Discovering Fire

First published in the “Briefly Reviewed” section of Frogpond 40:1, Winter 2017, pages 105–106. +

Discovering Fire by David Grayson (2016, Red Moon Press, Winchester, Virginia). 160 pages, 5¼×7¾ inches, perfectbound. 978-1-936848-59-1. $15.00 from Red Moon Press.

David Grayson’s short essays have been appearing steadily in various publications for numerous years. They are conversational, light, and easy to read, which may be just what many readers prefer, but it means that they often just skim the wave tops rather than diving deep. For example, this book’s essay on J. D. Salinger does a thorough job of citing examples of the writer’s mentions of haiku in his fiction, but provides limited analysis of (or speculation on) their influence on English-language haiku. Nor does it connect the dots to Blyth’s translations that appeared around the same time, or to the rising influence of the Beat poets. And the thinking behind some essays could be more rigorous, such as in one essay about season words that implies “eucalyptus” to be a season word. But a quick review of guidance on season words from William Higginson, Gabi Greve, and other sources will tell you that it isn’t, completely undermining the point of the essay. The poem quoted as an example had been entered into the season word category for the Shiki online kukai, but the organizers later realized that they had mistakenly offered “eucalyptus” as a season word prompt and shouldn’t have. This suggests that at least some knowledge covered in these essays is simply “received” and not analyzed sufficiently. Still, it’s good to have all these essays compiled in a single book, but the reader may well want to consider them carefully—with at least a pinch of skepticism. The essays are grouped effectively, and the structure seems to be clearly modeled after Paul O. Williams’ The Nick of Time: Essays on Haiku Aesthetics, alternating sections of essays with four sets of the author’s haiku, ten at a time. The essays are grouped into such themes as “Haiku Practice,” “Haiku Poets,” “Haiku and Art,” “Haiku and Religion,” and “The Short Poem” (the best section). A sample poem: “layoffs— / the indents from the chair / still in the carpet.”