Commentary from the Panel:
More than a decade after her passing, a broad collection of Peggy Willis Lyles’ masterful haiku have been assembled by longtime editors John Barlow and Ferris Gilli. Where Rain Would Stay, a title Lyles chose herself, is a fine tribute to her legacy as one of the most highly regarded English-language haiku poets to date.
Lyles first began publishing haiku in the mid-1970s in pursuit of what she called “that shock of recognition.” Over more than three and a half decades, Lyles would go on to publish some 1,800 poems in her lifetime. Each one, as Lyles said, “merges images from the exterior world with the landscape of the poet’s heart so effectively that a receptive and fully participatory reader can become part of the poem.”
we talk about
the way things change
an oak tree’s absence
shapes the sky
Each image holds an indelible scene that asks the reader to join her in seeing.
from the dark lagoon
the scarred back
of the manatee
The jagged pattern left by a boat strike might resemble a zigzag of lightning. Also, with her gift of subtlety, Lyles invites a visceral response to witnessing both manatee and heat lightning with a kind of stunned silence.
Always grounded in season and time, Lyles’ haiku allows her readers an opportunity to slow down and recall their own individual touchstone moments.
As editors, Barlow and Gilli faced the Herculean task of reading some 1,600 published but uncollected haiku Lyles had left behind. From those, they culled their final selection pool to some 800 haiku. The editors weighed the individual and collective merits of the poems in deciding how best to strengthen the beloved legacy that Lyles had already established.
In addition, the editors relied on their long friendships with Lyles. The central question they returned to time and again was whether Lyles herself would have approved of this poem being preserved for posterity. In the end, 236 haiku are included in Where Rain Would Stay. The decisions of the editors were also driven by the simple fact that each poem had to reflect Lyles’ innate ability to represent the human condition.
The structural arrangement of Where Rain Would Stay is according to the seasonal progression to which the editors have sequenced the poems linking one to the next. Furthermore, links can be identified throughout the collection as a whole. Whether the links are obvious or opaque the reader may appreciate the quality of writing simply by blindly opening to any page because as the editors remind us, Where Rain Would Stay is also “a continuum that may be entered into at any point.”
And with so many poems to appreciate, Where Rain Would Stay is also a chronicle of life’s ordinary joys:
the car ahead
full of balloons
the curve of laughter
down the tree-house slide
Robert Spiess, the longtime editor of Modern Haiku and one of the earliest to publish Lyles’ haiku, wrote about the need for the “intelligence of the heart” when writing haiku, and reading it, for that matter. Lyles certainly demonstrates a mastery of just this kind of emotional intelligence in her haiku.
in spite of everything forsythia
into the afterlife red leaves
Where Rain Would Stay is a timeless classic in the pantheon of haiku collections. It deserves to be held up as an example of one poet’s profound success with this deceptively simple form. Poem after poem, Lyles takes life as it is, showing it to us in all its myriad permutations. Each experience washes over us and we are the ones who are changed.
Imbued with an instinctive ear for the musicality of haiku, Lyles’ poems “get at the heart of things,” as Barlow and Gilli have said, concluding that “These poems are indeed a lasting gift to us all.”
a place in the rock
where rain would stay
See the complete list of winners of both Individual Poem Awards and Distinguished Books Awards in the Touchstone Archives.