The poetic artistry of Geert Verbeke.
It is not an easy process to become reviewed by "yours truly". I do make several demands that have to do with professionalism and publishing achievements, as well as my commitment to raise awareness regarding small press published books written by international, bilingual/multilingual, and/or trans-cultural authors of poetry, prose and photography. I aim to re-enact a "renaissance" of literary criticism especially, which is critical, analytical and a subjective (yet professional) assessment of literary achievement and room for further development/improvement.
I write this review of the works of Geert Verbeke both in homage .. and in protest. It is simply "unfair" to challenge a reviewer with five books of such literary and philosophical quality and professional craftsmanship as is here the case. To be blunt, it is maddening .. to be sucked into the world and thinking of Geert Verbeke so easily - even though I consider myself to be a good critic in my area(s) of specialization - and to suddenly take on the role of 'The Fool' (in the Tarot) .. spellbound by the 'magic' of a master, who is both adept in his craftsmanship with regard to tradition and the expert 'blasting' of ever-developing contemporary expressions of haiku, tanka, senyru and haibun. He managed to "rope me in" .. despite several readings to double-check .. and I must simply declare Verbeke as a contemporary master. Damn!
Did I find no faults in these five books? Certainly, there are small issues that have to do with the occasional caesura placement or alternative suggestions in regard to how bilingual and multilingual versions of his haiku are presented on each page (sometimes I would prefer to have more space - i.e. to have each poem and its bilingual or multilingual versions on a page by itself), and the occasional typographical error .. but these things are trivialities. The man is a genius .. or/and 'mad' (in terms of artistic genius the two often go together).
Firstly, his understanding of the history and traditions of the art forms he employs is quite evident; and this understanding affords him the ability and the 'right' to experiment and further develop the literary forms he specializes in (including further development of the English haiku derivatives).
Secondly, he masters not just the haiku, but in addition tanka, senyru and haibun. And as if that is not provocative enough for a literary critic, he dares to go so far as to combine several literary styles in several of his books. Most dramatically in "Sweeps of Rain", where he combines haibun in a way that reads as a complete novel.
And finally, Verbeke is so cheeky and daring that he takes his readers and himself to the absolute maximal limit: he writes his masterpieces in several languages, including Flemish, English, French, German etc.
Already, as you can well understand, I am livid as a literary critic .. With some extremely-talented authors I sometimes secretly wish that I had written this or that particular work of literature instead of him/her. However, in the case of this man Geert Verbeke I feel that he is so completely 'superior' - not only in regards to his understanding and craftsmanship, but also because he manages to access the inner reaches of philosophy, spirituality, humanity, social consciousness and frivolity .. all at once. AND he pumps these works out effortlessly; as if he is practicing zazen. Effortlessness is - of course - the mark of an 'artistic master' - the point where "simplicity" and "difficulty" become indistinguishable because the level of mastery makes the distance between point zero and the 'unreachable dream' as short as possible. And that is the essence of Geert Verbeke's literary genius: not only to achieve the impossible but also to transform literary dexterity into a literary and visual masterpiece at its lowest common denominator.
Geert Verbeke is impressive .. and he is scary. He can take any topic (for example: frogs or playing cards .. nature .. or political/social issues) and 'spin his magic'.
Okay. You have understood that the man is now highly-regarded by me. Let me illustrate just a few of the many fine examples of his craftsmanship and genius:
memorial day -
a lot of grasshoppers
on the stupa
gravel and duneland -
along the river
a row of singing monks -
dew on their hats
(from "Brother Buddha")
terraced rice fields -
the annual frog concert
and her hangover
in the evening
croaks are getting louder -
(from "Frogs Croak")
at the ritual cremation
the taste of mango
on her lips
a flow of body bags
back to the USA
the sky is the sea
lasting for days
the singing of the rain
composing sad songs
I am afraid that I must stop here ... most publishers have a maximum word limit, and I have already surpassed the standard commercial literary review limitations. But this is also relevant to my experience of the literature of Geert Verbeke: he knows the traditions, he knows the standards .. and he possesses the genius and the integrity to know when to use the traditional .. and when (and how) to surpass it. And I have a strong intuition that it is "art" which guides him, rather than "commercialism".
GEERT VERBEKE: Born in Kortrijk, Flanders (Europe). Geert began writing haiku in 1968. The decisive factor to study haiku was the discovery of the Himalayan singing bowls and the travels to Kathmandu, the Sinaï-desert, Istanbul, Tunisia, Djerba, France, Tanzania, Zanzibar and the Grand Canyon in Arizona, USA. Geert has also written a few books about singing bowls. He has, in addition to have published several books on haiku, haibun, senyru and tanka and singing bowls, recorded 11 cd's with singing bowls, gongs and percussion.