Vol. 12, No 20. Summer 2015
Vol. 11, No. 19, Winter 2014
Vol. 11, No. 18, Spring 2014
Vol. 10, No. 17, Summer 2013
Vol. 9, No. 16, Summer 2013
Vol. 8, No. 15, Winter 2011
Vol. 8, No. 14, Summer 2011
Lorin Ford, Australia
An inch of Sky - Paresh Tiwari
An inch of Sky
20 Notebooks Press, India, 2014
118 pages, 5’’ by 8’’, perfect bound
Printed by Cinnamon Teal Publishing
Amazon.com - $8.99 USD
Amazon.in – Rs 300 (for India)
Considering that Paresh Tiwari began writing “Japanese literary short forms”1 in 2012, his first book, An inch of Sky, published in 2014, is a remarkable achievement. The book, containing 108 haiku and 25 haibun, has been produced with great care. Consideration has been given, for instance, to placing the haiku three to a page, with plenty of white space surrounding. An intuitive, rather than thematic, approach to dividing the haiku into four sections, each separated by Pratiba Tiwari’s sumi-e sketches, further echoes the fundamental Japanese aesthetic concept of ma that all successful haiku rely on – the void or absence between and surrounding things which allows for possibility and resonance in such a short poem.
The haiku and haibun content of An inch of Sky is warmly embraced between a foreword by Dr. Angelee Deodhar (plus an introduction by the author himself) and four ‘afterword’ testimonials by well-known haiku personalities, all with a bent, in their different ways, for teaching: Robert Wilson, an’ya, Alan Summers and Kala Ramesh. I have to admit I’m uncertain about the value of publishing testimonials (beyond the length of a few short, well-chosen back cover blurbs) in a haiku book, especially the first edition of a first book. Needless to say, testimonials perform as entirely positive ‘advance reviews’ and as a reviewer I’d rather not have had these right under my nose, especially as two out of the four testimonial authors have their own agendas to proclaim regarding what haiku is or should be. Nevertheless, within the testimonials as well as in Deodhar’s elegant foreword, I find much to agree with in regard to the actual comments on Tiwari’s verses.
Deodhar, in her foreword, mentions “. . . the synaesthesia which Paresh Tiwari brings to his works.” Sense-switching and blending is a technique Tiwari uses in many of the haiku in An inch of Sky. Deodhar quotes:
toddler’s hideout . . .
the azaleas fragrant
A favourite of mine is the quieter:
the sound of stars
Wilson points to the Japanese aesthetic concept of “. . . yugen (depth and mystery)”, quoting:
within this raindrop . . .
As I read this haiku, the first image suggests an equivalent to Blake’s “infinity in a grain of sand” but in juxtaposition with ‘raven sky’ both the accurately perceived optic effect of the thin, dark perimeter of a raindrop and a strange sky from another place or time are evoked. It’s as if the raindrop grows to become a magical crystal ball, through which we might view and hear ravens gathering in another time or place. Game of Thrones, anyone? Similarly, an intuitively sensed intersection between two realities, this time one realistic and the other psychological is suggested in:
the echo of a journey
we never started
Ramesh, in her testimonial, is drawn to what she considers to be the uncontrived nature of Tiwari’s haiku, finding “. . . the truth of the moment, stated simply . . . this transparency which Master Basho called as karumi.” The example Ramesh quotes is:
moonless night –
a watchman’s lantern
flickers the silence
I find the chosen verb and its synaesthetic action on the object rather too striking to allow this haiku to demonstrate karumi /lightness, which Basho valued in his later years and metaphorically likened to a shallow river flowing over sand. Instead, I find an almost hallucinatory vision of light acting upon, not darkness, but the absence of sound: silence. Light making silence flicker seems a step beyond synaesthesia to me, and this brings to my mind another of Tiwari’s haiku from An inch of Sky, one that might evoke a blast from the past for some readers:
marijuana dawn –
the universe screeching
on a blackboard
The distinction between the ‘moonless night’ ku and this one is that ‘marijuana dawn’ draws the reader into a focus on the effects of human folly. We smile, because we have empathy and our own experiences of what it is to be human.
There are various traditional Japanese aesthetic principles that work in English-language haiku, all of them of interest, but we’d be silly if we expected them all to come into play in one haiku verse. As examples of where we might find karumi / transparency/lightness of poetic treatment in Tiwari’s work, we might consider these two haiku:
the three of us sway
her blue rattle
There is no sense-switching, no cleverness, no striving for effect and nothing mysterious or difficult for the reader in these haiku, yet that space around and between the images is also the space that the reader enters to be with the poem. Also, let me point out that there are no ‘tanka-ish’, sentimental devices for manipulating readers’ heartstrings used here, as there sometimes can be in haiku relating to babies and children. A poem, in my view, haiku or other, is successful when readers can ‘be with’ it. I find myself completely drawn in by the ambience of these two haiku which rest in simplicity and commonness.
an’ya, in her testimonial, finds in An inch of Sky “. . . the kind of haiku I was taught to write and the kind of haiku I still teach others to write.” She also remarks on Tiwari’s excellent “sense of rhythm.” The majority of Tiwari’s haiku in this book do rely on straightforward juxtaposition and are mostly presented in what has become the norm for EL haiku – the three-line, ‘fragment + phrase’ verse, which is the model most of us begin with and continues to be the most frequently published form of haiku in EL haiku journals. Relatively few of Tiwari’s haiku are reversed to ‘phrase + fragment’, with the break occurring after the second line. There are some exceptions to the ‘fragment/ phrase – phrase/ fragment’ form of haiku, though, which create variety within the flow of An inch of Sky and serve to demonstrate Tiwari’s command of and continuing interest in developing the rhythmic possibilities of EL haiku, for example:
of thin mist, this wind
a star breathes
another, the slow swell
of a snail’s world
Summers, in his testimonial, returns us to Tiwari’s own introduction, where the reader is asked to consider each of the haiku as “. . . a pinhole, which shows you but one glimpse of the largest canvas possible – Life.” The metaphor is apt and worth dwelling on. I’m reminded that the art of photography had its beginnings in ancient times with descriptions of a pinhole camera by both Greek and Chinese philosophers from as early as the 5th and 4th centuries BCE. I’m also reminded that Tiwari advises us that he “. . . grew up in Lucknow” where “the atmosphere steeped in art, history and culture rubbed off on him.” It should be no surprise, then, to find that Tiwari draws on the arts of painting, music and dance in many of his haiku:
evening raga –
the prussian wing-tips
of a blue jay
winter wind –
a stray leaf’s ballet
by the curb
An inch of Sky is Paresh Tiwari’s first book. His continuously growing talent as a writer of haiku and haibun is such that it won’t be his last.
1 Paresh Tiwari, An inch of Sky, p. 117.
First appeared in A Hundred Gourds 5:1 December 2015.
Republished by the author’s permission.