February 21, 2009

Saša Važić reviews Jack Fruit Moon by Robert D. Wilson

Jack Fruit Moon by Robert D. Wilson; published by Modern English Tanka Press, Baltimore, Maryland 21236, USA;  pp. 204; ISBN 978-0-9817691-4-1; preface by Dr. Steven D. Carter; forward by Sanford Goldstein.
You’ve known me for years, better than anyone else. That’s what Robert says. And I stop to think…. Never seen that man. Does he even exist? Could be as I used to get a coltrane’s e-mails with a bulk of haiku, tanka, haibun… almost every day for some two or three years… I did not even have time to take a breath, to calm down my feelings. It was almost unbearable. The e-mail man never asked how I felt nor such a banal question as is: do you like my poems? I used to call him shadowman….a man from the shadow during those days. He had nothing against each other… So, we agreed. I know him.

almost 60
this gnarled tree reminds
me of an old
man riding a bicycle
in his underwear

I first encountered Robert Wilson at the door of Simply Haiku, he owns and edits (my thoughts about its uniqueness and quality are presented in an interview I did with him for Haiku Reality). And I thought: just the right thing… as simple as haiku… as simple as is Robert, though he may appear weird to many who are unable or unwilling or haven’t had a chance to sense his inner being shaped by so many, to him mostly difficult, experiences — inward and outward –, but also by fresh moments when he becomes one with everything and everyone — within and without.

Most of us know the story: Robert used to live both in the USA and the Philippines (now only in the latter), Robert suffers from Vietnam War related post traumatic stress syndrome, Robert was first introduced to haiku by his late father, Robert fell in love with Japanese short form poetry at first glance (and it has never left him, contrary to… what/whoever may think), Robert does not attend conferences, Robert was a teacher for “thrown away kids” (as he puts it in his Introduction to the book)… This is the background… Experiences, impressions, images, hard and light moments, dreamlike or reality-like have been written themselves in the first palpable, paper world of a tanka/haiku book – Jack Fruit Moon.

When I read it, and I’m reading Wilson’s book again, I’ve also been reading The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy at the same time, I am sure I can bring these two books into connection. Just as the story of the latter is light and “made possible” and real in the way it describes the destiny of our small planet and its inhabitants’ behavior and speaking while a few of those chosen from human and “out-of-earth” species travel through the galaxies as if there is nothing strange in that, so are Wilson’s dreams, shadows, nightmares, sufferings, pains, inexpressible joys, encounters with the living and the dead… Everything is possible; nothing is impossible; his endless search of his own self and safety in his unstable and ever-changing – for the worse or better – worlds.

i settle with
the dust, a pile
of leaves
swept away
into tall whispers

trees . . .
i reach past them
into heaven

is that you
sitting on the
star above
me crawling out
of a dream

In his poems he opted for what he is – a shadowman – a dreamman – a nightmareman – an emphaticman – a memoryman – all of us are or could or might be. The problem is, the difference is, the fact is — he dares be what he is.

Memories and keen desires attack him from all sides, every single moment, in every situation. No matter where he really is – in time and/or place. Things slip from his hands, things slip from hands of others:

i step
into this tree
sprouting leaves,
knowing they
will fall and wither

ants carry
pieces of me
into a
story i’ll write
later between moons

ebb tide . . .
half a world
away my
reflection sings
to you in mirrors

there you are
midway through a
dream, telling
me the moon
is made of paper

One may say, especially those who view themselves as authorities on Japanese short form poetry, that many of Robert’s haiku and tanka are not in line with the prescribed policy. Too many metaphors, allusions, illusions, imaginaries, reminiscences? I’d say just the opposite. Art must develop or it dies…. Robert has created two original things: tanka/ haiku strings and the way of expressing past moments/memories/reminiscences/dreams/…in the present moment. As for the first, it will be obvious to those who have read or who will read the book. When it comes to the second, nothing is past if it keeps hunting us day and night:

brown water . . .
watching death float
between my legs

summer heat . . .
an empty-eyed
woman plods
past me into the
gecko’s mouth

Even when he writes about “normal” things we all normally write about, he does it in his own, “twisted”, way, with unexpected turns. He asks the reader to stop and deeply think about what he/she reads, sees and feels:

at midnight,
a dead mouse lighting
lanterns

the morning
sky hovers
over me, weighted
down with the gray
eyes of vendors

a small mound
of dirt, the stillness
of words
caught between a
siren’s echo

Living in the Philippines, his everyday encounters with and empathy for, first of all, the poor who he has labeled “the invisible people,” lead to many touching poems. He wants to warn the world, to call its attention:

he fishes
inside of a
still born moon
mumbling words he
can’t remember

still water . . .
the stench of a
newborn moon

she sleeps through
noon on a cement
slab scented
with peanuts and
stale memories

I cannot recommend this book as the one you can learn from. We can only be grateful to Robert for letting us into his world. And his world is not limited to Earth only. The universe is boundless, we all know that. His poems flow, fly, collide with each other through space and time. If dare enter Robert’s boundless world, be warned: it won’t be easy. You will have to take a firm running start and fly off to capture them.