Saturday, October 31, 2009

Jeffrey Woodward: Woodberry Tavern

wading into thick
cigarette smoke to the beat
of a jukebox
Brubeck and all that
old school jazz

The graying proprietor and his wife, too, were seated, more often than not, with a few aging cronies—familiar enough to extend an unending tab—around one circular table, a friendly lot, and cozying up in pairs for a night of Euchre or Canasta.

High ceilings of pressed, patterned tin and a long mahogany bar with a brass rail footrest from end-to-end, the taupe walls and beveled glass liquor cabinets of another era contrasted favorably with Mr. and Mrs. Woodberry—so much so, that after only a glass or two, one might penetrate that couple’s wrinkled exterior and perceive their hidden youth.
tequila straight
from the shot glass
with a little lemon
and salt for a chaser
our aqua vitae

One long and narrow room, with an entrance on Water Street and a door at the far back, the latter opening onto a screened wooden porch on stilts and a view of the river some 20 feet below—this is why our little band, barely legal, came to frequent the tavern that summer: to sit and watch the dark currents pass under our perch, there in our high nook and hideaway, to wake to life in that deliciously cool air of last light and to listen, in the silent intervals, to the bankside willows gather the wind.

a dark saying
of Hêrákleitos
is quoted
and thus translated floats
away with the river

the delicate girl
the brunette who wears
a flower in her hair
she is a bit mad perhaps
she looks like Ophelia

another round
of shot glasses stops
at our table
a chorus of mock-protest
from the girls in tight jeans

the Rokeby Venus
passionately praised
for line and color
we speak of Velásquez
as if he were of our crew

and so we drift along
pleasantly enough
no ferryman near
with his forbidding shadow
when we happily ship oars

by Jeffrey Woodward
Detroit, Michigan
first published in
The Tanka Prose Anthology (2008)

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Sharon Auberle: Storm

All night a roaring of waves slamming onto the shore. All night a Wagnerian symphony of wind and water; now and then the thunder of a falling tree. I reach for you, burrowed deep under quilts. Through the night we lie there, listening, satiated with music of enormous gods. Finally, at dawn, the wind rests. Sun lifts over our porch, light gleaming like old coins spilled across the floor. At breakfast we watch heavy trucks rolling by, bearing broken limbs and trees. The sky is that color of diamond blue found only the morning after.

bodies of trees
their fragrance sweet
even in death

by Sharon Auberle
Sister Bay, Wisconsin

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Ralph Murre: Canvas

Route 31 buses pass like time in fog and the canvas waits, as I look at brushes and knives, put them back, squeeze a gob of payne’s grey and some pthalo blue on my palette, consider the quality of the ground, pour some turps, hold off on linseed oil, have a coffee. Look at that woman out the window. Stare at books I should read. Mix a touch of sienna into the too-bright blue. Go for a walk in a grey-wash afternoon, think of slicing into a tube of alizarin crimson, think of a friend whose crying-out-loud crimson slicing will someday end in another failure or, worse, success.

stretched canvas waits
for her pale body
the way I’ll paint her
the flake-white bed
from which she’ll rise

by Ralph Murre
Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Catherine Mair & Patricia Prime: The Ring of Fire

Well what are we moaning about? We knew the forecast was poor. For goodness sake, it's not a tsunami! Think of Samoa—beautiful Samoa where many of its villages and resorts are a tangle of coconut palms, corpses and mud. "Talofa," they used to greet us, golden-skinned young women and men in their colourful sarongs. "Talofa," as we skipped down for breakfast.
hugging her teddy bear
she enchants
strumming guitarists

Friends, Heidi and Sam and their two children are asleep in their fale when they hear a noise like that of a jet plane zoom in from the sea. They look out to see the ocean receding. "Tsunami," Sam yells. "Get out quick, run to higher ground." They leave everything behind: passports, money, credit cards and clothes. Grabbing Misha's doll and Jake's toy car they run for their lives. The small girl clings to her father's back, while Jake is cradled in his mother's arms. When they reach the top of the hill, they are startled to see the devastation below. Where there once were sandy beaches, shelters and palm trees, there are piles of debris.

tidal wave—
a pleasure yacht
parked against a tree

by Catherine Mair and Patricia Prime
Katikati, Bay of Plenty, New Zealand
and Auckland, New Zealand

Monday, October 19, 2009


slightly scented short lived words and roses by Stanley Pelter. (George Mann Publications, Eaton, Winchester, Hampshire SO21 IES, UK. 2009). 140 pp. ISBN: 978-0-95608-743-0. Available from the author at 5 School Lane, Claypole, Newark, Lincolnshire NG 23 5BQ, U.K. A gift book except for the cost of the stamp – 1.50 pounds UK; 2 Euro – Europe; $10 USA and Rest of the World.

Reviewed by Patricia Prime

Stanley Pelter has produced a considerable body of haibun. This is his fourth collection. Puzzles, conundrums, pithy arguments —none of these terms describe the poems in slightly scented short lived words and roses. Reading these poems I pictured myself arriving at an amusement park, only none of the rides are familiar. I considered I could break my neck or be catapulted into the sky. It’s only poetry, I remind myself, and climb on board. I’m having fun, and I don’t want it to end. The poems are gimlet sharp. So much happens in their winding shapes: wit, sorrow, and an intelligence that nips and worries its subjects into giving up their full oddity and originality. The reader does not consume this poetry; instead, they are pinched and prodded towards revelation. Each neat poem is a Pandora’s Box full of wonderful surprises.

The experience of reading Pelter is of an extraordinarily powerful tension between the reference to recognizable experiences and images and a prosodic technique which keeps such moments constantly on the move. Here are some lines from the first haibun “a dense bell rings”:

crumpled beige sheets
squashed beneath a king size dusk
fearful shadows

another. then another. intense. dense resonance.

one clutch of women hide under a heaving king-size kissing bed. move slightly
still young, one is slightly older. with effort she opens her eyes wide. then they close.

These lines posit a narrator in the midst of a room filled with a “king-size kissing bed” and numerous women. Who they are and what they are doing there is left to the reader’s imagination. A hospital? A convent? A concentration camp? We can only imagine. The flow from haiku to prose and a final tanka creates a strong notational effect as if the environment is being mapped subjectively: “that was all I heard about them.”

In “A Small Matter of Principle” the syntax, various type faces, tanka in italics etc. has the effect of destabilizing the narratives in the poem, allowing inner and outer categories to blend. The opening tanka,

dry dahlia dust
floats inside bathroom spray
merge with her naked body
until nude

although standing as an entirely different image, is linked to the prose by the use of such words as “bathroom,” “naked” and “nude.” This juxtaposition suggests different layers of perception of the environment both as reality, but also as representation.

“answer or question” relies for its theme on several of Pelter’s main preoccupations: art, music and literature. The poem opens with a quote from Paul Valery, “’We should apologise for daring to speak about painting.’” The next few lines give a perspective on the scene where two people with different interests—“he talks painting she talks music” —come together to discuss their differences.

“blind id” is divided into four parts: young.blind, prime.blind, middle.blind and old.blind. “Blind” here seems irresistibly to stand for all the sensations one may be blind to throughout life” blind to love, to feeling, to hurt, to being old. The amalgam of prose passages and ribbon-like thread of musical allusions in the tanka and haiku, are beautifully integrated.

In “disconnected bits?” the more analytical awareness of tanka, prose and text is highlighted by being set in italics, and reveals that we are facing boundaries: perhaps those of outside vs inside, private vs public, and these boundaries breathe a profound level of control. The combination of outside (rain, snow) inside (a restaurant) refigures the meaning to suggest that the man “who smiles is absent” is remote in the sense of isolated, rather than simply separate. That this is linked with the notion of control suggests the boundaries operating within this scene and, perhaps enforced by the cold, the “wind-ordered shapes” and the destruction done by the birds, amount to a form of social control.

What this reading attempts to demonstrate is how Pelter’s writing simulates experience in this notational way, whilst also reminding the reader of the textuality of the presentation, through the shifting syntax and avoidance of strict boundaries in typography. The tight patterning of the haiku and tanka within the text is a foil to this effect. Phrases like “here is a once-in-a-lifetime chance of over-hearing table wood communicating with an old door bleached of suffocating paint” (“excoriation”) remind us of the mediated representation, and that language, as much as urban architecture, and Duchamp’s art work “Large Glass. ‘The Bride Stripped Bare by her Bachelors, Even’” are a background of conflicting spaces, boundaries and perimeters of meaning. These elements linked to Pelter’s approach to his writing and the emphasis in composition of bricolage, all suggest that the best way of thinking about Pelter’s poetry is to read, reread, savour and enjoy it.

“1/2 Price Sale – up to 70% off” takes us into another realm of Pelter’s imagination – conversation. He is adept at revealing his characters through dynamically recording their outbursts. It takes movement, speed and duration to capture the spoken word in a series of short, staccato sentences, such as: “’Is it in the Sale? Don’t’ think it is. Leave it. I’ll come back. Need to be sure. Weight. Need to lose. Coffee in Debenhams?’”

For Pelter, movement is one of the real systems whose existence in fact makes up our lives and those of his characters. For example, in “house odours—a preparation” he notes the way in which a couple discuss why he should want to visit a house in which he lived for seven years, and in which an old girlfriend now lives:

“Yes, I visited. I did live there for seven years”.
“But why should an old girlfriend be living there? Why did she ask you to
visit? Why did you go?”
Nerves wedged between a cleaned car, memories of her special scent, how he
would explain that he kissed her on both cheeks.

These distinctions in Pelter’s haibun provide a useful figure for thinking about his poetic practice in a way that addresses both its form and content. Pelter’s poetry can be thought of as a special practice that holds our interest by virtue of its collage means of composition – gathering textual paragraphs and juxtaposing them with restrained haiku and tanka – and the resulting textual effect of an energetic series of responses to landscape, city and environment. Pelter’s poetry seems to inscribe the way in which we lead our lives in small parcels of time and space.

The innovative nature of “inheritance” figures the innovative use of language that Pelter’s poems exhibit: the collapsing of phrase with phrase, bi-directional syntax, use of italics and capital letters are actions in language akin to the person’s hiking, painting experience. When the person arrives at a cottage door, asking where he might find a café, he is invited inside for tea. After some conversation, he discovers that his hostess has two addictions: the 1967, 6 day War, and teapots. Pelter’s use of language serves to defamiliarise the normative appearance and apparent function of the poem – suggesting the unusual experience of his protagonist.

In the lengthy poem “it’s an insult to pigs and a creative gay – it is their way,” it is the character’s combination of Old English and baby talk which first greets the reader

furste of tidal nighte
compleates weaves of dual soundes
sande sweeps wone away

Dear ickle Stanley, of atheist purity, lowliest member of numero uno dissenters difficult tribe of kreatiff skeptics, I will tells of a jaw-droppling and wondrous evente. After that, hush!

The omission of linking words such as prepositions, pronouns and conjunctions within or between sentences, the use of capital letters, bold typeface, italics and unusual spelling, gives the poem its extremely unusual appearance and show how Pelter’s writing both utilizes the language and opens it up to questioning:

Blankness. Time compresses. Suddenly absent. Lacerated space not hurriedly filled. Only a busy cube remains to stain silence.
Time to act. Time to time a top-toe to tiny exit.

stand apart from him
from across a shaken field
lambs bleat

Pelter took the photograph of the artist David Hockney that accompanies this poem. The drawing he was doing as they reminisced, was a 21st Birthday Present to Pelter’s son.

“of crustaceans who, too, get born” is illustrated with a photograph of the author. Here, Pelter expands on the prose-poem with his use of opening and closing haiku. This free-association piece is a personal take on the author’s love of nature.

The variety in page lay-outs which mark many of the poems, prose-poems and non-poems helps maintain the interest of the reader which might otherwise wander in patches where obscure facts predominate. Some passages appear in the traditional verse forms of haiku and tanka, others in the attractive scattered arrangement familiar to Pelter’s poems, and still others in paragraph form or in columns down the side of pages, the decisions about format setting seeming arbitrary at times, as the verses may be no more or less poetic than the paragraphs.

“one shoe one drawing only,” a poem divided into four sections, is probably one of my favourites. In it, Pelter writes about a mother’s drawing of a shoe, the shoe, and the “Grannymum” who brought up the child after the mother’s death: “Eight, and my present is a drawing”. The young child is given both the remaining shoe and the drawing: “Sitting on a floorcushion, legs apart, I look hard at them both, as I have many times. One shoe one drawing only. See nothing else.

black shine
of an unfashionable shoe

“Pablo? Misunderstood misogynist? Never” – parts 1 and 2, are something of a meeting between the artist and the poet, the concrete with the abstract. The places where these things meet are in the world of forms and structures; Pelter’s poems explore these borderlands by crossing literary boundaries. In this excerpt we overhear part of a conversation between the artist and his model:

All my life I have loved women. LOVED them.
No. You have loved love of possessing, loved stupendous images
short-changed into everyday Creative sexual ownership.
You calling my drawings, my etched images OverTheTop?
You know what I mean. Let me put it another way. It’s as if . . .
Stop! Hair’s moving. Still! That’s better. Nearly finished . . . that’s it.

In these two poems Pelter comes from an interesting angle. Perhaps as a voyeur?

As we have seen, he is not afraid to step out of the boundaries of traditional haibun. His units of composition encompass prose paragraphs, poetry, fragments, and conversation. Often, the fragments form a story, sometimes with conversation between characters. The shorter pieces may consist of constellations of only a few sentences. It is worth quoting “phaaaaackorph” in full:

goes pfuukkorf fukkawf
dat wat am ee says at dem
oo soe doo luvz im

Ee never did gave respect or no even disrespec. Wha ee an da gager
do is ‘dissing’ an abe reeee-spek. An wen ee’s face becum seerislee
contort ee can oonly screeeech owt doze sownnds. An dees sownds
are ‘fuaarkcough’ an ‘phaaaaackawph’. Dat am all.

There is still a work of interpretation for the reader here, but the effect is not one of alienation. The reader can choose any of several possible interpretations of this poem, it does not matter which, it is clear that an image of human failing is central.

The title poem, “slightly scented short lived words and roses,” a constellation of five paragraphs, dissolves the anxiety of interpretation because they can be held in the mind at the same time and produce a kind of sublime poem; the whole thing a fragile yet valid moment of insight.

Another poem in the book that I like very much is called “the short straw.” It is in three sections divided with numbers. The whole thing should be studied, but it ends:

Later, with shriveled pupils, she looks inside my eyes. Her
only visitor. I try to read between heavily smoked lines, wanting to gauge
slippage, diminution. Unfamiliar, it easily misinterprets into something
like shorthand of each Carer’s intentions. Want to return her to an
importance but it is too late to transcend her near completion. She asks
me to leave. “It is time”, she mumbles into a most minimalist of kitsch
smiles while pressing her Gift tight to a concealed breast, “to

clouds reshape
already a slow drift
into yesterday

That paragraph will be one of recognition for many readers who find themselves in the situation of a caring for a loved one and watching their slow decline.

In the true story of “3 died young” Pelter must have felt he had disastrous invisible, destructive powers on those young women he fell in love with. It is another lengthy poem, divided by numbers into 6 sections. These again are a montage of haiku, prose passages, various fonts and type faces. Often inside the paragraphs or sentences, there is a dreamlike slippage into different registers and realities. On page 120 we read:

She said “it is bound to happen. sudden attacks are no joke. it will
happen again”. told so worried family not to. safely over first twenty
year finishing line. why not more? “shall paint standing up till I die” i
tell them. “that’s what’s happening, more or less. ok, i’m not standing
up, or only paint, will bathe after one more best night ever. Just one
night more. three of us died young. chaos. no more here for you”.

sculpted frame
after a twosome night
she is painted out

The reference to “sudden attacks” forces the reader to focus on the fact that life passes quickly and one should make the most of time.

Pelter’s poem “yakshi” allows for periods of reflection and lyricism not bound by considerations of typography, variety of syntax, or font, which sometimes distract from the poetry. Here there is an interesting development in the theme of the young girl admiring a sensual Indian statue. The poem contains dream-like sequences and reflections, which are linked in ways that are not obvious, as the girl on an academic trip confronts a piece which she has only ever seen in books:

She steps forward. Foot touches a sculptured spirit of a carved woman with luscious means, a binding, entwining mango tree bursting into full flower filled. So it is told. So let it be written. So
she knows it, now, then, into always.

stone tree-woman
releases interned warmth
carved lips taste shapes

A yakshi is a specific form of sculpture of a goddess entwined into and with a mango tree – love/fertility/nature etc. They form a column of a temple (stupa). The reference at the bottom refers to a famous temple, carved from top to bottom. The bottom layer is of physical sex in all its manifestations, accepted with gratitude but the lowest level of awareness. Each level of sculptures reduces this area but increases the more spiritual nature of sex as an aspect of the creative process. The topmost layer is of the most sublime sculptures of women doing no more than, via finger movements and body positions, express where we may reach in terms of ‘beyond the human’ awareness.

For me, Pelter’s strength as a poet is in his unusual connections, his sharpened eye for detail and ear for conversation, and his loosely organized use of language. The poems clearly relate to the modernist current, yet are concerned with construction, understanding and meaning. Illustrated with photographs and Pelter’s quirky drawings, this is a wonderful book to read, reread and savour.
by Patricia Prime
Auckland, New Zealand

Friday, October 16, 2009

Albert DeGenova: Postcard from Napoli

Train Rome to Naples, countryside covered in grapevines, orchards planted in careful rows, tomatoes already sprouting—the fields are planted around, along the hills, the sturdy thick farmers walk the hard ancient paths—cows and goats know more than they say—soil of these fields, layer after layer of fertile decay, generation upon generation of bones, olive pits, and grape stems—my peasant legs ache to walk these terraced hills, the stamina of time and grandfathers’ DNA—in our train compartment Cole sleeps, Max listens to his brother’s iPod, Eden reads Karma and searches for the goddesses, I write in a notebook—sharing our compartment an older Italian couple pours coffee from a thermos, fills water from a glass bottle into small paper cups, a roll of paper towels for wiping the man’s sweating bald head—I can smell the sweet juicy ripeness of the pear he slices with a well-used pocketknife, the handle smooth and black—

First view of the Mediterranean, walking the Napolitain shore, entranced by the fishermen—their dark suntanned skin cracked like worn canvas or bark or the seasoned hulls of their wooden boats—bare hands are forever leather gloves—folding, mending ancient nets—their boats insignificant against the expansive sea, mismatched to the heavy loads they drag out of the waves. Seaside café—I will eat fresh succulent pullipo, octopus in oil, lemon, and herbs.

Hands in the warm sea, Mediterranean sand under my fingernails, lose my breath, heart beats startled, unknown ghost or saint drifts up behind me—I have been homesick all of my life—this is where I want to die.

cedar roots
in limestone bluffs
ten thousand winds

by Albert DeGenova
Oak Park, Illinois

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Chen-ou Liu: My Bird of Youth Has Left

French dramatist Victor Hugo once said that forty is the old age of youth. I wholeheartedly agree with his words. After passing the age of forty, I have become more anxious about growing old. I used to be the black cloud; now, I'm turning gray. Time slips away, hair whitens, hands age, veins emerge, and wrinkles stamp the brows. The back begins to ache, teeth become loose, and the voice gets hoarse, a charming quality to some and the roughness of age to others. Furthermore, the body grows dry and liable to fracture, and one day it will no longer respond.

looking out
bare maple branches
in the breeze—
mortally wounded
waving goodbye

by Chen-ou Liu
Ajax, Ontario, Canada

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Gary LeBel: Humpty

I shake it. It makes a feeble sound like an ant’s complaint. I pour it out onto the table where it breaks into a pile of noise, and like Humpty Dumpty, there’s no putting it back together again, with everything jumbled sideways, mixed up, broken, strings merely tuning,

so I let it go and grab a different box,

shake it, spill the contents, look through shards of noise,

choose one,

start writing.

split indifferently
by a seedling

by Gary LeBel
Cumming, Georgia

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Bob Lucky: Night Market

The Ningxia Street night market is a jumble of hawkers and customers, the hum of propane burners, the clack-clack of spatulas in woks, and a thousand conversations.

legs dangling
from a plastic stool
a little girl
concentrates on her skewer
of candied tomatoes

Making our way through the crowd, we buy various types of flatbreads, oyster mushrooms breaded and deep-fried, kebabs and sausages.

on the altar
of a local shrine
an egg tart—
at last a god
to my liking

by Bob Lucky
Hangzhou, China

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Tish Davis: Refrain

Dusk mutes green and all of green’s variations. Along the path, bare feet press the sheen out of damp clover. White blossoms of blackberries pop-out left and right. Even the oxeye daisies abandon their yellow.

the bride’s father
steps back
by Tish Davis
Dublin, Ohio

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Richard Straw: Stronger Grip

On a Sunday morning, dad's sitting in a private hospital room by a sunlit window. He tells me his doctors have agreed to let him use a chair even though he can't get out of it by himself. He says they haven't decided yet whether to do more cutting or more chemotherapy or nothing at all: "But they'll get paid whatever they do . . ."

I tell him that I have to hurry back to the airport for a midday flight. Then I reach for his hand, and we play an old game: "Who has the stronger grip?" This time, I let him win. I try to smile as I say, "Bye, take care."

Outside his room, a medication nurse listens to me stammer, "Check . . . him . . . make sure . . . doesn't fall . . ." But I can't complete a sentence.

I rush into a bathroom and begin sobbing. I continue to cry in the empty elevator, then in the rental car all the way to the airport, quieting finally on the packed plane.

Easter snapshot
a boy and his dad
cast one shadow

by Richard Straw
Cary, North Carolina
first published in
bottle rockets #19, August 2008