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A note from Michael J. Rosen

Yesterday, I posted a review of THE HOUND DOG'S HAIKU by Michael J. Rosen. And lo, the talented Mr. Rosen has posted a lovely comment on that post, discussing, in the main, the single haiku that gave me pause in the entire book.

Okay, that's not entirely true - I paused a LOT whilst reading the book to admire the use of language in Rosen's poems and the images that the haiku evoked, to say nothing of the lovely woodcut prints by Mary Azarian. But one of the poems ("Old English Sheepdog") sort of stumped me, until I thought it through, and I was glad to have Michael J. Rosen's take on it.

I've reprinted his wonderful comment here in full, in hopes that you will enjoy it at least partly as much as I did:

Dear Kelly Fineman,

I know it's a little untoward to offer thanks for such a generous review of my book. But maybe it's okay to send my appreciation for your candid questioning within it.

Yes, I do "go with" the way haiku is taught here in America (the oversimplification of syllabics) simply as a recognition of what follows suit for most readers, most students. To me, form in and of itself, is the welcome challenge, be it rhyme, stanzaic pattern, metrical feet, or prescribed syllabic triplets. My hope is to offer poems for young readers/dog lovers that are some recognition of things they know...but never quite paused long enough to marvel over or share with someone else.

Ah, but that sheepdog poem. The odd thing about writing haiku and then having someone (via an editor as well as an art director) THEN illustrate it...is...well...all I can say is one imagination is triggering another's. So, just as my words might inspire or conjure an image in your mind (which may or may not be exactly what I had in my mind), the poem did the same thing for the illustrator. And the book is the documentation of that leaping, that complementing. So that's a long way of saying, I welcome the idea that the poem doesn't tell the reader to follow me...and stand right here and look through these words as if they were binoculars and try to find this one bird hidden among the branches in that tree. No, rather, the poem hands the words/binoculars to the readers and simply ask, "Look now." And, "Look again." It's a chance to stop a reader in his or her tracks. So one person "focuses" on how the breeze is turning some of the leaves silver, upside down; another, on how the tree's canopy looks like a green flame, shimmering against the white sky; another, on the feel of their eyelashes brushing against the eyepiece of the binocs. Yet another identifies the bird as a Magnolia Warbler, which she hadn't seen since birdwatching with her grandfather on vacation at the shore. All of these readers are present, but in different moments and places.

In the case of the sheepdog, what had I imagined? Through MY binoculars, I saw this: The dog is lying down, with one side of the body warmed in sunlight, the other half cast in shadow. And I meant that this animal—being a member of a breed that's very content basking, sleeping, watching—might feel the sun travel from one side of the body to the other as the day progressed.

So, in a way, this is not exactly capturing an instant, which is what I often try to do in this kind of poetry. Still, I'm pleased with this picture of an enormous dog (I have a friend with a pair) on a front porch, dozing through a couple hours. The poem let's me place one hand on the warmth of the coat where the sun has beamed, and tuck my other hand under the fluffy cool hairs on the sheepdog's other hemisphere, hidden from the sun...for now. So maybe I could have focused on that exact moment when the sunlight spilled over from one side to the other. I am among those who think of haiku like a held breath. There is always the next exhale, another chance to breathe in the experience again, and try to hold it....

Thank you again for reading, reading along. MJR

Is that not splendid?

Again, I say to the dog lovers among you: go get this book. You will luuuurve it.

Kiva - loans that change lives
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( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 13th, 2012 03:09 pm (UTC)
Most spendid indeed. Articulate and eloquent at the same time.
And I love Old English Sheep dogs. Such gentle giants.
Jul. 17th, 2012 01:18 am (UTC)
They are fuzzy sweet dogs.

And you'll love the Golden Retriever poem.
Jul. 14th, 2012 01:42 pm (UTC)
I am a dog lover, and I did love this book. We're down to one dog in the house, which I kind of like... though this book does make you want to add on... (leaving the beagles to my saintly sister though)
Jul. 17th, 2012 01:20 am (UTC)
I am absolutely thrilled to be dogless these days, but I did love the book.
Jul. 16th, 2012 09:14 am (UTC)
Splendid is the right word! Thanks for sharing his letter with us, Kelly.
Jul. 17th, 2012 01:20 am (UTC)
You are most welcome.
Laura Purdie Salas
Jul. 24th, 2012 12:19 pm (UTC)
Lovely explanation! I can't wait to read this book...

And I had a similar situation in BOOKSPEAK where the editor felt my very spare poem perhaps didn't lead the reader through my thought process quite enough. He had me tell the illustrator the basic concept...Always fun to hear about the different situations in a book. Love that deer poem you showed yesterday (I think it was Weimeraners?).
Aug. 11th, 2012 01:15 am (UTC)
Just found this now - my LJ stopped emailing me comments. But I thought his note was spectacular!
( 8 comments — Leave a comment )

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