Saturday, May 4, 2013

A Poet's Roving Thoughts: Hiss of Leaves

Hiss of Leaves by T. D. Ingram, Upper Rubber Boot Books, 2012, eChapbook, available for iPad, Nook, etc. from Barnes & Noble and Kobo,

In his debut collection of 36 haiku, T. D. Ingram successfully demonstrates his skill as an experienced poet who is well-versed in the traditional English language haiku aesthetics: juxtaposition of images, shasei ("realism of sketching”), original experience, and transparency. His close and intimate observation of nature is packed into the arresting images he conjures up in three lines that create an “Aha!” moment.

hiss of leaves
sheets snap
on the line

noonday heat
dragonflies slice
the still air

mountain roadside
wild asparagus
cut with a penknife

last freight car
crosses the trestle
loud silence
heat weights the air
then crickets

I particularly like the last two haiku, in which Ingram beautifully and thoughtfully reveals distinct types of emotions through “silence.” In the first, he skillfully uses oxymoron in L3; in the second, he makes two narrative shifts in the space of three lines.

Among 36 haiku, there are two written in the form of a sentence (“one-sentence haiku”). I particularly like the following:

the brightness
of the full moon
deepens the cold

Ingram’s use of cutting (through the excellent choice of a verbal phrase) makes a successful shift from the physical/outer world (portrayed in a natural scene) to the mental/inner one (indicating the implied speaker’s state of mood). The contrasts between these two worlds are psychologically effective. The haiku reminds me of one of Basho’s:

over the evening sea
the wild ducks' cry
is faintly white

However, I do have two small quibbles with this otherwise well-crafted collection for haiku readers. One is the unbalance among thematic topics: out of 36 haiku, there are 4 on snow, 6 on the moon, and 4 on the heat, which is made up of almost 40% of the collection. The other is that like most English language haiku, the haiku in the collection are a single voice describing or responding to a scene or an experience. Ingram doesn’t show his keen awareness of utilizing the poetic legacy or cultural associations through the use of allusion. As Haruo Shirane emphasizes in his insightful essay, titled “Beyond the Haiku Moment,” Basho believed that “the poet had to work along both axes: to work only in the present would result in poetry that was fleeting; to work just in the past, on the other hand, would be to fall out of touch with the fundamental nature of haikai, which was rooted in the everyday world.”

Haruo Shirane, “Beyond the Haiku Moment: Basho, Buson and Modern Haiku Myths”, Modern Haiku, 31:1, Winter/Spring 2000, accessed at

1 comment:

  1. The title of my new blog section alludes to Alfred Tennyson's remark:

    Guard your roving thoughts with a jealous care.

    Below is an excerpt from my Simply Haiku essay, Make Haibun New through the Chinese Poetic Past:Basho’s Transformation of Haikai Prose:

    As Koji Kawamoto emphasizes in his essay dealing with the use and disuse of tradition in Basho’s haiku, “the key to [haiku’s] unabated vigor lies in Basho’s keen awareness of the utility of the past in undertaking an avant-garde enterprise, which he summed up in his famous adage “fueki ryuko,” 4 which literally means “the unchanging and the ever-changing.” This haikai poetic ideal was advocated during his trip through the northern region of Japan. He stressed that “haikai must constantly change (ryuko), find the new (atarashimi), shed its own past, even as it seeks qualities that transcend time.” 5 However, his notion of the new “lay not so much in the departure from or rejection of the perceived tradition as in the reworking of established practices and conventions, in creating new counterpoints to the past.” 6 In Edo culture, the ability to create the new through the old was a more preferred form of newness than the ability to be unique and individual. 7 This Japanese view of “newness” still pervades and is in sharp contrast with that of the West .