Stages and Views

First published in Woodnotes #21, Summer 1994, page 33.

Stages and Views by Penny Harter. Katydid Books, 1994, 126 pages, paperback, 6 by 9 inches. $16.95 postpaid from University of Hawaii Press, Order Department, 2840 Kolowalu Street, Honolulu, Hawaii 96822. This new publication in Katydid Books’ Reflections Series (which includes books by Makoto Ooka and essays on haiku by Kametaro Yagi) is sure to be of interest to haiku poets. The best way to read this book is with copies close at hand of the woodblock prints that inspired these poems. The book’s first section, “Stages,” presents 55 longer poems based on and inspired by Hiroshige’s “Fifty-Three Stages of the Tokaido” (poems for each of the 53 prints plus beginning and ending poems). The second section, “Views,” interprets Hokusai’s “Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji” with 46 longer poems (there are actually 46 prints). Of particular interest to haiku poets are the haiku that conclude each of the 46 longer poems in this section, linking them together in renga-like fashion. The book’s third section, “Views from the Mountain,” repeats all the haiku from the “Views” section. Much is happening in Stages and Views, and a great richness awaits the reader’s discovery as he or she dwells with Harter’s poetic interpretations and their interrelationships, exploring Hiroshige’s and Hokusai’s famous prints (copies of which are unfortunately not included with book, but readily available in other books, although at some expense). The longer poems are strongly imagistic and objective, and in that sense, haiku-like. The renga-like linking experiment in the “Stages” section is especially interesting, and rightfully draws praise from Makoto Ueda, who writes the book’s preface. Penny Harter’s Stages and Views, as Ueda states, “is a book of linkage between American and Japanese culture . . . between pictorial and verbal art.” This is indeed a book that broadens haiku. Two favorite haiku:

reaching for the moon

the child’s fingers

smudge the windowpane

sunlight glints

on the old stone steps . . .

ice in the hollows