Wednesday, July 30, 2008


The hut has a backdrop of beech with an aspect to the mountains. You sigh as your shoulders slide from the pack straps. The sun mirrors off the snowfields above and you turn closed eyes to its warmth. It is a remote hut with little chance of visitors and the beech forest has a handy supply of standing deadwood, easily broken into hearth-sized logs. You gather enough and remove your boots in the last of the afternoon sun. High cirrus fills the sky as the billy simmers. The stew is good. Warm in your sleeping bag you watch shadows fight on the wall as the last log lights up. It rains and makes a gentle sound on the tin roof. Later, you’ll wake to hear the rain easing.

morning sky
a beam of sunlight

by Barry L Smith
Hamilton, New Zealand

Monday, July 28, 2008


The apartment was charming if eccentric. An interior balcony of the apartment above actually obtruded into ours. The enclosed courtyard between the bedrooms and the bathroom leaked whenever it rained. It housed the balcony where our neighbors chatted and hung laundry. Outside was inside.

why do I see it
as if in a dream
that funky motel
on the Navajo Rez
at dusk?

I went out in a lull in the downpour, careful on the wet paving stones, to the Artesanos to buy a pottery pineapple. There were huge ones, almost as tall as me, with elaborate spires in black and green glaze like the minarets of a city or an enormous anti-wedding cake. I bought a small one I could carry home in my purse.

in a foreign city
I feel close to them—
other people walking
with canes

I hope to remember it always, the potted thorn tree on the roof patio where I smoked a rare cigarette, a velvety moth against the stucco, dogs barking, a garbage truck whistling like a bottle rocket.

propane leak,
apartment of bad drains,
from the street
faint music drifts away
in the opposite direction
by Miriam Sagan
Santa Fe, New Mexico

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Ruth Franke: SUMMIT ICE

Setting off from Chamonix, 1040 m above sea level. Destination unknown. "A climb up the mountains with suitable equipment," our French friends had said in their invite. They are keen climbers, we just walkers, they were aware of that. But we had taken them up on it. Now what was in front of us?

a march into heights
at the cable railway halt
a mass of people

Mer de Glace
a jump over glacier cracks
without a rope

Ice Age moraine
the hopping over rocks
never stops

upwards on ladders
the back packs' weight

cut in the rock face
a narrow path
just don’t look down

up there at last
on the Aiguille du Midi
bivouacs in the ice

At 3000 m. An icy wind cuts into our faces, the cold even penetrates the fleecy sleeping bags. Dizziness and nausea prevent sleep. All around the white giants, Mont Blanc looming over us. Rilke comes to mind: "Stranded on the high places of the heart … And the huge bird securely circling the peaks in utter denial."

helicopter throb
nearer and nearer
then just the echo

The cold night gives way to a sunrise behind Mont Blanc. We get ready for the descent.

Broad smiles when we say our farewells down in the valley. "You caught us with your sauna. Now you've got some idea of our hobby."

after the steam bath
the plunge
into cold water
Translation from German by David Cobb

by Ruth Franke
Emmendingen, Baden-Württemberg. Germany
first published in Blithe Spirit 18/1, 2008

Friday, July 25, 2008


Impassively displayed on the plum, sponge-painted smooth plaster wall near the Winsome antique walnut half-moon console table and tastefully below the shallow arc of yellow light from the tarnished brass and frosted-glass wall sconce it hangs soberly on a repurposed 1-1/2-inch, 18-gauge galvanized-finish brad nail in a baroque-style, burnished black wood certificate-frame that befits the overwhelming accomplished pride of Oliver & Jennifer Salmoniski: Successful Graduates of the Mongoose Marital Institute’s “Re-Tingle” Weekend for Restoring Verve, Vitality and Vigor in Loving Relationships.

paying cash
the desk clerk
thanks John Smith

by Jeffrey Winke
Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Stanley Pelter: levels of Ocean

make believe ocean
waves with attitude
batter fish

an Ocean fills her from inside out. overlaps into our room. gently at first. slowly. low waves lap gateways. entrances, exits, splash silence into the ear of the room. water bound cubic space shortens to a reduced shape. chair legs, table legs, her legs, mine, begin to reflect. slowly more water makes islands of us. she wraps inside it. breathes. bobs to the top like a cork. nothing floats free. under water nothing is solid. she, covered, ripples into fragmented layers of salt crystal beautiful. displaced, she breaks into a kaleidoscope of patterns. an image shimmering spreads. slowly they reconstruct into a more absorbent surface. still some way from completion, waves grow in size but rise more slowly. what sort of person, i wonder, would construct such a tightly sealed room? not a drop seeps beyond any edge of its close-knit space. what feminine structure is able to release an Ocean like it is a dam slowly opening, inexorably filling? cloned goldfish throw themselves out of the water. continuous air drowns them. pushed and circled lower by air currents, they fall back into the slow rising water. except one that hurls up with so much released fear it hits and sticks to a gilded plaster ceiling surround, solidifing onto a sculptured Relief pageant of Greek gods, goddesses and Hebraic script. large rococo-framed ceiling mirrors reflect only a discordant image. before i can deep breath one final time a rubber begins to erase room and contents. a quick glance at her succulent body being wiped clean. i can now leave, backwards, baby feet first and hair free.

putty rubber
unknown hand slides it
from side to side

by Stanley Pelter
Claypole, Lincolnshire, England

Monday, July 21, 2008

Dru Philippou: SAUSALITO

Mother sits over coffee, her back to a wide window reflecting the changing sky. She’s wearing the indigo dress, that royal blue hat, those old-fashioned navy shoes with the metallic silver accents . . . she scans the delphiniums, the aquamarine rug, Chagall’s Bride with a Fan then the light from the Bay.

her retrospective
shadow looming
against the wall
by Dru Philippou
Taos, New Mexico

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Patricia Prime: WOODEN FLOWERS

There are gypsies at the bottom of our garden—just over the hedge there, camping on common land. They come here every year for two weeks in August when the Mitcham Fair rolls in and have done so since the time of Queen Elizabeth I.

The people we call “gypsies” are now named “travelling fairground workers.” They are tinkers, tinsmiths, animal-keepers, regulars around the streets where they sell handmade goods such as spoons, trinkets, and clothes pegs. Dark-skinned men, women and children dressed in homespun shawls, their speech cadenced to begging and bartering. Plying their trade in groups of two or three, dirty unwashed children by their side, infants carried in blankets on their backs.

Across the lane there are horse-drawn wagons, donkeys braying, modern caravans, the sound of arguments as fairground workers erect marquees, fires, washing strung on hedges.

billy boiling
green wood in the fire
spits under a pot

Every time they come to rest in the area, there is excitement in the air. Soon the fair will begin. There’ll be late nights beneath the moon, coloured lights, smells of candyfloss and hotdogs wafting on the air, merry-making and laughter, the pop of guns at the rifle range, a prize for a lucky child.

broad daylight
dyed wooden flowers
in a basket

by Patricia Prime
Auckland, New Zealand

Friday, July 18, 2008


The pretty boy enters and the ladies behind the counter swoon. He represents an armful of unfulfilled longing. They seek vicarious fulfillment through his tall boyish smiling muscular looks. He’s their connection to their vanished youth, so any mention of his girlfriend perks them up. The big question is on their minds, but not his. He lives for Monday night football, gelling his hair, and poking his girlfriend who he’ll never marry. The ladies think he’s a sweet boy destined for picket-fence tranquility. He thinks of himself as a player … a rambling rogue that can get any large-breasted girl he wants. The ladies ask when they’ll meet his girlfriend. With an artfully practiced bashful grin, he says “next time.” They all know it won’t happen, but the ritual of collusion wouldn’t be complete without it.

whisper of scent
vase full of lilacs
a room away

by Jeffrey Winke
Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Thursday, July 17, 2008


What's left of his art is scattered in the apartment as if too heavy to hang—water colors of a barn-red outbuilding beyond the fence post, a cabbage in the garden, a bluebird box at the end of winter and oils too, of flowers, orchids mainly.

His favorite medium was stained glass. He bent pieces in his workshop to make tulips and cut the colors so it would always be spring. Only one lamp remains, the others given away when he down-sized.

the short night—
a painter applies
the first coat of white

by Tish Davis
Dublin, Ohio

Monday, July 14, 2008

Stanley Pelter: of crustaceans who, too, get born

night moon
limpets born
to rocks

Inside a saturating mizzle, newly born crustaceans stick to host rocks. Moon tides, an early morning procession of fish bone waves, bird filaments, grains of last night’s dreamy wind, wave rim pulses, footprint debris, distil but cannot disturb such glued closeness. Even if there were a sense of smell, of passing sounds, they have no eyes to see, no ears to hear. They are craven to a treadmill of crevices filling. Every day, every night, they compete with salt water that empties, refills, again empties. Know nothing of much else. It neither drives in nor drives out movements of a young girl’s breasts in a long running day. Such a varied pace of wind-suckled nipples in nights turned to gauze.

rich cove
unaware of problems
tide exits

All this time newly formed limpets grow. Imperceptible proper shapes expand into attached cracked rock textures, a symbiosis of shared stains, of colder fossil fish prints. Venus uncovers from a cast aside dress, fluorescent flesh spreading through many lovers. She drifts beneath a sea sliding surface, her body a saturating skin over a million crowded shells. She breezes effortlessly back, sways forward in time with her endless flow. Explosions of silent births are unaware of her genetic presence. Tumbling fingers explore unseen seeds inside each.

with venus
comes an entry to secrets
a sea nursery

by Stanley Pelter
Claypole, Lincolnshire, England

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Review of Stanley Pelter's INSIDEOUTSIDE

insideoutside by Stanley Pelter. George Mann Publications: Winchester, Hampshire, England, 2008. ISBN 9780955241574. Perfect Bound, 6 x 9 inches, 128 pp., £8 UK.
Reviewed by Jeffrey Woodward
insideoutside – third of a planned six volume series of haibun by the British writer Stanley Pelter – confirms his often stated predilection for writing that tests the boundaries of the genre and extends the many varied experiments of past imperfect (2004) and & Y Not? (2006), his two earlier collections. The author generously collects and presents in alphabetical order nearly 70 haibun – everything from haibun that blend free verse, instead of prose, with haiku to texts where a graphic element assumes a place beside prose and verse as an integral unit of composition. There are even haibun written for recitation, whether for solo or group performance.

Because the narrow compass of a review will not allow full discussion of Pelter’s numerous innovations, selected examples will have to suffice to represent the variety of his work.

In “Thunderguy – Isle of Arran,” the prose half of the normative haibun equation (prose plus verse) is supplanted by free verse passages that alternate with the haiku:

..............................a moon
..............................even in shadow
..............................her wet eyes

Grey and more
Clouds drift, pull lower over Meall Biorach
Fall into heather at Doire Fhionn Lochan

..............................some deep
..............................others near the surface many pitfalls

Town clothes, town shoes, town socks
Drag of heavy waves
As sea-served crags fix
And trees in Coirein Lochain diffract
Drizzle and more

..............................wet rocks
..............................they reflect
..............................his going (116)

What is interesting and deserving of comment is that the free-verse sections at the left margin, if read aloud, do not depart radically from the marked rhythms that prose in poetic haibun often adopts.

Pelter’s earlier books introduced the graphic component as a third element, along with prose and verse, of haibun composition. His exploration along this line is perhaps more extensive than elsewhere and includes texts accompanied by very simple (almost primitive) pen and ink sketches, texts presented in comic strip format, texts where a proliferation of type fonts and point sizes underscores meaning and texts where the haibun is handwritten, an act that points to authorial presence and immediacy. One remarkable series of three haibun, “ceci n’est pas une haibune?” (21-24), serves to illustrate Pelter’s program well – the ironic title being a doffing of the hat (a bowler no doubt) to René Magritte, the Belgian surrealist whose simple painting of a pipe bore the inscription, “ceci n’est pas une pipe, i.e., “this is not a pipe.” The first haibun in this series juxtaposes free verse with what looks like a simple linocut of a guillemot in flight. The second offers a relatively standard model of contemporary haibun – haiku, prose and haiku, in this instance – but the adjacent page presents the original text now revised and reconfigured, now part of a black-and-white illustration, now with the text itself presented alternately in handwritten and cut-out letters. The third member of this series advances one further step, dividing the page into two columns, a handwritten haibun text to the left, a collage of what appears to be an old-style IBM digital punch-card with an ink drawing to the right.

Another technique Pelter favors, as in “from bialystok song is to,” is to frame a text with its sound values foremost – the haibun designed for recitation:

from bialystok to from bialystok to from bialystok to this railway track to that railway track to that to that to that to that from this from this to that to here from there to back to front to YES to there to there from here from here from there from there from where to where … (29)

Work of this nature echoes earlier avant-guarde assays in sound poetry such as Tristan Tzara’s “L'amiral Cherche Une Maison à Louer” (1916) or Kurt Schwitters’ “Ursonate” (1921).

Similar effect is achieved in the title haibun where the concatenation of phrases repeated with slight variation appeals to the reader first on the aural level, its lyric tone being rather bittersweet and elegiac as the following excerpt will show:

so i will wait for U in the garden ~ sit in the garden that has just been watered ~ waiting for a buttercup to close ~ a buttercup on the grass that waits to be cut ~ the grass just watered … in the enclosed garden ~ i sit here for U ~ alone with sounds scents of breeze ~ wait for U to come ~ enclosed by greens ~ the enclosed garden just watered … i go inside to outside ~ wait for U in the garden just watered … i say ‘yes’ ~ i say ‘yes’ to inside ~ i say ‘yes’ to outside ~ so i will wait for U in the garden ~ sit in the garden that has just been watered. (42)

insideoutside, an attractive trade paperback with a glossy full-color collage cover, is available directly from the author for the price of shipping and handling while copies last. Interested parties may inquire of the author at 5 School Lane, Claypole, Newark NG23 5BQ or via e-mail: spelter23 (at) aol (dot) com.

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

Saturday, July 12, 2008


“Full of conflicting ideas” best describes her. She knows daddy won’t buy her an Appaloosa, but the promise of life-long happiness is one solid, defining worldview she’ll wrestle anyone to the mud to defend. The perfect man is real to her and, yes, she believes in love at first sight. That’s why she’s never shy about scanning crowds with anticipation of seeing him seeing her and WHAMO—the whole trunk of Chinese fireworks igniting at once. She seeks eye contact with only tall, fit and chisel-chin handsome guys. There’s no way the perfect mate for her could be short, plump, or myopic – no way! She soon turns 29 and her plan to be married, with two kids and a SUV parked in the drive of an over-sized suburban home by age 30, is looking unreal, but not impossible. As she reflects, there are only two men showing earnest interest: Marino, a Romanian circus performer, she met at the big-top two years ago when it was in town, and Ernie the bespectacled 43-year-old bachelor in Accounting who lives with mom. It’s a matter of time, but it will happen she tells herself before burying her glistening, mascara-smudged eyes into a wad of Kleenex.

it smolders –
snuffed cigarette
from her hand

by Jeffrey Winke
Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Friday, July 11, 2008


Most paintings of such views are two thirds sky and one third sea, but this one fills the canvas almost to the measure near the top with damp sand, shallows, waves . . .

sifting through
a small girl's fingers
by Diana Webb
London, England

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Bamboo Shoot: CHURCH GOING

Sunday, and after a late breakfast and the morning papers, I headed west to begin a circuitous journey home.

a gasping crow
on top of a telegraph pole—
the heathland parched

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. The ambience was decidedly post-Sunday lunch—the church all but empty. One other visitor, booklet in hand and with a seeming interest in ceilings, quickly disappeared; while two elderly ladies—strangely still wearing woollen cardigans and tweed skirts—hardly seemed there at all in any material sense.

Only a few days earlier, there would have been humming preparations as summer flowers were gathered and joyously massed into every available embrasure, hung in baskets, and arranged on and around every appropriate surface. There would have been the excitements and quiet pleasures of making ones own personal statement; and over cups of tea or coffee and skirmishes for the bourbon biscuits there would have been the small pecking-order reproofs and suggested aesthetic alterations. But now, two elderly ladies, who I took to be locals—willing hands or elected organisers, were simply passing time, vaguely touching a pew here or a vase there as they moved about the church; eking out the thin verbal subsistence of world opinion with village gossip. 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. There was a brief darkening of my vision – some small flux of blood perhaps to eye or brain that I could easily put down to tiredness; but with it came a change of mood, and I noticed suddenly that the flowers were too sweetly scented, their petals already starting to scatter into pools of shabby light. Another year. Another flower festival.
....after weary miles, an old Norman church,
....the cool of white interior walls;...........two ghost-like ladies
....peace, and scent of flowers..................discuss a prostate

Some years later, I read of Wiltshire’s being a ‘top snowdrop county’, that in February, Damerham churchyard harbours a sea of snowdrops, and that snowdrops are not infrequently found near sites of religious buildings—a Catholic custom being their use in the celebration of Candlemas. But as I wandered then out onto the gravel paths and rough grass between the pitching and tossing gravestones, I was wondering what words passed for ‘prostate problems’ in the old days—what relevant herbs might still be seeding out amongst the ancient dead. I looked down and laughed—there were plenty of dandelions. I looked up, and saw the sun.
by Bamboo Shoot
Salisbury, Wiltshire, England
first published in Dover Beach and My Back Yard (BHS Haibun Anthology, 2007)

Monday, July 7, 2008

Diana Webb: GROUND

At the top of a twenty first century glass tower views all around and a window as far back as I can see: this 1940s 'Children's Paradise.’

To the east of the estuary afloat with swans, the promenade above the beach, sand rising to shingle, with its row of beach huts.

step by toddler step
the intimacy
of pebbles

Inland, beyond water meadows, on a hill over looking the riverside town, still inhabited by its ancient family, the castle.

dark corner—
most of my mother lost
just round the spiral

by Diana Webb
London, England

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Review of Janice M. Bostok's STEPPING STONES

stepping stones by Janice M. Bostok. Post Pressed: Teneriffe, Qld., Australia, 2007. ISBN: 978-1921214-07-3. Perfect Bound, 5 x 8 inches, 54 pp., $15 Aus.

Reviewed by Jeffrey Woodward
This newest book by Janice M. Bostok, widely-known Australian haijin, marries prose and verse into a moving memoir of her life as the young mother of an autistic son. stepping stones, then, is not a collection of individual haibun as much as it is an episodic summary of two lives with the chief events now related in a factual confessional prose style, now in contemporary free-verse, now in a brief haibun with or without accompanying haiku.

Bostok deftly sketches her son’s early problems with spatial orientation in the following way:

When we were out walking and he was in the pusher he would cringe back from bushes which hung over fences onto the footpath …. The shrub would be quite a distance away from him.
This spatial problem became more pronounced after he walked. He also crouched down to go through doorways or ducked to one side. Often when he ran he ran into things or put out his arms as he moved, in the manner of the blind …. Even after he learnt to walk proficiently he would drop down to his hands and knees and crawl through doorways. (22)

The expository detail which serves to establish both background and atmosphere in the narrative of Tony, the poet’s son, is sometimes finely nuanced, sometimes raw and searing:

Travelling with a rigidly autistic child in the car is always a difficult experience at the best of times. Not liking his routine to be interrupted, he would often lie down and go stiff, refusing unequivocally to enter the vehicle. Other times I might get him into his car seat and before I could drive off he would begin to scream until he became so distressed that he would vomit. If he was sick before I actually left the property I could abort the trip and stay home. Many times I simply had to turn the car around a few kilometers down the road ….
Sometimes we made it all the way to town but that would often be a short-lived victory. For arriving in town was merely the beginning. If I drove in the one direction around the shopping block he was happy. If I made a u-turn he would scream …. We always had to appear to be traveling in a circular pattern. (42-43)

With the rich context of the prose for support, Bostok’s haiku and tanka resonate deeply:
pregnant again …
the fluttering of moths
against the window

foetus kicks
the sky to the east
brilliant (7)

from a stringy gum –
its leaves showing white
in the rising westerly wind –
a crow suddenly hops
onto the slanting roof (34)

The expressive haikai passages in the prose – many acceptable as stand alone haibun, with or without attendant haiku – employ many of the techniques that Western haiku also avails itself of: absence of punctuation, quiet understatement and parsimonious phrasing:

another address to locate in an unfamiliar city i can now find my way to the Autistic Centre but accommodation has been offered in an unused nursing home …. at night the kitchen is bleak with windows which look out to a block retaining wall holding a cut-away bank in the hillside most of the nursing home is closed off from use by the fire doors half-way down the long hallway Tony and i the only occupants feeling enclosed i walk towards the glass doors and the main entrance beyond as i walk a ghostly figure in a long night gown approaches from the opposite direction for a moment i feel the panic then i realize as i stand in front of the wide glass doors that my reflection is looking anxiously back at me (36)

stepping stones is not free of stylistic flaws nor perfect in its overall construction but deficiencies in form here find compensation in the courage and honesty wherewith Bostok addresses a deeply personal and difficult subject, her manner rising at times to the acute elegiac tone of

i look at my son a rosebud that didn’t unfurl plucked too soon perhaps a bud which cannot blossom …. (52)

This book, in the end, may be less aesthetic manifesto than a document of the frailty of the human condition and its redemption by love. I commend it to the reader as such, with the fine one-line haiku which serves as its sub-title:
sun on the stepping stone the distance deceiving

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

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Carol Pearce-Worthington: SILO

My country cousins spend mid August tearing tassels from corn stalks, sweating through row after row in a steamy field for a nickle an hour. But one cousin, the pretty one, runs away with a stranger, and is only found a week later.

dog days—
the silo
full of corn

by Carol Pearce-Worthington
New York, NY

Friday, July 4, 2008

Jeffrey Harpeng: MARKED

arms blue with prison tatts
on his shoulder a spider
stuck in its own web

After the bank robbery he went bush, roustabout and shearer. One job he lived in a tin shed an hour from town. Didn't drink with the crew in town. Shouldered slabs of tinnies and a bottle of whiskey back. Just in the door a termite floorboard cracked and he fell into. . . couldn't budge. So he drank a shout to himself and himself and himself.

The sun snailed twice across the sky.

And the kookaburras laughed, even at the brown snake that basked at the door...

Mid-fifties, he keeps his hair long, to flip in case he meets an old screw.

by Jeffrey Harpeng
Macgregor, Qld., Australia
first published in
Quartet (Teneriffe, Qld.: Post Pressed, 2008)

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Jeffrey Woodward: PEACE AND PLENTY

the weathered slats
of a privacy fence,
front and back

The old neighborhood is still what it was, more or less, when I left it: parallel rows of wooden homes, lots apportioned with a view to equality, house after house raised uniformly upon one plain but serviceable plan.

This is where, with Hitler put to rest, our boys that would be coming home were housed—they, and their young families—and peace began.

Despite the cosmetic touch-up of new sod and siding or the cheery face-lift of a faux brick-front, the old neighborhood is still what it was—notwithstanding Korea or Vietnam.
by Jeffrey Woodward
Detroit, Michigan
first published in
Quartet (Teneriffe, Qld.: Post Pressed, 2008)

Wednesday, July 2, 2008


Quartet: a string of haibun in four voices by Jeffrey Harpeng, Patricia Prime, Diana Webb and Jeffrey Woodward. Teneriffe, Qld., Australia: Post Pressed, 2008. ISBN: 978-1-921214-29-5. Saddle Stiched, 5 ½” x 8”, 24 pp, $7.00 AUD.

Reviewed by Joanna Preston
In late 2007, Australian haiku poet Jeffrey Harpeng came up with an idea for a haibun collaboration. Echoing Octavio Paz’s 1969 Renga (written over five days in collaboration with Edoardo Sanguineti, Charles Tomlinson and Jacques Roubaud), his aim was:

to compose a renga/haibun sequence where each writers’ link is, say six lines of prose plus a renga link - three & two lines alternating as per a renga sequence ...[and] to get each writer to reflect the state of the world through local issues and changes ...

The four poets involved were Jeffrey Harpeng (Australia), Patricia Prime (New Zealand), Diana Webb (England) and Jeffrey Woodward (USA).

Now the disclaimer. I’m in the odd position of having been initially sounded out for this project, so I have both a personal link, and access to background information. Hence this review is less “critical analysis of merits” and more “commentary on project”.

I’ve thought for a while that haibun was the most exciting form of poetry currently being written in English, and Quartet promised to explore some of those possibilities. How do you link one haibun to the next? How closely, how tenuously? What is the cumulative effect of these links? How would the four different poets play off their differences (of gender, of style and of nation)? Would the piece work as a whole? Become a single poem? Or remain an anthology of 36?

I really enjoyed this book. Virtually all of the haibun and haiku are of a high standard. What did surprise me though was how similar in level and mood the pieces generally were. Despite the original intention, the differences between the four voices were smoothed out rather than emphasised – maybe inevitable, given the nature of linking (trying to echo or resonate with an earlier poem) and the speed with which the book was written. Heightened by the fact that the four poets did not restrict their settings to their own countries – for example, some of Jeff Harpeng’s were set in New Zealand, and Jeffrey Woodward has pieces that are quite European (such as Picnic on the Grass) and frankly British (Garden Party). But many of the pieces from all four are not firmly located anywhere, which I think is, at the very least, a missed opportunity.

Stylistically, the haibun are mostly of the ‘short chunk of descriptive or narrative prose, concluded by one haiku’ type. Of the exceptions, two haibun begin with a haiku (Peace and Plenty and Marked), one (Concert in the Park) uses two haiku and one (Dead Letter Office) no haiku at all. (A fact which I missed in my first few readings – some evidence for Janice Bostok and Ken Jones’ contention that haibun doesn’t always have to contain a haiku?) In some cases, there’s a sporadic sense of one or other of the poets having an overarching story behind their links – again, something that would have been interesting to see explored a bit more consciously. (Haibun #1 & #5, #7 & #24, for those who want to check.)

There are a couple of things that recur frequently. Spiders and their webs turn up in 5 of the 36 haibun. Ditto butterflies. (Interestingly, not more than once in any one haibun.) Painting turns up in 6 (or 7, if you include “sketching”). But by far the biggest obsession here is children – they occur explicitly in 10 of the 36 poems, and are implied in many others. Children in parks, at museums, following parades. But most often grandchildren.

The links between the different pieces are sometimes subject matter (e.g. turtles, between #1 and #2), sometimes physical setting e.g. (rivers and boulders linking #32 and #33), emotional connotation (e.g. being trapped: an ex-con, trapped by a broken floorboard in #29, two nuns (and a spider) in #30), or reference to a specific word (e.g. “curtain” in both #15 and #16, “cloud” in #16 and #17.)

They’re of varying strength – sometimes close, sometimes very loose. (Not just between haibun and haibun, but also between prose and haiku.) I tend to think of them as step, stride and leap – step being only a small movement away from the previous piece (essentially ‘more of the same’ or ‘adding detail’), leap being a big change (often one that you have to puzzle out after the fact) and stride being somewhere in between (the sort of link that hits you a moment or two after you first frown and say “but...”) For those with analytical minds, my reading breaks the links down into 2 steps, 5 strides and 29 leaps.

Some of the leaps are wonderful – Patricia Prime’s Lovebirds linked to Jeffrey Woodward’s Garden Party by references to gardens and courtship, with a third link between Prime’s haiku (“gulls quibble”) and the characters (gossiping women) of Woodward’s prose. Or between Woodward’s A Dry Music (about watching a rattlesnake shedding its skin) and Prime’s Pieces of Sky (discovering a snail and thinking about a grandchild). It takes a moment before the links reveal themselves here – not just the natural setting, or the presence of a human watcher, or even the focus on a crawling animal (snake, and snail - maybe even young grandson?) but actual shared words: “diamond”, “rattle” and “cracks”. Lovely stuff.

All things considered, this really is an exciting book. Its failings seem to me to be mainly to do with opportunities missed. I would have liked to see the participants each establishing a specific ‘voice’ for their links, making more of the differences between each of the four people involved. Claiming images, moods, locations, types of link etc as their own. Thinking more about the meta-structure of the collaboration as a whole, and writing or revising to best serve that.

English language haibun is strong, inventive and endlessly flexible. An entire area of possibility has been opened up by this quartet of poets. Now it’s up to the rest of us to carry it forward.

by Joanna Preston
Christchurch, New Zealand

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Patricia Prime: LOVEBIRDS

At the postcard rack I hear someone ask, "What's your favourite Klimt?" And I want to answer "The Kiss."

Inch by inch, like oil from a stiff paint tube, the crowd squeezes towards the counter. As I reach the cashier an exit door opens.

A beech leaf, almond shaped, gold coin size, curves in the air, dips, then clasps itself in the tangle of a young woman's golden curls. Her boyfriend plucks it gently from her hair and hands the leaf to her with a peck on the cheek.

gulls quibble
in the gallery fountain
auburn leaves

by Patricia Prime
Auckland, New Zealand
first published in
Quartet (Teneriffe, Qld.: Post Pressed, 2008)