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Volume 33.2
Summer 2002

book review:

Tsuru by Yoshiko Yoshino


reviewed by David G. Lanoue

Tsuru, by Yoshiko Yoshino. Translations by Lee Gurga and Emiko Miyashita (Evanston, Ill.: Deep North Press, 2001). 116 pages, hardcover 5 3/4" x 8 3/4". $20.00 postpaid in North America from the publisher at 2021 Harrison St., Evanston, IL 60201 (make checks to "Charles Trumbull," please).

This is the third time that I have had the pleasure of reviewing a collection by Yoshiko Yoshino, the guiding spirit of Japan's Matsuyama poets (Haiku Sakura: MH summer 1995; Budding Sakura: MH fall 2000). When I received a copy of her latest book, Tsuru ("Crane"), it was like meeting and catching up with an old friend.

This collection follows a refreshingly natural seasonal arrangement of New Year's, winter, spring, summer, autumn, winter, New Year's eve. The inclusion of two winter sections, pre- and post-New Year's, makes for a more natural feel than the traditional saijiki method of lumping all winter poems into one section. The haiku appear one to a page: original Japanese texts, rômaji versions, and elegant, well-formed English translations by Lee Gurga and Emiko Miyashita. The introductory essay by Lee Gurga is informative and insightful. Noting that her father was Shiki's friend, Gurga writes, aptly, "If we look carefully we might even be able to make out Shiki's ghost between her lines!"

Shiki's ghost notwithstanding, "Mother Yoshiko," as her friends know her, has forged her own distinct poetic style. With attentiveness to everyday, domestic reality, she discovers the deeper textures of the ordinary:

My shampooed hair
I comb and comb it
till my breast is cold

Snow-shaded kitchen
I boil the crabs
bright red

A consummate sense of artistic restraint is evident throughout the collection, as what she leaves out becomes just as significant as what she puts into each haiku. Her deft, gentle touch is just right:

Pomegranate in bloom
so beautiful from a distance
I don't draw near

And the inner reality of heart and mind are evoked and honored in the poems just as poignantly as things external:

Huge fireplace
I boil down my words
for the reply

In places, Yoshiko makes wry reference to the status of women in maledominated society. One such example alludes to a temple's kekkai, which a footnote describes as "an area into which impurities (i.e., women) are not allowed to enter:"

Monk's inner sanctuary
I'm kept outside with
double cherry blossoms

Though she's not allowed inside, the poet enjoys a quiet victory, drinking in the beauty of the blossoms.

In one haiku, Yoshiko alludes to a haiku master near and dear to me:

Issa's Memorial Day
I let the gray starling feed on
a persimmon

Born of peasant farmers in mountainous Shinano Province, Issa went to the great city of Edo (today's Tokyo) at a young age, where he learned that migrant outsiders like himself were referred to, derisively, as "gray starlings," a fact that the mature Issa would acknowledge and pun with in several haiku. In Yoshiko's tender poem, the gray starling nibbling on the persimmon is Issa.

There are so many memorable haiku in Tsuru, I wish that there were space to go on and on, citing them all, but then there would be no need for you to purchase this handsome, hard-cover book that is sure to become a treasure in your personal library. Therefore, I'll follow Yoshiko's example and exercise self-restraint, quoting just one more, my favorite of the volume:

Without makeup
within the snowscape
I am




©2002 Modern Haiku • PO Box 68 • Lincoln, IL 62656