Sunday, March 04, 2007

Review: Slow Spring Water

Slow Spring Water: The Life Poetry of Melissa Dixon
by Melissa Dixon
Introduction by Michael McClintock

Victoria, BC, Canada
ISBN 0-9780815-0-1
$10.00 US / $12.00 Canada
61 pps 5.25 x 7.5 inches

Slow Spring Water, The life poetry of Melissa Dixon, is a professional looking chapbook of 61 pages. It features tanka, haiku, tanka sequences, and haibun. It covers diverse subjects such as the poet’s childhood on the plains of Canada, her migration to the coast of British Columbia, and her visit to an abandoned monastery in India.

Dixon is at her best when she is at her most personal. In her haibun, ‘The Conspiracy,’ she writes about taking her son’s ashes to spread on the sea — prohibited by law, but a law honored more in the breach than the observance. Her son lost his life on New Year’s Day and the family scattered his ashes in May.

winter of waiting
first blossoms touched
by frost

The family enacted its private ceremony and returned, accompanied by seabirds. The astonishing spectacle of thousands of seabirds pacing the boat provides the poet and her family with relief and the restoration of faith in the beauty of the world. As such it is a fitting closure for the haibun. Unfortunately, the last haiku is not strong enough to satisfy.

sooty shearwaters--
wings spread wide
in the field guide

While all of her poems are well-crafted and lyric, her strongest poems are those in which she speaks her heart directly. These are generally tanka, and it is fortunate that tanka make up the bulk of the chapbook.

in my palm a rosy stone
wet-scented by the sea
how right I was
to catch a train and leave
the plains behind

And also:

keening Manitoba winds,
snow piling towards the roof--
my English mother
sets the kitchen table

Both of these tanka paint moving portraits of women, causing us to believe that we have glimpsed something essential about each woman. We cannot help thinking that if we met them in person, we would experience the flash of recognition, I know you.

The power of the known also shows up in her haibun ‘The Caves of Kanheri,’ written about her trip to India. The prose is lively and engaging, full of the wry wit of a wise woman who knows how to ingratiate herself with her fellow travelers.

“Traveling alone in a strange land may be perilous for anyone. But for a woman it can at times work in her favor. She could, for instance, find herself escorted by kind fellow-countrymen to to the hidden heart of that land, where no busses go. They tend to trust her. Does she not speak their language? Is she not reasonably dressed, courteous, interested? Yes, she is company, a friend.”

The prose description of her travels with her newfound companions is delightful, but alas, once she reaches the caves and must grapple with the work of monks long dead, her haiku is not equal to the occasion.

Nonetheless, although her haiku are not as strong as her prose and tanka, occasionally they are perfect One of my favorite poems from the book is a haiku:

worn doorstep
all that’s left of the old house
in the windy field

The image is limpid, original, and powerful. It resonates with all the associations of old houses, loss, and abandonment that the reader has ever seen or experienced. It presents us with a moment that might have been found in a Wyeth painting, but wasn’t; we believe that the poet actually encountered this particular step in this particular field. Although we know she might have made the whole thing up (how could we ever know when a poet is making use of poetic license?), we are convinced that if we went there, the scene would be exactly as she made us see it.

The poetic persona that comes through the book is that of a charming and ingratiating older woman, the kind of person we are pleased to discover sitting next to us on the train or ferryboat. Slow Spring Water is a pleasant interlude between the ‘here’ and ‘there’ of our busy world.

Review by M. Kei
28 December 2006
Chesapeake Bay, Maryland, USA

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