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tea's aftertaste Book Reviews

Book Review - alotus_poetry blog • May 30, 2012

Review by Kathy Nguyen

Bound in a Japanese side stitch style, today's feature is an adorable chapbook written by Aubrie Cox (@aubriecox on Twitter) and with minimalistic illustrations by Katie Baird. Now I must say that Cox's haiku are most certainly minimalistic as well and perfectly complementing Baird's illustrations (and vice versa). Reading this chapbook is like reading a continuous haiga book told in a storytelling format, which reminds me of a children's book. Of course, some of the topics in tea's aftertaste are not meant for children or applicable to children generally speaking. Nevertheless, this is a wonderful chapbook to be enjoyed with a cup of tea if you so desire.

Before we discuss Cox's haiku, I want to include an excerpt from her introduction here. What she says captures one of the main reasons why I also write haiku and have been attracted to its form since I first encountered it when I was a child:

. . . I discovered a love of ambiguity. I remember classmates and teachers reading my fiction and asking for clarification into what happened at the end, to which I would reply, "What do you think happened?" It wasn't that I didn't have an ending in mind — I knew exactly how I would end it — but I was far more interested in hearing how others interpreted what I had written . . . I wanted the reader to think. Thus, the co-creative relationship between reader and writer in haiku appealed to me . . .

Yes, I too wanted my readers to think and form their own endings and interpretations. I love seeing others' perspectives because they add layers to my own haiku (and poetry). In fact, I even learn something from my readers.

Cox captures this so exactly. That is why haiku at first sight seems so simple, but really, it is a difficult art to master. It is more than the syllable counting of 5/7/5 and the short-long-short structure/pattern. There are days when I think to myself that the more I learn about haiku, the less I know about it. Nevertheless, we are all on the same haiku journey perfecting and reinventing the craft as well as incorporating it into our various world cultures. For me, haiku is like unfolding, folding, and refolding origami and finding its flaws, perfections, and stories within its countless patterns.

. . .

tea's aftertaste by Aubrie Cox is a delightful chapbook. Her keen sense of observation tripled with a sense of ambiguity, brevity, and sensory stimulation make this chapbook worth reading again and again (I've read it four times already since it first came out!). Like the aftertaste of a good cup of tea, this chapbook definitely leaves a lingering one.

See the complete review at:

http://alotus-poetry.livejournal.com/169566.html

 

Book Review - A Hundred Gourds • March 2012

Review by Lorin Ford

In his introduction to tea's aftertaste, Dr. Randy Brooks writes: "The significance of this chapbook is not merely the external recognition evident in the extensive list of journals and anthologies in the acknowledgements. The true significance is the many gifts of insight and awareness awaiting readers in her haiku. Aubrie's haiku are not in a hurry. Her haiku take time to breathe and to fully contemplate the things being observed or remembered. Her haiku understand that they come from the human heart, even though on the surface her images may appear to be merely objective."

The reader will benefit from allowing each of these forty haiku time to breathe. When reading Aubrie Cox's haiku I'm reminded that Bash!, exploring his concept of karumi, 'lightness', likened it to "a shallow river running over sand". I think Bash! knew his rivers, and here's a tip that might come in handy for wilderness survival: with that sort of river there's a lot more water held within the depths of sand than is visible on the surface.

Aubrie Cox's haiku are often humorous on first reading. I enjoy the 'double-take' response that they so often elicit:

day before Easter
I learn something
about my father

Could someone from the USA's Midwest (that part of America made famous in my part of the world by Bob Dylan's 'With God on Our Side') really be drawing a parallel between something about her father and the biblical events commemorated on Maundy Thursday, from the last Supper to the agony in the garden of Gethsemane? I suspect so, in this case. There is humour in the daring, in the disjunctive 'size difference' between the lives of ordinary people and those deified, then comes the tantalizing mystery of what's learnt about the father.

In the poem below, the quick shift of mood from celebration to deflation is comic: a quiet little glass of wine in celebration, the humour of family comedy relying on Grandma's loaded question, the author's nonplussed speechlessness.

first serial publication
grandma asks
when I started drinking

Yet what lies behind Grandma's question and her apparent disapproval? Possibly, the spectre of alcoholism in the family somewhere along the line rises to dampen the pleasure of personal accomplishment, or perhaps we are simply made aware of Grandma's need to take the author down a peg or two rather than share her happiness.

A surprise occurs within the quietest, most mundane of household tasks:

folding laundry
a sock
I don't know

Here the humour depends on the queerness of this use of 'know'. On the surface, it's simply an example of metonymy: the unknown sock stands for an unknown person. Beyond metonymy though, what is it to know metonymy: the unknown sock stands for an unknown person. Beyond metonymy though, what is it to know socks? Is an underlying loneliness suggested, where people are known at second remove, through their things? Is this a despairing humour in the true clown tradition? The poem defies resolution.
Not only people enjoy possessions. We've all seen dogs devotedly carrying their ball on outings. So, what is it that makes this haiku more than simple description?

up the mountain
the dog brings
his own ball

For me it's the vastness, adventure and perhaps the difficulty of going up a mountain (leaving aside the Buddhist-related analogies) that makes the dog's action seem, in human terms, suburban and slightly ludicrous though endearing. Yet a dog bringing his ball is a happy dog, a dog that enjoys the game of 'throw and fetch'. On reflection, a readiness to play might be the just the thing to take up any metaphorical mountain.

Similarly, at first glance this next haiku might seem a well-painted scene, with the moonlight revealing rabbit tracks, perhaps in sand, perhaps in snow. Line two works as a 'hinge' or 'pivot', showing the simultaneous occurrence of two things:

moonlight filters
through the branches
rabbit tracks

It would be a lovely enough thing to reflect on. But is the viewer seeing rabbit tracks 'through the branches' or are the rabbit tracks themselves 'through the branches'? The scene is quiet and magical enough to allow for this latter imaginative possibility, in which case we might be witnessing evidence of a visit from the moon rabbit.

With a little imagination and familiarity with Science Fiction comics, we might find humour in:

distant galaxies
all the things
I could have been

. . .especially if we interpret the 'things' in a not very haiku-oriented way as alien monsters that we'd be thankful we're not. I can't dismiss this reading because it answers the often-heard moan, "What I could've been if only...". At the same time, I'm aware of the double edge and of the author's confessed love of ambiguity, as I open to awe and wonder at the extent of the universe and the possibilities of life that 'distant galaxies' brings into focus.

The chapbook's title is taken from this teasing haiku:

harvest moon
rises above the branches
tea's aftertaste

The harvest moon rising above the branches can be seen by all and reveals almost as much as daylight does. Some things remain hidden though: inside things, personal things. What could be more personal than the sense of taste? A lingering aftertaste is even more difficult to convey and anyway it depends on the sort of tea we've been drinking. What kind of aftertaste does the author mean? Koan-like, the poem answers in the only possible way: the aftertaste that you experience. That's the kind of harvest we gain from poetry, our own experience of the poem.

As I see it, attempting to categorize Aubrie Cox's work along traditional lines as either haiku or senryu is fruitless. I find that they are all in the spirit of haiku rather than senryu, so I've used that term throughout.

The production values of tea's aftertaste are excellent. I'm impressed, too, by how well the delicate and unpretentious illustrations in this chapbook complement the text.

tea's aftertaste is produced by Millikin University's wholly student-owned and operated press, Bronze Man Books, of which Aubrie has taken her turn at serving as senior editor. All profits from sales of tea's aftertaste go directly to the press, which continues to offer students hands-on experience in design, editing, and other aspects of publishing. For more information and some delightful photos of the book-sewing activities, please visit the Bronze Man Books website: <http://www.bronzemanbooks.com/chapbooks/TeasAftertaste/index.html>.

Citation

Book Review. Tea's Aftertaste by Lorin Ford, A Hundred Gourds, 1.2, March, 2012.
<http://www.haikuhut.com/ahg/ahg12/expositions03.html>

 

 

Red Dragonfly [blog] • May 2011

Review by Mellissa Allen

tea's aftertaste, by Aubrie Cox, illustrated by Katie Baird. (Decatur, IL.): Bronze Man Books, 2011, 48 pages, 5.5 x 5.5, hand-sewn Japanese binding. ISBN 978-0-9819591-2-2. $12.00 and $2.50 postage from the publisher at <http://www.bronzemanbooks.com> or by mail from: Bronze Man Books, Millikin University, 1184 W. Main, Decatur, IL 62522. Special limited edition hand-colored copies numbered and signed by the author and illustrator are $25.00 plus $2.50 postage.

So you wanna see the most adorable haiku book ever published? Do you? Do you? You do? Yay! Okay ... here's the cover:

cover

Yes . . . that is a hand-sewn Japanese binding in red thread, thanks for asking. And that is a tiny little sketch of the moon reflected in a teacup. I did say it was adorable, didn't I?

. . . Not sold yet? Looking for some more substance? Okay, here are a couple of the inside pages:

distant galaxies

 

blue snow

. . . I know, right? All the pages are like that. Aubrie's haiku are amazing, and Katie's illustrations are awesome, and you just keep looking through the book going, "Why don't more people write more haiku that so movingly combine the personal and the universal, that are filled with such astute and original observations of the concrete world, that are simultaneously mercilessly honest and lovingly generous? And then why don't they have an artist with the same rare sensibility draw touching little illustrations to go with their haiku. And then why don't they put the whole thing together in a lovingly designed package and sew it up with red thread?"

It's a mystery, really. But I wouldn't spend too long agonizing over it. Just get the book and enjoy it. You're welcome.

Citation

Book Review by Melissa Allen. tea's aftertaste, published by Bronze Man Books, Red Dragonfly [blog], (Milwaukee, Wisconsin) May, 2011 Viewed on May 24, 2011 @ [http://haikuproject.wordpress.com/].


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