Inspired by reviewing:

grandma’s chip bowl
David Jacobs
Publisher: Hub Editions, Hub Haiku Series
Chapbook: 107 pages; 112 haiku
ISBN 978-0-9576460-4-9

David Jacobs is a born and bred Londoner whose work appears from Blithe Spirit to Modern Haiku, as well as other premier magazines such as Acorn, Frogpond, Haiku Presence, Heron’s Nest, Bottle Rockets, and many others. His work has also been selected by Red Moon Press of America for its best of the year anthologies, and received the British Haiku Award in 2011, plus receiving other prizes and commendations in haiku competitions.

This collection is a Magnum Opus with one hundred and twelve haiku, thankfully the power of its themes makes this a wonderful read, and not at all bloated. These strong themes encompass other seasons, those outside nature, but of it too, such as our daily commute, thoughts of death (practical and otherwise) and one of the most powerful, endearing, and blisteringly powerful themes of today, that of mental health, as well as heartbreaking glimpses of a father and son relationship. They hold the book together, they are the stitches of multiple deep cuts that life rends from us. If you buy this book, buy it for the theme of son alone, or any one of the multiple themes. The book as whole is an amazingly woven work of lanes and roads making for a map of life. And if you can bear to read about depression, it’s worth it, as someone who has endured Black Dog all my life, and not knowing until a cafe owner in Hull switched a light on in my attic (metaphorically), and by accident has helped me deal with it.

This is an important book, keep at least one copy, or better still, two copies of this collection, one by the bedside, and one for sunlight, and when the light grows dim. The themes of the commute; depression; walking; walking without dogs; parents; death; visiting graves and cemeteries; trains; and his son are stunningly interwoven, showing great craft and care, in creating a collection that means something beyond the sum of its individual haiku. We are deeply privileged to be able to navigate the inner landscape of David Jacobs’ seasons, and it’s why experiential haiku at its most honest stands high on my list. We need these personal truths that some of us relate to, and be guided and comforted by, and grow by, and hopefully initiate hope in the dimming light. I’m also addicted, not just to personal accounts, biographical haiku, but the signature of poignancy, and the growing accounts of father and son are difficult to read without flinching, but when was haiku supposed to be pretty?

moon and stars
my son begins
to hold secrets

The skill of senryu, certainly the Western adaptation, and of others from outside the West and Japan is to at least double layer the poem: There is the immediate sight gag but if you stay a moment, longer than you normally might, there are layers of poignancy and pathos, which are underlying ingredients of great humor.

the neighbours
piling into their van
our conversation

Another type of senryu approach is something superior to simply self-depreciation, and it’s putting a microscope onto an even smaller aspect of life, that is incredibly intimate, and we might otherwise bluff through, and its one with its quirky hope, humor, sadness, and a fight against futility:

dating again
I fasten the one button
on my boxers

The empty restaurant, and we, the visitors are alone, we are the coupleless individual, faced with a sea of candlelight waiting for preferred groups:

empty restaurant
all the tables

David Jacobs also artfully interweaves more than one theme/motif into his haiku, senryu, and melded versions equally of senryu and haiku:

autumn stillness
the cemetery cat
returns my stare

birthday’s end
the hole in the fridge
left by the cake box

cemetery grass
I tread a path
round the lovers

And poems obviously of his son, of his disappearances, arrivals, departures?

empty nest
a full moon startling
my early night

sharing the same
sofa as my son
departure lounge

my son’s email
starts with sorry

Jacobs captures the awkwardness of the invisible disease:

empty nest…
the counsellor grapples
with my childhood

the only one
without a dog
evening rain

a better day
the sink ant
granted a reprieve

Jacobs is also a practitioner of finely nuanced one-line haiku, and here are two examples to witness this astuteness for yourself:

twenty yards from another rat rainy spring

I’ve actually left out so many of the strongest haiku in the collection, not that these are anything but strong, but there’s more, so much more to admire. It makes me want to walk the South Bank (London) with David Jacobs for at least one brilliant day, bringing along our Black Dog, and our shades of humor and poignancy, and just laughing through our inexplicable sadness, and crying when we are as happy as a couple of stupid poets can be.

mid-life     the afternoon rain      lingering

Ah, when we reach that part of our life when we reconsider things wisely or foolishly in what is often termed a mid-life crisis. In this haiku we have long deliberate visual pauses between each word, literally lingering over them, as is the author perhaps over the spent rain and thoughts?

Of course the haiku could be brought back into what is often thought of as the standard approach of three lines:

the afternoon rain

But the craft and the extra-special pausing and nuances are lost and better suited as the original one-line haiku (monoku):

mid-life      the afternoon rain      lingering

Those long pauses, that long white space, could indicate the passing afternoon rain, remnants settling on everyday objects, and a lone man sitting on a bench in a park perhaps?

It feels both celebratory and poignant which may make sense to some of us who have varying degrees of depression, as this is a recurring theme in David’s book. This is a good example of where the white spaces are packed with words unsaid. A highly evocative piece of writing.

David Jacobs often includes a touch of karumi (lightness); and other Japanese characteristics such as sabishii (lonely; lonesome; desolate; and solitary); and a modesty combined with self-depreciation, excellent aspects in approaching some of our haiku.

thinning crowds
the station mouse obeys
the Keep Left sign

There is a hope that we can sometimes breach our self-induced distances, and I feel this book will help:

holiday rain
the distance between me
and the carnival

First publication:
Themocracy: The Themocrats and their Concept Albums
Four book reviews by Alan Summers of writers who weave theme.
Blithe Spirit Vol 25 No. 3 August 2015
Reprinted by Haiku Reality
Additional material: September 2016
Copyright notice: Black dogs and afternoon rain©Alan Summers 2015-2016



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They do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of The British Haiku Society.

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