Volume 41.1
Winter 2010


book review:

Artichoke Season: Haiku and Tanka
by Susan Antolin

Artichoke Season: Haiku and Tanka, by Susan Antolin (Walnut Creek, Calif.: Spare Poems Press, 2009). 96 pages; 5 x7. Matte white card covers; perfectbound. ISBN 978-0-615309-77-4. Price: $12.00 from online bookstores or the author at <susantolin@gmail.com>.

Reviewed by Linda Jeannette Ward

Bound between white cardstock illustrated with sumi-e artichokes by Kate Ruddle, the cover of Susan Antolin’s first collection is appropriately spare as though to complement the haiku and tanka centered one per page. Of the 93 poems reflecting on her daily life and family relationships, only 12 are tanka, and these are in a minimalist style that many current tanka critics would object to as being five-line haiku. I found myself trying mentally to move Antolin’s tanka into haiku, even though I lean away from compliance with the modern English-language tanka approach of conforming to short-long-short-long-long line arrangements. I think this mild objection to her tanka may be because many of her short, five-line poems tend to blend into one long sentence, with the inclusion of the personal pronoun resulting in a loss of impact that might otherwise have been achieved.

piercing potatoes
with a fork
I wait
for his

Similarly, the least effective haiku in her collection are written with the last two lines as one sentence, as opposed to a more effective sentence fragment:

early spring
I overload the cart
with plants

stroke of genius?!
I throw unmatched socks
in the trash

In her introduction to the book, Antolin explains the strong influence of Machi Tawara’s Salad Anniversary on her own development as a poet. Antolin’s adoption of Tawara’s diary approach is successfully applied to her arrangement of haiku, and when she uses sensory images, season words, and evocative juxtapositions that show human and animal emotions she brings the reader into her life without being saccharin or overly sentimental:

pushing her nose
under my hand for a pat —
spring morning

her diagnosis
scribbled on an old receipt
lengthening winter

Antolin’s joy in home, pets, and family shines through all her work with an immediacy and reverence for the ordinariness of simple things. With a shake of a tablecloth she invites us to a family picnic that is so pleasant we linger until stars appear, with white crumbs scattering to mimic the night sky and its promise of never-ending.

the tablecloth
shaken over the lawn
starry night

Yet with a slight turn of perspective, Antolin lets us know she’s not unaware of how transitory life is.

heading home —
a pair of coyotes
circles closer

Is the family heading home in their vehicle packed with leftovers and picnic supplies, or are they walking along a neighborhood path when they encounter coyotes, a wild animal who has adapted to suburban and even urban environments . . . images such as this let dread seep through her otherwise joyful and humorous reporting of the interconnections among her family, garden and community, and allow us to see how a short trip to the familiar safety and comfort of home can change instantly to tragedy.

Recommended for a reassuring read on a night of estrangement, Antolin’s collection of many previously published and award winning poems will be a welcome companion. What better comfort food than chocolate, what better solace than a voice that’s nurtured you all of your life . . .

chocolate milkshake —
the comfort
of my mother’s voice



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