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to the small poem and the quiet voice within

roberta beary | the unworn necklace

Roberta Beary

Editor’s Note: Among about a dozen haiku and small-poem writers I particularly admire (most of whom can be found on this site), I would add Roberta Beary who was either born with that ‘eye’, that haiku sensibility to find exact words to denote something fleeting and profound, suggesting a shimmering silence, or developed her art through time, hard work, cultivating that instinctive perception the way most serious writers and poets learn to do.

Haiku is the easiest form in the world to teach, to practice and continue to write badly — because the poet followed the formula, likes the way the poem says all that he’s packed into those three perfect lines, appreciates the compliments he’s received from three other bad haiku writers. Too much haiku written and published today (from my perspective) is sometimes near the mark, but never quite there.

What does it take to get ‘there’? A lot of reading. A lot of practice. A lot of (this is the hard part) getting the mind (that sensibility) in an almost unconscious meditative state, probably close to prayer. Not a prayer you’ve memorized or can even hear yourself saying. But something where the words start coming, one or more at a time, suggesting themselves to you (patterns? lines?), along with an image that takes hold of you in a dream-state where silence alone speaks.

Maybe none of this makes any sense. But once you discover yourself in that zone…you can begin to write those shimmering haiku I mentioned. Once you are capable of accessing that zone when the image presents itself, it’s almost impossible to write bad haiku.

Roberta Beary’s, THE UNWORN NECKLACE, consists of about seventy haiku (by my count) one haiku centered on each page, all of them perfect. From the very first one on page 9,

the empty place
inside me
…wild lupine

to the very last, page 78,

empty room
a teacup holds
the light

the true art of haiku is celebrated in that shimmering tradition that Basho himself would bow to. Take a look at that last haiku again. Notice the word ‘empty’. Take a look at the first haiku…notice the word ‘empty.’ The simplicity. The complexity. The shimmering after-effect. I say again what I have said many times before. You want to write? First master the haiku. Then write your novel, your memoir, your book of nonfiction, your book of poetry. And always return to the haiku for sustenance.

What Roberta Beary also does so brilliantly in this book, is sustain the haiku form, page after page, suggesting a longer narrative, not unlike a novel–a risk few writers have taken with this form, but something I have always admired.

This is no mere ‘collection’ of haiku, no quick page-turner. Each haiku in some ways works like a small chapter or a fragment of one. You don’t flip through this book. You savor each page. Inhale the delight. Slowly let it go as you move on and into the next suggestive revelation. — Norbert Blei

heatwave
waiting for him to tell me
what I already know

…summer’s end
unable to go
unable to stay

all day long
i feel its weight
the unworn necklace

[from THE UNWORN NECKLACE, Snapshot Press, 2007]

Roberta Beary was born and raised in New York City and now lives near Washington, DC. In 1990 she moved to Tokyo, where she spent five years studying and writing haiku. Her individual poems, an unconventional hybrid of haiku and senryu, have been honoured throughout North America, Europe and Asia for their innovative style, receiving First Prize in each of the Brady, Haiku International Association, Kusamakura, Penumbra and Tokutomi contests.

In 2006 she and Ellen Compton co-edited the Haiku Society of America Members’ Anthology fish in love, repeating its success in 2008 with dandelion clocks. Her first collection, The Unworn Necklace, appeared in 2007. In 2008 it was named a Haiku Society of America Merit Book Award prize-winner and selected as a finalist in the Poetry Society of America’s William Carlos Williams Award. More Information about her poetry can be found on her website, www.robertabeary.com.

11 Comments

  1. this

    …summer’s end
    unable to go
    unable to stay

    yes

  2. Because of you
    I have learned
    what I had to teach myself

    ….I will purchase this book
    thank you…I’m enjoying these haiku for breakfast

  3. Yep… Roberta falls into that slim category of haiku poets whose writing is exquisite.

  4. Thanks, Norb. Looking to hear this poet read. Around every corner, there may be a poem. What a delight of life-ly-ness.

  5. Like Susan, I give this the highest praise. I want to buy the book.

    I also find Norb’s words of teaching as impeccable and
    awe inspiring as the poems.

  6. I can’t wait to buy this book. The choices you made to show us are little appetizers that make me hungry for the complete meal of exquisite words.

  7. They are exquisite. And now, with your further explanation of how and why, and what makes a difference, I have an even greater admiration. Oh to find that zone. To shut out everything else. The hard part!

  8. Even though the Haiku is beautiful, your words are even better. I love to read your commentary; I learn so much.

  9. So grateful for your commentary and contribution.

  10. Lovely, as is the necklace. I’ll wear it tonight.

  11. A good introduction about how tough haiku really is, that reinforces why Roberta’s collection deservedly garnered these awards:

    The Poetry Society of America William Carlos Williams Award, Finalist

    Haiku Society of America Merit Book Award

    I’m fortunate to have met Roberta in England, and have both her softcover, and recent hardcover editions of the book.

    I can’t urge you strongly enough to purchase the book as both a collection of strong writing; a well-thought out collection wonderful edited; and last but not least, showing what can be done with haiku outside Japan.

    Alan, With Words

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