Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Haiku and Yield to the Willow

Morning runners
at the finishing line—
a gull wheels away


*

Don Wentworth's Yield to the Willow is a collection of very short poems, most of which are haiku, but not all. It's an enjoyable read but nothing earthshaking. He can be very concise, achieving insight and pathos through wordplay:


Sutra Blues

the haunted man
needs no house


A small household incident can turn into a question of ontology:


freeing centipede
trapped in the tub
I step inside
myself


His observational powers can be matched by a delicacy in form:


bits of grit & oh oil in the ash


But too many pieces read like throwaways, and were probably written the same way:


in memory
in the moment,
always


or they are overly didactic, which even Zen-inspired verse can be:


hole in the center
of the snowflake
another koan
revealed


What compounds Wentworth's challenge is that he has chosen to begin each chapter with a quotation from a poetry or Zen master, and these quotations are hard to beat:


Butterfly, these words
From my brush are not flowers
only their shadows

-Soseki, translated by Harry Behn


Haiku is like a finger pointing at the moon. Once you've seen it, you no longer need the finger.

-Variation of an aphorism by Sixth Zen Patriarch, Hui-Neng


Poetry never forgets the all even when it is dealing with exclusively one thing.

-R. H. Blythe

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