As I review a book, I often keep a notepad by my side to record my impressions as they occur. Sometimes the first impression doesn't reveal itself to be true, but its still worth recording. I wondered what sort of book this was going to be when I saw the Deep North Press release notes which included this quote from Modern Haiku:
Deep North Press presents:
by William M. Ramsey
This Wine focuses on difficult material and shows both the author and the haikai genre capable of treating it with unflinching authenticity. --Peggy Willis Lyles, Modern Haiku
To begin, I should say that the layout of the book is wonderfully executed. I have always appreciated having adequate "white space" to enjoy a haiku in solitude, and Charles Trumbull has given me plenty. Each haiku is placed at the very top of its own page with the remainder of the 8.25" page left blank, as if a lecturer was providing adequate room for his students to take notes. The book is divided into three parts:
- 1/A Hand's Warmth (26 haiku)
- 2/As I Eat Shrimp (24 haiku)
- 3/The Wheat Field (34 haiku)
Never has my reviewer's impression pad proved so useful as when I tried to identify what happened as I read this book. Louise Rosenblatt developed the Transactional Theory of Literature, which says that each reader brings to a poem their past
experience and present reality. I approached the haiku in this book as taught by my past experience, looking at each
image as a complete moment, but failing to attempt to connect the poems. By taking this approach, I was shocked by the frankness of the images in part one. I first wrote "erotic-ku", having encountered no less than three sets of breasts within the first six intimate images. Before part one is complete we have death, grieving, suicide, and other images, which left me with the correction in my impression pad: "shock-ku".
Then, as I reached the final poem in this section, it occurred to me that this was a sequence of events. Love, tragedy, despair, grief, and finally, reconciliation. I still do not know at this writing if this is collection was written as a "haiku sequence", or if it is merely a diary of images observed as the author went through this pain, but I found my earlier shock turned to deepest empathy, compassion, and perhaps even despair that one of my fellow poets had endured such pain. This reaction, too, was replaced as I reread the sequence again. This time, replaced by an appreciation that the author had dealt with the reality of his day in his poetry, and that someone had found the poems and offered to share this very human story with the rest of us.
The poems in parts two and three contain several more stark images, such as the title piece of part two:
the dead boy
After working through my impressions on part one, I found myself more hesitant to label this "shock-ku". Instead, I allowed the author to proceed in his telling of the world around him, as he saw it, and felt it. The honesty of his interpretation overcomes what might be labelled as "metaphor" or shunned for breaking through invisible barriers that seek to define what is and what is not a haiku. But who can deny the reality of the experience from the title poem of part three:
on a Rwandan road
as I eat shrimp
the wheat field
Are these poems beautiful in the sense of flowers and butterflies? No. But as I read the book, and read it again, I experience through it the message that there is beauty in capturing and preserving what is true. And yes, Peggy Willis Lyles, you are correct, the haikai genre does seem more than capable of handling the material.
walking into it
This Wine, by William M. Ramsey, 2002. Book designed by Lidia Rozmus;
typography and layout by Charles Trumbull. 96 unnumbered pages,
paperback, perfectbound, 4.5" x 8.25". Printed on fine wove paper
with translucent flyleaves; two-color cover.
This book may be ordered from the author at the following address:
William M. Ramsey
1217 Berkeley Ave
Florence, SC 29505-3008
The cost is $15, postpaid in the US.