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Book of the Week: All That Remains

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Catherine J. S. Lee made a splash with her beautiful debut chapbook, All That Remains (Turtle Light Press, 2011), revealing a probing sensibility and a sharp eye for gesture and metaphor.

You can read the entire book in the THF Digital Library.

All haiku in the Book of the Week Archive are selected by Tom Clausen, and are used with permission.



his scythe murmurs in the tall grass . . . grandfather's stories
only one chair on her rebuilt porch . . . elderberry wine
high summer a rusty hay rake buried in meadowsweet
a braided rug on the split-rail fence haying weather
on the barn roof a swirl of dry pine needles last day of August
letter from home . . . shadows lengthen on the sundial
camp road plumes of dust eddy in the heat
hammock weather winds aloft unravel skeins of contrails
first brown leaf a ragged moth clings to the screen door
mist rising from the valley lake a loon's cry
grandmother's albums the missing names of all those faces
family secrets — the shore ledges covered by rockweed
listing wharf the weight of storm clouds

This Post Has 7 Comments

  1. Haiku such as ” only one chair”, ” high summer”, ” a braided rug” , and ” hometown visit” show Catherine J.S. Lee to be a haiku poet of great distinction.

  2. Well, Gene, you would’ve read the first review to be published of Cat’s winning chapbook, I think. It was in NFTG, and I wrote it. Unfortunately, NFTG issues 4 – 10 are still not archived on the current website, so it’s not accessible by google.

    Here it is:

    All That Remains
    by Catherine J.S. Lee

    A Review by Lorin Ford

    _________________

    All That Remains, Catherine J.S. Lee
    Turtle Light Press, 2011
    Highland Park, N.J., 08904 U.S.A.

    27pp, ISBN 978-0-9748147-2-8
    _________________

    Catherine J.S. Lee’s All That Remains begins with a haiku which hints at the layering of present and past to be found over the course of this sensitively edited chapbook:

    hometown visit
    no trespassing signs
    where we used to play

    Set in four sections, All That Remains gains the formality of musical structure. Each movement develops the themes of return to family and family traditions and the persistent influence of the past but with a difference in mood and pace each time. A narrative framework of impressions and memories from childhood to the present is implied.

    In the first section a pervading stillness is barely disturbed by the murmur of a scythe, a stirring of leaves and a swirl of pine needles on a roof. There is the silence of a tin roof after rain, the lingering scent of sun-dried linen, a braided rug hung out to dry in haying weather and a rebuilt porch on which a single chair indicates not only a grandmother’s widowed status but something of her stoic character as well. Images of the past glow as if in an eternal present.

    In section two, a freighter’s horn heard through fog and a wharf listing under the weight of storm clouds presage the emergence of unsettling, darker undercurrents. Family secrets, lies, hidden personal histories are enfolded within objects — photograph albums, diaries, war medals and a flag set against the rattling of dry leaves:

    tri-folded coffin flag —
    dry leaves in a corner
    of the empty pool

    After the hard territory of the decline and death of parents in the third section, there is the comparative energy and gaiety of a family reunion in the closing section:

    horseshoes and gossip
    tossed around the grove
    family reunion

    Horseshoes are tossed (reminding the reader that this is a family which proudly adheres to traditions which have died out in many places in the world) dust eddies, winds unravel, a moth clings and a Great Blue Heron fades in such a way as to become one with the sky. The greater frequency of verbs in section four suggests that the world itself has now become more active. A commitment seems to have been made to be present for all that remains to be experienced in a life:

    backlit clouds
    the slow wait
    for sunset

    All That Remains shows that Cat Lee writes haiku with subtlety and precision, and she writes from a strong sense of place — Maine, in the New England region of north-eastern U.S.A. — and heritage. She evokes mood and changes in mood through expert use of the technique of juxtaposition, blending images from the natural and human worlds into the one fabric.

    Winner of the second Turtle Light Press biennial haiku chapbook competition, All That Remains is a delightfully produced, hand made chapbook which will please the most fastidious collector.

    —————————————————————————————————-

  3. I happily reviewed this book for the British Haiku Society journal Blithe Spirit a while back:

    All That Remains
    Catherine J.S. Lee
    pub. Turtle Light Press (USA)

    2010 TLP Haiku Chapbook Competition Winner

    $17.95 Free Shipping in the US and Canada
    Available using paypal. Contact Turtle Light Press on the weblink:
    http://www.turtlelightpress.com/products/all-that-remains/

    All That Remains is both the title and the dominant theme of this book. After all, everything is in transition, and this collection captures intriguing aspects which we often neglect at our peril.

    The book captures a bygone era, both in landscape on a broad visual scale, as well as on an intimate aural scale. Lee tackles landscape in original ways and deals with exterior/external and internal sub-themes.

    The opening haiku works well as an introduction for the attentive reader on many levels, and is a clue for those readers who enjoy losing themselves into a good book.

    hometown visit
    no trespassing signs
    where we used to play

    There is the surface meaning of adults revisiting childhood haunts, and finding them changed; then delving deeper, there are layers of interior landscape as well as the physical geography of the countryside. We find how it affects the individual who almost always takes a personal geography of their upbringing to new places.

    Do we allow trespassers into our own private interior landscape(s), and can we as a writer, even if we are actually willing to do so?

    Lee attempts this.

    Sense of place and identity are enduring and vital themes for writing in any genre, and perfectly suitable for haiku, the shortest of poems. One continuous theme is always a challenge whether for the writer or the reader. The writer still has to look for variety, especially in such a short poem choice as haiku.

    Often haiku are composed with one very short first line called a fragment, followed by a phrase of two more short lines. Both sections usually create a juxtaposition of different, almost opposing images, jolting and jostling each other to create friction, tension, and resonance, for the reader to enjoy and interpret.

    If the fragment is flat in textural meaning, and looks merely thrown in to start a haiku off, there is no frisson for the reader to get hold of, and shake, to see what comes out for them. There has to be a reward for a reader willing to enter into a contract with a writer. A flat fragment that doesn’t kick-start results in mundane formulaic layouts and templates, that are ultimately frustrating to the discerning reader, especially if they have paid good money on trust as part of that writer/reader relationship.

    family secrets–
    the shore ledge covered
    by rock weed

    Here the fragment pulls us into the haiku, and the phrase apparently goes away from the subject. But does it really?

    Remember the opening haiku, no trespassing?

    Do you want to be covered in rock weed, eventually to be choked. The subtle choice of reading this as a metaphor is offered, whether by design or not. I tend to think Lee writes direct observational haiku with a constant subtext to reward her readers. There are as many layers to a well-delivered haiku as there are labyrinthine layers to family secrets themselves.

    hard frost
    she remembers
    how he lied

    grandmother’s albums
    the missing names
    of all those faces

    tri-folded coffin flag –
    dry leaves in a corner
    of the empty pool

    Do we need coffin and empty, are they not redundant due to the clear diction derived from the other words? As soon I read ‘tri-folded’ I knew it would be the American flag on a coffin, possibly for a military ceremony. Dry leaves would obviously be in an empty pool, not a filled one. But sometimes, even though haiku need not repeat the obvious, it can be a useful device when deployed thoughtfully, and when the author isn’t really, merely, repeating themselves, and the obvious.

    “By the repetition of words the reader is encouraged to shift them around and consider various possible interpretations of the scene…It goes without saying that in order to work it must be done with considerable skill, or sensitivity.”
    “Repetition – For Meaning and Melody” Florence Vilen (Sweden July 2001)

    This haiku is both a time-honoured shasei model where direct observation is utilised: where the power and echoes of an instant’s sentient experience of a moment is carried forward and plunged into the editing process of a draft verse to emerge as haiku.

    Shasei is often the technique borrowed for film-making, where a particular object (e.g. coffin) is zoomed in, then panned out, or away, to be zoomed into another area (e.g. leaves in a pool corner) leaving layers to be excised by the reader/viewer.

    Death is the natural and only definite part of life, and we should never be surprised by that fact, and eventuality. Generations of families can disappear if death is not replaced by birth and an ongoing gene pool.

    Is this what the author is implying?

    Perhaps the tightly crafted openness and accessibility is a gift for the reader to take more from the poem if they wish to go beyond the surface meaning. Lee’s poems are rarely one-dimensional, if ever, and most proficient writers respect their readers too much to cop out in such a manner when composing haiku. A successful haiku is multi-dimensional, and there are many in this collection worth re-reading and exploring further.

    My only criticism is that although there are many haiku directly or indirectly using sound, there are scarce mentions of taste and smell.

    Is this a problem? I don’t think so, it just makes me want to embrace a companion volume from this author. I would love to give Lee an excuse, and reason, to capture the smells of home-cooking, at the house, and out on a (possibly rare) picnic, and packed meals for those tilling the land.

    pasture cairn
    the old farmer’s
    bent spine

    Good haiku can often work on metaphorical levels as we’ve discussed. Not every haiku needs to have a poet looking for a metaphor of course, as a reader or as the author. Well crafted haiku work on other levels for their readers, and it’s the layers of meaning, beyond the presentation of words first delivered to the reader, that make it a haiku worth reading, and re-reading again and again.

    A haiku needs an audience, and that audience should be rewarded if they use diligence in their reading. This is the case with Lee’s work: a tightly spun web of haiku that do not lose their joint narrative and lyrical threads that delightfully entrap the most discerning of readers.

    If you want to reward yourself as a reader of good poetry, you can go no further than Lee’s book.

    Review by Alan Summers
    Blithe Spirit journal, British Haiku Society

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