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Roo Borson. rain; road; an open boat.

Roo Borson. rain; road; an open boat. Toronto: Mcclelland & Stewart, 2012.

I suspect that Japanese literary forms, especially the haiku, live far different existences in their native tongue than they do in our own. Haiku probably has as little and as much to do with counting out syllables as measuring iambs does with writing a Shakespearian sonnet. So suppose you want to write haiku in the language of Shakespeare? No matter how hard you try, you may still be closer to Shakespeare than you will be to the sources of the Japanese poetics. This isn't to disparage the effort, nor to induce despair. Instead the appropriation of a very different poetic tradition works, when it does, not because of how close we can get to the internal demands of that tradition (which probably will elude us anyhow) but because the result of that effort will always be a hybrid species, grown in English and subject to the undercurrents of English literary traditions. I'm reticent therefore to approach Roo Borson's recent collection, rain; road; an open boat solely in terms of the classical Japanese forms to which Borson's poems evidently owe a great deal. If these are illuminating and powerful poems (many are), then that's because they achieve a sparse, minimalist elegance, more in tune with Satie than the Shakuhachi. For example: "Hers or / mine? White hairs clinging to / what used to be my mother's sweater"; or, "A raccoon's death / to be in the world but not of it / sunlight on the autumn highway" ("Wild Violets"). Nevertheless, there is throughout this collection the kind of sensibility often associated with classical Japanese poetry: a humility toward the world and, at times, a more extreme desire to empty the self or, failing that, to become transparent: "It's a truism of a certain way of seeing that the self must first be subtracted from whatever one sees. But could the self somehow be subtracted from one's life in the same way--without losing that life, that is?" ("New Rain"). Reading Borson's collection as a response to this fundamental concern, the answer these poems offer is, as it probably must be, negative: erasure does lead to a loss. While the received view is that haiku expresses a direct perception of the world--language made transparent--Borson's poems seem to get to the world by a longer route, always on the way to that singular vision but unable or unwilling to bypass the detritus of the self: its memory and grief and nostalgia are here like heavy fog that barely lifts by noon. Like Basho's travelogue The Narrow Road to the Deep North (to which Borson's collection pays specific homage), these poems contemplate the speaker's mortality and the passage of time where the external journey is secondary to the point of the poet's real need. The pitch of grief in this collection is its dominant note. Which goes to show that the import of Borson's fidelity to the lyric image under such conditions carries a substantial weight: her acts of poetic attention are also acts of faith, and her vision of the world a form of hope.

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Author:Bifford, Darren
Publication:ARC Poetry Magazine
Article Type:Book review
Date:Dec 22, 2012
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