The Silence Between Us:
Selected Haiku of Wally Swist

edited by Randy M. Brooks


Wally Swist
The Silence Between Us: Selected Haiku of Wally Swist

ISBN 1-929820-07-0 • perfectbound • June 2005 • 128 pages (5.5" X 8.5") • $16.00 US

Wally Swist has been an active contributor to the American haiku community since the 1970s, publishing haiku in numerous haiku magazines and serving as book review editor for Modern Haiku magazine from 1989 until 1997. Several chapbooks of his haiku have been published over the last fifteen years, and he has four books of lyric or narrative poetry in print. His haiku have been included in several major haiku anthologies and published in many magazines, so it is with great pleasure that Brooks Books publishes a gathering of Wally Swist’s best haiku into this collection, The Silence Between Us.

Wally has carefully arranged the order of the haiku so that the reader enjoys a careful slow read, without jarring or unfortunate juxtapositions of haiku. Swist is a master of nature haiku, and he brings a certain reserved New England understatement to his work. It is often the things unsaid, the silences between the images, that make all the difference in his work. We are sure you will enjoy this journey into the “silence” as you read and savor each haiku in this book.

—Randy Brooks, Editor & Publisher
Brooks Books

ISBN: 1-929820-07-0
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farm banter
the bartender chalks
her pool cue

new buds
the ferris wheel
takes another turn

going over and over
what my wife said—
petals of the rose

we wake at dawn
crow calling crow
through the fog

About the Author:

Wally Swist was born in New Haven, Connecticut in 1953. His haiku have appeared in many periodicals devoted to the genre, including Frogpond, Mayfly, and Modern Haiku. Also, he served as book review editor for Modern Haiku from 1989 until 1997.

His longer lyric and short narrative poems have appeared in Alaska Quarterly Review, Appalachia, The Anthology of Magazine Verse and Yearbook of American Poetry (1995-1996) (Monitor Book Company, Inc., 1997), Connecticut Review, Sanctuary: The Massachusetts Audubon Magazine, Osiris, Puckerbrush Review, Stories from Where We Live: The North Atlantic Coast (Milkweed Editions, 2000), Stories from Where We Live: The Eastern Woodlands (Milkweed Editions, 2005), and Yankee.

Sahara: A Journal of New England Poetry published a special issue devoted to Swist’s work in the winter of 2003 that featured many of his new and recent poems and a typescript recorded interview regarding his craft and life as a writer. Twice he has been awarded grants in poetry from the Connecticut Commission on the Arts, in 1978 and in 2003. He has also been awarded two writing residencies at Fort Juniper, the Robert Francis Homestead, in Amherst, Massachusetts, in the autumn of 1998, and for two full years from September 2003 to September 2005. He is the General Book Manager at the University Store at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

illuminating
the silence between us . . .
firefly

From the Preface

Wally Swist’s heart is in old books, but his soul is in haiku. He is an antiquarian bookseller by profession, a poet by necessity. Over the past 15 years, Swist has produced a fine body of haiku, arguably as fine as those written by anyone else writing in English. His haiku moments are sympathetically apprehended and precisely drawn. Swist then goes one step further, engaging all the tools of Western poetics to produce haiku that are memorable as poems, experiences in themselves. This collection presents a wide range of haiku and senryu: haiku in which we find peace in the scent of pine needles, haiku with exuberance and lightness, haiku that engage haiku traditions, both Japanese and American.

In Swist’s haiku, the cycle of the seasons touches the cycle of our lives and both are altered by the interaction. We find our mental perambulations reflected in a spiral of rose petals, not merely as a symbol, but as a sympathy between our human cares and the world around us. The log sweats with the logger. The waterfall entices the couple to roar with it. The dove’s call and response is felt in the (coo)lness of our skin.

Sparrows mate as dandelion embryos drift on the breeze. We feel the roan’s breath. Unlike many so-called haiku today, these are the haiku of a poet touched by seasonal consciousness while living life honestly and directly. Swist’s haiku have a materiality without materialism.

Epiphanies tinged with mystery are found in the most unlikely places: in the black spots on the cow, the sunburn on our neck, feathers on the pond. Scientists say that we get over eighty percent of our sensory
information from our eyes; it is not surprising that haiku with visual images are the most common. We find them here, but we also find the tingle of other senses. Long-time Modern Haiku editor Robert Spiess observed that the most memorable haiku were made up of multiple sense images. You should not be surprised to find many such haiku here.

As Swist feels the dew through the hole in his shoe, these haiku let the world in by making holes in our preconceptions. Rock with the hayrack—or with the retarded boy listening to his Walkman. Lean against the fence with the left over Christmas trees. Discover with Swist the unmarked stones in the Quaker graveyard. Drop your personality, drop your persona, and discover Swist’s world of grace. Swist has written some fine haiku that no one else could have written. Sit back and enjoy them. They are poems that are at home in any part of North America east of the Mississippi, and, I suspect, in many other places as well. Enjoy them as a celebration of life, of haiku, and of the work of visionaries such as R.H. Blyth and Robert Spiess who cultivated the American soil so that these poems could bear fruit.

—Lee Gurga, Editor, Modern Haiku
Lincoln, Illinois

Comments from previous reviews and editors:

“Swist is in the tradition of Robert Spiess and John Wills. Though he does not write about Spiess’ canoe country or Will’s Tennessee, his haiku are about the same kinds of subject matter. He writes almost solely about the woods and farms of western Massachusetts where he has lived since the early eighties.”

The Haiku Anthology—Cor van den Heuvel, Editor—Cor van den Heuvel, Editor