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August 2008 Issue VIII:3

A Review by Paul Pfleuger, Jr.


Driftwood, Jack Galmitz.
Wasteland Press, 2006.
Shelbyville, KY. 91 pp
ISBN13: 978-1-60047-025-7; ISBN10: 1-60047-025-4.
Price: US$10.00.
To order: www.wastelandpress.net


Za vrabec/For a Sparrow: Haiku, Jack Galmitz. Skopje, Macedonia.
Blesok, 2007. 158 pp.
In Macedonian and English.
Translations into Macedonian by Igor Isakovski.
ISBN 978-9989-928-63-0.
Price: US$12.00.
To order:

A New Hand, Jack Galmitz, Wasteland Press,
Shelbyville, KY. 64 pp.
Translations into Japanese by Ban'ya Natsushi.
ISBN 978-1-60047-004-2.
Price US $12.00.
To order: www.wastelandpress.net

A Silver Speech: Jack Galmitz’s Haiku Years 2006 and 2007

With much talk of haiku needing reconceptualization and/or reform, it is ironically refreshing to find an approach that relies much on the imagination while at the same time being grounded in classic poetic devices to potentially reinvigorate the English-language canon. Jack Galmitz’s haiku poetry steps far outside the humdrum of what I’ll call, “the haiku template.” This template can be likened to what Peter Yovu, in a keen review and commentary on the state of contemporary English-language haiku that is currently considered deserving of attention [1], has called, “sketches from haiku.” This variation of haiku is the    result of a good many poets basing their haiku more on “sketches from life” that they’ve seen published rather than risking being imaginative in approach. Jack Galmitz’s haiku risks it all. Often exposing what lies deepest within.

Galmitz’s work is not altogether abstract and may even be seen as having to it a feel of the neo-classical, which might contribute to its accessibility. His haiku has been well-received, garnering more than its fair share of favorable critical reviews. This being my first issue for Roadrunner, to honor its pledge to push this poetry forward by commenting on the work of such a poet seems, at the very least, appropriate. I first asked myself, “What exactly is it that makes his type of haiku work?” After first seeing his haiku some years back, my immediate impression was that it was picturesque and perfectly willing to distance itself from the type of poems that are most published in western journals, but might have bordered on sentimental at times, as in the following appearing in ‘The Effects of Light’ on Jane Reichold’s AHA poetry site [2]:


A vacant lot
Sparkles with raindrops -
A midnight walk

How beautiful!
A pumpkin in the porchlight
On a round table

High tide -
Touching me the first woman
Made me die


As is the case with most poets, his was a quiet entrance onto the scene. It took some getting used to seeing haiku presented as English poetry coupled with Japanese aesthetics, which, of course, are grounded in Buddhist thought (i.e. simplicity, symbolic association). This approach seemed to find concord through discord. It is a technique that he has expanded on during his development. The type of haiku that Galmitz now writes moves more freely, asks more questions, and challenges. This brings me to the prolific years that were 2006 and 2007, which saw three collections released by the poet: ‘A New Hand’, ‘Driftwood’, and ‘For a Sparrow.’ They are nothing short of rousing, painting a vivid but sometimes sobering portrait of experience and engagement with an all-encompassing landscape (urban, suburban, and rural) distinctly belonging to North Eastern America. Through lines rich with rhythm, the poet’s interactions and observations, at times exposing in nature, are revealed. Perhaps what most distinguishes his haiku from other poets in these three collections is the presence of worlds outside as well as within our own:


Deep snow:
Everyone I ever knew
Appears in my room

            (For a Sparrow)


The poet does not necessarily write with an economy of language. The fact that he gets so much in the three lines he adheres to is striking. I would be more than willing to wager that Galmitz would reject the notion that his haiku could be deemed “gendai”, yet in its intimacy and daring are found radical and, ultimately, post-modern qualities. His haiku do not subscribe to any particular rubric. What might throw 'Western' traditionalists for a loop is his use of figurative language. These spatial jumps that pepper his work may not be familiar in the western haiku context, but we would be best to remember that the poetic devices employed are, and that holding fast to the ahistorical “show don’t tell” dictum would not allow such expression to be heard. A reader will find many surprises, but no red herrings, in any of these three collections, as the imaginative leap the poet often asks us to make comes off unforced.

Returning to the poetic devices utilized by the poet, the following haiku effectively employ personification:


Picking up a rock
It talks
Always of the dark

            (A New Hand)

The darkest hour…
Peering into the red face
Of a flower

            (For A Sparrow)

The rose I think of…
Within its fold,
Night is dreaming

            (A New Hand)

There is exceptional use of alliteration:


A quarter moon:
In the blue bay-
Whose boat is this?

            (For A Sparrow)

My primal self
Lapping the shore
A silver speech

            (A New Hand)

Galmitz also effectively slights the rule against end-rhyme in haiku:


A field of new grass!
Another way of saying
Recognize me last

            (For A Sparrow)

I throw flowers
at these solid walls…
down, down they fall

            (For A Sparrow)

Poplars in spring…
Who will be my wife
In the next life

            (A New Hand)

Galmitz’s haiku also employ metaphor, as in the following:


I am speechless
In the great hall silence hangs
From a deer’s horns

            (For A Sparrow)

With chickens and cows,
My body is a manger…
And a divine child

            (For A Sparrow)


There is much discovery to be found in these three collections. When returning to the beginner’s mind, he reminds us that in something as commonplace as a leaf may be found a macrocosm as vast and far-reaching as the sea:


The vein of a leaf!
I travel to the edge
Of a green sea

            (For A Sparrow)

And not all discoveries are as charming:

Really like a horse
A man mounts in the dark
A darker truth

            (For A Sparrow)

The world runs through Galmitz with reckoning, creating space and time for pondering and contemplation, often followed by somewhat of a sense of closure at the end of each engagement. Call it “hard- thinking haiku” minus the ego and philosophy. Utterly human. One is moved by his ability to be affected by what surrounds him in a profound way, to the point where he finds himself in a similar situation in two haiku (following below) with extreme differences in terms of   possibilities, which reflects his allowing mood and objectivity to surface in his work. He may be seen as vulnerable, but perhaps this is more a consequence of his leaving himself open to discovery than anything else. In this next haiku, we find an undeniable optimism in teaching a girl to read, accentuated by buds sprouting in the cold:


Winter buds…
Teaching a girl to read
So she will learn her world

            (For A Sparrow)


. . . while presented almost as the antithesis to his teaching the girl to read is the following:


Teaching a man
To read and write:
No moon tonight

            (For A Sparrow)

These two haiku exemplify the range of human qualities that can be found in Galmitz’s poetry. In learning to read and write one knowingly, or not, enters that discussion of whether the written or spoken word is more meaningful or reliable. The teacher is responsible for opening that door. While not stating where he might stand in the debate, the debate itself and the instabilities that lie on either side may be difficult for Galmitz to negotiate being that he is a Buddhist and his faith’s doctrine sees the spoken word as more sound than the written. William S. Burroughs, in his essay, ‘Electronic Revolution’ [3] suggested that “the written was actually a virus that made the spoken word possible. The word has not been recognized as a virus because it has achieved a state of stable symbiosis with the host . . . ." While I am willing to suppose that the poet does not hold as hard a stance, the Burroughs statement demonstrates how divergent thoughts on the written word can be. All metaphysical assumptions aside, be they aligned with Plato or Derrida, or any other mind that that expressed an opinion on the matter, teaching a man to read and write is a difficult juncture. Adding to the intensity of this moment may be the fact that the poet is both a prolific writer and scholar who has seen his way through academia (a PhD in English), and undoubtedly found pragmatic truths along that path that is paved by papers and books. Facing such a night punctuated by the moonless heavens, in this man’s learning to read and write, a light replacing that moon may burn or a deeper darkness may dwell. We cannot know.

A New Hand, Driftwood, and For a Sparrow at times exhibit what Wallace Stevens saw in ‘The Necessary Angel’ [4] as the poet’s function, which is to, “make his (the poet’s) imagination theirs (the readers’) and he fulfills himself only as he sees his imagination become the light in the mind of others." Galmitz’s imagination, which makes experience more meaningful, can be found in these next two haiku:


Inside of me
Bison are stampeding
Across caves

            (For A Sparrow)

Sleeping soundly…
The freshly fallen snow
Is a woman nude



It is my genuine hope that it is not past the point of highly-recommending these three collections for purchase in this most untimely of commentaries. The haiku years that were 2006 and 2007 might very well be remembered for these works. I await with eager anticipation the poet’s next publication, as it will doubtlessly further expand the possibilities of haiku.


[1] Yovu, Peter. Book review: Big Sky: The Red Moon Anthology 2006
Modern Haiku (Spring 2008) Volume 39.1,http://www.modernhaiku.org/bookreviews/RedMoon2006.html, Accessed July 12, 2008

[2] AHA Books Online, 2002 http://www.ahapoetry.com/galmitz.htm, Accessed July 10, 2008

[3] Burroughs, William S. ‘Electronic Revolution’ in Burroughs, Ah Pook is Here. London. John Calder, 1979

[4] Stevens, Wallace. The Necessary Angel: Essays on Reality and the Imagination, New York: Vintage, 1965




Copyright © 2004-2008 by Roadrunner Haiku Journal. All rights revert to the authors upon publication.