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Summer 2005, vol 3 no 2

Review ~ A Halo Round the Moon, by Ikuyo Yoshimura
Reviewed by Robert D. Wilson


A Halo Round the Moon

his coming
earlier than usual---
a halo round the moon

Ikuyo Yoshimura of Japan is one of the world's finest haiku poets; her voice is a familiar one at international haiku conferences and festivals. The recipient of numerous awards, she is the author of thirteen books of poetry. An Associate Professor of English at Asahi University in Gifu, Japan, Yoshimura has done much to popularize haiku in the English speaking world. Yet, with all of her accomplishments, she remains a humble, gentle soul.

The haiku in Ikuyo Yoshimura's newest book, A Halo Round the Moon (published by Rainbow Press), will linger in your consciousness long after you have put the book down. This, of course, is the signature of a good poet. Her haiku is refreshing, oftentimes personal, sometimes intimate . . . a window into the poet's soul. She invites readers to view the world around her through her eyes, using the four seasons and the New Year as pivotal points. The book is divided, therefore, into five sections: Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter, and the New Year.

Of Spring, she wrote:

a shadow
of a honeybee on the Shoji
warms me

Like Issa, Yoshimura is observant and compassionate, seeing beauty in even the tiniest forms of life. She saw the shadow of a honeybee on a room divider and was moved by the moment . . . a little shadow that would have been missed by someone less observant. Shadows are not warm. They are reflections, the absence of light where light abounds. The honeybee's shadow, however, warmed Yoshimura, influencing her to write a haiku that captured a moment some have termed, the aha! Suddenly the poet and her natural surroundings were on the same wavelength, sharing the essence of a shadow's journey. Her haiku becomes the synthesis of personal observation (influenced by cultural context) and natural occurrence (nature speaking). Of Summer, the poet observed:

wild roses---
the village of papermaking

Wild roses, unlike their domestic counterparts, are not pruned. They grow unevenly. The flowers are oftentimes smaller, and never uniform. They possess raw beauty; their dwelling places, land uninhabited by people. And like all life, unpredictable. Yoshimura, in her haiku, speaks of a village noted for paper-making. A quiet village, its artisans sculpt beauty from wood pulp and other natural ingredients. It is summertime and the village is surrounded by a countryside resplendent with wild roses. The poet's use of contrast here creates a multi-tiered picture. A peaceful village surrounded by the chaos of nature, each creating its own beauty.

Of Autumn, Yoshimura noted:

Indian summer---
everyone becomes a boy
digging the fossil out

Indian summer is a term used to denote fair weather during a season not known for fair weather. Autumn is a cool time of the year. Leaves fall from trees, vegetable gardens shrivel, fog and rain are commonplace. In her haiku, the poet describes a moment she experienced during a family outing. The weather is uncharacteristically fair, a good time to do things people would normally do during the warmer summer months. Digging in the dirt is an activity culturally assigned to boys in her country. Yet with the discovery of a prehistoric fossil, the poet and her family, in their excitement, become boy-like, shedding their culturally assigned identities, each helping to unearth this unexpected treasure. Yoshimura shares with her readers the moment, drawing them with three lines of verse into an area molded by sedimentary rock, where they too can become boy-like and dig for treasure.

Of Winter, she shared:

over the trees
our Frisbee becomes
a winter bird

Yoshimura's haiku is both playful and insightful. Playing with a Frisbee is a popular pastime for people on an outing. The setting here appears to be a park with lots of trees. One doesn't throw a frisbee in a small yard. The activity requires plenty of room on level ground. The poet, or a member of her family, threw the Frisbee hard, propelling it over a stand of trees. And from a distance, the Frisbee looked like a winter bird. And of the New Year, Ikuyo Yoshimura observed:

New Year's Day---
Chinese students in Japan
celebrate it with jiaozi

It is the first day of a new year. Homes and gates are decorated with ornaments made from pine, bamboo, and plum trees. Buckwheat noodles (soba), a symbol of longevity, along with other colorful dishes, are served. Cards are sent to relatives and friends; families visit temples and shrines; the air filled with gaiety and music. The New Year is the most important holiday in Japan. It has been memorialized, in times past, in verse by Basho, Issa, Chiyo-ni, Buson, and other haiku masters who lived in Japan between the 17th and 19th centuries. For hundreds of years, Japan was a closed society, having little contact with the outside world. This changed when the US brokered a treaty between the two nations in the late 1800s. This accounts for the absence of people from other cultures in Japanese Haiku during the time period. Yoshimura is a college professor of English at an academic institution where international students are commonplace. Her students come from many walks of life. In this haiku, Yoshimura alluded to the fact, with her reference to Chinese students in Japan, that the New Year is a day celebrated by diverse cultures each in their own way. The Chinese New Year, for instance, starts with the New Moon on the first day of the new year and ends on the full moon, 15 days later. The 15th day of the new year is called the Lantern Festival, which is celebrated in the evening with children carrying lanterns in a parade. A favorite food during the celebration is jiaozi, a Chinese dumpling stuffed with ground meat (beef or pork), bamboo shoots, and cabbage, seasoned with ginger, garlic, sherry, and soy sauce.

I have shared with you a sampling of the haiku in Ikuyo Yoshimura's newest book, A Halo Round the Moon. Each haiku, written in both English and Japanese, is a treasure unto itself. I recommend this book to those who like haiku and to those who want to improve their craft. It is a volume you will read again and again and be a better poet for doing so.

This haiku book is available from the author for 10 dollars, which includes postage. To receive a copy, please send an international postage money order to:

Ikuyo Yoshimura
1-3, 4-Chome
Oonawaba, Gifu
500-8889 Japan


Copyright 2005: Simply Haiku