All That Remains, by Catherine J.S. Lee (Highland Park, N.J.: Turtle Light Press, 2011). 30 pages; 5x4. Fine press edition. ISBN 978-0-9748147-2-8. Price: $17.95 from the publisher at PO Box 1405, Highland Park NJ 08904.
The winner of the Turtle Light Press 2010 Chapbook Contest, this hand-assembled book is a joy to hold. Deep green card covers, a brown flyleaf of dried ferns, and soft cream pages with green type, it feels old-fashioned as if it belonged in a cabin or camp. Because of haiku's seemingly intimate nature, Lee's thirty-nine personal poems about family and homecoming feel like a peek at the poet's diary. It is a quiet, reflective volume, and in these times of clamor for new trends and directions, reinforces haiku’s unique ability to capture the quiet poignancy of life's deceptively simple moments. The chapbook describes Lee's return to a childhood Maine.
The first poem in the collection nicely sets the tone and provides a warning against revisiting familiar things with new eyes.
no trespassing signs
where we used to play
The best poems in the collection remind me of Charles Dickson's work, where nostalgia for the past meets the present moment. Lee shares his interest in items such as scythes, hay rakes, tin roofs, and braided rugs. Throw in family, and you have rich poetic soil.
his rusted gang-plough almost
hidden by snow
family secrets —
the shore ledges covered
It is not a perfect volume. There are more than a few poems about dealing with elder or missing parents, in particular a few in which the parent mistakes a child for a sibling or stranger. This is well-trod territory in haiku, and the editor would have been wise to cull these poems.
The best haiku are those in which the family intersects the land. In the first poem below it is important to read "our" as "our family," not as a couple. It is easy to imagine the generations that have lain on that hammock, yet it raises questions about the future of the farm.
a stirring of leaves
in our worn hammock
plumes of dust eddy
in the heat
This being Lee's first collection it is understandable that she stumbles occasionally. But where she hits she does it strongly. Coincidentally, she is also the winner of the 2011 Robert Spiess Contest. I suspect we’ll see more of her in the future.