Echoes of Haikai by Gil Olson
Review 5 star
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Echoes of Haikai is an excellent book of 75 poems by Gil Olson. The poems are a good recreation of the spirit of Japanese literature’s distinctive tone and style and are divided into four sections for the seasons. 2 tiny poems per page exhibit the great subtlety and scope for the reader’s own interpretation in this art form. Ordinary things like eating, observing flowers, feeling cold in the winter, and other people’s deaths are given layers of imagery and meaning painted in cold, clear words, perfectly chosen, to snapshot an image of a person’s essence—a moment’s essence.
Gil Olson does a fantastic job of capturing the personality of Japanese poetry, so hard to label or pin down, so definite when it is seen and felt—a personality truly distinctive, with a strong presence that this book made a pleasure to read and to recognize. Fragmented, detached feeling combined with underlying intensity and nuanced sophistication expressed in simple terms create an underlying depth rewards continual re-reading. Careful word usage and the communication of the poet with the reader in phrases like—“plums, cherries, and apricots—sunlight on your hand”–make an idea mean more than one thing. Is the sunlight in your hand from the fruit, which came from a tree that used sunlight to grow, or from the warmth of your friend in giving it to you? If we see how other people see things, we see so much more of the world and Echoes of Haikai opens a lovely world to explore.
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