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David Rosen and Joel Weishaus are long-time friends, the former a psychiatrist, the latter a poet, teacher, and literary critic. Both authors have lived and traveled in Japan, and both are enamored of the haiku form. In this book, Rosen and Weishaus carry on the "renga" tradition of writing haiku as part of an on-going conversation, a call and response of commentary and haiku. Grouped into 53 two-page chapters, such as "Feeling Death," "Learning to Bow," "Eating," "Mother Ill, Mother Dead," "Tuscany," and "Turtle Wisdom," this conversation is enriched by the black and white illustrations of Arthur Okamura.
The comments and haiku range widely and deeply, reflecting the authors’ recognition of the possibility and need for healing, not only in human relationships but also with Nature. In part, this conversation is the authors’ quest to understand the "psychology, meaning, and healing value" of haiku (1), and to explore how poems might lead not necessarily to cure but to "becoming whole" (5).
The commentaries are open and transparent, interwoven as one poet picks up a word or image in his friend’s haiku and extends it, turning it over both in commentary and verse-for example, see the chapter "In the Flow" where the last line of Rosen’s haiku, "A river streaming back toward the sun," is used as the first line of Weishaus’s responsive commentary, one that transports the discussion from Japan to Africa (82-83). Often movingly honest, the poets discuss loneliness and death, their insights reflected in artist Okamura’s stark ink swirls (8-15). They examine their relationships with their fathers ("making Peace with One’s Father," 44-45), and they don’t shrink from humor ("Learning to bow," 34-35) or from sensuality ("Anima," 86-87). Their spiritual references range widely, from the Hebrew God to the Buddhist’s tribute to Nature (70-71).
The haiku are lovely, both strong and delicate, our appreciation of them enhanced by a review of haiku’s traditions in the Preface (1-5). Rather than try to describe the haiku (because, like all good haiku, these cannot be captured or retold and remain the same), I’ll present one haiku from each poet and hope readers will be compelled to seek out the book and read further.
David Rosen, on walking near his apartment in Mukaijima (40): Shimmering paddy-- / The slap of small feet nearing / Where dragonflies hover. Joel Weishaus, on September 11, 2002 (103): Sluggish creek-- / A shadow dips / And drinks.
The story itself commences after the vituperative dedication to Robert Southey and several stanzas mocking contemporary heroes, with Don Juan's birth in Seville to Donna Inez and Don José. The adventures begin with his affair with Donna Julia, his mother's best friend. Donna Julia's husband, Don Alfonso discovers the secret romance, and Don Juan is sent to Cadiz. A shipwreck along the way sees him stranded, the lone survivor; there he meets a pirate's daughter, Haidée. Expelled from this paradise by Haidée's father, the pirate Lambro, he is captured, and sold into slavery.
Gulbayaz, one of the Sultan's harem, has him purchased and smuggled into her company dressed as a girl; after he spends the night in the bed of one of her courtesans, Gulbayaz threatens both with death. When next we see Don Juan, he has escaped. He joins in the Russian attack on Ismail, where he fights valiantly and rescues Leila, a Muslim child. They are taken to St Petersburg, where he impresses Catherine The Great and joins her entourage. Due to illness, he is sent to London, where, as an ambassador for Russia, he joins the Court and finds for Leila a suitable governess; the final cantos see him amongst the Lords and Ladies of British aristocracy, in particular Lady Adeline and the mysterious Aurora Raby.
Summary:This historical novel tells two biographical stories side by side and then brings them together in an unexpected way late in the book. Arthur is Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, physician and writer, known especially for his Sherlock Holmes stories. His story starts with his childhood in Edinburgh and his closeness to his mother (Mam). His father is described as a gentle failure of a man.
Summary:Having remarried after a long and partly happy life with a woman who bore him three sons, novelist Campbell Armstrong lives in rural Ireland with his second wife. He learns that his first wife, who works in Phoenix, has advanced lung cancer and, with his second wife’s blessing, goes to spend time with her and their grown sons. In the course of that trip, he reflects on their life together, their romance, his alcoholism and its effect on their family, their move to the U.S., their losses, and the remarkably enduring affection between them and, surprisingly, between the first wife and the second.
Summary:At seven months, Remy, daughter and second child of Heather and Lon Davis, is hospitalized with a seizure that, after several days of agonizing uncertainty, is traced to a brain tumor. This narrative of her diagnosis and treatment, told by her mother and very much from her mother’s perspective, is not only a chronicle of a medical event, but, perhaps more centrally, of a spiritual awakening in the mother’s life. From a person uncertain about and largely indifferent to prayer, faith, and spirituality, Ms. Davis becomes, over the course of her daughter’s treatment, convinced of the presence of God, the power of prayer, and the availability of grace in precisely those circumstances that threaten life and lifestyle and bring individuals face to face with their deepest fears and deepest needs.
Summary:This novel is narrated by Katie Carr, who very much wants to be a good person. She is a physician and a mother of two, and lives with her petulant husband, David. David is the author of a column in the local newspaper called "Angriest Man in Holloway". As their marriage falls apart, David undergoes a conversion at the hands of GoodNews, a young guru, and ceases to be sarcastic and angry, embarking instead on an effort to improve the world with acts of kindness. Katie is forced to consider what it means to be a good person and how that affects whether to salvage her marriage, how to raise her children and how to be the type of physician she always considered herself to be.
Summary:Except for her canary and cat, Martha (Sheila Florance) lives alone in an apartment containing fragments and memorabilia of the past which speak to a rich and complex life comprised of various relationships and wartime horrors. Many of the fragments are further referenced in flashback scenes. Three current relationships--with her caretaker, her son, and her dependent and declining neighbor, Billy (Norman Kaye)--are central to this moment in time and provide an illuminating portrayal of Martha’s struggle for independence and undiminished zest for life. While her kind caretaker, Anna (Gosia Dobrowolska), respects the old woman’s fierce need for autonomy, her son, concerned about her frailty and safety, is intent on relocation to a nursing home where she can be supervised. Martha, on the other hand, provides gentle and kind care for Billy, who has been abandoned by his family; during the night, when he is unable to find the bathroom, Martha provides gentle and unobtrusive assistance. Martha’s strength comes from character and spirit, remarkable traits which leave an indelible impression about our tendencies to conventionalize aging.
Summary:Amelia Stern is an academic pediatrician in a large city hospital and mother of a bright, young son. She is deeply involved with her patients, including Darren, born with AIDS, and Sara, the malnourished child of anxious parents, both lawyers. As she struggles to answer to the demands of her work for "other women’s children," she neglects her own child and her marriage begins to fall apart. Her husband’s resentment and her own feelings of guilt come to a crisis when her son falls seriously ill while she is at the hospital.
Anne Lamott, a writer, recovered alcoholic, former addict and impassioned Republican-hater, finds herself pregnant in her mid-thirties, and decides to have the baby. This journal is a chronicle of her son Sam’s first year. She is fiercely self-deprecatory and funny and unafraid to talk about the dark side of parenting an infant: the fear, exhaustion, anger, emotional swings; that 4 a.m. inability to cope with the crying neediness of the baby.
She is a single parent barely able to pay the bills, but she has a tremendous support network of family, friends, and the people of her church--all of whom clearly love Sam and love her. And then, when Sam is 7 months old, crawling "like a Komodo dragon," the author’s best friend Pammy is diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer. The author, who discovers the depth and resonance of love because of the gift of Sam, must now learn loss. She questions her faith, which she cannot justify on a cerebral level, but still hopes that God loves and guides her the way a parent loves and guides a child.
In 1996, at the age of 31, David Biro is preparing for his specialty examinations in dermatology and is set to share a practice with his father. But he develops a visual disturbance. After repeated testing, he is found to have the rare blood disorder of paroxysmal nocturnal hemoglobinuria. The diagnosis was problematic, but the treatment choices are overwhelming. His youngest sister is a suitable donor, and he opts for a bone marrow transplant. He realizes that his decision was influenced not only by the diagnosis, but also by his personality and his reaction to the physicians.
Advance preparations are hectic and sometimes comic, especially his deposits at a local sperm bank. The pain of the transplant and the six weeks imprisonment in a small hospital room are told in graphic detail. The athletically inclined doctor suffers many complications: exquisitely painful ulcers of the scrotum, mouth, and esophagus; inflammation of the liver; unexplained fever; drug-induced delirium; weakness and weight loss.
His parents, sisters and friends leap into action to provide round-the-clock presence, but his independent wife, Daniella, resents the invasion. While David’s body is wracked with drugs and radiation, his family and his marriage are subjected to destructive forces too. Yet all--body, family, and marriage--emerge intact, though changed, by their experience.