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A Quarterly Journal
Jeffrey Woodward, Founder & General Editor
Volume 10, Number 1, March 2016

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Tish Davis
Concord, Ohio, USA


On Roberta Beary's Deflection

Deflection by Roberta Beary. Lexington, Kentucky: Accents Publishing, 2015. 5.5” x 8.5”, soft cover, 27 pp. ISBN: 978-1-936628-33-9. Price: $8.00.

Roberta Beary: current Haibun Editor of Modern Haiku; author of several books of poetry; prior contest judge; recipient of numerous awards and in Deflection, an ordinary person who is sister, daughter, friend, lover, wife, and mother. Written in first-person, the nine haiku sequences and 16 haibun are a kaleidoscope of reflections and significant life events.

The works are arranged alphabetically with roughly a third of the poems mentioning the author’s mother. Most of these are the daughter’s witness to the mother’s declining health and eventual passing. The alphabetical formatting helped prevent an unnecessary weight that might have resulted if these same works were listed in a separate chapter or in chronological order. This arrangement also allows readers to shift as the levels of intensity change. Allow me to illustrate by selecting a few lines from poems 2 through 4:

From “Afterglow,” a haiku sequence:

the way he says
consensual
mauve sunset

From “Around Here,” a haibun where hospice for the writer’s mother is under consideration:

everywhere are dusty stacks of expired energy drinks. that no
one is willing to toss. at least not just yet.

From “Before the Outing,” a haiku sequence:

my son’s boyfriend
three words I practice saying
alone in my room

Beary’s haibun are short and typically contain one concluding haiku. She often incorporates sentence fragments as individual lines or within the prose. “Philantha,” a work I like very much, is a haibun minus traditional prose. The versification is free. In this work, the writer reflects on past discussions with her husband about the possibility of having a child together:

we never had a child
together
we used to talk about it
sometimes
when it was still
a possibility
what color hair
whose eyes
that kind of thing
we never got
as far as names

home again
driveway daffodils
come and gone

This haibun implies both renewal and loss. “Philantha” means lover of flowers and sets the tone. The writer suggests that both husband and wife have children from previous relationships. They’ve talked about having a child together while they still can, but some undisclosed life circumstance interferes. By the time it’s resolved and they are "home again," it’s too late ("driveway daffodils/come and gone"). I love the simplicity of this piece. Not only do all parts work together and create a whole greater than each individual element, but the free verse format complements the haibun. It was not a distraction.

In contrast, I had to read “Memorare” several times to calm my eyes and to understand the content. In this haibun, snippets from a prayer to the Virgin Mary are italicized and are interspersed with the writer’s prose. There is no punctuation:

May is the month of Mary every day in May
be sure to wear something blue in Mary’s honor
that never was it known that anyone who fled
to thy protection implored thy help or sought
thy intercession was left unaided
patent leather
shoes are not allowed because boys must be
kept free from temptation to thee do I come
before thee I stand sinful and sorrowful always
remember your guardian angel despise not my
petitions but in thy mercy hear and answer me

Regardless of my quibble about the format and lack of punctuation, the power of “Memorare,” for this reader, is the juxtaposition of prose and haiku. In the prose, the schoolgirl is taught to wear blue in May to honor Mary, to not tempt boys, to remember her guardian angel, and the promises in this prayer. In the haiku, betrayal is implied and one can sense the helplessness so prevalent in many of the poems in this collection and expressed so poignantly as Beary closes:

meth addict
the baby face
in my wallet

Beary writes good haiku. I have too many favorites to list. Her ability to compose meaningful sequences is noteworthy. While the sequences in this collection average five haiku, both “Caretaker —I" and “Caretaker —II” contain eight.

As the pages turn, the kaleidoscope’s colored glass and pebbles tumble and form new shapes. Sometimes the glass is too dark as in “What Remains,” where parental anger dominates this haibun about a son killed in an automobile accident because he was distracted while texting. Rotate the kaleidoscope again and one might find a long time favorite as I did in “Nighthawks.” In this haibun a devastated daughter maintains a vigil at the bedside of her dying mother. I’ve always been drawn to this fragment in the prose: ebb tide. I always read and then read again the author’s concluding haiku:

autumn coolness enters a hand long held in mine

Overall, a good job has been done. My recommendation for Deflection is to read it at least once in alphabetical order as presented. The affect is astonishing as poems themed around “mother” and the loss of “mother” appear and reappear. It’s as if the writer is acknowledging that from this life event she will never recover. While one can never assume that works written in the first-person are autobiographical, Beary’s poems feel real. In those poems where Beary draws me in, I become her invisible witness.

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