Tuesday, December 4, 2007


listening to the rain, edited by Cyril Childs and Joanna Preston. The Small White Teapot Haiku Group, Christchurch, New Zealand. 2002. 72 pp. ISBN: 0-473-08339-6. No price given.

Reviewed by Patricia Prime

This anthology celebrates the poetry of thirteen Christchurch writers. The Small White Teapot Haiku Group meets regularly to discuss, present and in other ways further the practice of haiku and related forms. This book is their first publication.

The first haibun “Buried treasure” is by Eric Mould. Eric’s work has been noted for its high degree of New Zealand flavour. He is renowned for the clarity, humour and poignancy of his poetry and its use of simple, everyday situations. In “Buried treasure” one can see many of the unpretentious, yet highly skilled qualities for which his work is known. This particular haibun does not have a New Zealand theme, but relies for its essence on a copy of the National Geographic, from which Mould unfolds a map of sunken Spanish ships in the Caribbean Sea, stone churches in Ethiopia and a civil war. Here is the last paragraph of the haibun:

The habits of centuries could not be stopped by the brief tenure of the communist leader Mengistu, or the secession of Eritrea. To reach the church of Abuna Yemata, pilgrims ascend the steep mountainside, cross the rickety bridge or tree branches. The stone citadel is pockmarked with hand hewn holes, leering like empty eye sockets. Bow to enter the low roofed tunnel. Follow the priest in ornately embroidered vestments.

worn stone –
the guide leans back,
watched by unblinking saints

Joanna Preston’s haibun “Shoulder reconstruction,” is a presentation of the bond between a mother and her daughter. The incidental details of the poem take the seriousness of the situation and tweak it into something verging on humour:

Neither of us is ready for this role reversal. Not knowing where to look I give her a sponge bath, trying to remain impersonal and unembarrassed as I soap her breasts, her nipples become erect in the cross draft from the door as I pat her dry . . . silly. I am the age she was when she gave birth to me.

my mother’s breasts . . .
we both giggle

The unobtrusive and delicate way in which the role reversal is handled creates a rounded perfect picture of the relationship.

The second haibun by Eric Mould “Finegand chain three” takes as its theme shepherds herding sheep into a pen ready for slaughter:

Shepherds’ dogs bark, steel tubed gates rise and swing, and fingers stab tallies into the air. Lambs leap imagined chasms. Blue raddled between their ears, the mob streams, huddled in the pen’s rear third. Ewes squat and gush urine, handfuls of Hooker’s Green beads roll through gaps in steel meshed grating.

Two different strands, the slaughter of sheep and the slaughter of men, are woven seamlessly in the haibun. The wonderfully precise opening line “Four hundred horsepower of Mack Ultraliner reverses among half a dozen clones, queued to dock at the Works”, and the action of shepherds and the action of soldiers, make as atmospheric a haibun as one could wish to read.

“Postcard from D.C.” is the first of Jeffrey Harpeng’s haibun in this anthology. The haibun quietly focuses on imperfect detail – the white obelisk of the Washington Monument, a postcard, a deaf brother “raised in another language”. The brother’s English on the postcard evinces first a humorous then a different, in this case emotional, reaction from the reader. The poet’s affection for his brother at this moment is rendered both implicitly and explicitly:

A postcard from James who has always been Jay. My brother who was raised in another language. Hand talk, face talk, kinetic grammar. He writes,

lot of people is black
of poor outside on park and
seats is bed to many

Harpeng’s second haibun “Kaikoura” portrays another view of his brother, whom he hasn’t seen for six years:

I make him thumb winged plane, palm down, further and further out there. In reply he zig-zags a tutorial pointer across a map in the air. A map on which I see him already gone, barely arrived. Six years since last we met.

This time the fluid movement of the haibun takes us from the sea’s edge to the rocky coastline, to seeing a couple wading ashore. All these moments are captured on video and watched again later:

He zooms in with his video camera, points his diary. I see the rerun on television that night:

no seals in sight
the back of a black rock
raises its head

Months later I receive his video of the world: takeoffs, landings, train rides, bus rides, the sights captured by a memory truer than mine.

A section of haiku completes the anthology. A haiku is a moment of heightened awareness. It concentrates on the five senses (or some of them) and little more. John O’Connor’s haiku have been widely published in New Zealand and overseas and he presents a worthwhile essay “Afterword: The Haiku Moment” at the close of the anthology, which will be useful to those seeking to improve their understanding and practice of haiku. Here are examples of haiku from the volume:

stained glass
light fills
the collection plate

Jeffrey Harpeng

waiting for the splash –
an oncoming car
crosses the mirage

Helen Bascand

Monday . . .
pegging the wind
into our sheets

Greebe Brydges-Jones

upteenth cleanup
still his photo

Elise Mei

reviewed by Patricia Prime
Auckland, New Zealand

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