A Slip of Bamboo

First published in Woodnotes #28, Spring 1996, pages 52–53.

A Slip of Bamboo: A Collection of Haiku from Maui by Victor C. Pellegrino. Translated by Hiroshi Kanzaki. Maui arThoughts Company, 1996, 136 pages, paperback, 3¼ by 4 inches. $7.95 in bookstores, or order from the author at Maui arThoughts Company, P.O. Box 967, Wailuku, Maui, Hawaii 96793-0967. The more I read haiku, the more I learn that some poets have widely varying perceptions of the genre. A Slip of Bamboo, if nothing else, will show you one particular perception. It comes off as a handsome and full little book, heavily but appropriately illustrated on every miniature page, complete with translations and explanations in Japanese. But one problem is the need for the explanations-in English or Japanese. Almost every single poem exhibits one or more obscure words from Hawaiian or other languages that send you scurrying (curiously but frustratedly) to the glossary more than 60 times. Poems like the following are surely unintelligible to most people without the glossary: “The binasuan / Bibingka and kaskaron / Filipino summer.” The best modern haiku rarely need such deciphering as demanded by this book. Later, the glossary explains that one particular word means “shining as bright as the moon,” thus the following poem, though it may sound beautiful, is redundant (not to mention wordy): “Mahinamālamalama / Round face, orb of lightness / New moon arrival.” Even with the glossary, the poems fall well outside my perception of successful haiku, and what I believe is the vastly prevailing nature of haiku published in or translated into English (thus this book helps me delineate my own perception of haiku). For example, in “Beneath the bo tree / Of Buddha and India / Three were there I know,” where is the keen perception of the present moment, the vital here and now? Where is the internal comparison, the objectivity, the effective juxtaposition, the focus on nature, or the vital instant of heightened awareness? Yet the author, a retired professor of English at Maui Community College, is obviously sincere. He states that he tried to maintain the 5-7-5 pattern (although the practice is largely abandoned in published English-language haiku) and the use of the season word (which he wisely adapts to the Hawaiian climate). The poems may be of particular interest to Hawaiians—for whom the glossary, by my tests with Hawaiians, is indeed only occasionally necessary. Certainly the sounds of the Hawaiian words add color and regional flavor—and probably these poems would do well in the Hawaii Education Association’s annual Hawaiian-word haiku contest. This collection definitely exudes enthusiasm, cultural pride, and an enjoyable spirit. Nevertheless, it is hard to recommend A Slip of Bamboo to anyone except to those fond of Maui or things Hawaiian. Perhaps tourists will want this, or those seeking a primer of Hawaiian words. If so, I suspect it will have more meaning as a travel souvenir than as a book of fine haiku. Here are two samples, both flawed in clear ways, yet perhaps the book’s best:

Winter morning sun

Steaming, fragrant cups of java

Warmth and wakefulness

Haleakalā snow cap

An early morning surprise

Vanished by noon