Monday, June 25, 2012

The Haiku Companion by James Moore: A Review

The Haiku Companion
James Moore

This is a collection of 830 Haiku divided into two sections.  The first section is ‘The World We See’ and is somewhat more extroverted.  The second section, ‘The Lives We Live’ seems more contemplative, more inward, and contains more philosophical Haiku.  These are generalizations; there is a lot of overlap between the two sections.

Moore writes that he first learned about Haiku in the 1960’s, in high school.  Moore describes himself as both a traditionalist and one who deviates from tradition.  The deviation is in terms of content; Moore allows his Haiku to cover many non-seasonal topics, as well as philosophical and religious observations and what I would call ‘epigrammatic’ Haiku.  A large percentage of Moore’s Haiku, though, are topically traditional.

Moore is a traditionalist in the sense that he sticks to the 5-7-5 syllabic structure of Haiku.  Moore writes, “All of my haiku in this book are written in the traditional style – five syllables in the first line, seven syllables in the second line and five syllables in the third line. Although I have occasionally adopted some of the other styles with different numbers of syllables between the various lines, I find the traditional 5-7-5 structure more challenging and, therefore, more rewarding.”

An aspect of ‘Companion’ that I found rewarding was how Moore has an expansive sense of time.  In this collection I get the feeling of time as a field, rather than a series of instants or photographs.  Here is Haiku 106:

Today’s snow is down
Tomorrow’s is yet to fall
I walk between them

This skillfully broadens the present, in L3, into a broader field of time; the past in L1, and the future in L2.  It all hangs together in a unity of image.  Here is 674:

I watched a farmer
Labor an entire summer
On just a gamble

Here a whole season, summer, becomes a moment in both the life of the farmer and in Moore’s life as well.  Here is 302:

In mid-winter dreams
Fantasies of summer sun
Memories of fall

Again, a sense of the present, a dream present, is expanded by placing it between the past, L3, and the future, L2.  This quality of how the present is embedded in a ‘field of time’, inclusive of both past and future is one of the great strengths of this collection.

I sense in this collection the benign influence of Richard Wright.  I particularly see it in Moore’s human-centered Haiku.  Haiku 649 is a good example:

A shot of whiskey
Sits on his bedside table
Waiting to be sipped

Moore’s human-centered Haiku have the range of humanity found in Wright.  Here’s 156:

Despite a hard snow
The two men walked through the field
Laughing together

Another aspect of this collection I appreciate is how Moore integrates traditional poetic tools into Haiku.  Here’s are examples of simile and metaphor:


The late winter dusk
Subtle as a baby’s breath
Quiet on soft snow


After heavy rains
The thin woodland creek looks like
Breakfast tea with cream


The scent of lilacs
Roll through the open window
Like an avalanche

Moore, at times, makes skillful use of rhyme:


On some winter nights
I watch the snowmen dancing
Under the moonlight


A sizzling red sun
Evaporates in the lake
When the day is done

And, like many Haiku poets, Moore takes advantage of personification:


A bright harvest moon
Reassures dark autumn skies
High above the farm

Moore also takes advantage of allusion, which in traditional Japanese poetry (both Tanka and Haiku) is often used, but has become more and more difficult for modern poets because of a lack of standard reference sources for such allusions.  But Moore manages it:


Once upon a time
In a land far, far away
It all turned out well

Finally, Moore is open to the use of the imagination and the fantastic:


Imagine a night
Where the darkness is so thick
The phantom stumbles


Seven Seraphim
Sat at the top of the dune
To watch the sun set

I would offer that if you are Haiku poet curious about how to integrate English poetic tools into Haiku, the ‘Companion’ will show you how to do it.  With its broad range of techniques it is almost a textbook for such a project.

Moore’s philosophical, or contemplative, Haiku have their own unique tone.  This one reminds me of Shiki:


The moon does not care
Whether I laugh or cry
It rises and falls

This one integrates a contemplative observation with metaphor:


Like cat paws on snow
Friends leave soft, shallow footprints
Walking through our thoughts

‘The Haiku Companion’ is a worthy addition to the growing corpus of Syllabic Haiku.  It is skillful, thoughtful, contemplative, rich in imagery, and quietly lyrical.

In closing, here are two that especially moved me:


A piece of lost mail
Becomes part of the snowdrift
Until the spring thaw


What I know of God
Is the smallest of pebbles
On Mt. Everest

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