Snow Moon by Steven Carter, Uxbridge. Alba Publishing, Uxbridge, UK. www.albapublishing.com (2011) 48 pp. p.b. US$12.00/UK8.00 pounds. ISBN 978-095512544-7. Reviewed by Patricia Prime
Steven Carter is a retired emeritus professor of English and his book of essays, Devotions to the Text, was awarded the Eric Hoffer Foundation’s Montaigne Medal grand prize. Carter secures his position as one of the most remarkable of contemporary writers with his first collection of haiku and haibun, Snow Moon.
The haiku and haibun in this collection are expressed in plain language that nevertheless enlightens us with their lightest and deepest concepts. In his haiku, which are divided into three sections: Equinox, The House and October, Carter ponders and marvels over the various seasonal changes that take place during the equinox, the practicalities of the house, and the coming of winter. Each section is headed by a haibun and the final section L’Envoi, contains ten haibun.
In Carter’s individual haiku, his mode is accessible, sometimes surprising, as in the opening haiku:
our silences –
the right words
Carter displays considerable artistry in the haiku which sometimes jolts us out of complacency:
brightening the night
pale yellow moon –
and, at the same time, does not abandon the domestic:
careening moon –
of your glass of wine
This trustworthy voice is welcome over a broad spectrum of subjects, yet is tied together so that each haiku unfolds something different and satisfying. In the section entitled The House, for example, there are haiku about the highs and lows, the practical and the emotional – test results, the garden, the empty birdhouse, rummaging in the attic, unwritten poems and more. The first haiku in this section:
waiting for the test results –
on which side of the window
is offset by the nature haiku:
day moon on the lake
flying into its reflection
or morphs into an account of disease:
no one brings up
The final section of haiku, October, guides the reader through nature, landscape, seasonal weather, camping and the fireside. Here everyday occurrences and encounters enable the haiku to function as a catharsis to undercurrents that run beneath the poems, as for example, in the following haiku where we get caught up in the struggle that takes place in most of our lives:
behind scattered clouds
the coy moon
. . . regretting a kindness
taking early retirement –
no longer part of something
Carter’s haibun are indicative of his interest in the form and sustain a high level of achievement throughout, but I do have my favourites: “Over Lunch”, “Kite””Sawtooth Range” and “1991”. What is particularly good, and the mark of a fine poet, is Carter’s ability and confidence to take chances. In this particular book, the addition of “1991” abut a visit to Auschwitz places his haibun in the contemporary arena. Here is a short quote from the poem:
In a strange and terrible way, September is the cruelest month for Auschwitz – the skies are blue and balmy, the grounds and surrounding fields lush with flowers, grasses and chestnut trees. These landscapes make the facilities – gas chambers, crematoria, barracks, dungeons, the Wall of Death – more poignant, even unbearable. I saw more than one Fullbrighter throw up and return to the bus.
The care that is paid to language in Carter’s poetry is just as evident in his prose and it is therefore no surprise that his haibun are exemplary. His haibun “Sawtooth Range” is impressive, and contains many well-crafted impressions of the “bearded, long-haired, very thin” young man carrying a cross he sees on his journey through Montana. : His lips move slowly – I can’t hear him because my window’s closed – but I lip-read his words: ‘Don’t forget me.”
This is a very fine collection and an engaging, attractive and worthwhile book.