art by Karen McClintock;
Original Photo by Robert Rotella
Soft cover, perfect bound.
49 pages. $18.95 USD
ISBN 978-0-6151-6201-0
Modern English Tanka Press
PO Box 43717
Baltimore, Maryland