Friday, August 2, 2013

Spring Morning Sun: A Review of the Haiku of Tom Tico

Spring Morning Sun: A Review of the Haiku of Tom Tico

Tom Tico has been writing Haiku since the 60’s.  His work appears in a number of anthologies, e.g. Cor van den Heuvel’s “The Haiku Anthology”, and Bruce Ross’s “Haiku Moment”, and the “San Francisco Haiku Anthology”.  He has also been widely published in various Haiku journals.

His only book that I am aware of is Spring Morning Sun, which was published in 1998.  I recently purchased a copy and found myself enjoying his Haiku and his view of the world he expresses through his Haiku.

One of the things that intrigues me about Haiku is that in spite of its brevity, the specific personality of the Haiku poet comes through.  Intellectually, one would think that with all the restrictions placed on the form, including its briefness, the season word, lineation requirements, etc., that the form would generate a kind of impersonal, almost abstract, type of poetry.  But that doesn’t happen.  Buson and Issa, to contrast some classic examples, have very different personalities and these personalities are evident in their Haiku.

Partly this is due to the life experiences of the poet.  These experiences shape our perceptions, what we tend to focus on.  Tom Tico’s life comes through in his Haiku.  He writes in the ‘Introduction’, “From 1985 through 1995 I spent over seven years in a state of homelessness, sleeping in a redwood forest in Golden Gate Park.”  This experience shapes his Haiku in significant ways.  For example:

At the soup kitchen,
a faded reproduction
of The Last Supper

This is one of my favorite of Tico’s Haiku.  I worked for a few years as a janitor for a homeless shelter.  I was not homeless myself, but because of my job I became acquainted with such a life; not in the abstract, but through personal contact.  This Haiku is deeply expressive in many dimensions of the situation the homeless often face.  The reference to the last supper has many echoes, including the injunction of Jesus that his disciples care for the poor.  The allusion to the famous painting is rewarding on many levels.

Allusion is present in a number of Tico’s Haiku.  Here is another example of a biblical allusion:

In the color and taste
of the pomegranate seeds:
the Old Testament

I found this intriguing; it might be referring to the antiquity of pomegranates, or it might be referring to a specific biblical passage, or simply that the author made this association.  I like the way the concrete taste is linked to the allusive context.

Tico’s approach is primarily syllabic, but not rigidly so.  That is to say Tico’s Haiku range widely in terms of their count while at the same time the center is the standard 5-7-5.  I take it that Tico feels free to deviate from the count if the Haiku demands it.  Interestingly, as many of his Haiku are long count as are short count.  This is a signal to me that Tico is not a minimalist. 

In terms of structure, again Tico seems comfortable with a variety of structural approaches.  But most of his Haiku are single sentence Haiku:

After the earthquake
the shaking continues
in my girlfriend’s voice

Notice the lineation here is clear in the sense that each line is a grammatical phrase.  The structure of the Haiku is a movement from a general, wide angle, observation to a specific; how his girlfriend is reacting.  It is, I think, a fine example of this kind of narrowing focus.

The seasonal element is used intermittently.  Here is a good example of a seasonal Haiku:

Beside the tenement
a box of broken glass
filled with autumn sun

Each line shifts the focus a little.  Line 1 is a general focus, then line 2 brings a specific object into sharp relief, the concluding line 3 moves to a broad seasonal context.  There is a unity among the elements; the tenement, the broken glass, and autumn all have an essential, underlying, similarity of tone.  This ties all the elements of the Haiku together, giving the variety an overall unity.  Notice how the ‘earthquake’ Haiku moved from the general to the specific, while his Haiku moves from the specific to the general.  Both are done elegantly.

A few of Tico’s Haiku engage in what I call ‘time shift’, which is my favorite type of Haiku.  Here’s an example:

The old carving tree . . .
a new pair of initials
and the first young leaves

I enjoyed the way Tico plays with the sense of time in this Haiku, weaving together the old and the new.  There is an expansive sense of time in this Haiku which I found satisfying.

Here is one I particularly liked:

Etched in the sidewalk,
the peace symbol encompasses
a few fallen leaves

A thoughtful contemplation on the relationship between human affairs and the seasons.

Many of Tico’s Haiku are personal.  For example:

In my sleeping bag
in a fetal position;
this cold autumn night

In Tico’s Haiku the world of nature and the human world, and how they intersect appears to be a major focus.  In classical Haiku esthetics from Japan, though, what counts as nature is carefully selected.  Haiku about homelessness, earthquakes,  plagues,  etc., are discouraged.  But how we view nature changes with our life circumstances.  For someone who is homeless autumn is primarily about getting cold and trying to cope with falling temperatures.  For someone who has their own home autumn is primarily about the brilliance of the autumn foliage.  Both views are true.  This is what Tico, through his life experience, understands and communicates elegantly to the reader:

After homelessness . . .
how different the rain looks
from a cozy room


Spring Morning Sun
Haiku by Tom Tico
ISBN: 9781575027111

Price varies; available as a used book from Amazon

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Tom, It was nice visiting you in San Francisco, not far from where we grew in on Central and me on Page Street. I look forward to seeing you again.

David Arsanis