The Stargazing Frog is a collection of original haiku and other 3-liners in the style of Japanese poetry, that points to us the significance of the "little" moments, the moments that deep down really matter the most: the first snowflake at Winter, a grasshopper's hope for sun at Spring, a butterfly's wild dream at Summer, the first petal to fall at Autumn.
The stargazing frog is each and every one of us. We are just tiny observers in a large life and in a vast universe, given with a choice: we can either be overwhelmed and paralysed by the burdens and magnitude of life, or we can accept life's hardships as a fact and try to turn them into something beautiful and meaningful.
While in Japanese poetry a haiku strictly follows the pattern of 5-7-5 phonetic units, the poems of this book follow only one rule: for each poem, first and third lines have the same number of syllables, not necessarily five though, while the second line has two more. That way the overall rhythm of a haiku is preserved without adhering blindly to a form that has little meaning in the English language.
The Stargazing Frog: A poetry collection of 366 original haiku about nature, humans and stars by Akira Sternberg is a collection of English language Haiku. Sternberg describes himself as: "A hermit amidst society, Akira G. Sternberg is a scholar and observer of human activity. A pragmatic romanticist at heart, his vision for a global human civilization of the stars is what keeps him awake at night and his glass of brandy semi-empty."
Haiku is something that most will remember from middle school, perhaps from an English class or the social studies class about Japan. Some may have had to write one for class without really understanding what a haiku is really about. Student written haiku of forced and awkward words forming incomplete thoughts in the 5 -7 - 5 format left the impression that this form of poetry was cheap or a substitute for "real poetry." I don't recall Haiku in college literature classes. I would have probably did not think of them again until reading Jack Kerouac's Dharma Bums and reading Japhy's (Gary Snyder) enlightening explanation of haiku.
A Haiku is much more than cramming words into a set format. The Academy of American Poets describes haiku:
As the form evolved, many of these rules - including the 5-7-5 practice - have routinely been broken. However, the philosophy of haiku has been preserved: the focus on a brief moment in time; a use of provocative, colorful images; an ability to be read in one breath; and a sense of sudden enlightenment and illumination.
Sternberg does follow the above philosophy of haiku to near perfection. I will admit that I subconsciously counted syllables, as I was trained in middle school, as I read the poems. Not all followed the 5-7-5 pattern, but I would not have noticed if it were not for the counting. Each poem is a snapshot -– a three-dimensional view of a moment in time. All the poems are dated, beginning with the winter solstice, and include new and full moons, eclipses, and season changes. The poems fit well into their seasonal variations, and the reader can actually feel the seasons and changes as they read. Connections are made with nature and with people (fake smiles on Christmas Eve, for example).
The haiku for Friday, 4 September 2020:
a lone cloud
a clear sky
Here is a haiku in a 3-5-3 format. The first and third lines contain the objects, and the second line includes the action separating the two objects. Fall is approaching. The air is getting crisp. The entire sky is clear, except for a single small cloud slowly drifting across the vast blue field. That whole experience is contained in only eight words by the poet.
The Stargazing Frog presents the reader with an excellent example of American haiku. Although the form varies, it stays within the accepted boundaries of poetry. The Condensation of imagery into a few words is art and requires talent. Sternberg displays his skill three hundred and sixty-six times in this collection. These small poems have significant meanings. Read one and ponder on it; it will grow in your mind.
Joseph Spuckler has a Masters Degree in International Relations and a deep appreciation for poetry and Modernist writers. He is a Marine Corps veteran and works as a mechanic devoting his off hours for motorcycling and reviewing poetry. Originally from Cleveland, he currently resides in Dallas.