Welcome: Nature Here Is Half Japanese

First published as the introduction to Winona Baker’s book of haiku and senryu, Nature Here Is Half Japanese (Victoria: Trafford Publishing, 2010). Order from Trafford Publishing. Introduction first written in April of 2009.

 

Winona Baker has been a steady voice in English-language haiku for many years. This new book shows once again why her voice is worth a close listen. Although readers will find much variety throughout this collection, it is no wonder, now that she is older, that themes of aging should dominate. Consider these three poems:


                orthopedic clinic—
                the skeleton watches
                leaves fall

                                                mare’s tail clouds—

                                                the engineer’s ashes

                                                scattered between the rails


                                                                                Christmas card list—

                                                                                so many names

                                                                                crossed out

 

In the first poem, the poet seems to identify with the skeleton on display at the doctor’s office. She’s more aware of her creaking bones as she ages, and notices, as does the skeleton, the inevitable fall of leaves. The onset of autumn is both literal and figurative. In the second poem, with its lyrical opening line, the ephemerality of thin, wind-driven clouds echoes the lightness of ashes as they settle onto the rails of a favourite train line. The poem resonates with the thought that years of memories could possibly disappear as easily as the wispy clouds. And in the third poem, who among us has not had to cross off names of lost loved ones from a Christmas card list or other similar list? Such a task happens with increasing frequency as people grow older, and Christmas is one of those occasions when we become acutely aware of the passage of time. We can imagine the poet ritually remembering each person who used to be on her Christmas list, perhaps also feeling extra gratitude for those still on it.

 

heavy rain

the farmer missing

from the toy farm

 

As with many poems in her previous books, arising now and then in these poems are subjects that represent her beloved Pacific Northwest. Winona lives in Nanaimo, British Columbia, an attractive seaside town on the Strait of Georgia on Vancouver Island. This is the place made famous by the delicious Nanaimo bar dessert, said to have originated here. It’s an idyllic place, sheltered from the worst of Pacific storms by mountains to the west, and separated from the hustle and bustle of big-city Vancouver by a two-hour ferry ride. Masts clank in the marina as the sailboats ride the tide up and down. Fishing boats chug in and out of the harbour with fresh catches of herring. In the summer, tourists enjoy ice cream on a seawall promenade while smaller ferries ply the bay across to scenic Gabriola Island. Beachcombers explore the tideline in every season. Glacier-covered Mt. Baker rises above the strait far to the east. Nearby, at Petroglyph Provincial Park, visitors discover First Nation stone carvings as they have existed for hundreds of years. Native traditions suffuse the landscape, as does nature in many striking and calming ways. Winona’s home is a place of artists, of closeness to land and sea, a place where the tide brings the biggest news.

 

bare trees

now Mt. Baker

is on the mainland

 

Winona also sprinkles her text with wry senryu, giving this book a pleasing cadence that resembles the topical turns and occasional laughter of a conversation with an old friend. Counterpoints to such poems are those that decry war.

 

office party

all the happy faces

on the balloons

 

more casualties

in Afghanistan—

I deadhead roses

 

But still, the poems on aging dominate. Here are two more examples, followed by one on the promise of youth:

 

abandoned farm

the broken birdhouse

fills with snow

 

old graveyard

my grandchild’s mitten

touches praying hands

 

small cupped hands

lift the ocean—

whorls on her fingertips

 

The delight Winona Baker takes in the world around her shows that, even as she ages, the promise of youth is very much still in her heart. Whether indoors or out, I hope you have a comfortable, relaxed place where you can enjoy this book. Each poem deserves your mindful attention.

 

Michael Dylan Welch

Sammamish, Washington