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Volume 34.2
Summer 2003

book review

Mount Gassan's Slope: Haiku, Senryu and Sumi-e
by Ann Newell


Reviewed by David Grayson

Mount Gassan’s Slope: Haiku, Senryu and Sumi-e, by Ann Newell. Translated into Japanese by Kenichi Sato (Winchester, Va.: Red Moon Press, 2002). 84 pages, 41 poems; 8" x 8"; lacquered color cover. ISBN: 1-893959-29-5. $14.95 from the publisher.

Ann Newell’s new collection, Mount Gassan’s Slope, is named for the mountain Bashô visited on his famous journey through the north of Japan. Newell takes readers on a journey of her own, through daily living, the turn of seasons, the experience of aging, and more.
The book is grouped into six chapters, starting with New Year:

under the moon
my little white pony
crying out the new year

Chapters for each other season follow, offering haiku with striking imagery:

on the desert ice
dried skull
splits the moon

in his water dish
the dog gnaws
on winter bones

Alongside seasonal haiku, senryu offer both witty observations and circumspect wisdom:

in the temple
prone before Buddha
my nose too long

losing things
day after day
my journey gets lighter

Some of the poems, though enjoyable, are more predictable. For instance: “fencing off his yard / my neighbor’s plum tree / blossoms on my side.” There have been many variations on this theme before, including Robert Frost’s famous “Mending Wall.” Other poems use conventional devices in a conventional fashion, such as metaphor: “outside the missile range / an old tree dropping walnuts / on a tin roof.”

Despite the mixed effect of some individual poems, Mount Gassan’s Slope is satisfying as a whole. Overall, the collection is fresh and rewarding. The book’s elegant design is a bonus, and each chapter is introduced by a sumi-e drawing. Each poem is translated into Japanese, adding a nice visual touch.



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