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Lorin Ford, Australia
apology moon – Cherie Hunter Day
by Cherie Hunter Day
Red Moon Press. 2013
Size: 4.25" x 6.5"
Binding: perfect softbound
Price: $US 12.00
apology moon, Cherie Hunter Day’s second full length haiku collection, is deservedly a winner of The Haiku Foundation’s 2013 Touchstone Book Awards. As well as remarking on Day’s background as a biologist and on the range of haiku in this book, the Touchstone panel reports that “The majority of the haiku are nature-orientated . . . Others employ some of the disjunctive strategies articulated by Richard Gilbert.” Indeed, the following haiku, included in apology moon, is anthologised in Gilbert’s The Disjunctive Dragonfly1, under the category heading, “The Impossibly True”:
salt wind ripples on an inner lake
“Haiku of the impossibly true”, Gilbert states, “reveal that realism is a subset of reality . . . (these haiku) penetrate to the deeper layers of identity and self, providing a glimpse of the ground of poetic being.” Day’s haiku shows us that what’s perceived with the senses (salt wind) calls forth a mirroring, responding self. While we live and breathe, the barriers between outside and inside, self and other are permeable. A sensuous cue, such as the touch and scent of a salt wind, will spark associated memories but the embodiment suggested here goes further than that and can best be spoken of in metaphor.
However, it’s the haiku that apology moon takes its title from that urges me to jump in at the deep end. There’s always a reason why an author selects a particular haiku to provide a collection’s title and I imagine Day chose this one quite carefully. I find it, in Gilbert’s terminology, the most “reader- resistant” of all of the haiku in this book:
tonight the word
Here, Day overtly reminds us that, as readers, we perceive through language, at a remove from direct perception through the senses. Our language has its history in older languages. Meniscus comes via Latin from the old Greek for moon, mēnē. Here, 'meniscus' might identify the shape of the
present moon (☾-shaped or ☽-shaped) and/or a cartilage in the human knee. Or the moon might
metaphorically be the ☾ or ☽ (or the ☾ + ☽) shaped lens that the apology is investigated through. Or all of these, alternatively.
What sort of apology is it that Day has associated with the moon and to what or whom is it directed? Should we read ‘apology’ as the usual “I’m sorry” sort or as “a formal defence or justification”? (Shelley’s nineteenth century A Defence of Poetry is an example of the second kind of apology.) Is Day suggesting something like an almanac time when apologies of one sort or the other are in season? Perhaps, but not necessarily only that. ‘Apology’ is another word that derives via Latin from old Greek – apologia, made up of the prefix - apo (“from, off”) and the suffix logos (“speech / the word”). As far as human beings go, “In the Beginning was the Word…”, but the moon was there before this beginning, before speech, before even pointing. The haiku is left open to reader interpretation and cannot be resolved, but it certainly focuses, lens-like, our attention on language and the “vertical axes” in language itself. In the light of this haiku, the idea of haiku as a “wordless poem” begins to look a bit like one of Plato’s ghostly “ideal forms”.
The use of old Greek and Latin words, such as meniscus, is essential for allocating names in the biological and medical sciences, as the meanings remain fixed and stable and can be understood worldwide, unlike the shifting meanings of words in living languages. This view has been subject to contention from some quarters in recent years, though, which brings us to the humorous pairing of the haiku on the facing page to the ‘apology moon’ ku:
dawn crows the scuffle of nomenclature
I chuckle at the irreverence of this striking revelation. Who would’ve thought that ‘scuffle’ and the ragged, raucous noises of crows going about their group business could be associated with something as seemingly fixed and orderly as nomenclature? On second thought, I’ve read some of the debates on nomenclature by Wikipedia contributors. For instance one person claims, wrongly but high-handedly, that the plural of platypus is platypi, until another comes along and informs him that he doesn’t know his Greek from his Latin and it should be platipodes. A third suggests the debate is meaningless, since everyone familiar with these animals calls them platypuses. A scuffle, indeed.
Moving on from sampling Day’s more challenging, language-oriented haiku, I was delighted to find one of my favourite haiku in apology moon, the luscious:
the sound of a ladder
Through the repeated alliteration, the lily and the ladder’s sound are drawn together. I have these lilies, the white variety, in my yard. In late spring to early summer the flower stalks seem to lengthen visibly as one watches. Is the juxtaposition of the sound of an (extension) ladder lengthening a lovely rendition of synaesthesia, in the tradition of Basho’s “the sea darkens/ the voices of wild ducks/ are faintly white”? Yes, and the quotation from Rilke that prefaces apology moon would seem to support such a reading:
“Everything is blooming most recklessly;
if it were voices instead if colours,
there would be an unbelievable shrieking
into the heart of the night.”
That’s not the only possible reading, however. The romantic in me suggests an alternative scene of a lily-lit night complete with an unseen, stealthy Romeo about to visit his Juliet. Neither of these readings exhausts the possibilities. Another of the haiku, which employs a central ‘hinge’ or ‘pivot’ line, might very well have been written in homage to Chiyo-ni’s famous ‘morning glory/ well bucket’ haiku, but proposes a more likely quandary for the contemporary householder:
the trim needs paint
in all the usual places
In the following haiku, do we see a danger to the mother cat and kittens? Some readers might. Worry about the cat and kittens may be implied. Having seen mother cats leap amazing heights, over and over again and each time with a kitten in mouth, I rather see this cat as having deliberately chosen this place as relatively safe from interference because of the missing rung.
new litter of kittens
the missing rung
on the hayloft ladder
As the Touchstone judges report, the range of Day’s themes and approaches to haiku is remarkable. There is a skilfully presented variety of haiku in apology moon, more than sufficient to satisfy any contemplative reader.
for the next eight miles
the continents no longer
a minute more daylight than yesterday paperwhites
The juxtaposition in ‘winding road’ provides a pleasant experience, the choice of music being nicely suited to accompany the relaxed adaptation needed to drive a winding road, but try reading the ‘cranial sutures’ haiku when you’re suffering from cranial nerve pain and your head feels as if it’s splitting! (I swear I felt my brain wince.) ‘a minute more’ so captures the intent and feeling of my own short, shivering forays into the backyard this Melbourne winter, I almost feel I wrote it! But I didn’t – Cherie Hunter Day wrote it for all of us. This haiku encapsulates the way we still look to the familiar, seasonal events of nature to orient ourselves in the world. The sight and incomparable scent of the humble paperwhite narcissus signals the return of the light for each world hemisphere in its turn. Spring will come, though incrementally. The celebratory countdown begins, again, quite as much for us in this age of advanced technology as it did for observers at Stonehenge in more ancient times.
This review will be published on the first day of spring in Australia, in late summer in the Northern Hemisphere. Wherever there are readers who appreciate finely crafted haiku, Cherie Hunter Day’s apology moon will be a long-time companion for all seasons.
1. Page 62, The Disjunctive Dragonfly, Richard Gilbert. Red Moon Press, 2008. Revised and updated, 2013.
First appeared in A Hundred Gourds 4:4 September 2015.
Republished by the author’s premission.