Recommended Reading: Jennifer Stewart Miller’s A Fox Appears

A Fox Appears

My friend Emily sent me  A Fox Appears by Jennifer Stewart Miller, and I’m so grateful she did (thanks, Emily!). This is a small gem of a book, “a biography of a boy in haiku,” as the subtitle has it.

In six sections, the poet gives us glimpses of her son’s early life through haiku. Maybe you, like me, spent a fifth-grade unit on haiku, struggling to conjure up nature imagery and conform to the 5/7/5-syllable format (those pesky articles and conjunctions, am I right?). As it turns out, rules are meant to be broken; the charming folks at the Academy of American Poets tell us that in modern haiku-writing, while some formal elements may lapse, “the philosophy of haiku has been preserved: the focus on a brief moment in time; a use of provocative, colorful images; an ability to be read in one breath; and a sense of sudden enlightenment and illumination.”

IMG_6829That is exactly what I found in A Fox Appears. As Ms. Miller shows, the haiku is an ideal form (perhaps the ideal form) for evoking a parent’s perspective of the fleeting phases of early childhood. These poems are perfectly, unexpectedly descriptive; their simplicity enhances their perceptiveness.

Here are a few of my favorites (with apologies since the line indents won’t come through):

I stroke the sole
of your foot — small toes
flick open like a fan.

Tiny hands —
fiddlehead ferns
waiting to unfurl.

Patient as stone
you drop stones
in the sea.

The washing machine
empties your pockets —
acorns acorns.

Across a green field
a bluebird flew —
you were at school.

Lovely, aren’t they?

Cats, the moon, stones, and feathers appear throughout this slim volume, tying together the observations and giving us a sense of the passing of seasons and years. And I should note too that Franklin Einspruch’s beautiful black and white gouache artwork complements the poems very well. A Fox Appears is a beautiful volume, and recommended. Thank you Emily!

Have you ever written haiku? Do you have a favorite?

Recommended Reading: The Ocean at the End of the Lane, by Neil Gaiman

Unless you’ve been insensate for the last ten years or so, you know that Mr. Gaiman is a book world superstar with novels, short stories, and children’s books to his credit. I loved American Gods and Smoke and Mirrors, so I knew I was in for a treat when I picked up The Ocean at the End of the Lane. It’s received amazing press and Mr. Gaiman commands round-the-block lines whenever he reads at a local bookstore. photo (26)

Now, I found American Gods suspenseful, and Smoke and Mirrors occasionally chilling, but The Ocean At the End of the Lane is downright terrifying. It’s a tribute to Mr. Gaiman’s storytelling that I kept reading, because the whole novel turns around big time child endangerment, which is almost always a book-closer for me. I went into this one not knowing anything about the plot, though, so I wasn’t really prepared for how frightening the book would become.

To say much about the plot would make me feel like a thief in the night, so I’ll refrain.

But you should read this. You’re going to fall in love with the Hempstock family.


Recommended Reading: The Niagara River, by Kay Ryan

Back in late July, I featured a poem called “Thin,” by Kay Ryan.  I liked it so much that I went to the library that week to find a full-length book of hers, and the library obligingly provided The Niagara River. As a child, I spent many happy summer afternoons jumping into the Niagara River from my Uncle Bill and Aunt Mary Kay’s dock, so the whole thing seemed beshert.

Image courtesy of  George Stojkovic /

Image courtesy of George Stojkovic /

I love these poems. They’re unlike any others in my pretty extensive poetry library. They’re short, rarely flowing from one page onto another, and the lines are short as well, often just three or four syllables in length. I found the rhythm, and the occasional rhymes, jarring, but not unpleasantly so. Many of the poems end with a subtle twist, a line that forces the whole poem into sharper focus. These poems call for slow reading and then re-reading; I wanted to savor and remember them.

Some of my favorites in this volume are “Carrying a Ladder,” “Sharks’ Teeth,” “Green Hills,” “Ideal Audience,” “Hide and Seek,” and “The Well or the Cup.” I hope you’ll have a look at them for yourself.