This book is a delight, square in shape and persimmon-coloured, it is beautifully produced with deep green flyleaf covers and plenty of space around the text giving the haiku the room it deserves. The artwork of persimmons on the front cover by Eiko Mori and Richard Steiner’s artwork on the back is appealing and gives the reader the impression that a great deal of thought has gone into this book’s creation. Persimmon is an anthology of the Hailstone Haiku Circle in Kansai, Japan and comprises the work of a ‘village’ of sixty haiku poets, both Japanese and foreigners living in Japan, including Australian and New Zealand poets. There are well-known poets featured in the book and newer names too. Persimmon has a uniquely Japanese flavor. The experience of living in Japan is shown through the eyes of poets from diverse cultural backgrounds, yet what becomes apparent is the common humanity which these poets share.
The book is set out in an interesting and unusual way. It begins with Stephen Gill’s introduction about that very Japanese fruit, kaki, the persimmon. His tone is both warm and engaging and he creates a picture of the role the persimmon plays in Japanese life. He states that the kaki is ‘a tree for all seasons’ and so is the anthology. The haiku and haiqua (haiku quatrain) are arranged in alphabetical order of members in groups interspersed with a haibun by Nobuyuki Yuasa and two rensaku. The final rensaku ‘Calendar Says’ is ‘an alphabetical sequence of haiku built out of verbal ideas’, each link featuring active verbs which are integral to the haiku. While Gill admits that, ‘It is quite possible to write a good haiku without using a verb’, the emphasis is on the verb here. This kind of experimentation leads readers into new territory, encouraging them to reassess how they might record their own haiku.
Examples of haiku with active verbs which work particularly well are:
Pouring rain –
just a few flickering lanterns
for our flickering spirits
New Year’s light —
the white roots of hyacinth
in a glass vase
These poems are further explored through a description of the links between verses and additional explanations in paragraphs labelled ‘remarks’.
The haiku and haiqua in the anthology are refreshing in part because they do not slot in to the formulaic patterns so prevalent in English language haiku. All poems in the anthology start with a capital letter, some are two lines long, some four lines in the style that Stephen Gill often uses for his own work (haiqua), some run on, yet there is a confidence about this poetry that expands our idea of haiku, of how we should use form to express meaning. There is no sense of obtuseness or limitation here. These haiku moments are genuine and often intriguing.
Two poems from Yuko Yuasa:
Mixing a salad
for one who loves to eat colour
— summer’s end
they are never to be used;
I shine his shoes
and examples of humour found in everyday experience.
The Miyajima deer –
it ate my haiku!
A new cactus
in the condominium yard?
just an old man crouching
in a woolly hat
On reading Persimmon, one gains the feeling that this is a real community ‘a village’ where members not only gather to write haiku, but some also get together to join a choir, sing Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana and then write rensaku about the experience. As well as the camaraderie, there is much gentleness and respect here. Stephen Gill’s vision and the work in this anthology is both confident and highly competent, expressing haiku as a flexible and timeless way of viewing and interpreting the world.
Hailstone Publications, c/o Miyazaki, 54-16 Hamuro-cho, Takatsuki-shi, Osaka-fu, 569-1147, Japan. More details at Icebox https://hailhaiku.wordpress.com
ISBN 978-4-9900822-8-4 150pp. US$18 airmail postage paid.