Vol. 12, No 20, Summer 2015
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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
Patricia Prime, New Zealand
Gathering Dusk by Ellen Compton. Snapshot Press, Ormskirk, UK. www.shapshotpress.co.uk. (2015) Pb. 80 pp. ISBN 978-1-903543-33-7. £9.99.
Gathering Dusk is Ellen Compton’s debut collection of haiku. Compton lives in Washington, DC, where she has worked in the visual arts and freelances as a writer-editor in environmental and social studies. Many of the haiku in this collection have received awards.
Since poets first gave voice to story, they have sought to explore and explain the nature of our existence. Wherever the setting, Compton’s haiku remain personal, and this touching accessibility, it seems to me, is her greatest poetic gift. As the haiku illustrate, Compton makes places, nature, characters and their all-too-true heartaches ‘real’:
fallen leaves –
his hand in hers
the folded flag
The haiku illustrate just why Compton’s work has won so many awards: the simple words express a deep feeling of togetherness in loss. Compton is a poet of evocative language use, as we see in the following haiku:
lighting the hill
In this haiku, there is sharp observation: what is gone is gone and cannot return, but the trilliums will always reappear, lighting up the landscape. If there’s something impressionistic, colourful and inventive about Compton’s diction, her way with words is but a vehicle to explore nature and human nature and to articulate the intricacies awaiting out observation. In the following haiku:
Tanglewood dusk –
the shape of stillness
after the violin
The music has ended, but we can visualise the shape the absence of the violin leaves behind.
In the collection there are haiku that illustrate not only nature but the bond between mother and daughter:
that my mother swam
. . . the swan
Much as Gathering Dusk seems impelled to tell its brief stories, it does so with economy and observational precision. The form of the haiku varies from time to time: from the 3-line left-justified poem, to the 3-line indented haiku, to 2-liners, and to the following one-word per line haiku:
This variety of forms, tempered by line and detail, gives the collection a careful change of pace.
One of the strengths of the collection lies in its attention to detail. Sometimes, it is just a moment, as in
whispers of a fragrance
my sister loved –
evening in spring
Where the detail of “whispers”, “loved” and “spring” is crucial to the haiku’s tone, which seems to indicate the passing of the poet’s sister. Other haiku gather momentum by composing interesting details together or by being lively juxtapositions, as in the following:
age happens . . .
a bit of color still
in the dogwood
At times, the spare, meditative haiku create a simple music from the savouring of words. These are most successful when tinged with sadness, pairing death and nature. One example is the following haiku, where the implied white of December is compared with the white of gloves:
December sun –
of the pall bearers’ gloves
The haiku are rich in observed intensities, the poems radiating out from the poet’s imagination and sensibility. Nature, human relationships, death and love are the compelling themes. Compton’s haiku reveal a searching, scrupulous intelligence and a willingness to engage language and experience, while retaining control in form and content.