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Review of Raymond Roseliep: Man of Art Who Loved the Rose

Bauerly, Donna. Raymond Roseliep: Man of Art Who Loved the Rose. Winchester VA; The Haiku Foundation, 2015. 5.5” x 8.5”. Perfectbound, 300 pages. ISBN 978-0-9826951-1-1. $30 from https://www.thehaikufoundation.org/raymond-roseliep-man-of-art-who-loved-the-rose/.

It is difficult to come up with a list of biographies of 20th century poets. A quick search reveals Pound, Frost, Williams, Lorde, Angelou, Plath, Ginsberg, and few others. Therefore, Raymond Roseliep: Man of Art who Loves the Rose by Donna Bauerly stands out as notable, not only because it’s a fine biography of an American poet, but because it’s the first biography of any Western haiku writer.

Raymond Roseliep: Man of Art who Loves the Rose is broken into seven chapters. The first three, titled “Son,” “Scholar,” and “Priest,” are the most biographical elements of this text. They focus on Roseliep as a young man with his family (brothers, parents, etc.), then as a college student, then finally as an ordained priest. They are sprinkled liberally with haiku and poems from Roseliep’s later writings, which serves to punctuate Bauerly’s recounting with depth and authenticity.

The fourth chapter is one of the most interesting because it is about Roseliep’s career as a poet. Before coming to haiku, Roseliep was widely published in traditional lyric poetry. By 1965, he had three volumes of poetry published: The Linen Bands (1961), The Small Rain (1963), and Love Makes the Air Light, which was published by W. W. Norton in 1965. This chapter explores these books, and their more prominent poems, as the responses of some of his critics. Bauerly, in this chapter, sets up a pattern that she continues in the subsequent chapter as well. Instead of proceeding through events chronologically, she sets up each event, in this case each book, as a separate and isolated unit, which she explores fully before moving on. For example, she discusses the book The Linen Bands, published in 1961, on pages 52 through 61. Then she continues with 1963’s The Small Rain. It’s not until page 83 that readers find out Roseliep had been winning contests since 1962. This sort of circular jumping can be disconcerting for the reader, especially in the next chapter.

Chapter Five is titled “Haijin,” and is probably the most interesting for readers of Juxtapositions. It begins by establishing Roseliep as a haijin, that is, someone who doesn’t just write haiku but actually dedicates his or her life to the form. Bauerly then explores the then-current definition of haiku in America, and how Roseliep explored the form through a more contemporary and fluid definition. She then studies how Roseliep’s short lyric poems became more and more haiku-like, until he was writing haiku itself. By 1963, Roseliep is writing haiku and sending haiku out to specialized journals that focus entirely on haiku. This section is particularly interesting because, through the lens of Roseliep’s submissions and relationships with editors, readers learn about the history of haiku in America. As soon as a haiku magazine emerged, Roseliep submited to it, becoming more and more widely published in the genre. Further, his chapbooks and books of haiku were being published as well, which Bauerly explores with an incredible depth of research, finding not only correspondences but also reviews and critiques of his work in various publications.

Chapter Six explores Roseliep’s role as a teacher of poetry and haiku. Bauerly writes, in regard to the pervasive 5-7-5 mentality of haiku, “Raymond Roseliep was a major figure in the rejection of such an inadequate characterization and the adding of bone and sinew to American haiku from the 1960s onward.” The chapter begins with an compendium of craft statements made by Roseliep, and continues with an exploration of the craft techniques and tools that he used in his own work. This is a very educational section since readers are able to see specific haiku craft techniques explored and exploited across multiple pieces by the same author, which will perhaps help them grow in their own practice. Additionally, those interested in the history of haiku can see how Roseliep challenged the dominant ideas of haiku at the time and pushed the definitions of haiku in America. The chapter ends with haiku by friends and students of Roseliep, exploring how his knowledge and understanding of craft influenced others.
The final chapter is a selection of correspondence by Roseliep to various editors, poets, etc. There is an epilogue about the curious Sobi-shi pseudonym of Roseliep’s, as well as a thorough bibliography.

The purpose of the book, beyond recounting the life and times of Raymond Roseliep, seems to be to position Roseliep as one of the dominant voices in mid-century American haiku. Bauerly does this without pretense or bias, exploring Roseliep’s strengths and flaws, his quirks and character without gloss. Raymond Roseliep: Man of Art who Loves the Rose by Donna Bauerly should be of interest to anyone who reads or writes haiku, or any reader who wishes to explore the history of American haiku through the lens of one who wrote and lived it.

— Joshua Gage

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