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Volume 37.3
Autumn 2006

book review:

Lull Before Dark
by Caroline Gourlay


Lull Before Dark, by Caroline Gourlay (Decatur, Ill.: Brooks Books, 2005). 64 pages, 5"  x  6.5", perfectbound. ISBN 1-929820-09-7. $10 plus $2.50 postage from Brooks Books, 3720 N Woodridge Drive, Decatur, IL 62526, or order online at <brooksbookshaiku.com>.

Reviewed by Marjorie Buettner

Juxtaposition of images gives complexity to haiku. This juxtaposition is one of the most important aspects of writing good haiku, since the meaning or intent of the poem itself is defined by this conjunction of images and their secret or implied relationship with each other. How these images mean together is the essence of a qualitative haiku, giving the haiku its depth and resonance.

In Lull Before Dark, Caroline Gourlay, as the introduction by Maureen Ritter tells us, is true to what H.F. Noyes stipulates: “what is most vital is that we expose ourselves to the spirit of the art form.” The “spirit of the art form,” however, cannot be disassociated from the poet’s need to capture surprising and interesting juxtaposition of images. Here is an example of a creative and interesting use of juxtaposition:

all those things
I wish now I'd asked you—
snow falling

The sense of regret is as palpable as the falling snow and as impossible to reverse. The juxtaposition of falling snow and the sense of regret is a successful association. There are a few problem haiku in Lull Before Dark, however, specifically one-image haiku without juxtaposition in evidence:

the woodland floor
a fly

This may be a picture-perfect moment, but the absence of any juxtaposition of images, along with an awkward, convoluted sentence structure, leaves this haiku nondimensional and flat. Consider the confusion in these haiku:

through melting snow
the barn roof

wind getting up —
stirring the dark water
unwanted feelings

Both haiku fail to illuminate any contrasting juxtaposition of images. In fact, confusion is the foremost effect. The following haiku is more successful because it utilizes a contrasting cutting word:

last light
holding the water
holding the trees

In this haiku the repetition of the participle "holding" extends the length of this last light into a moment that resonates for the reader. The juxtaposition of light and an implied timelessness makes this haiku ring true.

for this moment
that cloud

Though I often cringe when I see the overuse of "just," here it seems to work well all alone, stopping time long enough to remind the reader to slow down and look at the world with attention. The juxtaposition of cloud and moment reiterates the underlying truth that life is a breath away from death.

falling asleep ...
the sound of water
growing darker

Here the poet expresses successfully the inexpressible that resides in that magical conjunction of reality and unreality when falling asleep. Just so, nature is imbued with those magical transitions that carry the perceiver into another dimension. The juxtaposition of sleep and the sound of water growing darker is an intuitive, almost mythical awareness. It is one of those wonderful synesthetic experiences we knew once but forgot. Gourlay is there to help remind us of those lost moments once forgotten and now recaptured. Here is an example of another mythical awareness that carries the reader into a deeper and more profound understanding of the interconnection of the living with life.

turning for home
in the lull before dark

On the whole, as long as Gourlay avoids those one-dimensional, one-image haiku and relies instead upon the use of juxtaposition, her haiku remain true to Noyes’s "spirit of the art form"; those haiku resonate on a deeper level and challenge the reader to understand them on a deeper level.


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