Volume 40.1
Winter 2009

book review:

Familiar Foreign: Haiku and Linked Verse
by Richard Tice

Familiar Foreign: Haiku and Linked Verse, by Richard Tice, with Jack Lyon & others (West Valley City, Utah: Waking Lion Press, 2008). 66 pages; 6 x 9. Glossy tan card covers; perfectbound. ISBN 978-1-4341-0216-4. $7.95 from online booksellers.

Reviewed by Edward J. Rielly

Richard Tice, former editor with Jack Lyon of Dragonfly: East/West Haiku Quarterly, has made his most recent book, Familiar Foreign: Haiku and Linked Verse, a survey of the many Japanese-derived poetic forms in which he has worked. In addition, Tice supplements the poetry with several essays that offer useful information about his own creative processes. Other poets appear occasionally in the collection but only as they serve as coauthors of specific works.

There is, as the saying goes, something for everyone in this volume. It begins with an essay on Tice’s approach to haiku in which he explains that his poems are autobiographical (illustrating the quality of makoto, that is, sincerity or truthfulness) and narrates how he composed the following haiku as an illustration of his approach:

different tones
of nuts as a woman
shakes a bare gingko

The brief discussion of haiku in Tice’s book would be especially useful for beginners as the poet recalls considering what to include, word choice, images, and other issues involved in bringing a haiku as close to perfection as possible.
Several of the haiku in Familiar Foreign are splendid. The haiku “after the wedding / clarity / of mountain water” invites a wide range of reactions. Who is reflecting “after the wedding”? Is the person having second thoughts about the potential happiness of the newly married couple? The rushing sensuousness of the final two lines appears as a sharp, cold blow to the perhaps unthinking initial response to the wedding.

In “A day at the office: / nothing to remind me / it’s snowing,” the hard-working person plugging away in a cubicle seemingly without even a window misses all that is happening outside. What reaction will await the worker at the end of the day? Sorrow for what has been missed? Or perhaps pleasure at having remained warm and cozy while others were battling wind-blown snow and slick roads?

In another haiku, a peony opens gently in its bowl (“more than yesterday / the floating peony’s red / filling the glass bowl”), offering a wonderful moment of surprise at its spreading beauty. Yet even the most quotidian of experiences (doing laundry) can invite the spiritual in Tice’s haiku:

dry exhaust
floating white specks before
heavenly bamboo

For this reviewer, the most enjoyable portion of this book is the haiku section, although that is a matter of personal interest rather than a critical judgment. Tice brings a keen eye, cultivated sensibility, and considerable skill to all of the genres that he includes. There are haiku poems, a haibun, linked verses (including tanrenga), and a kasen. “Neighborhood Girls,” a solo linked verse, is especially delightful. Its vivid images catch moments that are both touching and universal. For example, the following excerpt:

half the fingerpaints
on the canvas half
up to her elbows

her nose still plugged up
after an hour of Vicks

The kasen, “Asagusa / Morning Grass,” is preceded by an essay that offers background information regarding the poetic form and Tice’s rationale for composing on this particular subject. The thirty-six verses come from four poets: Matsuo Bashô; two of his disciples, Mukai Kyorai and Nozawa Bonchô; and Tice (who also is the translator) under what he calls a “pseudo-Japanese art name,” Taishu Richiya. Among the Tice / Richiya verses, the following is especially appealing:

in that well-lighted house,
a woman’s voice
grows cheerful

If only someone outside, watching the bright lights and listening to the happy voice of the woman, could enter and join the festivities. Fortunately, readers are able to do precisely that with this interesting and entertaining collection from a very talented poet.



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