23 June 2009

Sketches from the San Joaquin by Michael McClintock

Sketches from the San Joaquin by Michael McClintock Turtle Light Press, 2009 27 pages, $15 Reviewed by Emily Scudder Sketches from the San Joaquin by Michael McClintock, a collection of 41 haiku, is an art object. Whereas some chapbook publishers skimp on the physical product, Turtle Light Press values both form and content – much like a haiku itself. The cover photograph of the San Joaquin valley, along with the inside illustrations, visually establish a geographic tone to this collection before a single syllable is read. A mere 4.5 x 5.75 inches, this chapbook easily fits in the reader’s hand, and frankly, it feels good to the touch. This object reads like a traveler’s well-worn notebook, since the traveler is wandering the fields he knows best, those of his home landscape, the family orchard. Themes of remembrance and family can be risky, prone to sentimentality and cliché, but McClintock mostly avoids this: done for the day my dad brings to supper the smell of turned earth Both modern and traditional in his handling of the haiku form, McClintock uses 3 lines, but not always 17 syllables. He regularly includes either a direct or implied seasonal reference (kigo), along with the requisite tinge of loneliness, which this reviewer, a haiku traditionalist, welcomed throughout. not green itself but the hint of it – the slanting spring light lingering over an egg warm in its shell winter deepens McClintock’s skill with the cut or kireji (the place where the haiku is divided into two parts, images or events) is precise, and at times playful. His humorous tone, interspersed among more serious themes, harkens backs to the tradition of Basho, and makes for some of the most entertaining haiku of the 41. sucking seeds from pomegranates our faces like fish this is how life is – hearing the cricket at dawn just as it ceases McClintock does get sentimental in the final haiku, providing the slightest of disappointments, in this otherwise pleasurable collection. Tall pines - I’ll never be ready to go home. Sketches from the San Joaquin clears a haiku path through a known and natural landscape. I doubt I will ever commit to memory the exact lines of a McClintock haiku, but I will recall this chapbook the next time I hear the phrase “a record crop” or buy a California red wine, and I am glad about that. the fruit pickers seem glum about it – a record crop. In an often over-stimulating world, it is a welcome relief to spend time with 41 haiku. Michael McClintock whittles life down to the bare bones of things. His poetic intention, disclosed in the epigraph, is realized in this tiny and well-crafted chapbook. Ab initio, ad fontes… Back to the beginning, to the sources.