Monday, May 11, 2009

called home by paul m.

I recently received a copy of called home by the haiku poet paul m, published by Red Moon Press. This compact, 90 plus page volume is a fine example of contemporary English language haiku in its scope, power, and lyricism. Though many a haiku expert contends that the form cannot be written in English, this volume belies that hoary dictum. If you don't want to call them haiku, call them whatever you want. To quote the late, great Sonny Boy Williamson, in conversation with Leonard Chess, at a recording session for his song Little Village (which they were having a hard time getting a decent take on, hence the testiness):

Leonard: Go ahead we're rolling, Take 1
What's the name-a this?

Sonny Boy: Little Village.
A Little Village, Mother Fucker! A Little Village!

Leonard: There's isn't a mother fuckin' thing there about a village.
You son-of-a-bitch!

Leonard: Nothin' in the song has got anything to do with a village

Sonny: Well, a small town ...

Leonard: I know what a village is!

Sonny: Well alright, goddamn it!
You know, you don't need no title.
You name it up, you, I got-get through with it, son-of-a-bitch.
You name it what you wanna.
You name it your mammy, if ya wanna.

Leonard: Ha-ha.

called home is a collection that by default, and considered arrangement, roughly chronicles paul m's (pseudonym of the poet, Paul Miller) life journey from California to New England, where he began life and now once again resides. His introduction perfectly sets the table, but not just for this volume. m. succinctly captures the mileau of haiku itself, the evocativeness and universality of the form. Rather than badly translate, let me let the poet speak for himself:

In selecting poems for this collection, I was reminded of my nomadic existence of these past few years as I shuttled back and forth between California and New England while changing residences and employment. Because of their focus on the moment, and a spatial requirement for only the most essential information, haiku are a telling record of our daily participation with the world. Yet these poems are more than mere calendar entries because it is their emphasis on daily details - details that have no inherent meaning except that which we give them - that tell of our truest interior emotions.

The playwright Arthur Miller once wrote, commenting on a cornstalk's shadow, that it represented more than just itself, but also "the time of day, the position of the earth and sun, the size of our planet and its shape, and perhaps even the length of its life and ours among the stars." If this is true, it lays a tremendous burden upon language, for it implies a complete world order from the merest of words. Haiku appear to offer the most merger of objects doing the meanest of things; yet it is in those merest of words that we find what Robert Spiess described as, "creation taking place at every moment." But accessing a haiku is not an easy task. The Japanese master Ogiwara Seisensui called them unfinished poems because they require a reader to complete them. To be a reader of haiku is to be a willing particpant. It requires the faith to step into the cornfield; to pause on a slope with a plant called footsteps-of-spring; and to be willing to look for oneself in a daffodil shoot. Haiku are poems of immersion.

m. goes on to detail that home is the main theme of his collection, home which he sees and feels in the most minute, sometimes unexpected details. And then he strikes deeply in the vein:

Perhaps our truest home is the emotional state that connects us to these vivid details, an emotional state that cannot be defined intellectually, but only felt in the moment, the now of its happening ...

Here the poet has given us the greatest gift of all, a glimpse of understanding into the self, an understanding of the essentially unknowable, as good a definition of why poetry matters as any I've ever come across. The thematic territory he is mining here reminds me very much of James Wright and the poetry of Hermann Hesse.

The vision is all his own and it is illuminating.

Here are some of m's forays into the unknowable, with an open invitation for you to complete them.

cherry blossoms
today the courage
to speak to her

deep winter
stars between the stars
I know

explaining it,
my life sounds frivolous–
holly berries

winter light
the cactus wren stays
one bush ahead

spring foghorn ...
cormorants spilling
from an over-crowded ledge

orderly fields
of an Amish farm
the things I can't tell her

migratory ducks
I have never
kept a diary

old stone wall
a single spider strand
closes the gap

evening shadows
not all spiders
get carried outside

a woodpecker
keeps the tree between us–
missing you

bundled up
with my beliefs
I cross the pond

scattered leaves
what I will
leave behind

Red Moon has done a great service in the publication of this volume. It has been reviewed by Charles Trumbull over at Modern Haiku: check out his take. This is a small press publication of significant proportions. For haiku buffs, it's one to read again and again.


Today is the birthday of Eric Burdon of the Animals and later War. His vocal takes on blues, r & b, and some of the great rock songs of the 60's can't be overestimated. Along with the Stones, the Animals brought the blues back home to America via the British Isles and changed the course of music and the lives of generations to come. Here's a tune my sister and I used to scream out in our little 4 room apartment when the oppression got to be way too much.

the home village
I abandoned...
cherry trees in bloom
translated by David Lanoue



Anonymous said...


I can't keep my finger off'n
the reply button....

paul m. ain't just-uh whislling dixie

here neither

in his intro nor
in his 'calling home'


neither is Sonny! and neither is Jimmie K.

Red Moon does consistently do "gooder 'stuff' for "us"



ed markowski said...

i judged the 2007 kanterman book contest for the hsa. my partner yvonne cabalona & i gave called home third prize.

the book easlily could've won 1st. the differences in quality at that point were minute.

anyway, you can access my report on all the prize winners in the 07 contest by going to the haiku society of america's website.

paul m's collection is indeed one of the finest published.

good, very good of you to bring attention back to this splendid book & writer.
ed markowski

yesterday at the marlette, michigan founder's day fair...







Issa's Untidy Hut said...

Ed B, glad you liked paul m's stuff

Ed M, thanks for the note and background info. The book was quite good - the introduction alone outstanding.

Love the mother's bearded lady day poem ...