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Volume 36.1
Spring 2005

book review:

My Journey
by Lidia Rozmus

 

reviewed by Marion Olson

My Journey, by Lidia Rozmus (Evanston, Ill.: Deep North Press, 2004). Haibun, haiku, photographs, sumi-e, and book design by the author. 48 accordion-fold pages in a custom slipcase; hand assembled. 4.25 x 8.75 card stock. ISBN: 1-929116-13-6. $25.00 postpaid in the U.S. from the author at 1 Echo Ct, #11, Vernon Hills IL 60061

Lidia Rozmus’s fourth and latest book, My Journey, is both innovative and refreshingly beautiful in capturing and presenting memories from her childhood in Poland through her adult life in Chicago. Enveloped in a smart black casing, the pages are really one long rectangular sheet of heavy white paper folded like a closed accordion. Opened, the segments form a holographic art piece. Because of the structure of the book, Rozmus’ journey begins where it ends, the final segment, or last page, becoming the title page ! This in itself makes a strong philosophic statement, a perfect complement to her artwork, prose, and poetry. A glossary separated from the main body of work assists with foreign words and places—a convenient addition, since the reader doesn’t have to flip through pages to find the meaning of a word; it’s right there at hand. Such fine details mark the design of the book.

Rozmus studied at the Jagiellonian University in Krakow and later at the Art Institute of Chicago. Currently, she is the art editor of Modern Haiku and no doubt has been influential in the new look of the journal. She is a professional graphic designer, teacher, and sumi-e artist who has shown her sumi-e and haiga here in the United States, as well as internationally. No wonder, then, the level of sophistication found in My Journey.

Although Rozmus claims only haibun, haiku, and sumi-e for these pages, she mimics haiga here and there. Traditionally, Japanese poet-painters used the same brush and ink for their haiku paintings, or haiga, but it was inevitable that photography would find its way into the genre. Rozmus is not the first to combine lens image and poem, but she is not a beginner. She knows how to work one offthe other. We can see it following the haiku in “Chicago, 1982,” when a simple abstract photograph suggests among other things the whorls of a fingerprint:

immigration office
seeing my fingerprints
for the first time

or following the haiku in “Warsaw, 2003” with a wind-blown tree and its magnified shadow cast on a flat surface:

passing train . . .
reflection of a woman —
maybe me

In both examples the page itself frames photograph and haiku, so that each enhances the other to engage the reader’s imagination. Other pairings in the book work in a similar way. Most of the photographs in My Journey, however, complement the tone of the whole book, rather than a particular haiku or haibun, just as images and words in a collage work together to form a collec-tive impression. Clearly, though, on those pages with one haiku appearing with one photograph, meaning is enriched as in traditional haiga.

The sumi-e in My Journey does not inform the poetry or prose directly. It works subtly, a continuous brush stroke at the bottom of the pages that runs from the beginning of the book to the end. One could read the brush stroke as the living pulse of Rozmus herself as it rises and falls on a strip chart that measures both the serenity and excitement of each recorded memory. Her brush stroke is sure and the ink flows with spontaneous control. To my delight, the more I pored over the pages, the more patterns and connections emerged.

Rozmus tells the reader that life has been good, and we can sense her gratefulness in both writing and images. When she says, “moonlight all over / inside me a prayer / never heard before” we believe her. Whether she takes the reader back to a childhood creek or into the silence of the hut where Santôka died or aboard ship partying with friends, her memories are sharp and sensuous: “dancing / her hips swing to the rhythm / of the full moon.” Death and the subsequent sadness of separation are part of her memories too, as revealed in this modern tanka in memory of her mother’s premature death:

a well
without bottom
without echo
cherry blossoms fall in
too fast, too soon

Accompanying this poem is a striking photograph, tight and clean with imaginative cropping, a mystical image and shrine to her mother.

I was disappointed to find a few editorial flaws in this polished book: a missing word in the prose section of “November Meadow,” subject / verb errors in “Teacup fragments” and “Polish Rider in the Big Apple” (a reminder, perhaps, that English is Rozmus’s second language), a typo in the haiku following “Shoebox.”

Nevertheless, the artwork, prose, poetry, paper, and printing—all of it—worked together to create a complex and artistic whole unlike any this reader has ever seen before among books of haiku.

 

 

 

 

©2005 Modern Haiku • PO Box 68 • Lincoln, IL 62656