Sunday, May 31, 2009

Review of Diana Webb's TAKEAWAY


Takeaway – a Collection of Haibun by Diana Webb (Hub Editions, Longholm, East Bank, Wingland, Sutton Bridge, Spalding, Lincolnshire, PE12 9YS, U.K. 2008), 20 x 13 cm. chapbook, ISBN: 978-1-903746-76-9. Available 5.50 pounds.
Reviewed by Patricia Prime
Takeaway is a nicely produced small book containing 40 haibun, divided into five sections. Many of the haibun, mostly one per page, consist of one paragraph of prose followed by a single haiku, although there are one or two exceptions. Takeaway is an extremely beautiful explanation of the memories, both cultural and personal, which haunt, yet comprise us. What is most striking is that the haibun seem to draw from the same wardrobe of topics. They show an intensely lived connection to the natural environment and to humanity and deal with personal experience: places (such as a glass tower, museums, cafes and the estuary); people met or remembered (grandmother, an aunt, her father, the pharmacist, friends and a lollipop lady); ruminations on paintings by Van Gogh, Millais, Degas, Monet,Turner and others, and poems that resonate with the sacred—the Pilgrim’s Way, Easter and a Covent Garden church.

The book’s first section “Reminiscence Work” is written from the poet’s point of view as she reminisces about her childhood. In the first haibun, “Ground,” Webb presents a conventional picture of a view from a “twenty first century glass tower”: “At the top of a twenty first century glass tower, views all around and a window as far back as I can see: this 1940’s ‘Children’s Paradise’.” In “not just teddy” Webb writes about what she would save if there was a fire:

If the flat caught fire and I could save only one thing, I would save this bear. He no longer wears the blue and mustard striped jersey my father knitted after the war. His mournful smile absorbs the years, picnics and parties in his honour. Pooled childhoods. Sadness settles on him like dust.

my son types it in,
new e-mail password—
name of the old bear

In the second section, “On Canvas,” Webb reverts to one of her favourite themes: poems about painters and their work, projecting her views in her usual quiet style, as we see in the following haibun:
Claude Monet—Monochrome
(High tide at Etretat, 1868; The Magpie, 1869)
Water lilies wait under the weeping willows. Years before . . .

He labours through taste and sting of salt on November gales, the roar and the splash, to anchor an instant.

beyond whisked waves
peak of one dark rock—
man holds his hat down

He sets up his easel in the middle of a white winterscape, becomes part of it. Icicles form in his beard as the moment freezes.

one for sorrow
perched on the gate—
shadows on snow
As it turns out, the place where Webb really writes in her own voice is in the book’s third section, “Particulars of Place.” In narrative terms, in this section Webb reaffirms her allegiance to the beauty of the English countryside, as we see in the prose section of “A Space":
Vibrant with birdsong, a wooded backdrop. A large oak overhangs, as nettles and grasses partly curtain the small eighteenth century landscape bridge with its central ornamental shell, arched over weed aflit with damselflies . . .

In “Chamber of Commerce,” the fourth section, the haibun are full of precision, music and rhythm. Here is an excerpt from “Surfaces”:

Blue Café—a pigeon swept sky reflected in the glassy table top.
Home—maybe reading . . .

lifting down
the Zen poem book—
a cloud of dust

Webb’s main strength is her imagery. One of my favourite haibun is “Matinee Idol,” from section five, “Sacred Spaces”:

One by one he lights the candles, opens the book at the appropriate pages, starts to ring the bell. The Covent Garden church, famed for its memorials to people of the theatre, emptied now of tourists.

...................‘For I will consider my cat Jeoffrey’

at the chancel steps
on four white paws

This is a successful and poignant image because the haiku reinforces the prose topic, the cat. Many other images in Webb’s haibun are clever, striking and communicative. The haiku are at least as well written as the prose: every word carries weight; every punctuation mark counts; language, meaning and form are interdependent.
Several of the haibun in the final section, “Crossing Boundaries,” are longer in form. Webb can make a tight image-sequence like “Pinned” work, and is even more successful with a more diffuse haibun like “Time Wasting” which sets up a conversation between the poet as a child and a lay teacher at her convent school. Here and elsewhere in the collection, Webb shows herself simultaneously immersed in the landscape and rituals of English life—school, holidays, shopping, church—and engaged with a wider painterly sphere. Several haibun cite painter’s influences: Van Gogh, Degas, Turner, and Monet, to name a few. A brief haibun from this section is “A Holiday (Edward H Potthast)”:
Most paintings of such views are one third sea and two thirds sky, but this one fills the canvas almost to the top with damp sand, shallows, waves . . .
sifting through
a small girl’s fingers

The haibun at the end of the collection “Connecting” transports us to the persona’s choice of buying beads instead of a book of poems, evoking a level of interest which makes us look back with new eyes on the haibun which make up the rest of the book. Here is an extract from the haibun:

As the small glass spheres slip one by one along the needle into the growing necklace, her reflections drift from by gone generations through parting with a lover to embryos in formation. A tranquility, each moment hovers.
cobweb strung with mist
across stems of lavender—
span of light years

Webb gives us poetry which invites us to take our time, return and reread to reflect on its imagery and allusions. Webb is a thoughtful, sensitive and lucid writer; this collection has the depth, breadth and vigour to make us take her seriously. Her haibun are full of warmth, humility and poise. This is a collection to enjoy in moments of solitude and maintains the high standard we have come to expect from the poet.
by Patricia Prime
Auckland, New Zealand

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Marleen Wenneker-Hulst: SUNNYSIDE UP

I am on the ferry to Schiermonnikoog on this warm and bright Sunday morning. Despite the early hour two girls, students I gather, are cheering the crowd on board. Wearing extravagant hats they go jigging and singing along the lower deck. However eyebrows are raised at first, most people appear to enjoy it all the same.

summer wind—
the captain winks
as waves splatter

Later that day, I stop in the village for an ice cream. Across the street, the two girls from the ferry are baking eggs on a tiny gas cooker. “EGG SANDWICH SUNNYSIDE UP—ONLY 1 EURO”, their handwritten sign reads. It is obvious that they are amusing themselves, even though their clientele seems somewhat disappointing. This cannot have anything to do with lack of enthusiasm; their merchandise is being recommended as irresistibly tasty to anyone they see.

Watching those girls doing business in this cheerful manner is catching. It seems though that putting a smile on people’s faces is more rewarding to them than making money. Today anyway.

shovels and buckets
in the baggage rack
beach shuttlebus

by Marleen Wenneker-Hulst
Musselkanaal, the Netherlands

Monday, May 25, 2009

Catherine Mair & Patricia Prime: DESERT CAMP

When my uncle sailed on the Rangitata with the first echelon for Egypt, he left his farm in my parents' care. Their first task was to build a cottage for sharemilkers. Wick and Betty were a fine Maori couple with four children of similar age to us. We used to love going down to the tiny cottage to watch Betty groom her girls' hair. How we admired those bouncy, black ringlets.

in the porch
a milk billy
hung from a nail

The young man wrote home about his experiences of the wartime camp in the Egyptian desert. He described the dirt tracks beside which huts were erected, wells dug, and the transient army camp which grew into a city like no other. He told us the Maadi camp sported cinemas, bars, canteens, chapels, libraries, sports fields, a swimming pool - even an ice cream and meat pie factory.

in his photo
soldiers in 'lemon squeezers'
beside the Sphinx

He wrote in a postcard, "The ramshackle cinema, named Thomas Shafto, near the entrance to the camp, is the first building we see on our return to Maadi from the Western Desert."

veteran's parade . . .
one less companion
to greet

*lemon squeezer—nickname given to the Kiwi soldier's pointed hat.

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

Friday, May 22, 2009

Richard Straw: PLATO’S CAVE

I meet by chance on the street someone who resembles one of my dead grandpas and who could be the twin brother of Carl Sandburg, who died even longer ago. We walk into his basement apartment, the entrance a trap door. It's either that or a farmhouse cellar—hard to tell in the dream. He tells me his problem—what to do with his many manuscripts, books, papers. I suggest hiring an assistant, someone who won't know or care that he's working for a well-known writer. We talk about Huckleberry Finn, why it's reread, despite its moral dilemmas, to re-create lost innocence.

As I glance at his close-cropped hair, crow's feet, tired but still-bright eyes, the scene shifts to midwinter in Ohio, snow a foot deep, and me standing in the kitchen of my parents' house, my last boyhood home in their small town. Beyond the dinette curtains, five horses, their nostrils steaming, wait on the moonlit driveway, which is cleared of snow. I cry out for dad to see. When I wake, a headache I've had for days is gone.

standing still
the longest time
roller coaster

by Richard Straw
Cary, North Carolina
first published in
Lynx V23, N1 (February 2008)

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Review of Richard Straw's THE LONGEST TIME


The Longest Time: Haibun by Richard Straw (privately printed: 107 Mont de Sion Drive, Cary, NC 27513, USA. 2009). 21 x 14 cm chapbook, obtainable from the author. $5 US; $8 US abroad (added S&H). Cover photographs are by Marissa Rachel Straw. Other images are from family albums and postcards.
Reviewed by Patricia Prime
Richard Straw’s collection of haibun, The Longest Time, is, in its own way, about explorations and discoveries of the self which are as much cerebral and metaphysical as geographical and physical. Mostly, the paths readers are taken along by Straw have origins that are intriguing and transits that are stimulating. Each haibun describes a memory—from childhood growing up in a “walk-up apartment above a soda shop” to the poet making resolutions to himself in the final haibun, “Whether Together or Apart,” before going to sleep:

What was it I told myself last night before going to sleep? Just before the headlights dimmed against the wall, after the last neighbor pulled into the parking lot outside my window, I’d promised myself something that I can’t remember now, even though with three cups of coffee drunk and a fourth one brewing on the hotplate. I haven’t been able to remember anything lately unless I wrote it down.

Straw’s opening line to the succinct haibun “First Impressions” exemplifies the ethos behind this collection. Memory, confrontation, and deconstruction: this is a book laden with possibilities and the permutations and permeations that result from the memories of a lifetime. So often these haibun arise out of an engagement with the personal and the landscape, real but also charged with poetic diction. Take the following prose excerpt from “A Helping Hand”:

And I peer past my ear into the black air register from which, as if quaking in my bedroom on the other side, Fay Wray screams and screams and screams as she’s carried into the jungle by King Kong.

Here the reader’s taken through a landscape that’s at once familiar and yet subjective, a combination that ensures that our view of the recognizable and intimate can become at once estranged and unfamiliar. The entire transformation hinges upon memory—upon whether what is remembered is truthful or a fabrication with a kernel of truth which transforms it.

It’s a battle of words versus memory that’s present in all the haibun. “Sunday Drive” (illustrated by a photo of the poet’s parents) is an evocation of a visit to a relative’s farm:

Our parents take my sister and me to a relative’s farm near Sunbury. The barnyard’s full of running headless chickens and a crazed dog. The farmer uses a tree stump as a chopping block. Much later his son dies James Dean style on graduation night.

empty space
where flower pots were
a wasp returns

“Katallagete,” apart from being indicative of Straw’s delight in playing with recall, assumption, locale and history, personal and collective, also epitomizes an authorial interest in friendship and the poetical exploration of youthful experiences:

Bright spots are rare in this small town, even on Christmas Eve. Earlier tonight, after watching a campy movie in a cold theater, I joined a couple of older friends, Junior and Jesse, to go caroling. Rather than ask them to drop me off at home later, I agreed to chug-a-lug beers at their apartment above Jack’s TV shop. Then, on Junior’s dare, we almost got shot at by Foxy on Senate Street because of something Jesse said to one of Foxy’s girls. We got separated at The Attic after I was pushed down the wide wooden stairs for getting up on the bar with a go-go-dancer.

“Festival of Lights” is a lovely depiction of nature observed on a journey home from work in wintertime:

I drive home from work. Bright colors frame windows and doors; electric candles rest on windowsills. Pine branches drape entry ways, even garage doors. Pulsing lights reveal the limbs of leafless saplings. Wooden Santas, nutcracker soldiers, and white deer pose on snowless lawns.

at home
blue menorah candles

Several haibun focus on Straw’s father. “Stronger Grip” reflects on his father’s illness in a heartbreaking contemplation. Before the writer hurries off to catch a plane, he plays a childhood game with his father who is in a private hospital room:

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.”

After saying goodbye and talking to a nurse, the poet tells us his reaction:

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
“Handed On,” is a fraught personal reaction to the father’s death and funeral. It is a personification of all the conflicts—belief-versus-practice, memory-versus-history, public-versus-private space—that engage Straw’s work:

Before the funeral service began, my cousins gave me a silver frame, “In Loving Memory of My Father . . .,” with a photo of dad and me shaking hands and smiling on one of our birthdays 20 years before. A pianist played favorite hymns, the new minister from dad and mom’s church did the eulogy, and solemn men from dad’s lodge performed from memory a ceremony in his honor. Asked to say a few words, I merely recited with a bowed head Psalm 23 from an open Bible:

rain on a road
before his coffin is closed
touching dad’s hand

In the lengthy haibun “Sketching from Life,” Straw rightly notes his father’s dislikes and his lifelong job as a welder, and his discovery of a sketch he found on the table a week before his father died:

Dad did one other sketch that I found on his kitchen dinette table the week before he died. He drew it with a ballpoint pen in blue ink on a brown envelope containing a coffee-table book I’d mailed him for what turned out to be his final birthday the year before.

The poignancy of this haibun, with its meticulous attention to detail and its reference to a birthday present that will never be looked at, is extremely touching.

With equally heartfelt empathy, in “Perennials,” Straw writes about his mother:”After 50 years with multiple sclerosis, every nerve she has is scarred. And since dad’s death, premature senility has taken her mind.” He completes the haibun with this poignant memory of his mother:
During her first winter there, mom told me she’d been studying “a large menacing goldfish” in the front lobby’s aquarium. She said that most of the other fish in the tank had disappeared, except for one or two hiding in corners. She whispered, “I’ve always been a small fish watching and staying out of the way of larger fish.”

long winter
in an untended flowerbed
tulip bulbs

For Straw the personal so often acts as a medium transporting haibun and reader to another terrain—historical, psychological, religious and physical. As well as seriousness, there’s a great deal of playfulness to be had here too. Take, for instance, the powerful “Fiddling On,” a haibun scanning symbolic and real events. In this excerpt, Straw writes about a photo he shows to his children:

The kids study it, but draw blanks. So, I tell them that years ago my mom photographed my dad, his brother, and me in an Ohio apple orchard. Dad’s and my uncle’s sacks are chock full and sit lopsided in tall grass. The apples lasted until Thanksgiving and went into pies served hot with vanilla ice cream. Our kids never met my uncle, though, and they saw my dad just once or twice. They barely recognize me with my moustache and long hair.

This is typical of Straw’s trick throughout The Longest Time: to guide the reader along trajectories that derive intensity from memory and locale. Quite simply, the book moves us. Through its charting of historical and emotional spectrums, we’re untroubled in attaining the collection’s higher philosophy.
by Patricia Prime
Auckland, New Zealand

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Charles Hansmann: EN POINTE

Someone’s daughter loves to dance. Any unheard music seems to do, and any partner. The table’s shimmed leg attends her lifted heel. She gains a peek beyond the windowsill.

ballet slippers
beside the bed

by Charles Hansmann
Sea Cliff, New York
first published in
Frogpond 31: 1 (Winter 2008)

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Stanley Pelter: CITY OF GIFTS

not quite ready to fly
a pale dove flitters
river curve

Fancy going to Florence on Wednesday?
Where’s that?
How come?
Someone’s cancelled. I’ll square it with school.
Thanks....................................................but no thanks.
Why not?.....................................It’s only for a couple of days.
I don’t know anybody. They’re learning Italian. I’m younger than them. I’ve got lots on. .............I don’t want to.
Most are young.........very friendly.........and I’ll be with you.
She is 12........................................Square it with School.

It’s your bat mitzva
What?..............................................Can I sit by the window?
They have been friendly. She is relaxed. Flight will arrive early morning. Seems to sleep; head to one side, eyes closed. Rapid first growth of morning. Pre-sun glow spreads across a clear blue light of Florentine sky. Opens her eyes. Descent follows bridged line of river Arno. Slowly we lower. Early sun shapes all colours and hues. Luminous space of a City of Gifts is compressed. Not blinking, she looks down on an unfamiliar roofscape. I know that look.

cage glides to earth
which we watch grow large
she silent
............wide eyed

Why didn’t you tell me?
There is more

Let’s walk. Go to the Accademia. Visit David
We look up at this translated marble, lit by a midday sun. A dome flows light. A frozen moment of silence dominates space a juvenile giant occupies. At first she doesn’t speak. Then . . .
Who made it? David was the small one, not the giant.
Michelangelo. He does reverse things a bit. Usual image is after their battle. Michelangelo describes that moment when a childman makes a momentous decision, enters an arena of power. One act will change his life forever. See that huge veined hand, its position, sling lifted, ready to kill. Michelangelo was a little man with a broken nose. David was his gigantic, one-man rebellion against convention, against accepted tradition. Single-handedly, this huge Italian created a spatial, a temporal shift that had a profound effect on river flows of art.
I had said too much. Said it all wrong. She says nothing. Is still looking up at this boy who would be King. After two hard years of carving, here he stands, a technical, an aesthetic marvel. Unsurpassed. Maybe those ‘Slaves’ emerging from rocks. Perhaps his ‘Pietà’. We walk away. Walk towards the Ponte Vecchio with its sparkling gold, shining silver shops, past the Uffizi, the Piazza del Duomo, to the Brancacci Chapel. Stand silently before Masaccio’s ‘The Expulsion of Adam and Eve’ and, in disbelief, ‘St Peter healing the Sick with his Shadow’. Walk. Walk in silence. Walk until the sun tires.

She puts her arm through mine like a grown up woman.

river view
see clouds in ways
that change everything

by Stanley Pelter
Claypole, Lincolnshire, England

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Richard Straw: FIDDLING ON

In late October, the last of summer's crickets can still be heard amid the leaves and twigs near my office here in North Carolina. They're not like the ones I grew up with in Ohio that are driven underground a bit earlier by colder weather.

Once I get home, I flip through several family albums, looking for one photo in particular. I almost don't hear my wife calling me downstairs for supper. At the table, I pass around the photo, saying, "See anyone you know?"

The kids study it, but draw blanks. So, I tell them that years ago my mom photographed my dad, his brother, and me in an Ohio apple orchard. Dad's and my uncle's sacks are chock full and sit lopsided in tall grass. The apples lasted until Thanksgiving and went into pies served hot with vanilla ice cream. Our kids never met my uncle, though, and they saw my dad just once or twice. They barely recognize me with my moustache and long hair.

I don't tell them of the evening when my uncle, surrounded by his family, died painfully at home of lung cancer. I also don't tell them of the night my dad called me after he learned he had terminal cancer in early autumn as the leaves were turning red and gold. They're beginning to realize on their own why my mom doesn't say much when we phone her on Sundays at the nursing center, that her premature senility doesn't mean she loves them any less.

"Someday," I do say, "we'll go apple picking. Wouldn't that be fun?"

apple pickers gone
down among the windfall
a muted cricket


by Richard Straw
Cary, North Carolina
haibun first published in
Contemporary Haibun Online V3, N2 (June 2007)
haiku first published in
Acorn 17 (Fall 2006)

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Catherine Mair & Patricia Prime: FOREBEARS

I swish back the curtains. There's a drowned cabbage-tree silhouetted against the sea-grey sky. Rain forms a mini-waterfall from each sword-like leaf. At the supermarket I notice sunflowers propped in a bucket. Sunflowers! for a rainy day. Sunflowers to brighten Mum's room at the resthome.

an afternoon
for videos—which?
reading glasses at home

The chapbook "Molly's Room" lies on the table. The photo collages remind Duncan of his great-grandparents who arrived in New Zealand in 1870 to set up shop in Remuera (now one of Auckland 's high-end shopping centres). He recalls how an uncle 'married' a Maori girl and fathered five children before his lawful wife arrived from Britain and he fathered another seven with her. The Maori 'wife' returned with her children to her whanau, but one daughter remained with her father. Missionaries taught her to play the piano and eventually she became a concert pianist.

his scarred hand
fingers the pages

Skeletons in cupboards. The ambiguity of surnames. How, why—our father, your father?

family wedding
duskier skins
on one side of the church

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



Monday, May 4, 2009

Charles Hansmann: SLANT

Some times of day don’t show themselves direct—they’re just reflected on the surface, skittish moments slinking down to drink, rippling indistinct the instant that we see them. Then turn around. Some times of day only follow on their memory, haven’t happened till they’re past, a set sun lighting up the hill behind, reappearing as we climb.

up all night
to see what cats see
alley moon


by Charles Hansmann
Sea C
liff, New York
first published in
Frogpond 31:2 (Spring/Summer 2008)

Friday, May 1, 2009

Dru Philippou: WIND POWER

On the Beaufort Scale of 2, a light breeze forms wavelets, rustles palms. On the scale of 4, a moderate breeze wipes footprints from the sand, blows a sailboat out to sea—

And on 8, a gale of 40 knots, I paddle my surfboard out in the ocean; make it to the lineup, sit-up, and wait for the sets. A swell approaches. Turning the nose of my board shoreward, I start to paddle then stand. I ride towards those palm branches snapping, and breakers crashing against rock; my mother’s voice gone.

a deep-sea
anglerfish slams
its mouth shut—
for a limpet,
an unknown universe.

by Dru Philippou
Taos, New Mexico
first published in
Modern English Tanka, V3 N2 (Winter 2008)