Keeping up with new releases world wide is a difficult thing to do… thank goodness for reviewers like Patricia Prime! Here’s a review of John Parsons’ new collection, In a New Garden.
In a New Garden: haiku by John Parsons. Oxbridge, UK. Alba Publishing. www.albapublishing.com.
(2012) Pb. 96 pp. ISBN 978-0-9572592-6-3. UK12.00 / US$16.00 / €15. Reviewed by Patricia Prime
I was delighted when asked to write a comment for the jacket of John Parsons’ latest collection of haiku In a New Garden and, declaring this; I am equally pleased to review the work since I consider it to be one of the finest collections of haiku I have read. In his Preface to this fifth collection of haiku, Parsons writes, “This book is largely extracted from work over the past year, a time of upheaval and resettlement.” The book is divided into the seasons of the year; each season being prefaced by one of Parsons’ drawings.
The haiku are set out three to a page, in indented lines, with plenty of space around them. If you enjoy haiku, here is a volume full of delights and surprises. The strength, energy and compassion of Parsons’ haiku are impressive, and it is reader-friendly without ever being shallow. He brings a wealth of meticulous observation and personal experiences to his writing, through which we are better able to recognize ourselves and our surroundings. He invites the reader to share his vision and knowledge, and to discover with him, both human nature.
As I read and reflect on Parsons’ haiku, in all four sections of the seasonal year, I realize how the many layers of meaning of those title words – Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter – are embedded in this collection, adding to its depth and the way the haiku work on the reader’s imagination.
The book opens with the section Spring. In the first haiku, we are with the poet in his “new garden” watching the unfolding snowdrops:
sense of belonging
in a new garden
Parsons writes empathetically about new growth, flowers, bird’s eggs, the weather and the song of birds:
lost in mist the robin
finds a song
this neatly sums up his interest in birds and their habitats. Moment after moment is described in meticulous detail, as we see in the following two haiku:
her book of symptoms
against cut glass
in watery light
the whole meadow
By the closing poem of this section, the poet, fully aware of his own blessings, is able to give a “coin for the busker” and to hear him burst into song.
Parsons is a poet who has studied and practices drawing, printmaking, sculpture, songwriting and illustration and he has an instinctive understanding of line and form, and sensitivity to the music
of words. In the section Summer, for example, he writes
slow slant of glitter
lost in light
patch of moonlight
slips from her robe
the midnight room
each haiku having a fine feeling both of the musical and the “painterly” about them. Here we see “the moment under the moment”, the past that’s always there beneath the present.
Parsons seems to enjoy taking leaps to link ideas in unpredictable ways. In this section, for instance, he juxtaposes a dry beech mast to a baby toad, a stoat with a bow wave of rabbits, perennial leeks to random thoughts. Birds are clearly a passionate interest and fertile material for a number of haiku, among them a wren, a buzzard, gulls, pigeons, swallows and a goldfinch. As well as other fine haiku, including the beautiful
for the blind roses feel ways
over the path
then there is his powerful
a goldfinch alights
on wizened marguerites
In section three Autumn, there are Parsons enthralling haiku about making love, All Hallow’s, the death of a friend, a hospital waiting room. The heart-wrenching
moonlight where she died
a ghost’s weight
on my shadow
Parsons demonstrates an unerring sense of voice in these autumnal poems in which he presents “rust-coloured chrysanths”, “shortening days”, “shriveled fronds”, but in all his work he subtly matches voice to mood and subject matter, as in the following haiku
of silence a goldfinch
where his minute observation is a compelling drive.
In the final section Winter, the haiku range across many subjects, from those about day-to-day things such as “lipstick smudges”, a “smart phone”, “new gloves”, to haiku about a value store, Christmas, snow and the lovely
tears on a greeting
where does she start
to wrap up a life
His desire to make a detailed study of the seasons seems to find its ultimate expression in the haiku
ice shards spread
in the oxbow’s curve cracks
of a woodman’s fire
Densely packed with vivid image after image, the moment-by-moment thoughts and minutiae of life
flow elegantly down the pages. There are so many fine haiku to indulge in – the memorable lines of
in the unfinished quilt
her last faltering stitch
and there are other beautiful, sensual and imagistic haiku too; the compassion and empathy of
“joints stiffen / every elbow of twisted hazel / a nodule of ice”, the indelible image of “just enough light / the robin’s breast / gives dead nettles life” and “loneliness / evening sun on the seat / never sat on”.
Whatever he writes about, Parsons always remains connected with the natural world and is sustained by it and even when he probes darker subjects, the sense of wonder it inspires shines through. He uses language powerfully to make us experience the world as he does, to hear birdsong, to feel the sun or the cold, to smell perfume or to sense the pain of stiff joints. His haiku shimmer with light, movement and colour, with sensual images that stay in the mind long after the book is closed.