Lenard D. Moore
Wet Cement Press ($16)
by Lisa B (Lisa Bernstein)
Long Rain, the tenth book from micro-press Wet Cement, merges Japanese and Western poetic sensibilities. Lauded poet Lenard D. Moore infuses the tanka form with vivid personal memory, modern motifs, and Black Southern geography and history. The result is a beautiful collection conveying the contemporary and the traditional, the transitory and the timeless.
These five-line poems—well suited to the book’s small, almost pocket-sized format—sometimes depart from the 31-syllable tanka form, but their seeming simplicity reflects Moore's deep engagement with the genre as a poet, an anthologist, and someone long active in haiku literary organizations.
The poems in Long Rain use juxtaposition in subtle and surprising ways. The first is the layering of observations of nature with personal and historical detail grounded in the Carolinas, Moore’s home. The book is organized according to the four elements (earth, wind, fire, and water), and each section begins with a brief prose introduction on a specific memory. The first is of Great-Grandma Fannie: “She stood ironing board-straight, as if she had a basket on her head, born twenty-four years after the Civil War.” This distinctly Black American frame then opens onto brushstrokes of contemporary nature: “in an instant / blue jays switch places / on the powerline.”
The presence of elders and the human figure in nature is persistent: “red summer sunrise – / a lone old woman sniffing / the wind-tipped roses . . ./ thin white clouds floating / over the distant mountains.” This musical example shows Moore combining the traditional Japanese contemplation of nature with the insistent figure of the lone old woman. He juxtaposes human appreciation of what is rooted—the fierce immediacy of the roses and their lure of pleasure—with a distant background of something floating out of reach.
Many poems convey the culture of the Black South: “Funeral Parlor: / a black man rolls the casket / down the crowded aisle, / little by little his shoes / shadow / shine in the white light.” The poems also often pay attention to work, labor’s depiction embedded in rapidly rendered images of beauty: “washing pink sheets / she bends over the washtub / this sunsplashed morning / and how warm wind scatters / the scent of her perfume.” These poems on human labor are placed near poems on the labor of the animal world, such as one on the guinea hen “searching for new eggs/in the increasing dimness.”
Along with the specific portrayal of Black labor is the motif of blackness as an aesthetic element: “the aged panhandler / in black alligator shoes”; “a trail of black exhaust / coming toward my windshield”; “a swoop of flies / blackening the dead dog / in the hayfield.” This motif of blackness is often merged with human sensuality and sexuality: “the salty wind slipping / into the cottage / her black panties drift backwards / on the rusty hanger.” Here Moore transforms the modest suggestiveness of Japanese tanka into American cinematic vividness.
Reading them, one doesn't feel that the beauty in these poems is a place to rest or hide; Moore gives us interplay rather than an ideal. The refrain of the human presence, whether soothing, stimulating, or simply persisting, is like a bass note amid the treble of dynamic natural elements, and one that implies a larger social web. Yet, the motto of the poems might be “stick to savoring.” Moore foregrounds human pleasure while indicating the constraints of history, and, beyond it, an ephemeral reality that transcends the human.
These layered elements rapidly yield, as in a magician’s trick, a complex sense of time: the quick, precise image from direct observation, memory, or Carolinian history is juxtaposed with the fleeting, distant movement of birds, wind, or clouds, showing a world that is both intensely personal and profoundly impersonal. Time is at once local, historical, and eternal—all in a seemingly simple five-line tanka.