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Autumn 2008, vol 6 no 3
 
 

Peace and War: A Collection of Haiku from Israel
by Rick Black
A Review by Johnye Strickland

 

This small volume of finely crafted short poems, mostly haiku by anyone's definition, begins with a quotation from R.H. Blyth: "A haiku is not a poem, it is not literature; it is a hand beckoning, a door half-opened, a mirror wiped clean." (Haiku, Vol. I, p. 243). An apt way to prepare the prospective reader for the poet's attempt "to convey the stark images . . . of peace and war, of hope and fear—and the way in which they blend together" (Personal Note, iii). The poems are set in Israel in the late 1980s and early '90s. But the images are universal, wherever people live with paradoxes and contradictions of peace and war.

Rick Black lived and worked in Israel for six years, three of them as a reporter for The New York Times in their Jerusalem bureau. While there, he says he "found haiku hiding almost everywhere, like thistles emerging from rocky outcroppings." He admits to struggling "to reconcile haiku's non-judgmental, Zen-like approach to life with [his] own deep-seated need to protest against life's injustices." His writing of these poems was an attempt "to put aside my protest for a little while and to savor life in all its mystery" (iii).

Sample poems from the Peace side:

            purple bougainvillea
beyond the barbed wire
            flowering wildly      (p. 1)

            so joyously,
a pair of doves flirting over
            a soldier's gravestone      (p. 7)

            rainbow's arc
the old city's domed rooftops
            still glistening      (p. 16)

Peace and War is a miniature version of a larger work in progress on the same topic. The miniature is 3 " x 4 ", fitting neatly into the palm of the hand. Bound in dos-a-dos (back to back) style in black cardstock tied with red thread, the Peace side has a red poppy surrounded by Arabic letters on an off- white background, while the War side presents a dove in display above the publisher's logo, a pair of surprised-looking turtles, suggestively inviting the reader to open the cover. On both sides, images of war are juxtaposed with scenes of nature or ordinary life in the poems. These haiku are among the best examples I have seen of the coming together of the horizontal and vertical axes Haruo Shirane suggests all haiku poets should strive for, with the built in historical, cultural, and political past merging with everyday scenes in the here and now.

Examples from the War side:

            a thin fog swirls
around the sawn-off pine trees
            silent battlefield      (p. 17)


            not yet abloom,
planted in the army boots:
            pink geraniums      (p. 29)

Kwame Dawes, Distinguished Poet in Residence at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, South Carolina, suggests reading these haiku "very slowly, pausing, returning to the beginning again and again and remaking your path to the end." (Afterword). I tried this approach, and found the experience rewarding . . . as the news of the latest armed conflict intruded on reports of the Summer Olympics.

This small volume is beautifully designed and produced, and would make a nice gift. I look forward to seeing the larger edition, perhaps within the next year.

 


Peace and War: A Collection of Haiku from Israel
by Rick Black
Turtle Light Press, 2007 $15
PO Box 1405
Highland Park, New Jersey 08904 USA
www.turtlelightpress.com
ISBN 978-0-9748147-0-4
Photos from istockphotos.com, used by permission