Volume 42.1
Winter 2011


book review:

by Peter Yovu

Reviewed by Paul Miller

Sunrise, by Peter Yovu (Winchester, Va.: Red Moon Press, 2010). 96 unnumbered pages; 4.25 x 6.5. Glossy four-color card cover, perfectbound. ISBN 10893959-97-2. Price: $12.00 + s&h from the publisher at <http://www.redmoonpress.com>.

In a review of the 2006 Red Moon Anthology in Modern Haiku 39.1, Peter Yovu threw down a gauntlet of sorts in advocating the need for "shadow" (a term from Robert Bly) in much of American haiku. The need was in response to a sense of formulaic sameness in much of the published canon. He pointed out what has become an almost standard first line of an adjective and noun. He was careful to add that that didn’t make a poem bad but suggested that it might limit Western haiku's growth.

"Shadow" according to Yovu was a needed glimpse into the unconscious. He seemed to feel that American poets were playing it too safe, closing off their poems before a discovery was made. He quoted Robert Frost: "No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader." One of the characteristics of a kind of haiku is the haiku twist. This is where the poem sets up an expectation, but ultimately veers in a different direction. That new direction, if from the unconscious, could be considered "shadow." Yovu is one of a crop of poets whose work feels new and exciting, specifically because he allows his poems to veer off into uncharted waters.

under a budding maple
all that I am
unable to say

a falcon dives
how completely
I surround my bones

The first poem is a good example of a change in direction. The first two lines set up a scene of seasonal potential, and Yovu's comment "all that I am" fits nicely in a positive, confident way. Some poets would stop there, unwilling to look askew. But Yovu adds a third line that turns that potential into self-doubt.

Sometimes Yovu takes his twists into surreal territory:

a fork in the
the road turning into a
a clock

a shakuhachi flute
I step into the wind
with holes in my bones

As would be expected from an openness to mid-stream change, he is a playful poet. Sometimes with language that is more abstract than is normally seen in haiku journals, but that is starting to creep in — perhaps validated by the abstractions in Japanese gendai poetry.

in and out of meaning
      a finned word

uneasy things grow wings underground

Some poems (for example, the one-liner "Monday bleeding down to money") defy my definition of haiku, but again, such mutants are to be expected of a writer unafraid to let his poems guide him. It is still an interesting poem, but a haiku? Yovu perhaps would argue that such definitions got us to a place of formulaic sameness. All in all, Yovu's imagination and fearlessness are a detour I’m happy to recommend.



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