On a haiku by Beverly Acuff Momoi

that raspy voice
at the year-end market
dried persimmons

Some haiku are more subtle, and require a bit more work on the part of the reader, than others; this is a good example of that. Once again, and for the last time on this blog, it’s drawn from Snapshot Press’s estimable Haiku Calendar for 2019. (I’m sure the 2020 calendar, a perfect stoking-filler, will be just as fine and thought-provoking as this year’s has been.)

As Beverly Acuff Momoi lives in California, I presume the poem is set there, though the Momoi part of her name derives from her Japanese forebears so perhaps the scene is in Japan, where ‘persimmon/s’ is a stock kigo (haiku seasonal reference) for autumn.

The reader’s attention is drawn by the first word – instead of using the indefinite article, the poet uses ‘that’, which has far more clout than ‘the’ would have had. The word can be read as implying that the sound of the voice causes discomfort on the part of those within earshot, though that reading isn’t, I think, an essential component of the haiku’s quality and success.

The use of an exact adjective – ‘raspy’ – is key here, partly because it sounds similar to ‘raspberry’, giving a fruit- and near-colour-related link to ‘persimmons’; but more because it prompts the question in the reader’s mind of why the ‘voice’ is raspy; and, moreover, it isn’t spelt out as to whom the voice belongs. One presumes that it is the voice of a stallholder shouting, or rather trying to shout, about her/his wares. That reading is given weight by the time-stamp in the middle line: this is the end of the year, a very busy time in either the USA or Japan, when presumably the stallholder has shouted so much that her/his voice has become hoarse. And not only does it sound hoarse, but it also sounds as dried-out as the persimmons which s/he is selling.

It might’ve been tempting to have started this haiku with ‘year-end market’ as the opening line, followed by the cut at that point; however, that would’ve made for a much less enticing haiku, and the poet has worked harder than most haiku poets in English do in order to ensure that the overall poem coheres as a work of art. 

I’ve written many times about how the 4–6–4 syllabic haiku form in English sounds mellifluous on the ear, and particularly when the cut is at the end of the second line, and that is the case here. The reason for that is no doubt because it encourages a rhythmic syllabic structure. Here, the first line consists of two iambs, as, arguably, the third line does too. In the middle line, ‘year-end market’ is either two trochees, two spondees of a combination of both depending on how you say or hear it.

In subject-matter, phrasing and meaning, this haiku is as satisfying as it sounds.

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