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Volume 36.3
Autumn 2005

book review

A Halo Round the Moon
by Ikuyo Yoshimura

reviewed by Paul Miller

A Halo Round the Moon, by Ikuyo Yoshimura (Gifu, Japan: Rainbow Press, 2004). 60 pages, 4 x 8, perfectbound. No ISBN. International money order for $10.00 postpaid, from the author at 1-3, Oonawaba 4-Chome, Gifu 500-8889, Japan.

As a student of Kaneko Tohta, Ikuyo Yoshimura seems to share his belief in poetic accessibility through everyday subject matter. This charming new collection from the leader of the English-Japanese group Evergreen is divided into the five traditional haiku seasons (the normal four plus New Year’s), whose poems typically involve herself and her surroundings.

Her strength as a haiku poet is in her superb use of kigo, where she lets a delicate tension develop between it and the other parts of the poem. She can skillfully set up an expectation and then tweak that expectation, as in the following poem from the Spring section:

my sixtieth birthday—
two small shells are displayed
as Hina dolls

The Dolls Festival is when young Japanese girls bring out ceremonial dolls and pray for good luck and future happiness—especially in the area of marriage. But until the kigo is introduced in the last line, the displayed shells could be mementoes of any occasion in a long life. It is a deliberate, temporary misdirection, and it works powerfully. The phrase “small shells” adds many levels here, especially given the sense of hindsight generated by line one.

Similarly, the everyday beauty of marbles

some marbles too
show their beauty
in the goldfish bowl

both enlivens and seems to fade with the introduction of the goldfish. There is a strong tug of war between the marbles and the kigo “goldfish,” one that would not be quite as strong if the order were reversed.

The partially obscured moon in the title poem,

his coming
earlier than usual—
a halo round the moon

could relate to the ambiguous motivations of either spouse. A nice use of the objective correlative.

At rare times she becomes fantastical:

over the trees
our Frisbee becomes
a winter bird

This is a delightful poem that ties the toy’s rising and falling to the hopes of the poet and ourselves, all of these feelings set against a year whose end is in sight.

One easily fixed misstep in the collection is the occasional bad grammar, as in

spring rain—
coins are throwing into bowl
to antiwar song

The author would have benefited from a read-through by a native English speaker, but these mistakes are few and the poems are still easily understood.

A Halo Round the Moon is a fine collection by a fine poet who uses kigo to take her poems beyond simple visuals.

a toad croaking
beyond
the horizon

Any modern haiku about a frog has to assume a reference to Bashô’s famous frog, and I wonder if the poet herself isn’t this toad, wondering how its poetic output will be perceived beyond Japan’s borders. There is little to worry about, I suspect.

 

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