“Half a century has passed since that June breath I took at rising dawn. I know I must give it back.” — hortensia in The Plenitude of Emptiness

The Plenitude and Emptiness — hortensia Anderson

                             a review by Carmen Sterba


In hortensia’s book The Plentitude of Emptiness, the lyrical quality of hortensia’s haibun (prose with haiku) is outstanding, to say the least. There is a unity that relies on cycles of plenitude and emptiness rotating throughout. First, there’s an ebb and flow of playfulness and nostalgia. Next, specters of loss appear until the cyclical movement repeats itself.

From what I know of hortensia’s continual struggle with health issues, I wondered if her book would be dark and morose. It is not. It shimmers in the dark and lives large in the light. It’s a celebration of life and shows an unexpected acquiesce towards infirmity. There is no rage. Perhaps, the act of writing is her choice once her emotions become overwhelming. She has taught herself to learn from her suffering and bounce back time and time again. Between her words is an indomitable strength.

As words follow words, the first section is filled with phrases like “froth and foam of mimosa” and “purple-blue fog of wisteria”.  Odors appear like “cedar and sandal,” “night hyacinth” or “bergamot and rose”.  Less that half way through the book, “the clouds blacken and shred against a golden sky” and the mood becomes chilly. Such a mood lasts through many haibun, until there’s a recurrence of lightness when the acrobatics begin again and hortensia’s crescendo continues until it becomes introspective again. Where does she get this hard resiliency? How has she learned to make roses out of ashes?

There is laughter as well. The reader may laugh at “the narcissus’ by the reflecting pool remain in love with themselves” or at the incident in “Blue” when a clueless but polite guy remarks on her art piece:

“So with these origami you have?” he asks, delicately. “These are crumpled blue tissues I say.”

 Spring rain –

a flock of birds

loses their shape

Next, hortensia becomes introspective about the wonders of nature in “Ume”: “As one blossom drops by my hand and onto the paper, I wonder how it knows to let go.”

And, she soars in “The Way Back”

 Swingset –

I try to flip

over the sky

Near the end of Plenitude of Emptiness is the haibun “Tea Bowl” which contains a kernel of her philosophy:

potter’s wheel –

the essence of emptiness

taking shape

These pages contain a gifted poet’s poetic prose and haiku that deserve to be read again and again. For some readers, a glossary of Buddhist terminology may have been helpful; nevertheless, the way hortensia weaves these terms into her writing, points naturally to her beliefs.

Hortensia Anderson’s collection of 115 haibun, The Plenitude of Emptiness, has been published by Darlington Richards. You can purchase it for $10.73 on the Lulu.com website at http://www.lulu.com/product/paperback/the-plenitude-of-emptiness/6484337.