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Autumn 2009, vol 7 no 3

The Onawa Poems 1999-2008
edited by Paul W. MacNeil
A Review by Johnye Strickland


This book is a collection of poems of place, the place being the environs of Onawa Lake in the Great North Woods, beside the Appalachian Trail in upper Maine. For ten years editor Paul MacNeil has invited haiku-poet friends to "The Annual Haiku and Renku Invitational and Moosebreath Ale Festival" at the camp that has been in his family for four generations. About a dozen of them have come, usually for two to four days, several for eight to ten times. They spend their time writing at least one renku together, sharing haiku, ginkos, discussions, wine and "great food," while enjoying the mystery and beauty of the place. When guests leave, it is customary for them to write something in the camp's log book. The poets often include a haiku with their message, and it was rereading this log that inspired MacNeil to do the collection.

The book and cover were designed and produced by Aaron Bitters. The photograph on the cover is by Paul MacNeil.

While most of the poems are haiku, there are two prize winning renku included, as well as a sprinkling of senryu and one tanka. "The Visiting poets," as they are called on the title page, are Ferris Gilli, of Marietta, Georgia; Paul David Mena (and Mary), of Cochituate, Massachusetts; Yu Chang, of Schenectady, New York; Paul MacNeil, Ocala, Florida, the host; John Stevenson, Nassau, New York; Hilary Tann, Schuylerville, New York; Kirsty Karkow (and Ed), Waldoroboro, Maine; Paul Miller (and MaryCatherine), Bristol, Rhode Island; Paul Watsky, San Francisco, California; Gary Hotham, Scaggsville, Maryland.

Recorded haiku moments include the natural setting:

lakeside mountain
reflecting upon itself
morning peace

    Paul Watsky (p.10)

Flora and fauna:

after the rain
the pond lily
doubles itself

    Yu Chang (p. 4)

mating antics
of a hummingbird
wind on the lake

    Paul M. (p.31)

The inevitable loons of the North Woods:

an old tree split
right through the heart
first loon song

    Ferris Gilli (p.5)

The retreat experience is nicely summed up by Kirsty Karkow, with a tribute to the host:

loons live here
countless lilies, otters,
a beaver dam . . .
his voice grows soft with sharing
lake lore learning from childhood (p. 23)

In the event that a second printing is required, I would suggest the editor consider a more user friendly font. The one that imitates all caps (it isn't, since there are capital letters also that look the same, only larger) is difficult to read, as least for eyes over 40. Other than that, it is a pleasant read. I would also suggest that haiku poets invited to a future session of the "Haiku and Renku Invitational and Moosebreath Ale Festival" might want to think about including it in their vacation plans.


The Onawa Poems 1999-2008
Edited by Paul W. MacNeil
Ship Pond Press c 2009
LOC ISBN: 978-0-615-29449-0
Available from:
Paul MacNeil
Ship Pond Press
PO Box 294
Monson, ME 04464
Price with postal delivery:
$11 in USA; $13 USD in Canada
$14 USD elsewhere