Sunday, April 5, 2015

Gerald Vizenor: favor of crows: New and Collected Haiku

favor of crows by Gerald Vizenor has plenty to celebrate and plenty to ponder. The poems here are largely quiet, occasionally listless, many are image-based and some are simply revelatory, in the sense that anything revelatory can be simple.

But wait: perhaps that listlessness is something else. 

       bright hollyhocks
teeter in the rush of trains
        flurry of faces

Like many fine haiku, these poems on the surface do not give up their essence easily. So, we see that if it is mind that struggles, lay aside mind and, as again with many fine haiku, something else appears: meaning opening up with the first rays of the sun.

            gusts of rain
trees turn away from the sea
            beach stories

Gerald Vizenor is a poet, critic, cultural theorist and academician, a leading Native American writer of the last half century and a member of the Chippewa Nation. He is a haiku scholar as well as haiku poet - his introduction, entitled "Haiku Scenes," displays his command of haiku history and haiku essence, and situates him in the Zen Buddhist / R. H. Blyth school of haiku theory and practice.

            red poppies 
trace the motion of the sun
        elders in the park

His linking of Native American culture and concepts to Japanese culture is at once informative and historical (Vizenor, as was true with many Americans, encountered the culture first hand during a tour of duty in WW II), and the relationship to nature and animism in both cultures makes for interesting, thought-provoking theory.

        china sunrise
tourists circle the statues
        cicada fugues

Ultimately, there is a balance of theory and feeling, the academic and the lyrical, and the truth is revealed in the poems themselves. His haiku are firmly nature based and season themed, with two contrasting elements stylistically prompting revelations both large and small, succinct and resonant, as in this poem.

    marsh marigolds
trembling in the rain
     faces on a bus

This haiku reminded me simultaneously of the classic haiku of the horse and the trembling flowers (a little help, anyone; I can't quite recall the poet or the poem exactly) and Pound's petals/faces/Metro poem.

The book is arranged seasonally, as are many traditional haiku collections. The autumn section is particularly strong, with the following poem recalling Bashō's famous autumn crow haiku (scroll down for multiple translations via this link):

          spider web
billows on a bare branch

Vizenor is at once subtle and almost understated, presenting us with images and contrast, and letting the reader take it from there. Like the finest haiku throughout time and across cultures.

         mountain snow
warblers search for apricots
           no regrets

We know the warblers have no regrets; how about you? 

Or perhaps the warblers do. What to make of these clever little sparrows?

       noisy sparrows
flutter over the birdbath
     clearing the snow

Sentience, learned behavior, coincidence?  Some things to ask ourselves as well as the sparrows.

Gerald Vizenor asks, and his answers are of the very best type; they are suggestive, they are lyrical, they are alive.

This is a book I anticipate revisiting again and again, as the seasons return again and again.  And, as with the seasons, one can anticipate a return of joy, each time different, each time the very same. Give it a try, from the library or the nearest bookstore, electronic or otherwise

It will reward you deeply. 


Eigenfaces by Ylebru

the first cherry blossoms
soon scatter and stick...
people's faces
trans. by David G. Lanoue


PS  Click to learn how to contribute to Wednesday Haiku  


mary f.ahearn said...

These haiku are very appealing - I like the quiet ones...
Now you have me puzzling over that horse and trembling flowers haiku. Mr Google was not overly helpful, so off to the bookshelves for a good search.
Thanks, Don for the poets and their books that you introduce to us. It is appreciated.

Issa's Untidy Hut said...


Traditional but not staid, Vizenor's work is for anyone who enjoys haiku, modern or classic. So very happy that you enjoyed the selection.

Hopefully someone will remember the samurai's horse and the trembling flowers!