"When the spirit’s aflame
that’s the time
to play with fire."

To fully appreciate this new collection of tristichs—three-line poems reminiscent of haiku and senryu—readers may want to familiarize themselves with the short stories of Thomas Wolfe, one of the most significant twentieth-century American authors. In Japan, Wolfe’s novels are popularly read to identify the embedded haiku and to write haiku in response. Wasserman, a professor emeritus at SUNY, took this inspiration a step further and replied in tristich to Wolfe’s short stories, citing Wolfe’s fiction as “the original source for my three-line writings, and . . . the literary context for my entire tristich project.”

Enthusiasts of short-form poetry will find Wasserman’s tristichs worthy of reading without referring to Wolfe’s stories, as the verse alone is pithy, evocative, and reflective. As with haiku and senryu, the topics are poetic comments that span the width and breadth of nature’s inherent beauty and the human condition, but Wasserman has also delved into other themes or imagery from Wolfe’s fiction that are worthy of consideration.

In their distilled poetic form, Wasserman’s tristichs are comparable to an illuminating moonbeam or a lightning strike in comparison to the full-bodied daylight of a prose piece, making the process of reading, discovering, and absorbing the creative insights fun and memorable. It goes almost without saying that this slim volume is a worthy addition to the library of any serious enthusiast of Wolfe’s work. It is also a wonderful introduction to poetry for readers who want to venture beyond long prose but who aren’t yet ready for full poetic immersion. These delightful tristichs will also serve as inspiration for both new and experienced wordsmiths to poetically doodle in short verse.

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