homeeditorsreviewsessaysmhbooks issues


Volume 34.2
Summer 2003

book review

by Stanley Pelter


Reviewed by Charles Rossiter

Pensées, by Stanley Pelter (Lincolnshire, Eng.: Hub Editions, 2003). 110 pages, 5" x 8", perfectbound. ISBN 1-903746-25-6. £5.00 from the author at Maple House, 5 School Lane, Claypole, Newark NG23 5BQ, Lincolnshire, U.K.

For those of us who would rather write poetry than talk about it, literary critics are an interesting breed about whom we have ambivalent feelings. They are often intelligent people who care a great deal about poetry, but too often what they have to say is of little use to poet’s main concern, the writing of better poems. Spending a few hours with Pensées has done nothing to change that opinion. The book contains some interesting quotes, suggesting the author is widely read, as well as some interesting statements about haiku, but not enough, and not well enough stated to accomplish the author’s goal of “provoking” this reader to any important new insights.

The introduction tells us that dipping in and out of the book is the best approach, that bits of the introduction are all over the place. That’s fine if you’re the kind of person who finds it enjoyable to browse the Internet randomly, for that’s about how dipping in and out of Pensées feels. The author hasn’t even bothered to organize his ramblings with a table of contents or index.
This reviewer will acknowledge his general bias against critical writing that does not get clearly and succinctly to the point. Pensées reminds me of Bob Spiess’s “speculations,” only with more redundancy, less insight, and a presentation that lacks the benefit of an organizational framework. At least Spiess, in A Year’s Speculations on Haiku (Modern Haiku Press, 1995), had the wisdom to suggest that speculations might be best if taken on a one-a-day basis, and each of his speculations clearly presented. At that pace, individual speculations stand a better chance of being contemplated on their own merits without the reader being bothered by their similarity to dozens of other speculations. I’m the kind of reader who wishes Spiess had distilled his several hundred haiku speculations into a dozen or so really powerful statements and then written an interesting chapter on each them. Had he done so he might have created a truly memorable book about haiku.

Pelter believes his “theorizing” will advance haiku. I find that unlikely. How much better it would have been if he had merely stated a few clear ideas or principles about haiku and then provided a dozen or so exemplary poems based on his notions. Such poems could not only be used to clarify the ideas, they could provide concrete evidence for the reader that Pelter’s notions can lead to better, or even different kinds of haiku. As it is we have a book of words related to haiku to greater or lesser degrees. For the curious haiku writer who enjoys encountering the unanticipated, this book might be a worthwhile read. Also, for any haiku group looking for comments about haiku which might generate discussion, this book could prove a useful resource.



©2003 Modern Haiku • PO Box 68 • Lincoln, IL 62656