Sunday, May 31, 2009

Review of Diana Webb's TAKEAWAY


Takeaway – a Collection of Haibun by Diana Webb (Hub Editions, Longholm, East Bank, Wingland, Sutton Bridge, Spalding, Lincolnshire, PE12 9YS, U.K. 2008), 20 x 13 cm. chapbook, ISBN: 978-1-903746-76-9. Available 5.50 pounds.
Reviewed by Patricia Prime
Takeaway is a nicely produced small book containing 40 haibun, divided into five sections. Many of the haibun, mostly one per page, consist of one paragraph of prose followed by a single haiku, although there are one or two exceptions. Takeaway is an extremely beautiful explanation of the memories, both cultural and personal, which haunt, yet comprise us. What is most striking is that the haibun seem to draw from the same wardrobe of topics. They show an intensely lived connection to the natural environment and to humanity and deal with personal experience: places (such as a glass tower, museums, cafes and the estuary); people met or remembered (grandmother, an aunt, her father, the pharmacist, friends and a lollipop lady); ruminations on paintings by Van Gogh, Millais, Degas, Monet,Turner and others, and poems that resonate with the sacred—the Pilgrim’s Way, Easter and a Covent Garden church.

The book’s first section “Reminiscence Work” is written from the poet’s point of view as she reminisces about her childhood. In the first haibun, “Ground,” Webb presents a conventional picture of a view from a “twenty first century glass tower”: “At the top of a twenty first century glass tower, views all around and a window as far back as I can see: this 1940’s ‘Children’s Paradise’.” In “not just teddy” Webb writes about what she would save if there was a fire:

If the flat caught fire and I could save only one thing, I would save this bear. He no longer wears the blue and mustard striped jersey my father knitted after the war. His mournful smile absorbs the years, picnics and parties in his honour. Pooled childhoods. Sadness settles on him like dust.

my son types it in,
new e-mail password—
name of the old bear

In the second section, “On Canvas,” Webb reverts to one of her favourite themes: poems about painters and their work, projecting her views in her usual quiet style, as we see in the following haibun:
Claude Monet—Monochrome
(High tide at Etretat, 1868; The Magpie, 1869)
Water lilies wait under the weeping willows. Years before . . .

He labours through taste and sting of salt on November gales, the roar and the splash, to anchor an instant.

beyond whisked waves
peak of one dark rock—
man holds his hat down

He sets up his easel in the middle of a white winterscape, becomes part of it. Icicles form in his beard as the moment freezes.

one for sorrow
perched on the gate—
shadows on snow
As it turns out, the place where Webb really writes in her own voice is in the book’s third section, “Particulars of Place.” In narrative terms, in this section Webb reaffirms her allegiance to the beauty of the English countryside, as we see in the prose section of “A Space":
Vibrant with birdsong, a wooded backdrop. A large oak overhangs, as nettles and grasses partly curtain the small eighteenth century landscape bridge with its central ornamental shell, arched over weed aflit with damselflies . . .

In “Chamber of Commerce,” the fourth section, the haibun are full of precision, music and rhythm. Here is an excerpt from “Surfaces”:

Blue Café—a pigeon swept sky reflected in the glassy table top.
Home—maybe reading . . .

lifting down
the Zen poem book—
a cloud of dust

Webb’s main strength is her imagery. One of my favourite haibun is “Matinee Idol,” from section five, “Sacred Spaces”:

One by one he lights the candles, opens the book at the appropriate pages, starts to ring the bell. The Covent Garden church, famed for its memorials to people of the theatre, emptied now of tourists.

...................‘For I will consider my cat Jeoffrey’

at the chancel steps
on four white paws

This is a successful and poignant image because the haiku reinforces the prose topic, the cat. Many other images in Webb’s haibun are clever, striking and communicative. The haiku are at least as well written as the prose: every word carries weight; every punctuation mark counts; language, meaning and form are interdependent.
Several of the haibun in the final section, “Crossing Boundaries,” are longer in form. Webb can make a tight image-sequence like “Pinned” work, and is even more successful with a more diffuse haibun like “Time Wasting” which sets up a conversation between the poet as a child and a lay teacher at her convent school. Here and elsewhere in the collection, Webb shows herself simultaneously immersed in the landscape and rituals of English life—school, holidays, shopping, church—and engaged with a wider painterly sphere. Several haibun cite painter’s influences: Van Gogh, Degas, Turner, and Monet, to name a few. A brief haibun from this section is “A Holiday (Edward H Potthast)”:
Most paintings of such views are one third sea and two thirds sky, but this one fills the canvas almost to the top with damp sand, shallows, waves . . .
sifting through
a small girl’s fingers

The haibun at the end of the collection “Connecting” transports us to the persona’s choice of buying beads instead of a book of poems, evoking a level of interest which makes us look back with new eyes on the haibun which make up the rest of the book. Here is an extract from the haibun:

As the small glass spheres slip one by one along the needle into the growing necklace, her reflections drift from by gone generations through parting with a lover to embryos in formation. A tranquility, each moment hovers.
cobweb strung with mist
across stems of lavender—
span of light years

Webb gives us poetry which invites us to take our time, return and reread to reflect on its imagery and allusions. Webb is a thoughtful, sensitive and lucid writer; this collection has the depth, breadth and vigour to make us take her seriously. Her haibun are full of warmth, humility and poise. This is a collection to enjoy in moments of solitude and maintains the high standard we have come to expect from the poet.
by Patricia Prime
Auckland, New Zealand

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