Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Calligraphy of Clouds: A Review

The Calligraphy of Clouds
Contemporary American Tanka & Haiku
By Yeshaya Rotbard
ISBN: 0595420710
Distributed by Ingram so also available through most bookstores including

Sweeping the front stoop,
clearing off my entrance way
to the universe.

This is one of my favorite recent collections of Tanka and Haiku. It is a fine example of how taking a syllabic approach to these forms in English is efficacious.

Rotbard’s voice is distinct. He is also innovative. There is a section of “Titled Haiku” as well as a section of “Untitled Haiku”. He also adds titles to his Tanka. This is unusual. If you go to online sites devoted to Haiku and Tanka you will read that both of these genre are untitled. Editors at magazines, with some exceptions, devoted to these forms will reject submissions with titles. Personally, I often title my Haiku and Tanka so it was a pleasure to see someone else doing this as well. My sense is that Rotbard does this spontaneously, meaning that having a title for a poem is simply part of the English poetic tradition. I think it works well, adding an additional dimension of meaning.

The book is divided into three sections. The first section are Haiku in series. Here the Haiku are grouped together because they all speak to a certain topic. Rotbard starts with the traditional four seasons, and then continues with a wide range of other topics from the ordinary, “Pencil”, to the emotional, “Missing You”, to the eccentric, “Sex and the Single Haiku”. The series work well, each Haiku flowing to the next, yet also able to stand alone as individual Haiku. Rotbard links well.

The second section consists of single Haiku divided into two sections of “Titled” and “Untitled”. Here’s an example:

From Afar

The tattered sail bends
In the wind. The frail boat dips
then lifts up again.

Notice the slant rhyme between lines 1 and 3; this is something that Rotbard uses frequently and it gives a lyrical cast to his poems. Rotbard uses the full range of poetic tools and he’s not adverse to using metaphor. Here is one of my favorites:

Indian Summer

It’s the heat’s last squeeze,
when all the leaves bleed their best
juices from the trees.

Wonderful description! And a wonderful use of rhyme.

The third section consists of Tanka; all of them titled. Tanka are more expansive than Haiku and these Tanka allow for more exploration and consideration than is possible in Haiku. Some of the Tanka are sweet:

White Caps

Ankles in ocean,
the whole sea is mine, until
the wave pulls back and –
leaves me stranded in wet sand –
then curls round my toes again.

Some are contemplative:


What can be worse than
longing for what cannot be:
the path not taken,
poems lost, songs forgotten,
your picture, tossed, in the sea.

Some are erotic:


How I love to play
the piano on your back,
fingers poking at
the curved keyboard of your spine,
the music of your breathing.

Indeed, one of the attractions of “Calligraphy” is the wide range of subjects the author handles. It is a book that I have had the pleasure of rereading several times. Highly recommended.

There Is A Stillness

There is a stillness
in the morning. Walls of light
and trees surround me.
Toward heaven’s brim, staring up,
Sitting in an earthly cup.

The Things That Matter

I’m tethered to earth
by bakeries and book stores.
If not for those words,
and muffin in the morning,
like a kite, I’d float away.


Dan Gurney said...

Available at Many Rivers Books and Tea??

Dan Gurney said...

While I'm at it, do you have Wei Wu Wei's Ask The Awakened (Sentient Press) available at Many Rivers Books and Tea also?

Jim714 said...

Yes, "Calligraphy" is available at Many Rivers. I'm not sure if the Wei Wu Wei is in stock. We've had it in the past and could order it for you if it's not in.

Thanks for checking.