by Scott Owens
by J.S. Absher; illustrations by Katie Nordt
Cynosura Press, 2010
Although I have published about 3 dozen haiku in respected haiku journals like Heron’s Nest, Notes from the Gean, and Shamrock, my only training in the form has been my own reading and a few exchanges with Alice Frampton, Lenard Moore, and Curtis Dunlap. So, when I received a review copy of Stan Absher’s new collection of mostly haiku entitled Night Weather, I thought about how particular some haiku purists can be and decided I wasn’t really qualified or courageous enough to make any sort of statement regarding the quality of a collection of haiku. As I read through the book, however, I realized that it contains plenty of elements about which I do feel qualified to speak. The most significant of these elements is simply how enjoyable the poems are. These quiet meditations on perception are evocative, soothing, and subtly thought-provoking.
Not surprisingly given that most of the poems are haiku or similar forms, the strongest feature of these poems is their imagery. Time and again, Absher presents images that are pleasantly familiar and enviably well-stated such that I find myself constantly thinking, “Yes, that’s it. He got it just right. Perhaps my favorite, being a planter of trees myself, is “sweetgum:”
in the riprap
This image of life, regeneration, and resistance reminds me both of Roethke’s famous poem, “Cuttings,” as well as my own experience planting saplings in a thick bed of mulch.
Absher demonstrates in all of these poems what is undoubtedly the poet’s most important skill: keen observation. Nowhere is that more apparent than in “Ripeness Is All,” which I quote in its entirety below:
Weighting the low branches, vermilion
splotched with apple green, it hands
in easy reach — not quite ready
to pick, but turn his eye away one
moment, it will bruise with neglect.
The exact moment never comes
when it falls easily to hand.
By day it holds the stem like
a hooked redeye, then over night
spikes itself on the stubble.
When is my time, he wonders,
when will I, trembling with plenty,
let go into the ripe void?
When will I steer
drunkenly into the blade?
This metaphoric representation of the ceaselessly anticipatory nature of human existence resonates not only with our own perceptions of the natural world but also with our unspoken impressions of life, and of course, with all the literary and personal associations we have with the concept of forbidden fruit. Such associative richness is what makes these poems, and all good haiku, and all good imagism, work. It is this quality above all others that make such poems enjoyable.
Organized around the theme of passing seasons, Absher’s poems have two vital lessons to teach us: pay attention; and be ready.