A Hundred Gourds 3:1 December 2013
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One Rock out of Place – Jay Friedenberg

reviewed by Aubrie Cox

book cover
One Rock out of Place

a haiku collection by Jay Friedenberg
paperback: 40 pages
ISBN 9780957526556
Price: $12.00, £8.00
Alba Publishing
Uxbridge, United Kingdom. 2013

A member of the Spring Street Haiku Group in New York City, Jay Friedenberg is one of the newer poets that have emerged in the recent years. One Rock out of Place gathers 64 of his haiku from since he began writing approximately four years ago. Although the book is divided into two sections, "Town and Country" (the pastoral) and "City and Street" (the urban), in my reading I've organized the poems into three categories: the clever and insightful, the inevitable and expected, and the observational.

That being said, there are elements to this book that I always appreciate in a haiku collection. Clear imagery, for one, which is essential when working in microforms. Friedenberg also embraces the quiet, even in the bustling streets of the city. To find the quiet, a poet must focus and home in on the moment, even in the loudest situations:

public fountain—
at the bottom
mostly pennies

I can hear the splashing, and the people passing by, but gazing into the water that all falls away. When a haiku can distill a moment effectively, I feel the need to hush myself or to sit back and appreciate the pause in my busy life. These are the haiku also fall into the category of clever and insightful. Primarily because of their wit, playfulness (another thing I always appreciate), and resonance.

hidden pond—
water striders
ride the last light

The mixture of senses in this poem not only make me stop to take in this poem, but it makes me squirm in my chair with a burst of emotions that come shortly after. "Ride the last light" takes the reader out beyond the poem and embraces not only the quiet, by the dynamic, even the surreal.

Dynamic poems also take on a more mundane sphere, such as the poem below. Even though the poem above deals directly with light, I feel the one below is much lighter, and playful.

backwoods road
a spot of mud
leaps into a frog

Part of the delight that I get out of this haiku is somewhat the same thing I find disappointing in the rest of the book. It's almost an obligation for a poet to write a haiku in response to Basho's "old pond"; however, there are plenty of other haiku that poets will write at some point or another (myself included), and I see a good amount of them in this collection. In other words, the inevitable and expected.

One of the best pieces of advice I had in grad school for writing endings in fiction was to imagine the unexpected, but inevitable. An ending the reader would not see coming, but is ultimately what has to happen, and makes sense. In some ways, I feel the same applies to haiku. It certainly does in the "backwoods road" above—I didn't see the last line coming, but once it came, I thought, "Yes, that is how this poem has to end." While a haiku doesn't necessarily have to be a surprise, it should trigger a reaction. That "ahh!" moment, for some the "aha!" moment—that realization that comes through the juxtaposition. That moment that's difficult to feel after reading so many haiku about the same subject or trying to capture the same essence.

overcast skies
street puddles
holding yesterday's storm

I love the concept of seeing the sky in a smaller space—the infinite in a finite space—but the imagery itself is overdone and has lost its magic. Not unlike the use of mirrors:

in the mirror
the face looking back
not mine

This last one pushes slightly into the final category I addressed at the beginning: The observational. In creating the "ahh!" moment, haiku should just give the reader a nudge and leave enough room to move about. But a haiku can be too hands off. If the image is just an image, it runs the risk of causing the reader to think, "So what?"

in a bowl
three tomatoes ripen—
still life

An argument for this haiku could be the juxtaposition of "ripen," an action, and "still life." Not to mention the contradiction of the phrase "still life" in and of itself. However, I find the last line to be more of a commentary. It's worth mentioning that while these haiku are present, they are the smallest part of the book.

Overall, Friedenberg's One Rock out of Place is what I would expect out of a typical first collection: Not incredibly surprising, a handful of gems, and potential that will likely blossom in the next few years.

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