Simply Haiku: An E-Journal of Haiku and Related Forms
September-October 2004, vol. 2, no. 5

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BOOK REVIEW: Summer Thunder by Anita Virgil
Reviewed by Robert Wilson

When I learned last May that Anita Virgil was writing a new book of haiku, senyru, and tanka, I was naturally excited. She is my favorite English language haiku poet. Virgil is her own person. Her voice, fresh and continually changing, the mark of a master poet. Good poets don't rest on their laurels. They cannot do business as usual. They do not travel on the greatest hits circuit following a successful formula. Their art is in a constant state of flux, always evolving, reinventing itself over and over again. They take chances. Risk is a part of their vocabularies. This describes Anita Virgil to a tee.

I have read all of Ms. Virgil's books of poetry. None of them are alike except for one commonality . . . they beg to be read again and again.

A trendsetter, Virgil's newest book, Summer Thunder, breaks many rules.

First, her new book, is not a book made from paper. It is an e-book, a digitally produced book made for computers and e-book readers. And an e-book unlike any other e-book of poetry I have encountered. Anita Virgil reads you her poetry, seasoning her reading with beautiful photography, nature sounds, and hauntingly beautiful music. Her voice is soothing, gentle, a perfect fit for the poetry she reads. And intimate, drawing the reader into her poetic world. Reading another's haiku is one thing, but hearing it read by the author, with the correct pausing and tonality . . . is like being in the poet's living room. The poet sharing with you the fruit of her soul, her poems alive; their meanings unambiguous.

Second, Anita Virgil doesn't subscribe to the "flavor of the month." She doesn't follow the leader or a school of thought. Take the haiku and senyru in Summer Thunder. Some of them consist of one line, others sport two lines, still others have three or four lines. Some have less than 17 syllables, others exceed the "so called" acceptable syllabic count. Yet she is considered by many to be one of the best if not the best writer of short form Japanese poetry in the United States. Virgil is not a "fly by night" poet. She has paid her dues. She's been writing haiku and senryu since the 1960s. And tanka during the 21st century. She is a past president of the Haiku Society of America. She was a member of the three-person HSA Committee on Definitions which included Harold G. Henderson and William J. Higginson. And as a member of the Book Committee for A Haiku Path (HSA, Inc. 1994), she edited the two chapters on Definitions. Her poetry has been published in every major haiku literary journal here and abroad, online and offline. She knows what she is doing. She has earned the right to experiment, to forge new paths. Imagine a soft, poignant, almost folksy voice reading:

..........driving down the sunny road
..........such a darkness
..........beneath the redwoods

..........through the fluttering dogwood petals
..........termites rise

I can feel the emotion cresting in . . .

..........the train horn so mournful through the rain

And, I am intrigued by the animation of . . .

..........speeding along the awning's edge
..........raiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiin

Virgil's poetry encompasses a variety of themes and subjects including nature, children, an inconsistent man, a train, and childhood memories.

..........noon heat:
..........the kids and I rocking
..........on the old store's porch . . .
..........we suck lollipops
..........we track butterflies

..........at the auction
..........the little clock in a box-lot
..........ticks on

One of the caps I wear is that of a high school teacher. What I see passing for haiku and related genres in textbooks and via teachers is oftentimes abysmal. Too many people think haiku is a three line poem adhering to the 5/7/5 syllable pattern. Few have read Basho, Buson, Issa, Shiki, Chiyo-ni. Even fewer are familiar with the history of Japanese short form poetry.

This school year I plan to introduce my students to haiku and related genres via Virgil's Summer Thunder. The book is visual, kinesthetic, spoken, appealing to a wide range of learning modalities. More importantly, it is far from boring. It is the kind of book that can turn a new generation on to this genre of poetry . . . and inspire the rest of us.

he is back . . .
head bowed
I fold
handkerchiefs
underwear

under a new moon
bedtime songs float up
from the pines

I read Summer Thunder through in one reading. Few modern books of Japanese short form poetry affect me that way. I literally couldn't stop reading. This is poetry that grabs the "innards," fertilizes the mind, and inspires one to write.

Summer Thunder is a classy e-book. It is visually appealing, top drawer, multi-layered, easy to access, and rich in content. Do yourself a favor and order a copy today:
$12.00 plus $2.50 S&H
Peak's Press
P.O. Box 95,
Forest, Virginia 24551

or email peakspress@lcscentral.net