A view of Japan: essence of the haiku spirit

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Joy Change, Judy Kendall, Cinnamon Press

"We are never the turning tide, the deathless ones,

who live upon the edge of time, ablaze

with song, unravelling your dreams."

(Prologue to a Noh Play)

Once you get past the rather mundane title - taken from a misprint in a letter written about a job change - and the publisher's unfortunate choice of colourways for the front cover (pink and purple front/orange and blue back) this is a fine collection of poems. 

Judy Kendall captures the essence of the haiku spirit as well as providing an insightful glance into modern Japanese culture  seen from the view of an English schoolteacher including a lovely "'essay" written in English by a Japanese student. "Japan is very comfortable to live/ and Mount Fuji is great view/ However we tend to use a lot of things which we do not realy (sic) need ... ' (The Small Country).

These poems frame a Japanese way of life rather as maple trees in a Hiroshige woodprint frame a view of the  Tekona shrine at Edo.  Yet the writer has cleverly kept a balance between the "outside looking in" view, and the idea of the insider looking out.   For example: "Everything is upside down in England. / They print books from back to front, they serve soup / for starters, they overcook fish... "

This results in a fine sense of a rounded experience of seeing two worlds living in harmony - albeit slightly bewildered harmony on occasion.  There is a sense also that too much has 'gone before' for either of the worlds to contain the other and that they will be destined to swirl politely around each other. 

The language and imagery of the poems evoke the spirit of haiku, that is, an awareness of the moment as well as a celebration of nature's transcendent beauty.   The poems form a wistful evocation of people, events, places;  The Kimono Maker, The Festival of the Dead, The Taihen Dancer. Tightly sounded, and with a profound sense of musicality, descriptions such as

"early morning mist

the scent of burning cedar

sweeps the moss"



"...  and then,

after a few hours'

woodsmoke-filled sleep

on the tatami straw

and a warming breakfast

of sweet okayu porridge

I would begin the climb..."

(If I Were a Kimono Maker)

... make this a  collection which I can wholeheartedly recommend. Frances Spurrier

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