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Spring 2009, vol 7 no 1

In the Company of Crows: Haiku and Tanka Between the Tides
by Carole MacRury
A Review by Johnye Strickland


Beverley George, the President of the Australian Haiku Society and editor of Eucalypt, has in my opinion captured the essence of MacRury's style in In the Company of Crows:

Carole MacRury sees the world from a photographer's perspective. The clarity of her images and the accuracy of her word choices are signatures of a mind that engages with the natural world with eyes wide open and a blend of curiosity and awe. ("Foreword," p. 1)

It is in part her "photographer's eye" that attracts me to MacRury's haiku, since I at one time had a love affair with photography (photojournalism, which also fits well with the "blend of curiosity and awe"). The world looks different, up close and focused. Reading her poems on animals with this perspective in mind enhances the image for me into a shared experience, in more than one way. Some of my favorite haiku from the book, considered in this shared "photographer's eye" are:

leaving enough of the leaf
   to sleep on (p. 25)

slack tide
a loon circles
its circle (p. 41)

memorial service
rainwater fills
the eye of a petroglyph (p. 86)

In the case of the first poem, I imagined myself looking through the lens of a camera, watching for a significant movement to capture in the shot. The thought occurred to me that even though I have seen a lot of caterpillars, I have never seen one quite like this. So this is newsworthy (to a photojournalist), as well as haiku-worthy.

With the second poem, my imaginary experience involved being primed to capture the movement as in a sports event, using a rapid fire repeating series of shots. And the idea that occurred was how very apt her depiction of the loon is, as it "circles / its circle." The reading experience was thus enhanced by keeping in mind both her method, and what it suggested to me as I accepted whatever arose in my own mind in response.

But the third poem, this one called forth deeply buried emotion from a memorial service of a close friend and colleague who died of a heart attack while driving down the street in the mid '70s. His memorial was held in Trinity Cathedral, a historic Episcopal church with mahogany beams and a simple elegance. During the service, a white dove flew in. It circled the altar, and settled on the leaded stained glass window, at the foot of an angel, backlit by the afternoon sun. The medieval legend about a dove leading the soul of the departed to the next world was being reenacted for my friend, and the scene was etched on my heart-mind. I had not thought of this for decades, until I encountered this poem.

For me, as a reader, this tiny poem fulfills what Haruo Shirane says in Traces of Dreams that every haiku should aspire to: it presents a meeting of the vertical axis, representing cultural and historical tradition, with the horizontal axis, representing the here and now. Not many haiku achieve this merger. But with the right poem, and the right reader (i.e., one in the zone to not only receive, but to participate in, the experience), it can happen. And when it does, it reminds us of why we are attracted to haiku, and keep trying to read and write about our moments in a more compelling way, hoping for the surprise of awe, or the felt thought it can inspire.

In the Company of Crows does contain poems about crows, birds with a long history of folklore in their wake. (Alexander the Great insisted on following the route taken in The Iliad as the Greeks were en route to Troy, and, according to the "historians" he supposedly took with him to record the journey, his ships were led by crows. How's that for tradition, and an association with "death," mentioned in the Interview with Carole MacRury in the Features section of this issue of Simply Haiku?)

My favorite crows in the book are these:

empty plaza
one old crow
eyes another (p. 52)

I chuckle every time I reread this urban ku. The humor of this humanesque encounter is enhanced by the accompanying sumi-e, by Ion Codrescu, artist, poet, and editor who lives in Constanta, Romania. I have never met Ion, but I have one of his watercolor paintings, which he gave to the South Region Haiku Society of America Conference when he attended their meeting in Hot Springs, Arkansas, before I became involved with this group.
The subtitle of the book is Haiku and Tanka Between the Tides. Most of the poems included are haiku, which makes sense, because Carole has been writing haiku for several years, while she is fairly new to tanka. However, she definitely has a grasp on what makes a tanka tick, as shown in these examples:

my virginity
long gone to this old man
I pass on the street
       we talk about yesterday
       and the coming of spring (p. 105)

I chord
turkey in the straw
to Dad's violin—
piano lessons buy me
a family memory (from "Amnesia," a set of linked tanka; p. 129)

full of stealth
your footsteps late at night
I wake not to sound
but to the scent
of where you've been (69)

Human experience, a hint of mystery, yet fully intelligible, the scene, the idea, the emotion. Tanka at its best, in my opinion.

This is a book I can recommend for beginners, as well as for seasoned poets. It shows us what Carole MacRury has done in the past few years, and gives us intimations of continued growth in her prowess as she continues to study and practice her poetic arts. As for the "photographer's eye," she's got that down pat. And I, for one, am grateful to this poet for showing me another way to look at haiku, and for sharing a bit of herself with me in her haiku, but especially in her tanka.

According to some of my colleagues, and mentors, in The Haiku Society of America, it is considered proper for a reviewer to reveal his/her relationship, if any, with the author whose work is being reviewed. In The South (USA) where I live, it is thought quite proper to be proper. So I will tell you that I consider Carole MacRury a friend, though to date our paths have only crossed briefly during three haiku conferences. Also, for the past year we have worked together via email as officers of The Tanka Society of America—a business acquaintance.

However, I have known and respected her poems for a much longer time, dating back to my earliest involvement with haiku. She was then, and is now, one of my favorite contemporary haiku poets. If I did not think her poems were good, we would still be friends, but I would have found another reviewer.


In the Company of Crows: Haiku and Tanka Between the Tides
by Carole MacRury
Edited by Cathy Drinkwater Better
Sumi-e illustrations by Ion Codrescu
Black Cat Press 2008 $18
Eldersburg, Maryland USA
ISBN 0-9766407-7-5
Available from the author at: