review by marlene mountain
ON A WHITE BUD. Alexis Rotella. Introduction, Rod Willmot; graphics, Marlene L'Abbe. Merging Media, l983.
AFTER AN AFFAIR. Alexis Rotella. Cover, Marlene L'Abbe. Merging Media, l984
. There was a time we knew next to nothing about our fellow poets, not from their haiku at least, other than some practiced zazen, took canoe trips, watched birds, and so on. More recently, however, we've found that there are poets who actually get angry, have troubles and conflicts, occasionally make love, and even have an affair. No longer just silhouettes and shadows in our poems, we've begun to take on flesh; no longer mere observers of phenomena, we are the phenomena.
As Rod Willmot, in his introduction to Alexis Rotella's ON A WHITE BUD, so aptly says: "The formally 'pure' world of Nature is now imprinted with human presence." Rotella, indeed, allows us into her personal world
the lace tablecloth
In the guest room
where my mother slept
looking for comfort
I found myself caught up in particular by the various mentions of he/him/his. Rotella is at times listening to and quarreling with him, watching him and holding his gaze, missing him, trying to forget him, and crying out after he leaves. One man? Two?
Only I laugh
at his joke . .
Left to the wind
all the lilies
and all his lies
I began to want to know who is who and which is which, yet to the end remained confused by the lack of definition.
Along with the fine haiku, there are times when Rotella lets us in and there is nothing there
Arranging tea roses
I watch him climb
in the Chinese restaurant,
dropping a chopstick
Or if there is meaning it is well hidden, i.e., a poem is not set well enough in context to allow the mood or information from surrounding haiku to assist it (thereby enabling it to exist with less). And there are of course, as with all of us, some poems over which to groan. Yet as there are many snags when truly trout fishing, similarly there are bound to be snags when writing about ourselves, our fears, our loneliness, our pains. Perhaps though, in that we do write (in that we do try), we, in one way, do succeed. Or to say it another way, it is perhaps from our failed haiku we learn we were not quite open or honest and are haunted until we get deeper into ourselves--and get it right.
With these feelings about Rotella's writing in mind, I was quite unprepared for her latest book. AFTER AN AFFAIR blew me away. I was deeply moved--something I rarely experience in haiku. Everything came into place. What seems "almost" in BUD truly flowers in AFTER AN AFFAIR. What, in BUD, seems puzzling or maybe none of my business, in AFFAIR, calls out and takes me in. I experience with Rotella the stuff of life--and happily the stuff of art. Whereas BUD is a collection of haiku, AFFAIR is a sequence of living. I feel so strongly that it is a sequence in which one haiku deepens as it follows and co-exists with others, that I'd rather not quote from it. The poems belong together to be experienced together.
More and more, as I flounder through my own days and nights, I want to know how my companion travelers do it, survive this crazy desperate thing we call life on the planet. I take heart I am not the only one who wants to share, nor the only one who wants to know
deep autumn my neighbor what does she do
Frogpond 7:3 1984 Cor van
den Heuvel, THE HAIKU ANTHOLOGY, Simon & Schuster,
New York, 1986.
Translation of Basho's haiku by MM
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