I’m ashamed to admit that until about a year and a half ago, I was dismissive about haiku. I (wrongly) thought that haiku was as simple as writing three syllabic lines, 5-7-5. Well, I was incorrect. Haiku has evolved from its beginnings which go back to the year 800. Even so, the form still holds several of the characteristics of its Japanese beginnings: haiku is imagistic, it contains juxtaposition, it’s experiential, and it is an intense evocation of a moment. All of these characteristics are found in Barry George’s collection, Wrecking Ball and Other Urban Haiku. This contemporary collection of haiku is part of the Spalding Series published by independent press, Accents.
When I first received this book, which is the around the size of a postcard, I was immediately intrigued. What I found was a happy coupling of form and delivery. Haiku, by their nature, are going to be surrounded by white space (one of my favorite topics in poetry….but that’s another post). The fact that the book itself is smaller than traditional sized chapbooks is wonderful, as these three-line poems are not lost on the page. In fact, they have just the right amount of breathing space, and Barry’s poems certainly expand. Barry often juxtapositions something mundane or man-made against nature. One of my favorites is this one: “a car freshener / tree-shaped / among fallen pine cones.” I can easily “see” this image in my mind’s eye — the air freshener that can be found at any convenience store lying on the ground near pine cones — a very odd, yet possible, scenario. What this poem does for me is ask me to fill in the white space that surrounds the poem. What else is there to see? Trees? Is this scene at the edge of a parking lot? Is the air freshener new, or is it abandoned trash? And that’s one of the beauties of this form — the power of omission allows the reader to build around the evocative image offered to us from the poet.
I have to also share this one, as it is another favorite: “the stylist / rinses away/ the sound of her voice.” Again, a mundane situation (that many can relate to) but suddenly a newness arrives. I visualize the sound of the stylist’s voice as a color that slides down the drain with the extra water. I see the chair, feel the vinyl against my skin, the towel being wrapped around my head after a wash. There’s more than just sound here; there are visual and tactile experiences that I, as the engaged reader, fill in. If you think about it, it’s quite a feat for three short lines to pull so much out.
So, if you were anything like me and once dismissive about haiku, remove yourself from the dark! Not only do I encourage you to sample this fine collection of contemporary haiku, but try writing some yourself. You may be happily surprised about what flows out.