Summer Drizzles, by Bruce Ross (London,
Ont.: HMS Press, 2005). 84 pages, 5.5 x 8.25, perfectbound.
ISBN 1-55253-063-9. $15.00 plus $2.00 postage (North
America) or $4.00 postage (elsewhere) from the author
at PMB 127, 11 Bangor Mall Blvd, Ste D, Bangor,
Bruce Rosss latest collection comprises forty-nine
haiku, eighteen haibun and one haiga (from which
the book title comes). The book is a compilation
of prize-winners and previously published works.
Even though readers will have encountered some of
these writings before, republication is valuable
in that it gives a context for understanding the
poets broader vision. Collected works enrich
the fabric of our discipline and should be considered
as a project for us all.
With Ross being a past president of the Haiku Society
of America, an editor of haiku and haibun, and a
frequent contributor to all the major journals,
I expected fine haiku. My expectations were fulfilled
in some favorites:
Many of the poems reminded me of what William J.
Higginson termed the zoom-lens effect
(The Haiku Handbook 116). There is a shifting
visual focus between blue sky and the little holes
in a tree. Like a camera lens, our eye moves from
the large blue sky to a focus on the small
sky found in many of the peck holes
and back again. For me, an excellent haiku draws
readers in and makes them active participants in
the haiku moment, rather than merely passive receivers.
These poems are not only reliant on visualization,
however. The steady summer rain falling down, and
perhaps through, the swayback farmhouse gives me
a feeling of the physical weight of years of weathering.
The language of that poem is as much kinesthetic
as it is visual.
Each of the poems is printed on a page of its own,
so the reader can enter into the haiku experience
without distraction from other poems. The quality
of the paper could have been higher, however. The
bond paper quality of the book is disappointing.
There is a crinkling sound as pages are turned.
Bruce Ross currently serves as coeditor of the
annual Contemporary Haibun and is well published
in this form of writing. The eighteen haibun included
in the latter part of the book treat boyhood experiences,
travels alone or with his wife, and existential
Zen-like meditations. Most of the haibun are written
in the familiar form of one or two paragraphs of
prose with a single haiku ending the work. Three
haibun are between one and two pages long. Ross
has the gift of writing excellent haiku, so he has
cleared the hurdle that some writers fail to cross
as they strive to write effective haibun. I agree
with those who write treatises and definitions about
haibun: mastering the haiku form is a prerequisite
to writing good haibun. There are excellent prose
writers who lack haiku proficiency and some haiku
poets who struggle with narrative forms. The haibun
form poses a special challenge: to write vivid,
creative prose including in some cases metaphorical
or stream- of-consciousness passages juxtaposed
with haiku that neither restate the prose material
nor are so obtuse as to fling the reader into the
far reaches of the universe. There should be interplay
between one or more haiku and the prose sections
such that synergy or a surplus of meaning unfolds.
Haibun need to carry the reader to a multitude of
other, sometimes surprising, fields of experience.
The haiku often is oblique, yet connected relevantly,
to the narrative.
In this respect, most of the haibun in this collection
succeed. Ross paints beautiful images that draw
the reader into a reliving of scenes. A few of the
haibun, however, have haiku that too closely repeat
ideas already expressed in the prose or are a bit
too predictable for my taste. For example, the haibun
The haiku is a continuation of the prose rather
than a springboard toward new possibilities of meaning.
Still, Ross employs brevity and imagery skillfully
in this and the other haibun.
The haiku in the book are stronger than the haibun,
but taken as a whole the collection gives readers
a good view of Rosss life and range as a poet.