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Volume 38.2
Summer 2007

book review:

The Porch, Deltascape, & Found Haiku from Eudora Welty’s Delta Wedding
by Jianqing Zheng

Reviewed by Charles Trumbull

The Porch, by Jianqing Zheng. 22 pages. Deltascape, by JQ Zheng. 34 pages. Found Haiku from Eudora Welty’s Delta Wedding, by JQ Zheng. All published in 2006 by Yazoo River Press, Itta Bena, Miss. 5.5 x 8.5. Paper covers; colored endpapers; saddle-stitched. No ISBNs. For prices and availability contact the author.

Jianqing (John) Zheng, professor and chair of the Department of English and Foreign Languages at Mississippi Valley State University and editor of the literary review Valley Voices, is best known in haiku circles for his scholarly work on Richard Wright’s haiku (see, for example, his articles in MH 38.1 and Frogpond 25:2 and 30:1). He has also been busy writing and publishing his own poetry, however. Following The Landscape of Mind (Slapering Hol Press, 2001), a collection of poetry written in haiku-like stanzas, last year he issued these three slim volumes of haiku. Zheng’s academic work focuses on Mississippi authors and other Southern writers, and these books fit squarely in that tradition, chronicling life in the Mississippi Delta and utilizing, citing, and generally rubbing literary elbows with the likes of Wright, Willie Morris, and Eudora Welty.

The Porch is a sequence of 60 verses recording the languid life on a Southern porch. Read as haiku, the individual verses, many with a single elaborated image are a bit thin, for example:

the old man
in the porch rocking chair
waves to passing cars

a bottle in right hand
a drunken man sits mumbling
on the sunset porch

Every verse uses the word “porch” (the exception being one with “veranda”). This has both positive and negative effects: the whole collection becomes more interesting and richer than the sum of the individual verses, but at the same time the reading experience becomes somewhat sticky and stultifying—like a Mississippi summer night.

Haiku in a much more traditional style comprise Deltascape. Here Zheng broadens his field of vision from a single porch to the entire Delta area of northwestern Mississippi and beyond, to nature and human beings generally. Wright’s influence is evident in the numbering and formatting of Zheng’s haiku as well as in the text of verses such as

after rain
the smell of heat wafting
along the dirt road

More than occasionally Zheng’s haiku are touched by the weakness of intellectual or metaphorical interpretation, as in

crescent moon—
a sickle hanging high
over the fields

In general, though, this is a strong collection that gets into the soul of a culturally rich area.

Found Haiku, a collection of 100 snippets from Eudora Welty’s 1946 novel Delta Wedding, is an interesting project if only because it seems to be the first large collection of found haiku—certainly the first to come from a single literary source. The idea is not novel: R.H. Blyth and Harold Henderson, for example, both delighted in finding haiku-like content in Western literary works. Zheng’s work captures and epitomizes passages of Welty’s descriptive genius. For example, the sentence that ends the second paragraph of the novel, "Then the long September cry rang from the thousand unseen locusts, urgent at the open windows of the train" becomes

September cry—
thousands of locusts urgent
at open windows

Occasionally, when Zheng sticks too close to the particulars of the novel by naming characters and locations, the reader who does not know Delta Wedding well will be befuddled. Other times, however, haiku of great depth are found:

birdsong—
faint wind from the bayou
touches the girl’s hair

Zheng is doing interesting work in giving a rich haiku voice to the South, and these collections are well worth exploring.

 

 

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