Sunday, April 5, 2015

Steve Sanfield: a Tribute

Poet and correspondent, David Giannini, contacted me last week to pass on the sad information that haiku master poet, Steve Sanfield, had died. I'd just recently begun to acquaint myself with Sanfield's work in two anthologies of English language haiku which I've been reading over the last couple of months. The first, Haiku in English: The First Hundred Years, edited by Jim Kacian and ..... has a single poem of Steve's and the second, The Unswept Path: Contemporary American Haiku, edited by John Brandi and Dennis Maloney, which has a narrower geographical focus, has a whole section with over 35 poems.

I'll be writing more about both these anthologies in future postings. In one of life's little synchronistic moments, I'd just finished up the section of poems by Steve in Unswept Path when the news of his death came my way.

First, a poem by Sanfield from Unswept Path:

Because I have nothing else
I have begun to love
my sorrow. 

This is as touching as it is universal - at some time in each of our lives we experience the loss of love itself, which is replaced by another kind of love altogether as in this poem. This next poem is something of a prayer, one that would be appropriate each an every morning that a lapsed agnostic rises:

The silence before the dawn:
may it enter
my heart.

Another universal situation, at least as sketched out in the first line, with something of a wish/prayer for all that face it alone. Poem after poem deeply explores the ennui, the sorrow of our days:

to shake all morning
because you touched me 
—a simple bow

This is love, desire, and gratitude, all wrapped in one, in love's full glory. The poet makes us feel the emotion in an extraordinary way. 

And then this remarkable piece:

like a new season
she stands between me
and old sorrows

Remarkable in how the poet captures the transition between two exacting emotional states, the old sorrow we are all so reluctant to give up because our love is still so deeply entwined with it, and the new love standing aside in the path, showing the way. 

Here is so true a definition of love itself, I'm tempted to append it (in my own print copy) to the separate definitions in the unabridged Webster's Dictionary:

each time
surprised by it:
beauty beyond desire  

If these moved you, you can find many different editions of Steve Sanfield's work here. If you'd like to sample a few more poems, this website has a nice representation.  The later will, I'm certain, lead you back to the former. 

By the way, Sanfield called many of his poems 'hoops,' instead of haiku, and here is the reason he gave:

"I call them hoops rather than haiku, because haiku is a Japanese word for a poem usually written according to very specific guidelines. I wanted to step beyond those lines and also add another season—the season of the heart. And further, as Black Elk says, "that is because the Power of the world always worked in circles and everything tries to be round. In the old days when we were a strong and happy people, all our power came to us from the sacred hoop of the nation, and as long as the hoop was unbroken, the people flourished." 1.

Love, loss and sorrow were obviously major points of focus for Steve Sanfield. This last poem is the only one in Haiku in English, and it shows something more implied than explicit in the examples above, and certainly something that could not be more universal for those paying attention:

The earth shakes 
just enough
to  remind us.


After putting together the above post and preparing it for posting, I ran across the following poem by Steve in my morning reading from the exemplar collection, Haiku Mind: 108 Poems to Cultivate Awareness and Open Your Heart (another being read for future posting), edited and annotated by Patricia Donegan:

a petal falls
across the table

What an astounding body of work by Steve Sanfield ... 


Photo by Kentama

by itself
my head bows...
plum blossoms!
trans. by David G. Lanoue


PS  Click to learn how to contribute to Wednesday Haiku  


Michael Dylan Welch said...

Sad to hear of Steve's passing. He was a fine poet, and a neighbour of Gary Snyder's in the Sierra foothills. It was a pleasure to exchange publications with Steve over many years.

In a reading I arranged for Steve to give once (in the San Francisco area), he did something with his haiku that I particularly liked. He read each poem twice, but the second time, for each poem, he read only part of the poem, yet of course we could all hear what he didn't repeat. It was very effective.

A footnote to the term "hoops": While Steve (and John Brandi) did indeed use that term for many years early on, my understanding from Steve is that, in the last 15 or 20 years, he no longer felt the need to call his short poems hoops rather than haiku. What he said to me was that haiku had become widely enough known as a literary form, and there was less need to differentiate what he was writing from all the pseudo-haiku out there that paid little attention to literary traditions.

Rest in peace, dear Steve. Your poetry touched me, and continues to touch me.

Bart said...

Embarrassed to say I'm not familiar with Steve or his work. Did you ever publish him in Lilliput Review? Thanks for posting this Don.