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Volume 42.1
Winter 2011

 

book review:

Inside Out
by Christopher Herold

Reviewed by David Lanoue

Inside Out, by Christopher Herold (Winchester, Va.: Red Moon Press, 2010). 102 unnumbered pages; 5.5 x7. Matte tan card covers; black endpapers; perfectbound. ISBN 978-1-893959-96-5. Price: $12.00+ s&h from the publisher at <http://www.redmoonpress.com>.

In a recent posting on The Haiku Foundation blog, Philip Row- land writes, "The relatively narrow (and necessarily hybrid) basis of the tradition of haiku in English, with its emphasis on the here and now, can only take us so far; thus many published haiku seem 'thin.' Perhaps what's needed is less striving to perfect the 'same,' more writing against the grain" (Positions 5/21/10). As I read Christopher Herold’s book, Philip Rowland's quote echoed in the back of my mind. The haiku in Inside Out focus unashamedly on here-and- now moments, recalling R.H. Blyth's emphasis on Zen "presentness" that so significantly influenced haiku written in English in the past half century. Indeed, as if to emphasize this point, a group of haiku in this book show scenes inside "The Snail's Pace," the poet's Zen meditation hut. This is a collection of haiku written with the grain of haiku tradition in English, not against it, by a writer who, according to the book's back cover, has "been immersed in the world of haiku for forty years." If Rowland is correct, such a book "can only take us so far." As I turned its pages, I wondered if the haiku printed on them, indeed, would seem thin.

They didn’t.

tea grown cold—
        the sleeping face
        of my old dog

bell ending zazen
everyone begins to move
except the spider

bright morning sun
venetian blinds restripe
the tabby

visiting graves
       as we enter the gate
       she lets go of my hand

a street preacher's rant
    wind bends the stream
    from the gargoyle's mouth

jays at the feeder
     I remember the names
     of high school bullies

early twilight
snow enters a barn
on the backs of cows

The book is divided into two parts: "Inside"—poems inspired by indoor scenes—and "Out"—those inspired by scenes out-of-doors. The first three examples, above, are taken from the "Inside" section; the last four from the "Out." In his Preface the author admits that "inside" and "out" connect and interpenetrate, citing Blyth, who wrote "There is no distinction between inner and outer," and John Lennon, who sang "Your outside is in and your inside is out." The latter quote is attributed to the Beatles song "Come Together" but actually appears in that group’s White Album cut, "Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey."

In my reading of them, these are not thin poems. They are haiku that I want to spend time with, to imagine, to ponder, and to revisit later. I agree with Rowland's notion that haiku in English deserves some shaking up, some fresh thinking by writers who, as Rowland says (in the same Web posting), "stop being 'haiku poets' for a while" and "conceive of their work more broadly in the field of contemporary poetry and the canon to which they aspire." This, in general, I believe is good advice. However, in this particular case, Christopher Herold writes English haiku in a most traditional way (as that tradition has developed over the past century) yet still makes it sound like something completely, breathtakingly new. This is because he is a fine poet (note: I didn’t add the qualifier, haiku poet). As a poet, he has a keen ear for sound, a clear vision of what to say and what to leave unsaid, and a dazzling sense of the possibilities of juxtaposition: cold tea and old dog, sun stripes and cat stripes, human practitioners of Zen and a spider. His imagination leaps from a street preacher's rant to the wind-bent stream of water gushing from a gargoyle's mouth, suggesting all kinds of connections, from comic to profound. Alluding to his inside-outside theme, cows enter a barn, carrying the outside inside with them, on their backs. In another moment of entering, a woman or girl lets go of the poet’s hand as they enter a graveyard: a simple gesture that suggests thoughts and feelings which, to quote Wordsworth, "lie too deep for tears." Finally, my favorite leap of all that pleasantly shock in this masterful collection: jays squawking around a feeder conjure in the poet’s mind (and, simul- taneously, in the reader's mind) names of high school bullies.

Inside Out is a beautifully designed book with a metaphorically significant Mobius strip gracing its cover; good, quality paper; sharp and contextually meaningful black-and-white photographs; and poems arranged on its pages in a manner that is pleasing to the eye: blank space subtly encouraging meditative pauses between the haiku. All in all, this is a book that reminds me: even though I, like Rowland, welcome cross-grain poetic experimentation in English haiku, the older style of the past half-century, when done right, can still blow me away.

 

 

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