Karma Tenzing Wangchuk is a poet of the short form whom I admire very much. A new collection of his poems, Shelter | Street, pictured above, has been published by Minotaur Press (P.O Box 272, Port Townsend, WA 98368, $10) and found its way into my mail box. It is quite fine, indeed.
The volume opens with one of his best poems and its placement indicates the themes of struggle and homelessness that appear in its opening pages:
a butterfly and I
The poem is timeless and might just as well been written by one of the 4 haiku masters. So few words are used to capture a life, all of life really. Sorrow and pain permeate these powerful small poems:
the wall we lean against
The detail is damning here, such a powerful image that passes unnoticed in more fortunate lives. In the following poem, the first two lines quickly state something many of us see each and everyday, yet the observation in the third line I would venture to say hardly anyone thinks:
holding out his hand-
this too is work
In reading this first section of haiku and senryu, one is tempted to impose a narrative character to the whole. With these poems, I think of the persona as a true modern Everyman:
the sign says FREE FOOD
but you have to kneel for it
I found the following poem, which I would characterize as a senryu rather than a haiku, though no person appears, devastating:
a fly emerges
from the plastic flower
For me, there is a powerful identification between the perceived and the perceiver; why they are there, what they are doing, and, frankly, their shared experience, their shared existence. The poet has found words to sketch what I would have thought simply beyond capturing in such a deep, resonating way. The sadness is huge, it is mind-numbing.
Further on in this volume, there are poems from an ongoing series that might be titled the "Stone Buddha" poems. In fact, the previous volume of KTW's I reviewed here
is entitled just that, Stone Buddha
. There is a selection of 13 here, 2 of which I recognize and singled out before. A few from this selection are either new to me or have struck me now when they didn't before, which amounts to much the same thing, eh? 2 more this time grabbed me and wouldn't let go:
the stone buddha's
never a thought
The common quality here is that both of these are simply true. For me, the second resonates in such a profound way as to make it nearly perfect. Both have an enduring Zen quality, while remaining true to the "is." Another poem that captures a quality beyond its basic image is:
a fly relaxes
on the frog's back
There are a number of precepts in this collection reminiscent of the Four Nobles Truths and the Eightfold Way, all in less words than it takes to describe them. Least we confuse the moon with the finger pointing at it, the poet summarizes nicely:
the fruit flies point out
the ripe ones
On one hand, what is being emphasized is the obvious; yet are we, poetry's audience, always attentive and aware, attentive and unaware, unattentive and unaware? Who better to point to the moon than the poet?
with the rest of me
Yes, obvious, but not often stated and, when stated, not often thought about in any extended way, such as:
my shadow ephemeral too
Sorrow and pain are never far from truth; a finger pointing at the path of paths:
left to shame now
An almost traditional senryu, complete with seasonal allusion, and a near bottomless feeling, this poem, too, is timeless.
Sometimes, too, the magic and wonder and mystery of life can be encompassed in 9 brief words, 3 short lines:
it's the worm
inside the bird
sings the song
Is the finger pointing at the bird, or the worm, or the song, or something beyond? Oh, but the finger is mine not the poet's, you say. Really?
Bet you can read my mind.
One can go deep, deep into many of these poems and this is what gives them their close kinship to traditional haiku. Some are basic observations which, though they might not reward endless revisiting, still they grab hold when they bite, and they itch for sometime afterward.
Photo by Michael Dylan Welch
Here are two poems, originally published side by side in Lilliput Review
#148, February 2008, that make something of a set piece.
Rhododendron in a Time of War
Red petals clot on
its glossy exterior
then drop to stained ground.
Tree sheds red petals.
Out of respect,
I forget my name,
with a red flower
the katydid sings
translated by David G. Lanoue