Saturday, November 15, 2014

Beak Open, Feet Relaxed, by Patricia Lignori -- A Review

Beak Open, Feet Relaxed – 108 Haiku
By Priscilla Lignori
A Review

I was not familiar with the haiku of Priscilla Lignori until coming across this collection of her haiku.  It is a small book at 100 pages, with about 80 pages of haiku.  In the back of the book are ‘Credits’ for many of the haiku which were previously printed in numerous haiku publications.  And doing a google search for her came up with a lot of references.  Somehow, though, I missed her presence in the haiku world.  It is a pleasure to make her acquaintance through this book.

The book is divided into 7 short haiku sequences.  The sequences are not titled, only numbered; one through seven, using roman numerals.  The number of haiku in each sequence varies from the shortest, sequence II, which has 11 haiku; to the longest, sequence V, which has 22 haiku.

The haiku in each sequence are seasonally arranged; that is to say the sequence of the haiku follow the flow of the seasons.  However, each sequence has a slightly different arrangement of the seasons as follows:

I        Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter
II       Spring, Summer, Fall
III      Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter
IV      Spring, Summer, Fall
V       Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter, Spring
VI      Summer, Fall, Winter
VII    Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter

The seasonal element is central to Lignori’s haiku and this emphasis is traditional.  Also traditional is Lignori’s adherence to the 5-7-5 syllabic count.  I’m not sure, but I suspect that Lignori uses a Saijiki, or is attuned to the basic idea of a Saijiki.  Most of the seasonal haiku use key words to indicate the season, including the names of various flowers and plants, natural phenomena like icicles, and holiday references.

By a frozen lake –
I sit on a bench wearing
the afternoon sun 

On the other hand, Lignori is willing also to simply name the season:

Shaking their rattles
cicada calls come and go
with the summer breeze

Not all of Lignori’s haiku are seasonal:

They can’t be erased –
the past and my father’s name
engraved in hard stone

This haiku is placed both after and before fall haiku and it has the feeling, or tone, of fall.  This placement gives the reader a sense of seasonal continuity even in haiku where the seasonal element is not explicit. 

Lignori uses two methods for the overall construction of her haiku.  Many of her haiku are of the single sentence type.  A significant number are also in the two-part style.  The list method does not seem to be an approach Lignori finds congenial.

There is a free use of the repertoire of common poetic techniques.  Here is an example of shaping her line through a common sonic ending:

Chapped palms in winter –
a roadmap that leads nowhere
in particular

This is a nicely done two-part haiku.  The opening image of the chapped palms is juxtaposed to a ‘roadmap’, but then the image of the roadmap is undermined when its function of leading or guiding is put aside.  The overall impact is a kind of static stillness. 

Notice how the last words of each line (winter, nowhere, particular) all end in an ‘r’ sound.  Lines 1 and 3 close with prepositional phrases (in winter, in particular) and there is an understated rhyme between ‘winter’ and ‘particular’.  The overall sonic resonance adds a dimension of beauty to this haiku which I find attractive.

Here is another haiku that uses juxtaposition effectively:

The pink rose petal
placed in a sealed envelope –
a cloud in the sky

I find this haiku offers me a lot of space; I am wondering why the petal is placed in an envelope (to mark an occasion?, for a botanical study?, etc.).  The shift to the skyscape is effective; there is a movement from a sharp, detailed focus, to a much wider context.  It is also possible to interpret the cloud in the sky as resembling the petal in the envelope.  I think this is beautifully crafted.

Lignori takes advantage of metaphor and simile:

Falling icicle
shatters like a crystal glass
dropped by a waiter

This single sentence haiku is striking in its weaving together the natural and human dimensions.  The reader gets to feel the precise sound the author is referring to.

Lignori has a way of highlighting moments and beautifully shaping them for the reader:

At home in the dark –
the pale moon and the horned owl
watching from the tree

This two-part haiku has a unity of mood.  It begins inside, but in the dark.  It then moves outside, giving us a landscape rich with psychic energy.  The moon is personified in this haiku as ‘watching’ in the same way that the horned owl is watching.  This, incidentally, is a winter haiku; at least I read it that way even though the moon is traditionally fall.  I get the winter feeling when I read it in sequence with the previous haiku:

Chanting a sutra –
from the corner of my eye
the silence of snow

At home in the dark –
the pale moon and the horned owl
watching from the tree

In other words, I think the seven sequences are genuine sequences and the full meaning of each haiku, as previously noted, becomes apparent by their placement in the haiku that surround a particular haiku.  Each haiku can stand on its own, but the meaning of any particular haiku is enhanced, clarified, and enriched by its placement in the sequence.  This is skillfully done and I found it a pleasing and enriching experience.

The book contains an informative ‘Introduction’ by Clark Strand who has been Lignori’s mentor and guide for both the art of haiku composition and for spiritual practice from the Zen tradition.  (As an aside, I found the print size of the ‘Introduction’ to be a little small; it is significantly smaller than the haiku.  Not a big deal, but it would have been helpful to me to have had a type size more agreeable to the eye.)  Strand has been an advocate for syllabic haiku for a long time.  Strand is the author of the haiku manual Seeds from a Birch Tree, a book that I have found rewarding and helpful for my own haiku practice.

Lignori has gone on to found her own haiku group, ‘The Hudson Valley Haiku-kai’.  Lignori’s view about haiku is presented in a brief ‘Afterword’.  It is gratifying to see this approach to haiku being passed on to another generation.

These are classical, traditional, haiku; seasonal, syllabic, lyrical, thoughtful and insightful.  I look forward to further publications by Lignori, hopeuflly in the near future.

A winter sunset –
the day’s unanswered questions
simply disappear

Beak Open, Feet Relaxed
108 Haiku
Priscilla Lignori

ISBN: 9781493549597


Priscilla Lignori said...

Dear Jim,

Clark Strand spotted this review of my haiku book and we are both very impressed by it! It is a very sensitive and insightful reading of it. You captured the essence as well as the essentials of the book. Thank you! I too am very glad to make your acquaintance.

Priscilla Lignori

Aaron Lehman said...

Priscilla is amazing and her book is a testament to her work. Everyone needs her book.
Aaron A. Lehman

Jim714 said...

Priscilla: Thank you for dropping by. I'm pleased that both of you appreciate the review.

Aaron: Thanks for your comment and enthusiastic support of Priscilla's work.