Swish! A Review
By Donna Bauerly
Raymond Roseliep, Swish of Cow Tail. Swamp Press, 1982 (323 Pelham Road, Amherst, Massachusetts 01002). A miniature: 3x3, Hardbound $10.; Soft #3.
THIS POETS BOOKS COME IN all shapes and sizes; they come in raucous red (A Roseliep Retrospective), in cool and flame-lit blue (Listen to Light); they come softly (Love Makes the Air Light); they even come accordion-pleated like this one, Swish of Cow Tail, which—if you’re not careful at first opening—will spill out into your lap announcing itself by its name: Swish!
Raymond Roseliep gives us this time a noisy little book with varied and multi-leveled reverberations. The volume (if a book could smile it would at such a heavy name) begins to talk to you even before you open the cover. Textured Japanese paper speaks to your fingertips readying you for the movement of the rooster-tail-rooster on the title pages. Or is it a cow tail? I’ve been searching my flower books (tame and wild) to find such a “creature,” for here is the first of many question-surprises that lure you outward from this wee volume. Just what sort of cow swishes the peach petals?
On the surface most of the seven haiku are just that, a nature-moment caught in essence, in centrality: tulip-tree and peach petals. Some (and out of seven, some is very few) are senryu, Nature centered in the “I” of the poet. But all are Roseliep-stamped by a haiku-senryu dynamism that moves the reader from one kind of nature (out there) to another kind (in here).
The illustrations by Jon Vlakos are mirror images for the haiku. You can open Swish of Cow Tail in many ways. You can take the pages one at a time; Dedication (with haiku), rooster haiku, rooster illustration. Or you can spread out four pages: a rooster to your far left (on the last of the title pages) and a rooster to your far right, two haiku in between. You can catch another four-page spread with a pear blossom thief haiku to your left, prostrate and mirrored thieves doubled and centered, and a tulip-tree oboe’s sound to your right. The vivid colors and the rich textures of these illustrations keep bouncing you around from word to picture to word and back again.
A steamy male sensuality pervades Swish of Cow Tail. With the pages spread fully out to their 4-foot length, the haiku are bounded by a strutting rooster at the opening and a reclining bearded naked ecstasy-exhausted male at the closing. Such thrown-to-the-wind caution is contrasted in what is perhaps the central haiku—
the pear blossom thief . . .
wish I hadn’t
Echoes of Augustine and his lusty adolescence; memories of his son, the Adeodatus he never rejected—these are the reverberations of the haiku man and his wistful recollection.
Seasons move in Swish of Cow Tail, but the microcosm is all spring. Beginnings and endings catapult into the reader’s presence with the agility of Issa’s flea, from the rising of the early tulip to the falling of the peach petal, a nature-death required for fruition.
Every time I shove these pages back in place, I want them to spill out again. This is Roseliep’s paradigm of life. He gives us once more the whole of experience, his and the world’s—in the twinkling of an eye—in the Swish of Cow Tail.
Bauerly, Donna. “Swish: A Review.” Delta Epsilon Sigma Journal, Volume XXVII, May 1982, Number 2: 61-62.