Bamboo Ridge Press’ latest issue (#96) is a collection called No Choice but to Follow. The title is a canny play on the book’s concept: a series of linked poems done in a year’s span by seasoned writers Jean Yamasaki Toyama, Juliet S. Kono, Ann Inoshita and Christy Passion. Each of the Japanese linked-verses (renshi) was originally posted online on a weekly basis in celebration of the publishing house’s 30th anniversary.
Labeled by month, the poems begin as an examination of the writing process but gradually move into the territories of domestic strife, romantic longing and other little moments of living local. All four are equally observant and moving, and they each have their moments in stanza to shine. Toyama: “For make my lips red like strawberry / For cool me off and calm down…” Kono: “Tucking the nitro tablet / under the log of your tongue, / I patted your hand / and released you / to your knot of pain.” Inoshita: “At two o’clock / the wind exhaled / as summer cooled / under the mango tree.” Passion: “green cypress reminding me of / Roman coliseums and grander things.” These are just small examples of the delicate moments between the individual lines.
It is to the writers’ credit that the work doesn’t feel or read like a student exercise but a true demonstration of the poetic form.
The book also comes with a CD of the poets reading all 48 of their poems. The entirety is a spellbinding, illuminating work that deserves to be a local classic.