Oasis in the Heart

First published in Woodnotes #26, Autumn 1995, page 50.

Oasis in the Heart by Toshimi Horiuchi. Weatherhill, 1995, 124 pages, paperback, 5½ by 8¼ inches. $10.95 in bookstores. After an opinionated introduction on “Creating English Haiku,” each poem in this unusual yet beautifully produced book appears in the margin next to a paragraph of exposition. These paragraphs greatly exceed the haiku in length. Your initial impression may be that this is “gilding the lily,” and mostly you’d be right, although sometimes you may find windows into Japanese culture that go beyond the prose restatements of the poems. The poet explains in the preface that he has “attempted to represent . . . the essential background of each haiku so that [his] poetry might have a greater effect on the reader’s thoughts and feelings.” But I find this approach to run contrary to the entire art of haiku—not that it should be as minimal as possible, but that it trust the poem itself to imply everything that doesn’t need to be said in prose. Yet this book says it. If the poems didn’t exist, the prose would be most enjoyable, for they are rich, sensory descriptions. But the poems are enough, and they are indeed worthwhile. If you like, you can just read the poems, skipping the expositions. Whatever your choice, you’ll probably enjoy this book. Here’s a sample:

green fields:

two white butterflies

become one