**spoiler alert** Ouch: Senryu That Bite by Alexis Rotella (@tankaqueen on Twitter) is an exquisitely well-written book filled with senryu that well,...more**spoiler alert** Ouch: Senryu That Bite by Alexis Rotella (@tankaqueen on Twitter) is an exquisitely well-written book filled with senryu that well, as the title of the book says, senryu that bite readers literally and figuratively. It is such an impressive collection of senryu spanning for almost three decades (1979-2007)! I first "met" Rotella in the early days of (the quite unstable) Twitter by way of her senryu and haiku, and even today, I still think of her as the queen of senryu (even though she has written poems in many other forms). Her keen observation of nature (and human nature) is that of an eagle's sight. This book superbly demonstrates that keen observation; she tackles subjects that are considered taboo, cliches, and everyday nuances that reminds us that we are all simply human.
But before I start discussing Rotella's work in this review, I want to mention briefly (and generally) what a senryu is. While the focus on haiku is on nature, the senryu is focused on the human condition (human nature)--all in its satire, cynicism, irony, and dark humor. Unlike the haiku, the senryu does not generally have a seasonal word (kigo) or a cutting word or some kind of juxtaposition (kireji). The senryu is also generally written in three lines and syllable count as that of the haiku. However, due to language/cultural differences, the world of haiku and senryu are expanding. For instance, the syllable count of 5/7/5 in the traditional Japanese haiku form may not be the perfect fit in other languages. While it may be certainly possible to write a haiku/senryu in 5/7/5, it is not always necessary as some words may function as fillers rendering the haiku/senryu itself weaker than it should be.
Now let's get back to Rotella's book, Ouch. I will have to forewarn you, dear readers, that this review may simply be delightfully too long (Ouch! intended!). It is after all a book-length's worth of selected senryu between 1979-2007! I had too many favorites and cannot discuss them all!
With Necco wafers, I offer my dolls communion
This senryu can be viewed in many ways. According to Rotella's biography, she is an "ordained interfaith minister and a member of The Church of What's Happening Now." I am sure there are still many heated debates challenging whether women can be ministers to their local churches, groups, and communities, yet here is Rotella challenging that role. Not only that, this senryu is a reflection of Rotella's personal life. Playing with dolls is a childhood pastime that is identified (albeit historically strictly) with young girls. However, to offer communion wafers to the dolls makes Rotella's role more masculine as if she is the minister to her dolls. I like the contrasts between childhood and adulthood as well as playtime versus reality captured in this senryu.
Another perspective of gender roles Rotella touches upon is when it comes to dealing with cars.
Car rattle-- my husband falls apart
This made me laugh so much! Anything dealing with machinery, cars, and mechanics are part of a man's domain, right? As Rotella shows in this senryu, I guess men can't fix everything. The man instead of the machine itself (the car) falls apart! Interestingly, perhaps it can be inferred that the speaker isn't falling apart.
The hitchhiker gives me the finger.
The third line is the unexpected surprise in this senryu! While it would be nice to be the good Samaritan every so once in a while by picking up the unfortunate hitchhiker, and then driving him/her to his/her destination, we can't help it but to say "no" at times (and especially if those hitchhikers tend to look shady!). The classic hitchhiker's thumb turns into a rather offensive "middle" one! Adios, amigo! It's a no pickup for you! If Rotella had written this senryu in one line, the surprise effect would not be as effective.
Speaking of one-lined senryu, here's one:
Next to the cemetery travel agency.
Note the level of irony and dark humor in this senryu. Since it is on one line in word arrangement and structure, you can also see that the "cemetery" is also literally right next to the "travel agency," creating sort of a one-way route for the reader's eyes ...as well as for the deceased who will be traveling to the other side of life.
On a much more sentimental side of Rotella, we can see the layering of conflicting emotions of "loose ends" and "sheets" of her father dying in this senryu:
Dad dying-- Mom tucks in the loose ends of his sheets.
The tangibility of something intangible such as death is presented by the touch of bedsheets. Interestingly, those intangible "loose ends" (whatever business Rotella's dad had before death) are taken care of by Rotella's mother, but by way of "his sheets." A wonderful break (and metaphor) between lines 2 and 3. Rotella also uses the cliche of "loose ends" effectively in this senryu.
In this day and age, the Internet is the ultimate resource for all the answers to anything and everything, including information about yourself! Rotella captures this perfectly in the following:
To see what I've been up to, I google myself.
Yeah, I think we all have to admit to doing this at least once! There's no denying that! Ouch! The third line functions sort of like punchline to a joke--a great surprise indeed. It's interesting to note that rumor mills are now obtained at a much faster speed than say, phoning your bff's! Hey, remember those days?
Another creative "punchline" can be found in this senryu:
Strip poker-- I take off.
This two-lined senryu is creative, yet ends powerfully--with a period as its punctuation. Nothing more is said after that; there isn't even a third line. The reader can note how the speaker is uncomfortable with this game of poker and so takes off or leaves immediately (though not her clothes). Actions speak louder than words in this senryu.
The following senryu are what every author/poet fears the most:
The person I wrote the book for doesn't buy a copy.
Morning after the poetry reading-- phone silent.
Do I feel a double Ouch! here? Rotella uses brevity with such skill in these two senryu as along with other senryu in the book to create such powerful emotions and experiences not only for herself but also leave enough room for the reader's imagination, emotions, and experiences. In both instances (both senryu), the speaker feels some form of rejection and even under-appreciation.
Now the health care and medical world is also rich in satire and human foibles as well, and Rotella has plenty of senryu touching upon that:
Still waiting to be happy-- friend with a face lift
I tell the doctor it was powerful-- sugar pill
Yikes! In "Still waiting," the bluntness is quite devastating but at the same time laughable. We can only wonder if the "face lift" ever made the friend happy in this senryu to begin with. However, in disregarding the "face lift" for a moment, happiness is everyone's ultimate purpose in life.
In "I tell the doctor," the reader can imagine the speaker's reaction in this senryu. Surprise? Anger? Upset? Sometimes mind is over matter as we oftentimes fool ourselves into believing in or swearing by the powerful effect of something or other. In this case, the "sugar pill" is a placebo, giving us that shocking news that things are not always what they seem (not just in the medical/health care world).
Finally, Rotella offers us some form of comfort in the following senryu even if it is a bit socially awkward:
Finding comfort on an old dog's back-- tired feet
Yes, we know that "dogs are a man's best friend," yet what happens when we're using them for our own needs as in this case, our "tired feet"? It's quite amusing to see a dog treated as an inanimate object in this senryu--as an ottoman or a foot stool. Of course, it's to be noted that this is not animal cruelty, but look at the second line with "old dog's back" for a moment here... This "old dog" has been with its owner for a really long time and knows its owner's needs and habits. Even though the owner rests her "tired feet" on the dog, both the old dog and owner find comfort in the other's presence, touch, and togetherness, which makes this senryu so awkward and funny but in such an affectionate way. You can't help it but to say, "Aww."
Ouch by Alexis Rotella is definitely a book worth reading and learning about the endless ways of writing senryu. I truly admire Rotella's wit, brevity, and skill as she covers nearly every topic and writes with such ease. Her voice and style are both strong and memorable, and of course, each senryu does make you want to say, "OUCH!" Perhaps making fun of our own humanity makes us more humble and appreciative of our own condition (our vulnerability), and writing senryu would help us take life less seriously.(less)
**spoiler alert** Fire Blossoms: The Birth of Haiku Noir by Denis M. Garrison (@dengary on Twitter) is a haunting book of haiku noir with the "dark si...more**spoiler alert** Fire Blossoms: The Birth of Haiku Noir by Denis M. Garrison (@dengary on Twitter) is a haunting book of haiku noir with the "dark side," brevity, and conciseness as its "primary identifying characteristics" according to Garrison's "Preface." Since I have been interested in haiku noir for quite some time now, I haven't gotten the chance to sit down, study, and read all about the haiku noir. Fortunately in reading this book, I have found that opportunity to be introduced to haiku noir, which I hope to experiment in the near future. The "Preface" written by Garrison gives a succinct summary of what a haiku noir is in the following:
1. Subject matter is different from the classical/traditional haiku (e.g., tragedy, loss, anger, macabre humor, science fiction, fantasy, madness, terror, passion, crime, anti-heroism, etc.). 2. Haiku noir is considered more of a Western tercet (3-line poem) with the 1 to 5 syllables in first and third lines and 1 to 7 syllables in the second line (total syllable count is 17 or less). 3. Unlike the traditional/classical haiku, there are no rules to capitalization, punctuation, fragments, phrases, use of complete sentences, etc., but should avoid excessive use of marks (e.g., !!! and & % $ *, etc.). 4. Unlike the traditional/classical haiku, hair noir can include similes, rhymes, metaphors, etc. 5. The purpose of the haiku noir is to create an emotional response in the reader which "falls at the darker end of the spectrum of human experience."
In this book, Garrison demonstrates many examples of haiku noir with his own selection of poetry, which I will discuss here in this review.
this caveman rhythm our common pulse more needful than water or salt
This poem is written in 17 syllables, yet each line carries so much weight with its words. What could be as ancient as "caveman rhythm" and is one of the most basic necessities of life worth more "than water or salt?" The Maslow's hierarchy of needs pyramid comes to mind, and of course, even air isn't the answer to the riddle. The "caveman rhythm" makes me think of eros, one of the most primitive emotional and physical needs (in love) of the human experience.
caught in the wind-carved ice on this distant nameless peak: an empty Coke can
This poem is written in the syllable count of 6/7/5, but it is important to note that syllable counting in haiku noir isn't the major focus. What is important is how each word is carefully selected as Garrison demonstrates superbly in this haiku noir. His use of punctuation (the colon) is refreshing and fitting as it reveals what is trapped in the "wind-carved ice" of a "nameless peak." I love the picturesque feel in this poem and how there is subtle, yet sad irony of the merging between mankind and nature in the form of pollution (littering), which hits the guilty nerve in all of us. There is a quality of the classical/traditional haiku in this poem as well as represented through the winter kigo ("ice").
For those who love a bit of crime fiction, Garrison has that haiku noir set in the following:
yellow police tape crackles in the cold wind-- patch of red ice
I guess this haiku noir literally has a macabre sense of humor. For me, the power-charged words in this poem are "crackles" and "red." Look at the way they are used: "crackles" to describe the sound of the yellow tape in the "cold wind" and the "red" to describe the patch of ice. Each of these words are placed strategically for a greater emotional impact on the reader. Dare I say, very creepy and disturbing indeed!
For me, this haiku noir below is similar to an urban haiku, which Michael Dylan Welch once explained as haiku in the urban setting (see Urban Haiku at Graceguts). What do you all think? Sometimes, urban haiku can blur between haiku noir and senryu. Of course, there are distinctions between each, but sometimes, I see some examples that blur. But anyway, here is Garrison's poem:
zoo mothers clutch their babies both sides of bars
The third line of this clever poem really throws the reader off. What a powerful visual in the reader's mind! Monkey see, monkey do, right? We're all primates after all.
Garrison also touches on World War II in all its ghastly horrors, yet the first poem gives a sense of peace/hope somehow:
millions of coffins send up green shoots-- waiting to see the fruit
war talk-- those who do not know imagine glory
Living in the Gulf Coast area, I still remember to this day how Hurricane Katrina was one of those worse natural disasters in history and how my city sheltered so many of the hurricane victims for months and months. Hurricane Rita came shortly afterwards, and my family took in two families (my relatives). I think the aftermath of the hurricanes was even worse than the disaster itself because of the politics involved. Garrison captures it in painful plain truth here with a sense of irony:
the greatest world leaders-- they look so tiny in the eye of the storm
Once again, I am always partial when it comes to poetry related to the medical and health care world. How fragile human life really is as depicted in this one:
cardiac care unit-- the blinking of lights . . . of lives
Working with cancer patients this past semester in nursing school has made me appreciate my life more and even greater, the lives of those whom I had the pleasure to cross paths with, even with those I've never met in real life. The recent deaths of several of my fellow haijin friends in particular makes me sad, yet my heart beats with such sincerity in that I know they have found eternal peace, blessings, and love. Their spirits "blink" somewhere in the stars too, I can imagine.
I can go on and discuss at length so many wonderful examples of haiku noir Garrison has written in this book, but I shall stop here. What I have selected are the most memorable to me, which I hope to inspire you to read, learn, and experiment more with haiku noir. According to Garrison, he had used the term "haiku noir" loosely since 2001 and although it seems relatively new, I am sure this form will continue to grow and incorporate more diverse topics and writing styles in the future years.
Notes: I have a different cover. The top and bottom frames (title and author indicated) of the cover are black instead of yellow like in this one. The flower in the center frame is the same.(less)
**spoiler alert** I don't really read fantasy novels much other than some of the famous ones like the C.S. Lewis' Narnia series (which I grew up with)...more**spoiler alert** I don't really read fantasy novels much other than some of the famous ones like the C.S. Lewis' Narnia series (which I grew up with), Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy, Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time series (another series I grew up with), J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter series, T. H. White's The Once and Future King, Laurell K. Hamilton's Meredith Gentry series, and a couple of books by Neil Gaiman. However, I was pleasantly surprised with S. M. Boyce's The Grimoire: Lichgates, the first book in The Grimoire trilogy. This book has both plot and character development, which I appreciate as a reader because after all, it is quite difficult and takes a lot of skill and imagination to invent an entirely different world. A novel would not be a novel without character development and a good plot. (In general, I would rate this novel as 4.5 out of 5 stars.)
The female protagonist, Kara Magari, is instantly likable. She's strong, calm and collected, speaks her mind, and gets to the point. In fact, I think she is nearly perfect with her recent parents' deaths as her only weakness to her character. It is only then that the reader can see how vulnerable she is whenever anything is related to her parents. Another thing I want to point out is that I find it hard to believe that as human as she is, she is able to master certain magical skills so quickly and in such a short amount of time within the novel. I hope that the next two books in the trilogy would explain this reason other than the fact that she is the new owner of the Grimoire, an ancient book that teaches her about magic, the world of Ourea, and among other things. Despite this, I think her opposite, Braeden Drakonin, has more evolution in his character development throughout the novel than Kara does, even though the focus is on Kara. Kara is like the unwilling hero who accidentally trips over a lichgate (a colored light portal) while hiking and finds herself in Ourea, a world filled with superhuman powers/magic and creatures. She finds that she is the new Vagabond (similar to a wizardly figure), who now owns the Grimoire. Her ultimate purpose as the Vagabond is to unite the warring kingdoms and instill peace, which we have yet to discover in the next two books. Throughout the book, she vacillates between wanting to help restore peace and order throughout Ourea and going home back to the human world.
Braeden, on the other hand, spent most of his childhood running away and hiding from his crazy evil father and his cursed Bloodline as a Stelian in the world of Ourea. His only hope is asking the Grimoire to help him or find a way to become a Vagabond himself. However, his selfish reasons for wanting the Grimoire changes as he helps Kara on her various trips and missions and starts caring for Kara. Although Braeden's magical powers seem limitless because he is the Heir to the Stelian throne when his Blood father dies, it seems as if the greatest threat is himself. He feels like he is born in a life that he did not want in the first place. However, throughout the novel, the reader can see that even though his intentions for claiming the Grimoire for himself was at first a selfish act, there is hope for his redemption from his Stelian blood... and just maybe he isn't the bad guy (with inherent evil powers) after all.
Lichgates has similar themes, concepts, and scenes that echo many previous fantasy novels or films such as in Alice in Wonderland, when the female protagonist's curiosity leads her to stumble into a different world other than her own. The Grimoire itself reminds me of Tom Riddle's diary in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets in which the text talks to the protagonist. However, the Grimoire is more powerful and used for good instead evil. This Grimoire is also similar to the alethiometer in the His Dark Materials trilogy because of its vast knowledge of the world of Ourea if the user/owner asks the right question. Traveling and the sense of movement are also related themes that are found in many fantasy novels as well such as in the The Lord of the Rings or His Dark Materials trilogy. Likewise, these two themes appear in Lichgates where we find Kara flying in the skies on a griffin (a lion-eagle hybrid) or running through walls on a flaer. The sense of movement is depicted in Kara's adventurous character in that she is always doing something; there is never rest until at the end of the book. Kara also has a new pet that will be bound to her for life, a fox-like creature called Xlijnughl, which she named as Flick. This creature almost reminds me of the daemon in the His Dark Materials trilogy, an external human soul that exists in the form of an animal. Of course, in Lichgates, Flick is not Kara's external human soul, but in a sense could be seen as a guardian or an extension of her soul as the coveted Vagabond who has unimaginable powers. In fact, it is important to note that Flick saves Kara once and will likely save her again in the next two novels of the trilogy, and I'm sure we will discover what other powers this Flick will have as this creature is considered "a good omen."
Also important to note within this novel are two major themes: the battle of good vs. evil and free will vs. destiny. Now that all the kingdoms in Ourea have heard about the return of the Vagabond after 1,000 years, the power of this Vagabond is the very thing itself that is both coveted and feared by many. This power as embodied through the Grimoire could potentially be used for good or evil, which is dependent on Kara's decisions and actions as well as the wisdom and the experience she will hopefully gain. Therefore, this is where the free will vs. destiny concept comes into play. Kara feels like she was brought into the world of Ourea against her will, but is reminded frequently that she always has a choice. Likewise, Braeden feels like because of his Stelian blood, he is unable to control himself when he is particularly near his evil Blood father. Based on their age, think of old vampires who can mind-control the much younger vampires or human beings against their will. The control between Blood and Heir is similar to this vampire link/bond example. However, Braeden chose to live as a Hillsidian for many years and wants to break that blood-bond from his father and the Stelian blood altogether. I really admire the fact that Braeden chooses to learn how to control his most deadly powers with a Muse (a drenowith), a being that can transform into anything but is relatively unknown and isolated from most of Ourea. The reader can see how Braeden struggles with this Blood control and his own desires to be free.
To conclude, this book is well-written and definitely a page turner. I really enjoyed stumbling into the world of Ourea with Kara and learning its secrets and adventures. I also enjoyed knowing more about Braeden as much as Kara did. Since this is a trilogy, I hope to learn more of Kara's maturity as a character and her role as the modern Vagabond in the next two books; the same goes for Braeden in his character development and role as the Heir to the Stelian bloodline as well as being a trustworthy traveling companion to Kara. Finally, I'm sure we will learn how Kara and Braeden will influence one another, may even become star-crossed lovers, and defy destiny together to fulfill not only their own dreams and goals but to also overcome their own internal conflicts. Lichgates is not only a story of adventures and discovering the world of Ourea, but it is also a story of two young individuals who are uniquely different but are also mirrors of the other. Perhaps the world of Ourea is very much like the human world after all. I can't wait to read the rest of the trilogy.
Notes: I received this book as an Epub file (Adobe Digital Edition) from the author herself in exchange for a review.(less)