Monday, June 30, 2008

Diana Webb: A CALL

Someone on the end of a phone line 24/7. Open to visitors 10 a.m.–9 p.m. You don't have to be suicidal.

The nineteenth century building, base for the volunteer listening service, next door but one to a hostel for the homeless. Often an ambulance outside. Police cars.

early morning chirps
on the Samaritans' sill —
a house sparrow
On the doorstep a man crouched with a cup of tea. A woman in a see-through plastic raincoat, knitting.

by Diana Webb
London, England
first published in
Quartet (Teneriffe, Qld.: Post Pressed, 2008)

Friday, June 27, 2008


Jack Kerouac
you’ve got a lot
of answering to do
now that you’re safe
in heaven dead


Evening twilight
fills the wine shop
with summer


Dharma Bums in my pocket
treading precariously
along the metal bridge
at Maresfield, dropping
my copy of Keble Martin’s
Wild Flowers of Great Britain
into the stream. All those flowers
landing up in Dick Dyke’s
saxophone on the village green
amidst bottles of wine
& cricket players
My glass never empty
heart full of sunshine


Dew on the grass
& in my head a bee
is singing


Cruising down to Hastings
for a meet with Barry & Eve
Chanting to harmonium, then off
to de la Warr Pavilion
in Bexhill for Buddhist talk
by Sangakshita
My glass never empty
heart full of sunshine


Night carving
the morning dew
on the caterpillar’s back


Jesus jumping
to Charlie Mingus
Wednesday Night
Prayer Meeting
Thelonious Monk
stepping between
the golden notes
of eternity—
Straight No Chaser
but mine’s
a glass never empty
heart full of sunshine


Leaning on a cloud
sun & moon
back in my pocket


Cruising to Nottingham
with Bhante’s mob
The Hole in the Wall
chanting in the garden
of long forgotten friends
My glass never empty
heart full of sunshine


Moon rises
thru blue sky
& falls
into my wine cup


Like Kerouac
always too shy
to read my poems
Sitting in the background
at Pub readings
urging the others on
Too painful to read
with flowers in my hat
My glass never empty
heart full of sunshine


Is it the silence—
mouth chants
mind remembers


Chang Yang-hao (1269–1329)

Once I was young
then old age caught up with me
Life has drifted by
like yesterday morning
Good times, bad times
like flowing water
Its better to get drunk
& then sleep it off
Let the sun & moon
rise & fall—
so I pretend to know nothing


Sonny Rollins on The Bridge
say, just “How are things
in Glocca Morra?”
Last of the tenor giants
going thru different peaks
different troughs
Always coming back on top
Eric Dolphy—Out to Lunch
since 1964
Gone to that other shore
like a Burning Spear
Out There A Far Cry
Serene & just as Softly
As In A Morning Sunrise


Three cups of wine
& I have yet to wet my lips—
summer leisure


A glass of rose
good as a poesy
as Kerouac’s old Tokay
but I don’t think
that’s wot he’d drink
Persimmon wine
that’s rather fine
So lets get back
to the hermit’s shack
With my glass never empty
& my heart full of sunshine


The evening cool—
back in the garden
cultivating simplicity


Full moon—20/5/08

by Bill Wyatt
Bexhill-on-Sea, Sussex, England

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Michael McClintock: NOAH’S ARK


I found myself back on robbery-homicide, partnered with Brick Landers, the summer Brick broke his neck on what at first we all thought was a solo felony pursuit out on Big Tujunga Road. Who the fugitive was or why Brick was after them out there in the foothills no one seemed to know. According to Sergeant Dinker, he'd made two unintelligible radio calls and then went static. Brick's passenger, Archie "Archilita" Spence, had been shot once in the head through the front window of the Crown Victoria.
300-pound guy
in drag
the eternal optimist
That's how a lot of us remembered Archilita. We knew him from many encounters in Foothill Division. Over the years, it was through Archilita and his small-time drug hustling that we had reeled in dozens of more dangerous, predatory street fish. He was an asset and we liked him.
I felt edgy and thought it over while I waited outside the station, under the trees, for a car to come around from the motor-pool. Brick had been pulled from the wreck that same morning. No one had expected to find Archilita in there with him. Eyebrows were raised; crude jokes were made. Had I worked that night, it could have been me.
the morning wind
a hurrying sound
in the pines
Why had Brick been up there in the first place? With Archilita? And what did Brick mean in his radio call by the reference to a "gecko party"? Gecko party?
I knew Brick to be an unreliable, on-the-job drunk, so it was natural for me to suspect he'd been up to funny business. No one in homicide seemed to realize that he'd been pulled from that wreck less than a quarter mile from his ex-wife's house. I kept that piece of the puzzle to myself, I'm not sure why. When I had worked with Brick a few years back he had told me about his wife, the house, the alimony, the drugs, her nutty friends, and his suspicions about who on the force was sleeping with her. The wilder stuff he told me I simply chose not to believe. Since I'd been back, there wasn't much new to the story.
I took the car and drove over to Queen of Angels Hospital. But Brick couldn't move and he couldn't talk, so I then drove out to see his ex-wife, Marla.
this place
where the crow sits
the crow likes
I wondered why the crow's perch was the head of a huge cast-cement Buddha—it must have weighed a couple tons—that sat in weeds at the foot of the long driveway that went up to the house from the two-lane road. The crow flew off. I parked on the shoulder and took a closer look.
racing around
in the Buddha's nose
—tiny spiders
What really caught my attention was the other nostril—it was perfectly clean. Inside, where I put my hand, was a tight roll of hundred dollar bills. I counted out $7900, recorded a dozen of the serial numbers, and put them all back. I decided not to see Marla alone.


smell of gun oil waxing the deep finish
We were in the weapons locker with Sergeant Dinker's Illegal Substance Team B, once more going over the layout of Marla Landers' property and why we were going out there. A few of the officers wore doubtful expressions. The eye-talk of one in particular, Zabel—and the way he caressed the mahogony stock of his Weatherby with a carefully folded rag, in a rhythm like that of a big cat tapping its tail—annoyed me. I knew then I had to keep my eye on Zabel.
"She's a cop's wife," someone said. "This is screwy."
"And what's this about a gecko?"
"She's a cop's ex-wife," I said, "and we don't know what Landers meant when he mentioned the gecko." I then went over to the chart on the wall. Still keeping an eye on Zabel.
We arrived up at Marla's place in two vans and three sedans. We dropped Zabel off at the bottom of the drive by the Buddha and told him to stay there as lookout. He was a little stunned by this change in the rehearsed plans; we drove off with his rifle. Out of Zabel's sight we stopped again on the long driveway and let out Dinker and three others, to keep an eye on Zabel down below.
Marla's house was a solitary clapboard cottage surrounded by tall eucalyptus trees, at the end of the corkscrew drive. It was a real retreat up there, dusty and quiet and beautiful.
in the shady paths
the air is heavy
I peered inside.
flickers in black and white deluge she sits stoned
On the TV was a scratchy video print of Zanuck's Noah's Ark. I hammered my palms on the door a few more times before Marla was able to stir herself. Her eyelids twitched recognition when she saw me standing there at her door. I took her by the arm and pushed my way in, five others right behind me.
what the hell do you want softer she repeats
Brick had never told me his wife was in this deep. Remnants from some sort of party were strewn about the livingroom—cups and plates and half-filled snack bowls, and little strips of paper with short poems on them, some scrawled and barely readable, others neatly handwritten. Marla retreated to the far side of the universe while the house was cleared, room-by-room. Still, from that far place, she managed to project hatred on me, not confusion or sadness. Dinker finally called on the hand-held and told me Zabel had taken the money-roll and they had him in cuffs. Did I want them to bring him up?"
By all means," I said. I turned back to Marla and told her it was time to talk.
We pieced together the rest of the story three days later when Dinker and I went to see Brick at Queen of Angels. Brick was still motionless but he could speak.
"Not gecko—ginko," Brick told us.
banging trays,
the nurse not happy to be here
this summer day
So he'd been taking Archilita to Marla's ginko party. Among other things, Archie Archilita Spence had been a haiku poet. A darned good one, some said.
"He was hitchhiking on Brand and I stopped and asked where he was headed. I wasn't pursuing anybody, just doing a favor for Archie. I called in and said so." And, sure, Brick intended to do some looking around while he was there.
Months before—and he told no one, not even me—Brick learned that Zabel was not only screwing his ex-wife but feeding her dope and using her house as a drop for exchanging drugs and cash—that's what the business with the Buddha's nose was all about. It was very simple.
Zabel had been making a deposit when Brick roared up with Archilita on the seat next to him. Apparently, everyone recognized each other at once. Brick headed the car straight at Zabel and the Buddha, missed both, slammed into the hillside, knocked himself out cold on the steering wheel. Zabel, seeing Archilita with Brick and knowing Archilita's seedier background, assumed Archilita had somehow found out about his little game and had ratted him out. But this weird meeting had to be totally by chance.
Zabel fired off a round . . . and watched the Crown Victoria careen backwards down the hill, bouncing shoulder to shoulder, then tumble down a ravine. Nothing he could do but hope Brick was dead.
Shows you how wrong you can be.
It was dark out when Dinker and I left Brick to his slumbers and pain. Dinker was smoking like a pulp mill, speechless and angry, especially about Zabel being dirty—and a member of his own team—and Brick knowing all about it and saying nothing.
a burning cigarette
arcs end over end
through the night sky
It was an unbelievable mess for the department and in the morning it would be all over the newspapers.
"Good night, Dinker."
"Go to hell," he said.
Then the Lord God closed the door and shut them in.

by Michael McClintock
Fresno, California
first published in
Tundra 2, 2001

Monday, June 23, 2008


This minaret of dolomite, cold-water flat, artist’s garret of a peninsula appended to the broad side of my state, this bit of rock with life oozing from every fissure holds my heart, holds my thoughts, carries my prayers. Floats body and mind from fertile farms and second cities, away, into the cool of the lake. Here, to be a member in good standing of sunrise and set, to be part of rainbow’s arc and thunderhead’s roll.

Here, too, the rush of commerce, the haul-it-in, haul-it-out retailing of the gross world product in the shapes of lighthouses, gull-like geegaws and fishing boat fol-de-rol. Lodgers in plaid shorts replace loggers in plaid shirts. Where cedars live on rock and hope, and trilliums announce the season, signs of spring also include “for sale”, “private beach”, and “own the dream”. We’ll each buy an acre and mark its corners with bright ribbons, to show one another where the dream ends.

in a leaking boat
someone from paradise
rowing hell-bent

Ralph Murre
Sturgeon Bay, WI

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Joanna Preston: HALF A WORLD

Jet lag. Sleep deprivation. Stress. Depression. Mix in a jumbo for 26 hours. Queue for checking in. Queue to collect the bags. Queue for the shuttle bus. Jangled, jumbled. Terminal three, terminal eight. Gate six, board at two pm. Gate fifty one, board at a quarter to nine. Crowds of people with identical suitcases. Forms to sign. Have you ever—No. Are you carrying—No. Date of birth. Today’s date. Passport number. Flight number. Please ensure that your seat—Engines thruming. The tail slewing a little. Flying over Nevada. Flying over Greenland. Local time is—Reset your watch. Try to sleep. Try to eat something. Try to read. Sunset for the second time in eight hours. Turbulence. The man beside you catches his breath.

first night in England —
from hotel bedsheets
the scent of a stranger

by Joanna Preston
Christchurch, New Zealand
first published in Frogpond

Friday, June 20, 2008


Dover Beach and My Back Yard: BHS Haibun Anthology 2007. Selection and Commentaries by Colin Blundell and Graham High. BHS Bookshop at ISBN: 978-1-906333-00-3. Perfect Bound, 5 ½” x 7”, 72 pp., £7 UK, $10 US.
Reviewed by Jeffrey Woodward
Released early in this calendar year, the British Haiku Society’s biennial haibun anthology showcases 25 haibun by 15 contributors. Each haibun is accompanied by a commentary that the editors penned jointly, a shift in emphasis from the last BHS collection, edited by David Cobb and Ken Jones, wherein the editors offered their independent and often conflicting views.

A wide variety in style, subject and tone is achieved in Dover Beach and My Back Yard and the level of writing is consistently high. Choosing good compositions to comment upon is relatively easy for the reviewer, a circumstance which promises fair compensation to the curious reader.

Charles Hansmann, who has established a distinctive voice in contemporary haibun, offers the very atmospheric and brooding, “At Sea,” in which his skillful and precise description is demonstrated at its best:

Every morning there’s a clatter of clam shells on the deck and gulls swooping down to their breakfast. They’re defiant, but wary, and when we step out they spread their skank wings and flap like stiff laundry to the sky. (12)

With “Church Going,” Bamboo Shoot offers pointed observations that are enlivened by his crisply paced prose:

My road took me through the small village of Damerham, where a large CHURCH FLOWER FESTIVAL notice was fixed to a tall hedge. Larkin-like, certainly no church connoisseur, I stopped; and passing through the thick, ochre-lichened walls into a sweet-smelling almost cuttable cold, it came again – the elusive sense of being elsewhere. (18)

A “sweet-smelling almost cuttable cold” mixes the olfactory and tangible in a terse and wholly convincing fashion. It is the sharp detail of such sensory perceptions that supports Bamboo Shoot’s frequent parenthetical but telling asides: “Larkin-like, certainly no church connoisseur….” This poet owns an uncanny ability to objectify his own “sense of being elsewhere” in his observations of his immediate environment and of his fellow occupants:

…two elderly ladies – strangely still wearing woolen cardigans and tweed skirts – hardly seemed there at all in any material sense …. Their whispers seemed to live out their own brief lives – hanging in the air, crisp as winter breath, before dying away to vanish into the stonework. (18)

“Dover Beach and My Back Yard,” the haibun that lends its title to this anthology, comes by way of Ray Rasmussen of Alberta. This composition is immediately appealing in its economy of means: simple comparison and contrast. The poet’s daughter does the gardening while the poet rocks “back and forth in the newly hung hammock”; a copy of Arnold’s “Dover Beach” lies open while the daily news, with its war reportage, “is cast aside.” Rasmussen meditates upon the loss of faith that was the theme of Arnold’s poem but even before his explicit rejection of that, the very unity of the domestic backyard scene – kittens playing, a dog gnawing a bone, nuthatches nesting – foreshadows the poet’s simultaneous acceptance of hard realities and his determination to enjoy life as is: “... Matthew, family and garden must suffice for now (30).”

Doris Heitmeyer, in “Sound of Jackhammers,” compares the building façade under repair in New York City to the same tenement “due for an overhaul when I moved in 50 years ago (52).” The sight evokes vivid recollections of her youth as a single girl in the city with the frequent counterpoint of the scene now: her old tenement “boarded up,” “street kids lounging under the scaffold” – or her hesitant, feeble and aging steps counter to the “little hip hop dance” of the kids on the street. A closing haiku affords a strong summary of past and present:
The pigeon flies a straw
to its niche in the scaffolding
– sound of jackhammers. (53)
The commentaries of editors Colin Blundell and Graham High are generally practical, informative and revealing. Time after time, they pick out the weak spot in a given composition or provide an accurate appreciation of the understated strengths of a particular haibun. These commentaries are not without hazard, however, as in the following remarks that were inspired by Hansmann’s “At Sea”:

The presiding view that haibun prose should be unobtrusive and exhibit subtlety and lightness of touch is difficult to balance against the desire to write prose that is striking, memorable and original. (13)

The above assertion that a “presiding view” exists would seem to be an invention of the editors or, perhaps, a phenomenon observed in their immediate milieu. It is not a claim that I have seen advanced commonly on that side or on this side of the water. Editors, however, should be granted some poetic license in promulgating their own literary opinions, so the damage here is not great.

Elsewhere, however, a similar uncritical attitude on the part of the editors leads to some embarrassment as in the following notations on Doris Heitmeyer’s “Luna Moth”:
Without consulting a World Encyclopaedia of Moths, the only thing we know about a Luna moth from the haibun itself is that it is big and ‘cool luminous green’ in colour and, very mysteriously, ‘like an ordinary sphinx’…. The haibun is worthy of inclusion in the anthology if only for the strangely haunting image of a moth being ‘like an ordinary sphinx…’ (which presumably makes it extraordinary)…. (43)

One can only wish that Blundell and High had consulted that encyclopaedia, a small effort that would have solved the “strangely haunting image” and great mystery of “an ordinary sphinx.” For Heitmeyer’s sphinx is a rather ordinary and common moth after all.

No book is free of error, however, and on the positive side, Blundell and High raise the bar for future BHS anthologies in selecting very strong work and providing incisive and helpful critical reaction overall. Beyond the few haibun commented upon here, Dover Beach and My Back Yard includes excellent works by many well-known practitioners of haibun such as David Cobb, Jim Kacian, Jane Whittle, Ken Jones, Jeffrey Harpeng and Lynne Rees. The book itself is a handsome and portable perfect bound volume, one that I readily recommend.

reviewed by Jeffrey Woodward
Detroit, Michigan
first published in Lynx, June 2008

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Richard Straw: RETRACINGS

(from Acts 13:13 to 14:28)

Ah, the salty air from Paphos to Perga; bold words then in Pisidia's Antioch and in Iconium, but driven away from each, almost molested; worshiped in Lystra as if Barnabas and I were Zeus and Hermes, but stoned by the same gullible crowds, dragged out of their city, and left for dead; revived by new friends somehow for a long walk the next day to Derbe, not far from Tarsus, my old Tarsus, over the Taurus Mountains; returning finally here where we'd started our inland journey, but first walking all the way back through the towns we'd preached in and been run out of, walking upright through them all, talking our way to little Perga and into Attalia, a spot to remember on this endless coast of the Mare Internum.

at sea at dawn
dust-caked tunics
daven on deck

by Richard Straw
Cary, North Carolina

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Gary LeBel: FLUKE

The county road winds through low hills past moldy trailers and shotgun shacks ablaze with forsythia. The papermill’s blinking smokestacks rise up out of the valley beyond the last hill, the gaping mouth of the dawning sky swallowing their thick sulpherous plumes. We’ll spend the next twelve hours scrambling in grease, inspecting and measuring, analyzing, recommending, fixing, while outside the chain link gates, the houses of the town cling like barnacles to a beached and dying whale. Weapons of mass destruction? We deployed them long ago.

I watch my life
limp on ahead of me in a kind of dance
through the Alabama hills
fiddling an old tune
with broken strings.


.by Gary LeBel
Cumming, Georgia

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Mary Mageau: GLARE

I wash my hands, struggle into a shapeless cotton gown opened at the back then cover my hair with a floppy cloth shower cap. So many drops have left my left eye blurred and burning slightly. A needle in my arm follows and a deep sense of relaxation engulfs me. ‘You’ll be fine now,’ a nurse speaks comfortingly. I barely remember two young men guiding me onto a bed then wheeling me away through double doors into the glare of a large room, where I drift into a dreamless sleep . . .

cataract operation —
the pale blossoms
bright yellow

by Mary Mageau
Samford, Qld., Australia

Monday, June 16, 2008

Review of Jeffrey Harpeng's QUARTER PAST SOMETIME

Quarter Past Sometime by Jeffrey Harpeng. Post Pressed: Teneriffe, Qld., Australia, 2007. ISBN: 9-78192121-4172. Perfect Bound, 5 x 8 inches, 36 pp., $15 Aus.

Reviewed by Jeffrey Woodward
New Zealander Jeffrey Harpeng, now resident in Australia, writes haibun in a rich voice akin to the rhythms of much modernist verse, say, Ezra Pound’s Pisan Cantos or Basil Bunting’s Briggflats. The example of Bunting is most apropros because Harpeng’s haibun are not only replete with historical and cultural allusions a la Pound but also, like the Northumbrian Bunting, remain stubbornly loyal to their immediate locale, to regional history and to local speech-patterns and place-names, whether the chosen setting is a lush green headland on volcanic Banks Peninsula in New Zealand’s South Island or a desolate backcountry cemetery in an Australia brittle with drought.

On the low stone wall above the beach, there are a couple of rusty cauldrons once used for rendering whale blubber. They gather leaves, gather wind-drift, gather trash. My imagination rivets great copper handles to them, and a hotplate of magma rises to brew Turkish coffee. I spice it with cardamom and sweeten it with a sugar-bag of sugar, enough coffee, enough sugar to string out the minor gods of place, to stew all time in a sweet brown cloud. Let that be drunk and the ensuing dream be a clear blue sky and us walking, a child here and another there. How they run ahead.
The harbour is a caldera twelve million years old. An occasional tremor ripples the landscape. Seasons have poured into the harbour and receded like the tide. In a high altitude photo of Banks Peninsula, Akaroa appears little more than a lichen tracery on a crumpled map. (27)

So he writes in “Akaroa – Remote Viewing,” with the fine descriptive detail that is characteristic of his observation of landscape and his cognizance of that same land’s history.

In a prelude to “Australia Day 2007,” Harpeng begins, “Sitting on the back porch, looking south, a thousand miles and more of drought in that direction and to my right twice that much and more (31).” Deprivation and death are the main themes in this work wherein the drought-stricken terrain itself becomes an invasive force. Farther along, the poet introduces us to his deaf brother in a cemetery scene:

I am with my brother and mother. A man in a Hawaiian shirt asks directions. He seems to be subtitling himself, making shy sign language below his chest as he talks to us. We don’t know the suburb of the dead he is looking for. The base blue of his shirt is fathoms darker than the sky.
‘Do you know him?’ My mother signs to my brother and dubs her own soundtrack.
"No,” my brother says.
among the sleeping
so many
in unkempt beds
The man in the Hawaiian shirt is already a whole congregation away. (32)

The elegiac note is sounded and deepens as this haibun now progresses to Harpeng’s grief over his mother’s mortality:

Before the road winds up the Marburg Ranges, there’s a straight past the place selling potted roses.
‘Over there,’ (three houses at the foot of a hill) mum says, ‘is where the lady lived who made my wedding bouquet. That year was dry, florists had no flowers, but on the day a flower from here and a flower from there on our wedding date…’
The countryside is once again brittle.
so much
forgotten (33)
One of the most endearing qualities of this book is found in the unguarded but unsentimental tenderness that the poet reserves for members of his family. We meet his brother, again, in “Kaikoura”:

At the sea’s edge, I estimate compass setting, point out from the rocks, push-mower roll one hand out from my heart toward tomorrow. In the grammatic space inhabited by my brother, I make him a 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.
We cross the broken scripted rocks: geological glyphs smoothed and pooled by the tide. Surf-washed, wave-worn inlets are littoral character traits in the script. I wave for his attention. He responds, shrugging eyebrows and shoulders. I scoop bucket-fulls of air to my chest, sample it at my lips, then splay fingers from my lips with gastronomic gusto, and a Latin pout. My brother’s head and eyebrows rise, drop to a nod’s fading echo. (24)

Quarter Past Sometime collects thirteen haibun and two variations on the sonnet. another form that the poet shows an affinity for. Haibun by the baker’s dozen may strike the reader as a slender offering but Harpeng’s works are often longer than what one commonly reads in haikai journals. They also employ a complex association of images and very rich diction, circumstances which add to the gravity or density of the individual titles. If I were drawing up a list of the ten most interesting haikai books of the last year, Quarter Past Sometime would rate highly, and is therefore recommended to the reader.

reviewed by Jeffrey Woodward
Detroit, Michigan
first published in Lynx, June 2008

Saturday, June 14, 2008


A sleety spring day in the English end of Akaroa. A length of clean newsprint is taped to the bay window of a weekend rental. A 4B pencil traces the skyline of the southern harbour, rim and ridge and inclines to the sea, the sea line, houses, and trees in plantation and scattered.

spring trees
no two buds the same
your voice
Sunday morning, I walk down to the bakery. There is a road between it and the sea front: shell and stone beach under a low stone wall. Sleet drifts. It melts at contact. It is flavourless, it is icing sugar on the harbour’s hilltop rim. I want to clean my glasses, to clear that luminous grey smudge, that grubby tarp, that weather smudged and mouldy horse blanket, the sky.

In the moment the monologue is thin.

in my hooded jacket
the sound of my jacket
and walking

The Comte de Paris is at anchor in the harbor. Sails furled, a few rolled clouds are snagged in the cross spars. The Comte de Paris has decking of shoreline and hills and a hulk of blue grey water, is transparent, a heart ghost. Longboats have been lowered and row shoreward. The Comte de Paris is a faded glass plate negative. The view predates the camera. It is 1840. In a few months Pytor Illyich Tchaikovsky will be born. Somebody in the longboat is humming the bones of a melody from his Pathetique.

One word is thistle is the dagger of an exclamation: ‘Bitch!’ Thistle-down in the updraft of time.

A winged heart-flight higher, even Germanic consonants usually snapped to attention become soft as a kiss, ‘Liebchen’, the beloved becomes a cherub, the flush of life in a dear one’s cheeks, the light of the inner life in a flush.

icy wind –
loves flush or

There are poets in the bakery, drinking coffee, breakfasting on pastries. One is buttering a croissant. Ten years from now he will tell me about his dieting and medication and jogging in a race against cholesterol.

A thought has come ashore from the longboat, a ghost in the liquid air of invention. He is my wife’s grand grand granpere. It is already 1847 or thereabouts, the settlement has moved on from canvas. He is strolling north to the French end of town to visit a friend in Rue Grehan. The house will later be called Rose Cottage. In the living room there is a plate glass view into the wall shows the mud straw construction. A hundred years and more there are roses.

Rose Cottage
pruning roses she
prunes a thumb

On the low stone wall above the beach, there are a couple of rusty cauldrons once used for rendering whale blubber. They gather leaves, gather wind-drift, gather trash. My imagination rivets great copper handles to them, and a hotplate of magma rises to brew Turkish coffee. I spice it with cardamom and sweeten it with a sugar-bag of sugar, enough coffee, enough coffee to string out the minor gods of place, to stew all time in a sweet brown swirl. Let that be d drunk and the ensuing dream be a clear blue sky and us walking, a child here and another there. How they run ahead.

The harbour rim is a caldera, twelve million years old. An occasional tremor ripples the landscape. Seasons have poured into the harbour and receded like the tide. In a high altitude photo of Banks Peninsula, Akaroa appears little more than a lichen tracery on a crumpled map.

On the ride home, on the climb up from Deavauchelle out of the long harbour, we pass the sacred spring, I am told is tucked in a wooded bend on the climb. We never stop there. It is always a few words in passing, as if it was never there.

Rolled up in the back seat is a tracing of the harbour's southern rim. In the carpark of the hotel at hilltop, a small fright, a dark glimpse in the periphery of vision, a gent dressed like it was eighteen forty- something or other.

the descent
to the future

by Jeffrey Harpeng
Macgregor, Qld., Australia
first published in Quarter Past Sometime (2007)

Friday, June 13, 2008


“She’s quite accomplished in the choral arts,” her queen-size mother would sniff with an air of superiority, while waving a bejeweled hand about. I remember looking up to see the perfect ovals of her nostrils hovering out from her fleshy pink face as it de-wrinkled from over-enunciating “arts.” I was never a friend of Margaret Katherine. But I didn’t make fun of her like the other kids, when she was called and waddled out early for voice lessons or choral practice. The black-habit nuns didn't hear the nastiness or ignored it. Margaret Katherine never graduated from Our Lady of Immaculate Grace grade school. She and her family moved “out of state.” Recently, I was reading a Wikipedia entry on my favorite punk band, Your Middle Digit, when it hit me. The band’s writhing vixen lead singer, Maggi K, who I had an enormous crush on, is Margaret Katherine.

new home
the junk store lamp
looks trendy

by Jeffrey Winke
Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Thursday, June 12, 2008


It slipped by the proctors, an exam with no name on it. In the top right-hand corner, the line following the colon following NAME is free of any mark or sign. Like a team of forensic experts using process of elimination to identify a victim, they go through all of the examinations until a name is found to fill in the blank.

a blanket of smog
the muted voices
at recess

by Bob Lucky
Hangzhou, China

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

André Surridge: TRAMPOLINE KID

Only seven-years-old my granddaughter Rachel is a very cheerful and lively little person. She asked me to watch her latest trick on the trampoline. The lovely spacious terraced garden of her home has wonderful views over Hamilton Lake.
in the lake
and in my granddaughter’s eyes
glistening light

Carefully stick in hand I made my way down the steps so that I had a good view of Rachel on the trampoline on the lowest terrace. She bounced up and down with great balance increasing the height of her bounce and then performed a spectacular forward spin, landed on her bottom and bounced back up onto her feet.

“Could you do that?” she asked.

“Never in a million years,” I replied.

Her response was staggeringly beautiful.

“Why is that, granddad? Weren’t trampolines invented when you were a boy?”
by André Surridge
Hamilton, New Zealand

Tuesday, June 10, 2008


Response to Matthew Paul's Review of Contemporary Haibun 9

by Jim Kacian

I cannot thank Matthew Paul enough for his serious intent and thorough reading of contemporary haibun 9. I wish all our readers were as assiduous and critical. If so, the art of haibun would progress much more rapidly and such effort would no longer be necessary for review but could be mustered instead for the creation of new work. This is the ideal, and we are all—writer, editor, publisher, reviewer and reader—in favor of it.

There are certain matters taken up in Matthew's review that might benefit from further information not available to him, and worth mentioning. To begin, he asks the question of scale: how many practitioners of haibun are there worldwide? Of course contemporary haibun (ch), and its internet arm contemporary haibun online (cho), are not the only places where haibun may be found, but it is probably fair to say that over the course of our 10 years nearly everyone who writes haibun has made themselves known to us. We don't have complete records of that first volume of ch, but we do remember clearly its circumstances: of the 44 haibun published, 4 were included for historical purposes. The remaining 40 pieces were selected out of perhaps three times that many. Three of the pieces (including one of the historical inclusions) were from outside the United States. This actually represented a greater percentage of inclusions from non-US writers than the submissions would warrant. The 44 poets included represented easily half the number of total submitters—in other words, there were certainly fewer than a hundred haibun writers in English (atleast that we were aware of) a decade ago.

Contrast that with the volume under review: ch 9 received nearly 500 submissions from more than 150 different poets from 20 countries. Of these, 71% originated in the United States, and another 12% from the United Kingdom or its reluctant constituents (Wales, Scotland). The preponderance of the rest are from Australia and New Zealand, with a smattering from eastern and western europe and the far east. Add to this that each week I discover another poet's work published somewhere such as Haibun Today and we would be wise to conclude that the outreach of ch and cho is likely only half of the actual number of poets writing haibun today.

Three hundred poets is not a great number by any global measurement, but it does represent a 300% increase in a decade. That may not be critical mass, but it's on the way there.

Matthew takes us to task for suggesting ch is a "multi-voiced colloquy." Well, given a roster projecting the existence of 300 poets in the genre, the inclusion of 54 of them, or more than 17%, certainly seems like a colloquy to me (certainly greater than the percentage of attendance of haiku poets to any conference, say), and as he suggests in his mini-reviews of each piece, the voices are various. I'm not certain what else a multi-voiced colloquy might be. And if he recognizes most of the names, why would that be surprising? Everybody in the world may have heard of haiku, and lots of people try it each year, some of whom get published and so known to us. But nobody knows haibun until they've already gotten involved in haiku--so it's probable we've already encountered them somewhere in the haiku community. Further, haibun takes practice to do well, as we all know, and isn't it likely that those who have had the most practice might have written some if not all the best work any particular year? And isn't it further likely that if we've been at it a while as well, those others who have also would be known to us?

Matthew also wonders about the fact that some of these familiar names have two or three pieces included, and whether it might be better to limit each poet to a single piece. This is an issue every editor faces at some point. And his suggestion is one that most editors would happily endorse—if there were a guaranteed source of equally high quality work to replace it. If we had adopted this policy, we would not have had a similar book featuring work by an additional 20 poets. We simply would have had a shorter book.

Matthew's next question concerned the overlap, or actually the lack of overlap, of haibun appearing in ch 9 and dust of summers: The Red Moon Anthology of English-Language Haiku 2007 (rma). He argues that surely if each claims to be publishing the best haibun each year, there should be a much closer correspondence between the selections in each volume. Of course this would be true--if the editors of both volumes were the same people. In actuality, the evaluation processes for the two volumes is quite different. For inclusion in ch, a piece must receive the vote of two out of three editors whose work resides solely in considering the merits of haibun. For inclusion in rma, a piece must receive 5 out of 10 votes of editors who consider haibun, but also haiku, senryu, linked forms, critical and theoretical essays, and so on. It is no surprise to me that the selections for the two volumes vary widely. Overlap to any considerable degree would seem to me to be anomalous.

Next, Matthew would like the book to appeal to a wider audience than the haibun community. So would we. He argues that ch makes no concession to readers unfamiliar with the genre. We would agree. But this is an argument in a void: who is this audience? Where might we find it? We've been looking for it for a decade and still have an audience so small that the volume loses money each year. So the appeal to an audience that we currently serve has not been made idly. Those 300 haibun writers are a couple hundred more than we had ten years ago and we're grateful for them. We certainly wouldn't wish to offer "concessions" at the cost of alienating this base. In any case, what would such concessions be?

In the meantime, ch recognizes its mission to be to provide a space where current haibun writers can be published and so exchange their efforts; to keep the genre of haibun viable in a concrete (that is, paper) medium; and to stimulate growth in the genre via its online presence. This is precisely what's happening: cho is where many, if not most, haibun newbies come to try their hands. And some, if they work at it, get the opportunity to appear in a print volume.

Matthew also takes issue with the look and presentation of the book. Fair enough. We all have our preferences and not everyone will be pleased with every choice. We, too, regret that we can't afford to reproduce the haiga in color. Perhaps when that larger audience is located and the book breaks even we'll opt for that. But it certainly must be seen as subjective to suggest that the Rothko painting which is featured on the cover automatically disfavors the volume. He states that Rothko was "famed . . . for his angst and suicide, which are at odds with the largely life-affirming qualities of the haibun form." To me, Rothko was famed for his painting. My "reading" of the painting, no less subjective, to be sure, is not one of angst and suicide, but rather energy, emotion, spirituality. But at least it's open to interpretation, not simply negative as he seems to suggest.

Most importantly, Matthew goes on to honor each of the pieces included with a short review. The haibun, after all, is why the book exists. And as might be expected, not all of these meet his standard. Happily, many do, and he says so in precise and useful language. One small note to another of his queries: Ed Baker's piece is indeed based on an actual Basho incident, cited by Cleary, and the poem is his own, not a translation.

Finally, I agree with his conclusion, that "some writers have elevated haibun so that it bears a healthy comparison with other [literary] forms," and also that these writers are in the minority. As is the case in all literature, in all times. We hope ch remains a showcase for exactly this work.

Jim Kacian
Red Moon Press

Monday, June 9, 2008


Near our village in a dense oak forest stands an abandoned chapel called Saint Placide, built in gratitude by people who centuries ago survived the plague that ravaged Europe.

Sometimes I take a walk there to admire the stone work, the human scale of the structure, the green shadows. It is small and beautiful.

In my thoughts I have made myriad plans for its use and collected funds for its repair. It could be used as a place for poets to read, musicians and dancers to create and painters to show their work.

One day I came and found a yellow-housed snail perched precisely on the keyhole.

a silver trail
on the oak door
only a few walk
this narrow path
by Giselle Maya
Saint Martin de Castillon, Provence, France

Saturday, June 7, 2008


Contemporary Haibun, Volume 9. Edited by Jim Kacian, Bruce Ross & Ken Jones. Red Moon Press: Winchester, VA, 2007. ISBN: 1-978-893959-69-9. Perfect bound, 5 ¼ x 8 ¼ inches, 110 pp., $16.95 US.
Reviewed by Matthew Paul
In a brief foreword, the three editors remark on the increase in submissions over the nine years of the Contemporary Haibun series, with a quarter of those submissions “coming from overseas [i.e. from outside the USA], largely, to be sure, from other English-native countries, but not exclusively so”. Whilst the increase, like the longevity of the series, is indeed a cause for celebration, what isn’t clear is the scale of the numbers involved. Is haibun still a form for relatively few, perhaps a couple of hundred, practitioners, or is the number significantly higher? I’m not certain whether the question is an important one, but for haibun to keep a tenuous hold within the range of western literary forms, size may matter.

The “multi-voiced colloquy” that the editors claim for the haibun community is grandiose. Looking quickly through the index of the 54 haibun and haiga contributors there were few names that I didn’t instantly recognise. Even among the few whom I sense may be new to haibun, one, Tom Cunliffe, I recently met on a poetry course in London. It’s a small world, and the haibun world is inevitably infinitesimal in the grand scheme of things. Some contributors have had two or three pieces included and I wonder whether a one-haibun-per-writer policy might have served to give more room to the “colloquy”. It’s worth noting too that dust of summers, the 2007 edition of Red Moon Press’s other annual selection, the Red Moon Anthology of English Language Haiku, includes 24 haibun which could, presumably have been included within Contemporary Haibun. The latter claims to be “dedicated to the best haibun…written each year in English from around the world”, whilst the Red Moon Anthology supposedly “assembles each year the finest haiku and related forms published around the world in English into a single book”. Publisher’s blurb those claims may be, yet such hyperbole cannot go unchallenged when one clearly contradicts the other. There is no doubt in my mind that the “best” haibun published in 2007 must de facto include the likes of Roberta Beary and Lynne Rees, whose work appears in the Red Moon Anthology but, disappointingly, not in Contemporary Haibun.

So much for quantity and grandiosity; what of the quality? Thankfully, the foreword does not repeat the overblown claim of the blurb, but it does set an ambitious target, that the Contemporary Haibun series might serve to encourage “the re-adoption of haibun in Japan, where it has been largely moribund for the past two centuries”. To my mind, that aim is akin to running before you can walk – surely a healthier, and more important, aim would be to establish haibun further within the haikai forms widely practised outside Japan and within those countries’ literature-loving communities. Such an objective would probably be far more achievable too. And for all the fairly minor faults that I have so far identified, Contemporary Haibun Volume 9 does contain some haibun whose quality and thematic and stylistic variety would and ought to be readily appreciated by the wider literary community. I will go on to consider the individual contributions later, but my final comments on its overall aims are these: it could, and should, have wider appeal than merely to the haibun community, yet the book makes no concession to readers who are unfamiliar with the haibun form.

With regard to presentation, the Mark Rothko painting on its cover does the book few favours, famed as Rothko was/is for his angst and suicide, which are at odds with the largely life-affirming qualities of the haibun form. However, the spatial arrangement and presentation of the haibun on the page are excellent, and the prose and haiku, in different fonts, have room to breathe. (Regretfully, the same cannot always be said of the haiga, some of which – e.g. Jane Whittle’s on p.36 – are poorly reproduced and consequently look, unfortunately, amateurish.) Also, ordering the haibun by surname of the contributors may be an opportunity lost in some cases, as it renders the juxtaposition of the haibun, particularly when on the same spread, arbitrary. That said, it can – and does – occasionally bring forth some interesting and serendipitous juxtapositions, but the feeling persists that proper consideration of the running order, and how each haibun and haiga interacts with its neighbours, might have been more to the book’s advantage. The lack of ‘notes on contributors’ is a cause for regret too.

So what of the haibun? Defiantly, challengingly, enticingly, the book opens with one of its most minimal haibun, Hortensia Anderson’s ‘Dreams,’ consisting of five sentences and one haiku. I’m tempted to quote it in full, but won’t since I don’t want to ruin the pleasure of reading what is an excellent example of how the haibun form can be much more than the sum of its parts. For me it ticks all the right boxes; concise (but not clipped), elegant and engaging prose, culminating in a proper haiku that would be worthy of publication in its own separate right. Just read aloud the following sentence from ‘dreams’ to gain its magical flavour: “I catch the shimmer of a silver lure on the edge of consciousness”. As that extract indicates, the haibun drifts in and out of reality, whilst managing still to be emotionally affecting. From what I’ve read over the years, few haibun writers attempt to write pieces that are as poetic and unified as ‘dreams’ and even fewer succeed.

Anderson’s second piece, ‘Leaving the Lane’ is more rooted in conscious reality, but again features poetic prose, including adjectival compounds such as “ballet slipper tinted petals” and “tiny sweet-tart apples” that work effectively, since Anderson knows how to use them sparingly. Again, also, the (two) haiku are the genuine article, i.e. not the almost-haiku that so often appear in haibun, and the second one, on whose synaesthetic notes the haibun hauntingly ends, reflects back on the spring-based themes of the prose:

Chopin nocturne—
the lower octaves warm
from the sun
Having taken the editors to task for placing the haibun in order of the writers’ surnames, it is nevertheless a happy fact that Anderson’s work should appear first, since her haibun are easily among the best in the book and deserve a wide and receptive readership.

More’s the pity, then, that the serious-minded excellence of Anderson’s contributions are followed by a weak haibun, by Ken Arnold, whose playful humour raises a smile on a first reading but does little for me on subsequent readings. The haiku are poor and over-wordy, and the editor of any self-respecting haiku journal would doubtless return them with advice to prune them considerably. Particularly off-putting is the placement of three attempts at ‘Zen-like’ haiku about snow one after the other, which is probably two too many. The piece makes no attempt to be anything other than an anecdote interspersed with not-quite-haiku and it is therefore debatable whether that is sufficient for it to be described as haibun, let alone included within a best-of. I’m not against the use of humour in haibun or haikai forms per se; yet it’s best used as one of several means to an end rather than as the raison d’etre.

It’s unclear whether Ed Baker’s haibun, ‘Better than Flowers’, recounting an ‘incident’ in Bashō’s life is fictional or has any basis in fact. Either way, it’s little more than a mildly pleasing anecdote, ending with a haiku that may or not be a translation of a Bashō original.

Much more successfully than Baker’s, Collin Barber’s ‘6 Years and 103,000 Miles’ and Marjorie Buettner’s ‘Snowing Again’ are fine, compact haibun, dealing with the passage of time. Buettner’s is especially good, and treats the pain of her (or her persona’s) aunt’s miserable death with admirable poetic honesty, in one fluid sentence that has been crafted and revised until its flow is manifestly an outpouring of deeply-felt emotion:

the way she looked at me through her pain at the end of another heart attack, her last couple of breaths so far away from each other like an echo thrown from the top of a hill barely reaching the other side…

snowing again—
my aunt’s hats cupped
within each other

Yvonne Cabalona’s ‘First Bra’ uses memory well, in fine prose, to tell us of the first girl in her grade to mature physically, with awe and envy relayed through the years:

She was brand-name; we were generic. She was wavy hair, cute nose and self-possessed. Most of us still were baby-fat and self-conscious.

Unfortunately, the taut excellence of the prose is undermined by a haiku that clunkingly puns – ‘garden warmth / a bee slips into the cup / of a tulip’ – on the title of the piece. It’s not the best haiku anyway, with a first line that reads too much like a scene-setting indication from a play.

In ‘A Roseprint Scrimshaw’, the Australian writer Ross Clark ambitiously recreates the maiden voyage, that ended very quickly in sinking, of King Henry VIII’s huge flagship, the Mary Rose, and tangentially reflects upon objects recovered from it as they (presumably) tour in an exhibition to his “city in a country then only speculation”. Irritatingly, Clark eschews capital letters, even at the start of sentences, which is a shame as the piece, whilst being perhaps a little too terse in its prose style, has an original view of this event of late medieval British history. Its two haiku are too clipped also and add little value to the prose, seemingly being mere after-thoughts.

Katherine Cudney’s ‘making believe’ and Tom Cunliffe’s ‘Ewe’ both take the format of one paragraph of densely-packed sentences leading to a single haiku. In both cases the prose is well-crafted and urges the reader on by building up tension. This is haibun-as-story-telling; much more than a simple recounting of anecdote or reminiscence. Cudney’s first-person narrative does not prevent the reader from engaging fully with her childhood memories. Cunliffe’s piece unusually and skilfully addresses an unnamed ‘you’, without his approach appearing unnatural; though its haiku is weak and therefore anticlimactic.

The haibun are interspersed by haiga, which, being reproduced in black and white, mostly do not work. Even the haiga of the very talented Lidia Rozmus are ineffective, as the monochrome fails to bring out the subtlety of the ink paintings. Perhaps the only haiga which do work well on the page are those of Jim Kacian and Alice Frampton, as theirs appear, from their definition, to be black and white originally. I’m not convinced that the inclusion of haiga in the book does anything other than distract attention away from what must be its primary focus: the haibun.

Gabrielle Day’s ‘Diaries’ briefly and obliquely, with bittersweet wit, traces the end of a long-term relationship.

Tish Davis’s ‘Water’ tries, a little self-consciously perhaps, to be varied in its sentence-lengths, as if the words can’t be trusted to flow naturally in response to the emotional story they tell.

In ‘The Basking Beach’, Sharon Dean includes five – count ‘em! – haiku within brief prose that flits between seriousness and frivolity. Five is too many, given that none of them are good enough to stand alone.

Garry Eaton’s ‘Saturday’s Hero’ is an excellent piece of life-writing that reminded me of Jack Kerouac’s debut novel The Town and the City. Its small-town baseball heroics make for a gripping read, however I’m not sure that the inclusion of three haiku within the longish story make it a haibun. Eaton’s other contribution, ‘My Father’s Fence’, also tells a tale, of uneasy father-son rapprochement, but, again, it somehow feels more like memoir than haibun, perhaps because the raison d’etre of the prose is its narrative thrust, rather any real attempt at artistry.

‘Daydream’ by Lynn Edge is a brief reverie where the writer lets her imagination run refreshingly free. Judson Evans’s ‘Change Machine’ is another flight of fancy, in precise and persuasive language, but is let down by a dull not-quite-a-haiku. Evans’s intriguingly-titled ‘Letters from the Village of Liars’ consists of a walk around a nature trail, with haiku that are once more weak and prose that doesn’t really make the kind of narrative sense that it wants to. It’s worth me saying too that the significance of the title, despite my best Googling efforts, remains a mystery to me.

Although they are separated by four haiga of sorts, the alphabetical arrangement means that Evans’s second piece is followed by another haibun/nature walk, ‘Encounter’, by Izabel Sonia Ganz. She describes the lush vegetation well:

The path expires into a living fence of frangipanis, white five-petalled starry flowers all around on the ground. Their smell envelops me like a flowing shawl, pashmina-soft and light.

The ending, though, is a haiku that errs, with its whiff of Zen, towards pretentiousness: ‘the sound of / the old skin / shed’. So often, it seems, attractive prose within haibun is let down by haiku that simply do not cut the mustard.

David Giacolone’s ‘Silly Woman’ is a brave and successful attempt to fictionalise a ‘true story’ gleaned from the media. His style is original and excellent and ought to be read, above all, for his effort in trying to do something different with the haibun form.

Like Garry Eaton’s ‘Saturday’s Hero’, Clyde Glandon’s ‘All my old Baseball Cards are Gone Too’ uses baseball to tell a well-written story. It has added interest in the way that it humorously and engagingly digresses from the start towards its finish.

As an admirer of his work, I was disappointed by Charles Hansmann’s ‘Confetti’. It’s a straightforward recounting of a childhood memory, yet both its prose and its single haiku are plain to the point of being featureless. It is slightly let down too by a glaring typo in its second line.

By contrast, and in a rare example of the alphabetical placement producing a serendipitous juxtaposition, Michelle L. Harvey’s ‘a spider’s web’, on the facing page, manages to tell a sensational story in just two sentences and a running-on-sentence haiku. Harvey’s other piece, ‘the dappling’ is equally brief but effective.

C.W. Hawes’s ‘Vastness’ is quietly enjoyable, though unremarkable.

‘In Harm’s Way’ by Robert Hecht is a fine example of a childhood-memory haibun where the incident it recounts has no trace of sentimentality, nor could it. Its haiku is an exemplar of how haiku should be used to reflect upon, but also veer away from, the prose. A reader looking for a haibun that shows how the form can be brilliantly effective in universalising personal memory need go no further than Hecht’s piece. My only criticism would be that its first line is too much of an obvious scene-setter – we could infer, rather than be told, that the protagonists are “a gang of 10-year-olds”. As with other haikai forms, more often than not, less is more.

Lorne Henry’s ‘Sea Creature’ shares the same fault, beginning thus: “Scuba diving in the bay off Melbourne”. To me, this is lazy writing, in that (a) it’s irrelevant to the rest of the haibun that it is set “off Melbourne” or anywhere specific, and (b) the fact that it features scuba-diving could surely be implied, or at least conveyed more subtly. I believe that haibun, like haiku, cannot afford to give the game away completely; that some facts may well be best withheld, not so much that clarity is lost but sufficient to give the reader some work to do. It’s a difficult balancing act sometimes, yet a writer of haibun can do worse than to ask her/himself, “Do I really need to tell the reader that?”

I also believe that there is a balance to be struck between straightforward narrative and poetic prose: too much either way and the haibun risks being mere réportage or over-the-top respectively. In ‘New Life’, Paul Hodder, whether consciously or not, opts for the former and, in so doing, his haibun comes across as a short journalistic essay. Despite its concentration on action and a relative lack of description, it is nevertheless moving. To what extent it meets any commonly-held definition of ‘haibun’ is open to debate. The editors clearly feel that haibun is a broad church if such a piece finds its way into a best-of. Presumably they believe that such diversity is healthy; yet I would contend, or suggest at least, that haibun is not just a matter of producing an emotional response from readers – after all a relatively artless pop song can have that effect – and that a haibun containing wholly unpoetic prose is like a car without an engine.

Wisely or not, the editors each contribute one haibun. Ken Jones’s ‘A Bare Thorn Tree’ is trademark Jones: he, or his persona, out in nature, his tired bones mirrored by the “shivering cold” of the elements. His prose contains some fine writing:

Ready now to join myself for breakfast. The porridge becomes agitated—puckering, spitting and growling. A gentle stir with the long wooden spoon quiets it down.

But the haiku are unconvincing. As Martin Lucas remarked, in Blithe Spirit 17/4 (p.23), of Jones’s haibun:

If a haibun does not get good value out of its haiku, it’s a dubious enterprise; and a fictional haibun might as well be a short story. Indeed it would be better off as a short story, liberated from the irritating punctuation of mediocre, or even feeble, haiku.

Good points, well made, and, on the evidence of ‘A Bare Thorn Tree’, bang on the money. Each of the three haiku is a sentence chopped into haiku form and with no redeeming quality. There can be no doubt that none of the three would be accepted for publication as stand-alone poems. So, disappointingly, there’s an unsatisfactory whole of well-crafted prose let down by not-quite-haiku, like a car without wheels. For editors to include their own work within an anthology, it is vital that it, perhaps more than anyone else’s, has to be first-rate and that it leads by example.

What then of the haibun by another of the editors, Jim Kacian? Even when not at his brilliant best, Kacian’s writing usually contains some quirkiness or characteristic that engages the reader. His ‘i suppose’ is no exception. In spite of the annoying lack of capital letters at the start of each sentence, the haibun contains a punchline that is immediately – and cleverly – undermined (in a positive way) by a one-line haiku that (literally) resounds and folds back into the prose, and thereby makes the haibun far more than one well-disguised gag. Kacian’s prose is chatty and light, in the karumi sense, and the length of the piece is well-judged.

Ellen Kombiyil’s ‘The Night Sky’s Answer’ strikes an excellent balance between showing and telling. It has a hallucinatory effect, set in an unspecified exotic location where “[t]his galaxy spins inside the universe, which edges out and also spins”. Its haiku is not the world’s greatest but it performs its function within the haibun and is at least a passable haiku, that is both relevant to and at a tangent from the prose. The haibun’s air of mystery is calculated successfully to make the reader want to re-read it and savour each line.

Like Kombiyil’s, Cheryl Loetscher’s haibun, ‘As the Mind Clears’, mashes up reality, dealing as it does with the not-quite-there-ness of grief and the exhaustion it brings to mind and body. It’s an odd, as in unusual, piece, whose haiku – ‘dusty spices / arranged in neat rows / famished for words’ – echoes the prose descriptions of “leathery Uncles born to the soil” and “unpopulated landscapes”.

Bob Lucky has three haibun in the book and no wonder: he’s a natural story-teller and he uses the form to both poignant and comic effect. ‘Cobra’ and ‘Running with the Yaks’ both recount serious tales, but with vivacity and humour. The haiku of the latter happily echoes a line in his hilarious, almost Wodehousian, masterpiece, ‘Minutes of the First and Last Meeting of the Haiku Club of Bahrain’. These are haibun with wide appeal; expertly written and carefully finding the middle way between brevity and verbosity.

Mary Mageau’s ‘My Enchanted Garden’ risks veering into tweeness but avoids it by allowing memory to intrude on its florid scene. Mageau’s attempt at poetic prose largely succeeds, though having two consecutive sentences with similes containing “like” may be over-egging the pudding. The paragraph break seems a little arbitrary too, both the one that she makes and the one – before the intrusion of her ‘mother’s voice – that she doesn’t.

‘Hand-Wing’ by Sabine Miller is like nothing else in the book. Whether intended as such or not, it comes across as surrealist, automatic writing. I can’t make head or tail of it; nevertheless I enjoy its spontaneous flow: “spring slips through the attic grate in long leather gloves and a pinch-purse and a beard”.

In comparison, Victoria Oliver’s ‘The Ducks’ appears banal. Yet, somehow its incidental matter-of-fact-ness is greater than mere narration. What spoils it are an unnecessary final paragraph of prose and a mundane haiku that reads too much like an extension of the prose.

‘Seasons of Change’ by Emma Lee Pallai concerns the magic hour of twilight and how it was a haven from “living with a mother that was bi-polar (it’s telling that she writes “that” rather than “who”). It’s a fine idea and she nearly pulls it off. Unfortunately, the prose could do with being sharpened and thereby heightened, and the haiku, in 5-7-5, is a very weak would-be senryu. Such intense, emotional prose would be far better ended with a nature haiku that could reflect upon – and detour from – the twilight theme.

Zane Parks’s ‘A New Day’ deals with a medical difficulty of a different order and ends with a sexually-charged senryu that skilfully makes light of the struggles within the prose.

‘Never Ending Rains’ by Kala Ramesh has a fine haibun trying to get out but (for me) it loses syntactic sense halfway through and neither of its haiku adds to the prose.

Like Bob Lucky, Ray Rasmussen is expert at telling stories – whether fictional or real – within haibun. His two contributions, ‘Judas Kiss’ and ‘Talking About Things’, are well-observed and nicely written. ‘Judas Kiss’, though, would be improved by ending with a haiku that isn’t just a continuation of the prose.

The third editor, Bruce Ross, contributes ‘The Next World’, one of the surprisingly and refreshingly few ‘travel haibun’ within the anthology. It’s an acceptable piece, however travel haibun rarely do much for me unless they convincingly convey local flavour. Ross’s piece is too brief to do justice to the Mexican scene he describes and the prose reads as though it was dreamt up as an after-thought to the haiku.

Katrina Shepherd’s ‘Windows’ consists of a poignant school-days memoir, with its power being somewhat lessened by her stylistic aberration of largely omitting articles and pronouns. Consequently, sentences read like telegrams, as do the uncompelling haiku.

Richard Straw’s ‘Forever’ and ‘Katallagete’ both stray on the right side of sentimentality and are chock-full of detail remembered from childhood and young adulthood respectively.

Priscilla van Valkenburg’s ‘the Airport’ is no more than a journalistic – and arguably intrusive – account of the distress of a “group of travellers and relatives, milling, interpreting, and frowning”. The haiku is very poor too.

Diana Webb contributes two contrastingly styled haibun: one, ‘Claude Monet – Monochrome’, is a brief re-creation of the circumstances behind two of Monet’s paintings; and the other, ‘A Time’, cleverly moves autobiographically from childhood (in the prose) to the present (in the haiku), with the present refracting back to the childhood. No doubt because Webb knows what she’s writing about, ‘A Time’ is by far the most convincing of the two. The Monet piece, fittingly, is a bit impressionistic, as if the sketches could be fleshed out with some more detail.

The curiously-titled ‘Hephaestus’ (the Greek god of “fire and metal craftsmanship” and the equivalent of the Roman Vulcan, according to my old encyclopaedia) by N.C. Whitehead, contains equally curious subject-matter. It’s a comparative rarity in the book in being written in the past tense, yet that does not make exegesis any easier. I’m not sure if I should have, but I read the haibun as if it is science fiction.

Each of Jeffrey Winke’s three entertaining contributions exemplify his wry take on matters, to the extent that it’s not easy to know when, if at all, he’s being serious, or if anything he writes is more than fairly random ramblings, like he’s the Richard Brautigan of haibun.

‘Burning Steinbeck’ by Tad Wojnicki is a serio-comic haibun, whose haiku acts as a punchline.

‘Shorty’ by Jeffrey Woodward is a sustained, unpunctuated description of the long-ago eponymous character. Without punctuation, it’s an impressive feat to keep the prose in any way naturalistic and few writers dare even attempt it. To follow in the stylistic footsteps of Thomas Wolfe, D.H. Lawrence and Kerouac is brave and has another virtue: that of rendering easier to read the more conventional style of his other haibun. Both ‘Goat’s Beard’ and ‘In Arcadia’ share the slightly mournful, ruminative tone of ‘Shorty’. As in the best haibun, and haiku too, what isn’t stated is as important as what is, and Woodward’s experience and talent enables him to know not just what to include in his haibun but what to omit also.

Pleasingly, the book ‘s last piece is also carefully written; its power stemming from Zoller’s judgement that the reader will infer whatever significance s/he wishes from the brief details that she provides.

So what have I discerned from reading this anthology? Well, it has confirmed what I have long suspected: that the best haibun, the ones that really stick in the mind as excellent writing, are those that aren’t journalistic, flat-as-a-pancake accounts of events, but are something more, much more: consisting of literary prose (though not overcooked), haiku that are good enough to stand alone and which simultaneously mirror and diverge from the prose, and an overall degree of mysterious literariness, some universal je ne sais quoi that engages the reader and lifts what might otherwise be an ordinary incident or story on to a higher plane. That is surely what all literary forms aspire to do. On the evidence of Contemporary Haibun Volume 9, whilst some writers have elevated haibun so that it bears a healthy comparison with other forms, too much of what passes for meritorious haibun doesn’t yet reach that standard.

Matthew Paul was born in 1966 and lives and works in London. A regular contributor of haiku to journals in the UK and the USA for many years, his first collection, The Regulars, was recently published by Snapshot Press. He is reviews editor for Presence haiku magazine. With John Barlow, he is the co-editor and co-writer of Wing Beats: British Birds in Haiku (Snapshot Press, 2007), an anthology which reflects his love of the natural world and avian life in particular.

Friday, June 6, 2008


The crinkle sound is barely audible, but the dog hears it and perks her ears. The tall alien is preoccupied. With one of several lipless mouths it’s busy chewing on a one-pound bag of Twizzlers® artificially-flavored cherry bites – red licorice. Its content-analyzing mastication glands find little nutritional value. “Another oddity,” it muses . . . when it hears the low rumbling growl of the dog slowly padding down the carpeted hallway under a gallery of family photos –everyone looks happy, even Uncle Gary who had bit the end of a Glock last year. “Any time Anja,” the tall alien thinks while growing impatient at the designated pick-up point on the designated day at the exact designated time.

brisk rain –
she protects a letter
to an old friend

by Jeffrey Winke
Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Wednesday, June 4, 2008


Arrived at apartments in the early hours of the morning. A meteor flew across the balcony & gone in the blink of an eye. Sky glittering with stars, Orion my neighbour. Distant hoot of an owl.

Waiting for the moon –
clouds drift by like orphans
who banish my sorrows

Up early for breakfast, a short walk across the main street of Tigaki, once a small fishing village. Flamingoes winter here in small numbers. Sometimes white storks & pelicans drop in, on their way to Northern Turkey & Eastern Europe. October, the month when the festival of Thesmophorica is celebrated. Held in honour of Demeter & only attended by women, to assure the fertility of the fields.

Back at Tigaki for the evening meal.

Impromptu dance
to Zorba the Greek – waiters
spring into autumn
October's full moon –
from the taverna, 'doo-wop'
mingles with cicadas

Mosqitoes a problem. After an evening of wining & dining, I'm in no fit state to combat them. Defenceless, when I retire to bed, straight into the arms of sleep & Demeter.In the morning wake up to many lovebites.

As an offering
to this floating world – my blood
accepts the mosquito

Just outside the hotel found several plants new to me. On looking them up, turned out to be Bladder Hibiscus. Pale, large solitary flowers, yellow with dark blue purple centres, opening only in the mornings. A native of Asia.

Just like an autumn leaf
that has lived its day – soft breeze
whirls me away

(after Theocritus)

Theocritus, the Sicilian and bucolic poet lived on Kos for a while. He wrote one of his most ambitious poems here, the idyll which we know of as The Harvest Home. He describes the Koan countryside, with its singing linnets, & larks, & bees that loitered above fresh flowing streams. Where 'elms & black poplars make a shady place there,/ its green freshness roofed in by unkept leaves.'

cicadas welcome
in the evening twilight
ancestral voices

by Bill Wyatt
Bexhill-on-Sea, Sussex, England

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

André Surridge: HARRY'S APPLE

It was the merry month of May and I took my New Zealand girlfriend to visit mum in Yorkshire for the first time. My mother had an apple tree affectionately called Harry. Sadly Harry had never produced an apple. Mum threatened to cut it down. In an effort to save Harry my girlfriend suggested we buy an apple and attach it to one of the branches.
tied to the tree
one shiny red apple
on the fruit
a little sticker
Produce of New Zealand

Home from work, mum did a double take when asked had she seen Harry lately. She laughed and said, “If hens can have a dummy egg then there’s no reason why Harry shouldn’t have a dummy apple.”
by André Surridge
Hamilton, New Zealand

Monday, June 2, 2008


a pain in the waist near the ribcage for about a month reluctant to see any doctor remembering always Voltaire who said that doctors entertain the patient while the body heals itself

here I go to see my doctor who is a tiny birdlike lady I haven’t seen in two years when I arrive find a great stone table has been set up in front of her house for summer picnics with her family and that her husband is carrying buckets of earth to spread around the new stone basin they have made for fishes and water lilies

I wait awhile having rung the bell twice before entering I cannot bear waiting rooms so I wait outside noticing she has changed the feng shui of the room I tell her it is much improved

where does it hurt exactly what are the symptoms she wants to know I point to the place at my waistline and the area just above the ribcage she asks me to lie on the chaiselongue and like a tiny sparrow gently puts her usual nine needles in my feet hands chest waist and the last one on the top of my head

and then she covers me with a quilt I lie there dozing entering the river of the Chinese painting on the wall swimming away endlessly for about half an hour until I hear mouse rustlings is she arranging papers or pecking seeds I open my eyes a little she removes the needles one has fallen off and I slowly rise

take lots of cranberry juice she tells me and drink lots of water we talk about her family her son used to work in my garden she has six little grandchildren sometime she will tell me all the things not to do when building a water basin do I exercise yes I practise tai chi

poplar leaves
heart shaped
float on water
eroded by seasons
into veined skeletons

by Giselle Maya
Saint Martin de Castillon, Provence, France

Sunday, June 1, 2008


With the perfection found in carefree abandon, the pair of mismatched cotton socks – one red, one robin’s egg blue – fit her feisty, fashion-forward sensibility that no one this close to the muddy Mississippi is ever credited with possessing, not without a small-print disclaimer as long as a teenage basketball player’s kitchen-doorway notched growth chart.


by Jeffrey Winke
Milwaukee, Wisconsin