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Volume 33.1
Winter Spring

book review

Room Full of Chairs: Haiku
by John S. O'Connor


reviewed by Edward J. Rielly

Room Full of Chairs: Haiku by John S. O’Connor, Deep North Press, 2610 Central Park Ave., Evanston, IL 60201; 2000, 64pp., paper, $10; available from the publisher (check payable to Charles Trumbull) or the author (5426 S. Blackstone, Chicago, IL 60615).


John S. O’Connor’s Room Full of Chairs is an attractive collection of effective, in many cases quite engaging, haiku. The book is elegantly designed by Charles Trumbull of Deep North Press, and many of the haiku are graced with reproductions of linoleum-block prints created by students at the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools, where O’Connor teaches. Students of Annie Catterson’s, a colleague of O’Connor’s, were each given a haiku to illustrate. The result is a collaborative work worthy of a good haiku poet whose classroom is undoubtedly full of more than just chairs.
The best of the haiku have a sharp precision, like a scalpel cutting out memorable observations, often with a slight twist away from the expected. For example,

ghost stories
the campfire darkens
the forest

Here we expect the campfire to lighten the surroundings, but through contrast it serves instead to magnify the nearby darkness.
Instead of sight, we are left with only hearing to recognize a dog in an alley:

stray bark
running scared
down the alley

The sound of the bark is sufficient, though, to convey the animal’s fright, and the sightlessness grows on the reader, reflecting realistically the experience of gazing into a dark and receding alley.

What a finely tuned sensibility becomes aware of the tiny image, smallness befitting smallness:

of a price tag
on the bonsai

O’Connor also displays a winning sense of humor with some self-deprecation:

last page
of The Brothers Karamazov
a gray hair

And with a subtle play on words:

coming home
from the shrink . . .
lunar eclipse

Room Full of Chairs is John O’Connor’s first book of haiku; readers should enjoy this one and look forward to more.



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