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Volume 39.2
Summer 2008

book review:

January Sun
by Stanford M. Forrester

Reviewed by Rich Youmans

January Sun, by Stanford M. Forrester (Windsor, Conn.: Bottle Rockets Press, 2007). 32 pages, 5 x 6 , hand-sewn. ISBN 978-0-9792257-0-3. $11.00 postpaid from the publisher at PO Box 189, Windsor, CT 06095

This collection from Stanford Forrester opens with a quote from Robert Louis Stevenson: “The Sun Shines Today Also.” This is quickly followed by the title haiku:

January sun—
the snow melts first
on Buddha’s belly

Even in the depth of winter, the sun still arrives with the power to set change in motion — a condition of impermanence that is a central part of Buddhist philosophy. Put this haiku in the context of the Stevenson quote, and Forrester seems to be saying that this impermanence must be recognized daily. The Stevenson quote also contains an inherent optimism: life may be ephemeral, but every day there are moments to celebrate.

Forrester, a past president of the Haiku Society of America, does just that throughout the thirty-two haiku in this collection. As you would expect from a book that features an ink painting of a buddha on the cover (done by Korean artist Soohyun Lee), a number of haiku in this book specifically offer reflections on Buddhist philosophy. However, Forrester often makes his points with a wink and a grin:

Zen meditation —
emptying my mind
when no one is looking

meditation retreat —
a jolly buddha
dangles between her breasts

makes a good
anchor —
the stone buddha

insy or outsy
belly button
either way, no attachments

Other poems, while often informed by Buddhist sensibilities, simply present moments keenly perceived — the essence of haiku — with a few apparently inspired by family:

they actually
are pretty quiet . . .
wild flowers

cinnamon bread—
she eats
only the swirls

late afternoon sun . . .
the glow
on each marble

          (for Molly)

The final haiku in the collection returns to the idea of impermanence:

that’s what
dandelions do . . .
blow away

Overall, Forrester has presented a collection of well-crafted haiku that, like dandelion seeds, will take root and, with each rereading, bring with them a small burst of enjoyment.

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