Water Lines, by Carolyn Hall (Waterloo, U.K.: Snapshots Press, 2006). 80 pages. 5 x 7.75. Paper covers; perfectbound. ISBN 1-903543-17-7. $20.00 postpaid from Snapshot Press, PO Box 132, Waterloo, Liverpool, l22 8WZ, U.K., or from <snapshotpress.co.uk>
It seems that every time I turn around Carolyn Hall has won or placed in another contest. This shows that I am not alone in my admiration of her work. Now, Water Lines, the winner of the 2004 Snapshots Press Haiku Contest and Hall’s first book, has finally arrived, and it was well worth the wait. Like all John Barlow–designed books it is a joy to hold: from the quality of the paper to the stunning cover photograph. But the real treat is inside.
Hall’s strength as a poet is her ability to meld highly original images with an honesty of storytelling. A reader of her work never feels talked at, but rather like the only visitor at an art exhibition who is allowed to pause and linger among the paintings. This is an apt metaphor since Hall has an artist’s eye.
in her favorite kimono—
small green plums
Haiku’s strength as a poetic form is that it lets objects stand on their own with their own weight and associations. Hall doesn’t tell the reader whether or not the plums were a part of the kimono’s design or whether seeing the immature fruits prompts the poet to remember her lost friend. Through their greenness, however, she does tell the reader how she feels, and by letting the plums speak for themselves, she hopes to have the reader feel it as well. Like the best poets, she sets a scene and opens the door to it. The haiku moment is important to Hall, but she makes it her own, populating it with fresh images and a clear pinpoint vision.
the poultry truck returns
with empty cages
I brush on one more
wall color sample
Masaoka Shiki worried that the combination of the modern age and a finite number of topics would spell the doom of haiku. He would probably rethink that concern upon reading Hall’s work. Hall’s original images include among others “a bowl of owl feathers,” “tapioca on the back of” her tongue, and “a quail’s topknot.” But behind these images is a very human heart that is conscious of how it fits among its surroundings.
my white lie—
long grass longer
by a damselfly-length
her closed door
She is a master of execution, yet her craft feels effortless.
mammogram waiting room
she rips a page
from a magazine
so suddenly winter
baby teeth at the bottom
of the button jar
The first poem is a masterpiece of storytelling that takes us through the emotional stages of a patient. I am amazed at how the reader is taken, line by line, from anxiety to fear to acceptance and possibly hope. The second, the winner of the 2005 Heron’s Nest annual contest, rattles around long after reading like its subject teeth.
Hall also has a wonderful sense of humor:
finding just the word
I was looking for
crawl back out of the dust pan
Because of its last line, and despite its obvious humor, I don’t consider the second poem a senryu. Much like the insects, there is something of the spring season that also will not be denied. Like most of Hall’s poems it reverberates with additional readings.
Finally, for the cat-haiku lover, Hall includes four cat poems that even a dog-lover like me can enjoy, including,
hot as blazes