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A Quarterly Journal
Jeffrey Woodward, Founder & General Editor
Volume 7, Number 2, June 2013

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Tish Davis
Dublin, Ohio, USA


On Diana Webb’s Pocketing the Tide

Pocketing the Tide by Diana Webb. Uxbridge, UK: Alba Publishing, 2013. Paperback, 47 pp. £10 UK, $12.00 USD. ISBN: 978-0-9572592-9-4. (www.albapublishing.com)

Pocketing the Tide, Diana Webb’s second collection of haibun, contains 31 works. Whether alone on a river bank listening as “a leaf tip touches down on water” (12) or at a busy bus stop, Webb presents her observations using an array of sensory images. The writer’s motifs include both life’s brevity and cycles of renewal gently examined in works influenced by her keen awareness of nature, an appreciation of the arts, experiences with her young grandson, and her “convent educated” faith. (24)

The book’s five section titles, lines borrowed from Shakespeare’s Sonnets 15, 24, 60, and 65, introduce works of corresponding themes. In the first section, “Towards the Pebbled Shore,” Webb draws on what is familiar in her world: scenes from daily walks and events as she reveals the constancy of change.

In this extract from “Postmarked,” the narrator reflects on a failed relationship with a partner who “left to see the world”:

And I‘m still here. I find new grains of surprise along these well trod footpaths round the outskirts of our town. The leaves are falling along the river margin, to the place where that sudden view always startles.

mist on the hills—
Traveller’s Joy just turning
to Old Man’s Beard (6)

Webb’s ability to incorporate local flora in her haiku adds color and dimension to the prose. Here one can infer by mist, traveller, and old man, that even though a significant amount of time has passed, certain scenes still trigger an emotional response, perhaps even tears.

“A few seeds are still left on the lime tree” in “Bliss.” Here, life’s fragility is expressed in the membranes of a blue balloon lodged high in a tree its “pearly surface glinting in the sun as slowly air returns to air.” (11)

In the second grouping, Webb’s themes on art, whether created, imagined, or naturally occurring, allow the reader to contemplate based on the section’s title, “True Image Pictured,” or to simply smile.

In “The Gate,” Webb’s straight forward prose references Turner’s “keen eye for architectural structure” and ability to quickly sketch. This is juxtaposed to images of variability in the lovely haiku sequence that follows:

dappled moonrock
of a horse’s coat
beside a mottled wall

from one pointed ear
a flick of shadow
against stone

all the waves
in one toss
of a multi-stranded tail (16)

“Day Out” has always been a favorite. This haibun, seemingly simple in structure and devoid of excessive adjectives, is carefully constructed and contains both interdependencies and juxtapositions. In this work, children and teacher are on a field trip where “Sketches by Turner are on display with watercolours. . . .” (17)

The prose opens with one line of conversation:

‘He always carried a pencil in his hand while travelling.’ (17)

This is an interesting stylistic frame because the prose also closes with one line of conversation—a student’s question. For me, the last line of prose is what solidifies the work. What is implied by this simple question is powerful. (I’m intentionally not sharing so as not to spoil it for readers unfamiliar with this piece).

“Stronger than a Flower,” based on a line from Sonnet 65, is the title of the third section where “baby,” “grandson” and references to the Christ child are central characters. In most of the works, the ravages of time are present, but softened by the author’s quiet juxtapositions. With images of a sleeping baby—“Under Cover” and “Undulations”—there’s a dark moth fluttering on the shade’s underside (27) or, through the blinds, three shards of light streaking across the oceans. (28) In the haibun “Pocketing the Tide,” baby’s first syllables outdoors by the sea contrast with a found “smooth, white heart-shaped stone.” (30)

While there’s some redundancy in form and approach in this section, the poems aren’t dark. The layout is thoughtful, from the opening haibun about her grandson’s illness and the uncertainty of his recovery to an especially strong closing haibun, “Twelfth Night,” with reference to the feast of the Epiphany:

. . . the day when wise men come to discover the child, the time when the source of wonder emerges out of his hiding place, ignites the first spark in the world. (31)

The final two sections, “As Waves Make” and “But a Little Moment,” are variations on previously presented themes. “Shifts” begins with vivid description and texture as an adult narrator looks out:

. . .over a suburban garden-scape, each hedge like a rough cut slide of cake with its glisten of thick white icing. (34)

This is a place where:

Buddleia twigs point, sway a little, becoming like witches’ fingers casting the spell of the season deeper. (34)

As the haibun continues, the narrator flashes back to her sixteenth birthday. On this day she was forced to stay home from school due to a snowstorm. Unfortunately, the promising start digresses as the narrator’s shift to age sixteen also leads to style shift where the writer “tells” readers about the day and the gift of a sweater knitted by her mother. Now the sweater no longer fits and is stored in plastic.

I believe Webb is attempting, with the sweater, an allusion to the last two lines of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 60 where the poet hopes that his verse will stand the test of time. However, for me, the execution was not successful.

The concluding haiku offers little in terms of recovery:

soundlessly
settling in the dark
moths (34)

Roughly a third of the works in “Pocketing the Tide” are basic unit in form—one paragraph of prose followed by a single haiku. Webb demonstrates competence with other forms, too, smoothly alternating prose and verse elements in “Seasonal Lights,” and in the successful execution of a verse sequence in the already mentioned haibun, “The Gate.” There are five verse envelopes—haiku, then paragraph, then haiku. The book also contains one tanka prose work and a set of seventeen haiku.

Webb’s haiku typically single out an element from the narrative and focus on the work’s principle theme. She’s a writer acutely aware of her surroundings. When she integrates those images with understatement and layers of meaning, she offers readers some very enjoyable reading.

again
and again
each pebble (30)

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