Persimmon Book review
by Andrew Sokulski Zozaya (WiK intern)
[Persimmon is a publication by the Hailstone Haiku Circle based in Kansai. The group was formed in 2000 and its webpage Icebox can be viewed here.]
Persimmon emits an aura of originality. A particularly pleasing passage, for example, is a poetic sequence about Carmina Burana, the descriptive cantata. In talking with editor Stephen Gill about the book, I was struck by how inspiration came to him when he was looking at the persimmon tree in his yard. Bright and sweet, the persimmon is a pristine representation of the natural richness and beauty of poetry and its ability to convey emotions within the changing seasons. He also explained how the chapters in his books, which he terms “villages,” are not theme-based. He simply took the submissions and separated them alphabetically by author into the various ‘villages’. And the reason why they were called village was to highlight the connection between poetry, nature, and community.
Some of the ripest poems, so to say, would include the following.
Lingering cold –
through the shoji
the cry of a crow
– Lawrence Jiko Barrow.
This poem shows the relationship between silence and a single sound. The silence of a winter’s day is rudely broken by the piercing caw of a crow. The noise gives the previous silence definition, drawing attention to its existence. Ironically, the call of the bird highlights the silence more than if the crow had not cawed at all.
on water-lily leaves –
a brood of rail
– Takashi Itani
Impermanence and the fragility of life are prime concepts of haiku, typically represented by the changing of a leaf’s color. The first line captures the thin line between success and failure, or between life and death. The toddling takes place upon water lilies, a symbol of peace and beauty, which can be easily unbalanced. As each bird treads on the wavering lily, the observer watches sympathetically and muses on the precarious nature of existence.
Elephant Pass –
dry earth, headless palms
peanuts from a soldier
– Sally McLaren.
This poem has a rather dark atmosphere, yet one that is powerful nonetheless. With the setting of Elephant Pass and a presumably rough pathway, the author wonders about those who have passed before and looks for vestiges of previous travelers. The discarded peanuts are all that remains of an unknown soldier.
Winter copse –
at the sky above
like a heroine
I look up
– Tomiko Nakayama
This puzzling poem depicts the simple act of looking upward at the sky as a gesture of transformation. By gazing up through the leafless trees, the author strikes a pose “like a heroine”. Is she imagining herself rising above the mundane problems of the present? Like many poems, it is elusive and yet filled with potential significance.
Though a collection of poetry, the spirit of a persimmon seems to pervade the pages. After reading one is left with the refreshing aftertaste of poetical inspiration. Written by everyday people, the haiku have a fresh aroma, and though written for the most part in simple terms, some of the poems seem like a gem to have an inexplicable luster. Ah, the rejuvenation one gets from eating a persimmon!
John D. adds a note to point out that the collection features three of our WiK members. Mayumi Kawaharada, whose Haiku Cycle is included in Echoes: Writers in Kyoto Anthology 2017, has five poems in the book. One in the Introduction, which considers the role of the persimmon in Japanese poetry, is apposite in its choice of subject:
An orange colour
rises in the moonlight –
Another of Mayumi’s poems has a very different setting and a different seasonal feel…
an empty beach house –
the end of summer
To what tune
does the spider spin
this disc that snares the light?
The third WiK member to contribute to the collection is Richard Steiner, known locally for his woodblock prints. As one might expect for an artist, there’s a strong visual quality to the poem. As for the content, one could say it would have made a fitting finale to the collection as a whole…
To a silent Buddha
empty limbs reach upward –
one last persimmon
(Hailstone Haiku Circle Publications can be contacted at hikamey7[at]yahoo.co.jp)