Friday, October 11, 2013

Donegal Haiku: A Review

Donegal Haiku by Francis Harvey
A Review

I enjoy reading Haiku collections that are centered in a specific geography.  I don’t always get the specific references, because I won’t always be familiar with specific geographical features and what local residents feel about them.  Even so, there is something rooted about these kinds of collections that I find appealing.  Charles Walker’s Haiku and High Timber is a good example of such a collection.

A new one that I have come across, published just this year, is Donegal Haiku by the Irish poet, Francis Harvey.  I am not familiar with Harvey’s poetic output; but from what I have read he has received many prizes for his poetry.  Harvey’s approach to Haiku is in most respects traditional; seasonal reference is common, but also absent in a number of Haiku, and the Haiku are structured syllabically.

In the world of English Language Haiku (ELH) there seem to be three main approaches to Haiku construction.  The first is the single sentence Haiku, next is the list Haiku, and the third is the juxtaposition Haiku.  Harvey uses all three modes of construction.  Here is a list Haiku:

Snow on the mountain.
Crowsfeet and your first white hair.
The end of autumn.

Each line ends with a full-stop period.  Each line is its own image or statement.  There is in this Haiku an interesting seasonal shift.  Line 1 would seem to place the Haiku in the winter season.  But line 3 goes on to clarify that it is a late autumn Haiku; late enough for snow.  So the seasonal placement is nicely ambiguous.

Line 2 invites us to think of it as an analogy to Line 1 without explicitly saying so.  This analogical inference weaves the two lines together.  And Line 3 seasonally resonates with the two images. 

Here’s another example of the list approach:

Five crows in a tree.
The wind ruffles their feathers.
The leaves of my book.

Again the three lines end in full-stop periods.  Again there are three distinct images listed.  The season is inferred here rather than stated.  My inference is that this is a summer Haiku, because he is reading outside.  The use of the word ‘leaves’ in line 3 resonates with the ‘tree’ of line 1, creating a point of unification.  This Haiku is a kind of collage and is an effective use of the list approach to Haiku construction.

Here’s an example of the single sentence approach:

The sea slinks off to
its lair on the horizon
to dream of the moon.

The image here is difficult to grasp but tantalizing; my sense is that Harvey is communicating a feeling through images.  As the last line indicates, the Haiku is in a dream mode which is a legitimate arena for Haiku.

Here is an example of juxtaposition:

I watched him that day
take his last walk on the strand.
The tide was ebbing.

Line 3 is a mild juxtaposition; it is not startling, but it shifts our awareness from the human being who is being watched by the author to the world of nature, placing the incident in a larger context.  And the ebbing tide is a nice resonance for a ‘last walk’.

Here is a stronger use of juxtaposition:

Dreams of the Trappist:
snow falling on snow and clouds
colliding with clouds.

The relationship between the two parts (line 1, and lines 2 and 3) is more distant than in the previous Haiku.  It takes more energy to link the two on the reader’s part; but I find it an effective use of the juxtaposition approach to Haiku.

Sometimes Harvey’s Haiku are humorous:

He was so obsessed
with death he began sending
mass cards to himself.

This is a single sentence zinger Haiku; designed to give us a laugh at someone’s obsession. 

A few times Harvey uses poetic devices such as rhyme:

The sound of the sea
in the middle of Ireland.
The wind in the trees.

I like this Haiku.  It creates a mild tension in lines 1 and 2 (how could there be the sound of the sea in the middle of Ireland) which is nicely resolved in line 3.  I would have preferred no punctuation at the end of line 2, so that line 2 could function as a pivot line; but that’s just my preference.

Here’s an example of personification:

Not a breath of wind.
The vanity of clouds
in the lake’s mirror.

I think this is nicely done; it’s a good usage of personification (which was also used in the above Haiku about the sea going to its lair).  I enjoy personification in Haiku because it opens a door to greater intimacy with the natural world.  I think the attribution of human psychological characteristics, such as vanity, to the natural realm makes sense if you think of the realm of nature as also conscious.  That is to say if clouds have consciousness, then attributing psychological states to them is not that great a leap.

I enjoyed this collection and have read it several times.  Harvey effectively uses a variety of techniques for Haiku construction all within the confines of a traditional syllabic approach.  Harvey has a distinctive voice or tone which I find attractive.  I suspect it is the tone of his locale.  This little book is an invitation to join him there.

A cloudless blue sky.
The wind blows wisps of black smoke.
Her hair in her eyes.

Donegal Haiku
Francis Harvey
ISBN: 9781906614744

Available from Amazon

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