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Volume 35.1
Spring 2004

 

book review:

Late Geese Up a Dry Fork
by Burnell Lippy

 

reviewed by Edward Zuk

Late Geese Up a Dry Fork, by Burnell Lippy (Winchester, Va.: Red Moon Press, 2003), 64 unnumbered pages, 4.5 x 8, perfectbound. ISBN 1-893959-35-X. $12.00 + $3.00 postage and handling from Red Moon Press at P.O. Box 2461, Winchester VA, 22604-1661.

One of Bashô’s most interesting contributions to haiku theory was the concept of nioi. The word translates to “fragrance” or “scent,” and Bashô used the term to refer to the process by which one image seems to transfer its “scent” or general spirit to another, much as the perfume of a flower can brighten the objects surrounding it. The key to understanding nioi (if “understanding” is the proper word) is to realize that the two images have no rational connection, yet some mysterious link seems to join them when they meet in the poem.

The idea of nioi was much in my mind as I read Burnell Lippy’s debut chapbook, Late Geese Up a Dry Fork. Over and over again these haiku seemed to create connections between the images that lay just beyond my ability to explain them:

squash vines
long and hollow
the last late evenings
summer dawn
coolness
of the egg’s taper

What connection is there between hollow squash vines and the evening, or the summer dawn and an egg’s taper? Somehow these haiku seemed to make a convincing case that there is something behind the juxtaposition, as the dark recesses of the squash vines suggest something of the darkness of evening, or the summer dawn and white eggshell both suggest a pale color and coolness. It takes talent to join disparate images with the right amount of flair and surprise, and poets who wish to study nioi will find themselves moved and challenged by a great many haiku in this collection.

Unfortunately, the haiku rely too much on a single effect, and this monotony hurts the book as a whole. Nioi is by definition an irrational connection between two images, and in a book it can lead to a feeling of diffusion and pointlessness. I left Late Geese Up a Dry Fork having experienced a series of poignant moments, but I missed the feeling of exploration and completeness that a focused book of haiku should bring. Robert Frost once wrote that poetry provides “a momentary stay against confusion” and a “clarification” of life, however small.

Regrettably, I finished Lippy’s chapbook as confused and uninformed as I had entered it.
For those who treasure the irrational, Zen elements of haiku, this collection has much to offer, and haiku poets of any level can learn from its brilliant use of nioi and the interesting turns of phrase that enliven nearly every poem, but few readers, I imagine, will feel that the book as a whole was as planned and effective as the individual poems within it.

 

 

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