marlene mountain
book review 1998


Janice M. Bostok Dungay. NSW. 2484 Australia:


a line-linked haiku

Marlene Mountain and Francine Porad

Foreword by Randy Brooks   Alphaview by Jim Kacian
Vandina Press 1998  
ISBN: 1-887381-11-2
Two paintings by Porad and a collage (tear out) by Mountain

A very attractive blue/grey marbled card cover and paper. cur*rent is an interesting and influential work by two of our more well known female poets. Mountain and Porad have included the definitions and synonyms for 'current.' This adds a dimension of which, unless we particularly picked up a dictionary for ourselves, we might otherwise be ignorant. To quote a few meanings: 'presently elapsing'; 'used as a medium of exchange'; 'a flow marked by force or strength'; 'a flow of electric charge: the rate of such flow.' A few synonyms and related words: 'topical; popular; ruling; fashionable; modern.' This says much more for the work presented than I can!

Porad has proven herself to be a teacher and mentor to both new and seasoned haiku writers, specifically during her eight-year editorship of Brussels Sprout, international haiku journal. She has a background in art and literature and has won a number of prizes. As a result she has also been asked to judge international haiku contests. Mountain has played a different role within the art and literary community. I was about to say she was a 'quiet achiever'! But the voice from the mountain has never been louder, stronger and more determined than when she is campaigning for human rights, particularly women's rights.

As stated in Jim Kacian's An Alphaview, utilizing Marlene Mountain's autobiographical notes, Mountain has been interested in haiku since 1964. She has been one of the earliest and strongest voices for the development of haiku in English. Her desire to produce 'minimal' art and poetry has influenced her development. Whether you love her work or you hate it (because it is an instant love/hate relationship) doesn't matter. Marlene Mountain is one of the very few poets who has developed the 'traditional' Japanese haiku (which most of us can only read in translation) into a unique English-language haiku poem. Most of the haiku poets writing in English today merely mirror the English-language translations of Japanese poems.

For many years now I have listened to poets quote from the definition of haiku: 'a moment keenly perceived.' Very few poets would write about something which isn't keenly perceived, and deeply felt. One can't say that the work in cur*rent isn't keenly perceived and deeply felt. Just picking lines at random: 'wendy talks of buying a gun wearing it using it.' Or: 'just a torso in the rapist's trunk.' Also: 'brother sister and I cling anniversary of mama's death.' These lines from linked haiku are not the pretty nature pictures which we might expect from some haiku poets. Nor are they senryu. They aren't funny! I believe we can have English-language haiku about human concerns which move us deeply. These lines, it might be argued, fulfill most of the criteria for haiku: they are keenly perceived, they are written in the present tense, and they are a moment in time when something is deeply felt. They are the haiku of two individual poets. However we look at the them and judge them, they have been named and declared haiku.

In his Foreword Randy Brooks speaks of the 'exchange' which is foremost in cur*rent. He says: 'Haiku has always, by its very nature, been an incomplete expression of being. ...Although haiku may appear to be one of the shortest genres of poetry, it can also be seen as the longest since it assumes an ongoing, never-ending process of linking, of adding currency to the existing haiku.' I believe this type of linked haiku is more genuine and beneficial than the artificial art of renku which most haiku poets participate in today. Fair enough, renku is delightful and even entertaining for the participants, but as a literary form, it is not expected to be a record of true experiences or feelings. It may be argued that renku is a 'dead' form. It certainly doesn't live as these exchanges do.

The exchanges brought about by the one-line technique used by Mountain and Porad (although not unique to them, as other poets have also used it successfully: Anne McKay and Alexis Rotella, also myself and Carla Sari) produces a quickening, an excitement, and by the use of up to the minute subjects, both political and non-political we can relate to and enjoy this work without limitations.

I predict that looking back in the future, cur*rent will become an important milestone for the development of haiku in English, as important as Mountain's sequences were when published in The Haiku Anthology edited by Cor van den Heuvel, over a decade ago.

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