Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Bob Lucky: A Walk Before Dawn


flattened frog the silence of early morning


every five years

every cell in our bodies is replaced

you don’t need to know that

to know the love we made last night

is not the love we made a decade ago

is not the love we found that night

at the end of monsoon on a rooftop in Delhi

the macaques chattering in the trees


battered suitcase

the smoothness

of a worn handle


every journey recalled is retaken
reassembled memories of the shrine
to the stillborn and aborted
make room in my heart for this
frog flat and sundried as leather


caught between a tire and the pavement

in the disappearing act of life

I take it by a leg and make it hop

like a shadow puppet across the sky

then toss it into the weeds



the darkness fades

into birdsong



by Bob Lucky

Hangzhou, China

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Richard Straw: Retrospective Haibun, or Why I Love the Past


I’m a writer with strong nostalgic longings. One of my favorite essayists is Charles Lamb, someone else who labored for decades as a harmless office worker and who also longed for and wrote mostly about the past. Gerald Monsman talks about this aspect of Charles Lamb in Confessions of a Prosaic Dreamer: Charles Lamb's Art of Autobiography (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1984). For example, see pp. 40-42:


Because quotidian or physical reality presents itself as a privation, Lamb's work is "mainly retrospective," as Walter Pater noted...For Elia, the South-Sea House in its desolation becomes a symbol of all vanished glory―all forms of absence or distance in space, time, and consciousness that undermine the original grounding of reality...In the "Oxford" essay, Elia shifts his scene analogously, moving from the outer world of the present to an interior world of the past in quest of a reality that will underwrite existence...The present is always "flat, jejune" (lacking nourishing quality), and the past seems to beckon men to an escape from the insipid starved present.


Monsman then quotes from Lamb's "Oxford in the Vacation," the second in the Essays of Elia:


Antiquity! thou wondrous charm, what art thou? that, being nothing, art every thing! When thou wert, thou wert not antiquity—then thou wert nothing, but hadst a remoter antiquity, as thou called'st it, to look back to with blind veneration; thou thyself being to thyself flat, jejune, modern! What mystery lurks in this retroversion? or what half Januses are we, that cannot look forward with the same idolatry with which we for ever revert! The mighty future is as nothing, being every thing! the past is every thing, being nothing!


I titled my first collection of haibun The Longest Time because the past is the time that I've lived in and think about the most. The present is so fleeting it's almost nonexistent, and the future of course is unknown. This situation is bound to intensify as I age.



by Richard Straw

Cary, North Carolina

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Sharon Auberle & Ralph Murre: Porte des Morts


crow and seagull

on whirling winds

a white orchid at the window



Dull olive of cedar outweighs other colors, rationed so carefully in northern winter. The ground is snow-covered; the sky gray; the bay, jagged slates, soon to be frozen. Slender crimson of osier, hue of salmon-flesh where the wind has stolen bark from birch. Rarely, salmon on the rocky foreshore to feed a gull or crow.


Winter reminds us that all things come and go. There is freedom in what remains—the bones, the wind, bare branches. An old man dies on an island.


out in the passage

a ferryman’s fog-signal

the great lake steaming



by Sharon Auberle & Ralph Murre

Sister Bay, Wisconsin

And Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Chen-ou Liu: The Floating World


Struck by its sharpness and fragility, I study a blade of grass. This opens my eyes to spring blossoms and winter snow, to nature's wide horizon, to the world I live in.


on the bent tip

of a blade of grass

a dewdrop



by Chen-ou Liu

Ajax, Ontario, Canada

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Announcement: Publication of Modern Haibun & Tanka Prose #2 - Winter 2009

MET Press is pleased to announce the publication of the second issue of the biannual journal, Modern Haibun & Tanka Prose, edited by Jeffrey Woodward. MH&TP 2 has been published in print, in PDF ebook, and in an online digital edition. This Winter 2009 issue is 180 pages in a trade paperback. ISSN 1947-606X.
Modern Haibun & Tanka Prose has established itself as the first and only periodical devoted exclusively to these two mixed prose-and-verse genres. Haibun and tanka prose belong to the ancient and venerable tradition of Japanese poetry and belles-lettres. Their practice has waned in modern Japan but, with the continuing popularity of their respective parent-forms, haiku and tanka, in the West, haibun and tanka prose are experiencing unprecedented growth and diverse experimentation from New York to London, from Berlin to Brisbane, and in small towns and open countryside around the globe. Haibun and tanka prose are busily revising the general literary map and, in doing so, quietly reforming haiku and tanka also. Modern Haibun & Tanka Prose, a biannual journal, faithfully represents the full range of styles and themes adopted by contemporary practitioners and intends to play a vanguard role in charting the rapid evolution of these genres.
Check out Modern Haibun & Tanka Prose at
For more information, contact the editor, Jeffrey Woodward, at MHTP.EDITOR@GMAIL.COM

Friday, December 18, 2009

Dana-Maria Onica: Untitled


Here was a lake surrounded by trees—oaks, as far as I remember.


Where is the tall grass? Where is the wind?


There is nothing left, only this sun killing all the seeds, to the last one, and us, its witnesses.


dying face—

the many open mouths

of the dry land



by Dana-Maria Onica

Petrosani, Romania

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Richard Straw: Background Story, or Would You Like Prose with That Haiku?

old red Schwinn
abandoned in weeds―
outburst of rain

The "old red Schwinn" poem was written on May 23, 1988. I was probably smoking a Marlboro Light at the time and resting my haiku notebook on my knee as I sat on the front porch steps of my first owned home in North Carolina. I was keeping an eye on my first child, who was 2 years old then. She was in front of me in her stroller and waiting to be pushed around the block again, a ritual we performed each night when I got home from work. I must have seen some neighborhood boy race his bike on the downhill straightaway that was the street in front of our house. Back then, seeing any bicyclist triggered daydreams about my old bike.

As a teenager in central Ohio, I'd sold Christmas card "subscriptions" door to door one summer to save enough money to help my parents buy the Schwinn for me (we went "halfsies"). Later, after I earned more money doing some gardening for a widow who lived near us, I hung matching wire baskets over its rear tire, a combination speedometer and odometer on its handlebars, and a rearview mirror near its left grip. I rode my Schwinn out to a quarry past the county fairgrounds to the north and to the basketball courts and baseball diamonds at all of the city parks, many of which were named after U.S. Presidents who had died in office―Lincoln, Garfield, McKinley, Kennedy. And of course, I often rode downtown to the Goodwill Store near the Episcopal Church so I could browse in its 10 cent bookracks, or I'd head for the cigar store in the shadow of the courthouse so I could leaf through the newest comic books (and peek at the girlie mag displays). Later, I'd bike to the Carnegie Public Library next to my parents' Baptist church where I "discovered" Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass one fateful summer afternoon.

The bike and I were inseparable until I loaned it to a friend to ride one summer morning. He said he needed to borrow it so he could go swimming with some other friends at a reservoir about 10 miles or so south of town. However, he abandoned the bike in a ditch after he ran over a nail and got a flat tire. And he neglected to tell me what happened until much later, too late for my dad and me to go out to find it.

The photograph was taken by my mom at the start of my one-and-only overnight bike hike in the mid-1960s. Our Boy Scout troop met on Monday evenings in the basement of a Methodist church downtown. One year, the scoutmaster decided we were old enough for a bike hike. So, we pedaled out of town about 10 miles to a small roadside park next to an abandoned electric power plant near a river, just 2 miles north from the village where my family lived in the early 1950s.


I seem to remember that my dad had to drive out with a replacement chain or tire for my bike at the halfway point of the hike. He may even have driven me to the roadside park with my repaired bike in the trunk of his Impala because the rest of the troop had gone ahead without me.


The power plant had a spooky, brick smokestack taller than anything else for miles around. Years later, when I read from William Blake's "Jerusalem," the line that goes "among these dark Satanic mills" made me remember that old building and its gloomy outbuildings encircled by barbwire and "Keep Out" signs. Looking up from a marshmallow browned by that long-dead campfire in the mid-1960s, I prayed that the oak woods wouldn't catch fire.


by Richard Straw

Cary, North Carolina

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Dru Philippou: Sanctum

lions of Apollo
guard his Delian temple
among bursts
of wild poppies
clambering for the heavens
I run the color red over Father’s free-floating columns drawn on paper, shading the emptiness between them green, compromising purity of shape. With a pencil, I taper the columns with shallow flutes, setting them onto stylobates. I sketch the abacuses and place them on capitals. Standing back, I gaze at the towering pillars, imagine them pulling loads. I reach for another pencil, thicken the walls around me and slowly tilt back my head.
by Dru Philippou
Taos, New Mexico
originally published in Modern English Tanka, Spring 2009

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

William Sorlien: Untitled


Upstream a short distance from town is (or was, I should say) a working grain terminal and elevator, not exactly a harbor, perhaps most notable for its proximity to the railroad. The building remains, now an historic site.


Amidst the dirty concrete pilings beneath, we would fish for carp with bits of canned corn while rusty barges gradually subsided under loads of boxcar grain, smoke from pilfered cigarettes mingling with the odor of turgid water as we planned nefarious boyhood schemes.


The train tracks remain, although the riverfront has been subject to a decades long urban renewal, now surrounded by four-story apartments and condos. A far cry from the "old Levee" and degraded mansions-cum-ghetto rooming houses we feral house monkeys would terrorize.


If I close my eyes I can remember the sounds: six inch thick hemp rope slithering around massive steel pylons, a splash in murky ooze, the death throes of massacred carp, mouths agape and eyes blank, the clank and crash of breaking bottles disturbing the hiss of tons of pouring grain, jovial cursing of deeply tanned deckhands and the POP of rock salt fired from a .410 gauge shotgun by a drunken, angry train conductor—the crush of feet in flight, torn high-top sneakers scrambling across class 5 stone, our ragged panting, our laughter.


grain, steel and coal

russian hemp grown wild

along the tracks


by William Sorlien

St. Paul, Minnesota

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Benita Kape: Linen Clouds


Behind me the house which has a life of its own. Perhaps young children lie abed. One may be reading, the very young sleeping, the father listening to the radio. Perhaps the father has directed the older of the children to attend to after dinner chores.


But I, the woman of the house with but a month until the next expected baby arrives in spring, am seated here on the veranda. I have left the busy day's activities behind me. I have lowered my tiny frame and my big rounded ball of a belly into a deep chair. I look into a row of trees in a park across the road and claim it to be a forest in my mind's eye.


But beyond my little forest a forest of children loom large; children who play in the kindergarten on the edge of the small park. I muse in the present, drift back to the future; the times when grandchildren took up the tea-towels after a family meal; argued over who would wash and who would dry and who among them might be put on roster for another evening. Now great-grandchildren have reached an age to take their turn in the ritual of washing and drying dishes as I go take a seat in a quite corner.


They joke that I have no mechanical apparatus to do away with such a boring chore. Funny how quickly they learned to flick tea-towels. Funny how it does not remain boring for long.


linen clouds

a child

and a kitten

entertain their

sleeping audience


by Benita Kape

Gisborne, New Zealand

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Chen-ou Liu: Candle


Every year, together, my parents light a candle on my birthday cake, giving thanks to their God for the blessings I’ve received. Then I close my eyes, make a wish, and blow out the candle with my own breath.

birthday cakes

one on top

of another

pushing me down

six feet under

by Chen-ou Liu

Ajax, Ontario, Canada

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Stanley Pelter: service


funeral service

is a contortion

of her harsh life

at last

a loud voice hushed.


Nearly made 102. Nearly 2 weeks dead. She, we believe, lies nearby. To one side. The event inside this last-of-the-day is taking place in one section of a tiny chapel. 7 of the small congregation are Jewish. Some are frum. From Ireland, a grandson, his memorial a soft roll burr of mid-America. Timed to coincide, over there 3 more grandchildren make offerings. No one looks directly at her lily-topped coffin. A grand yet petite finale. Ageing son’s soliloquy, his own poem, balance emotion with sensible detachment. Some of the Jews murmur to a hymn, unclear how to retain their outsider status. Inside a silencing sonata, a curtain surrounds a final secret as it begins to disappear through a narrowing space.


inside the inside

of an acacia leaf

veins bulge

she passes into a realm

of invisibility


We make our way to a village pub. Meet in circular talk. Discuss photos in albums. Look inside picture frames. See into her twenties. Admire elegant poses of thirties. Talk beyond wartime songs: white cliffs of Dover. lily marlene. underneath the arches. we’ll meet again.


in a back room

of b/w photographs

such swirls of limbs

vagrant images

dispel inside memory


by Stanley Pelter

Claypole, Lincolnshire, England

Friday, November 27, 2009

Jeffrey Winke: In Mid-Night Wanders


The rough idling of an 18-wheeler with its pshhhhit, pshhhhit airbrakes stir him in the early dawn. It’s best to move on anyway. Out of mercy or carelessness, the backdoor to this industrial cement-block building is open most nights and the protected, 15-degrees-warmer-than-outside-temp six-foot entranceway, leading to the locked steel interior door, is appreciated. It’s much better than the shelter with the dorm-style cots and the need to protect valuables from the coughing, expectorating human refuse with at least one druggie manic who “borrows” a pair of dry socks here and a warm hat there in mid-night wanders. And the shelter staff with their malevolent, pseudo-benevolent jesus-loves-you-stares. He wants to scream, “The f jesus loves me – if he does, why am I stuck here sleeping on my WILL DO ANYTHING FOR FOOD OR MONEY sign and begging for a bigger breakfast than an anorexic eats.”


bird carcass . . .

dirt, dry leaves

and gum wad


by Jeffrey Winke

Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Bamboo Shoot: Close Encounters

I’m not given to superstition or unsupported flights of imagination, but not so long ago, I had a strange experience, the details of which greatly amused my friends. Even now, the story still gains me much-needed status in chance conversation.

At a rather grand poetry festival, a well-known poet had recounted to us how, one day, he had opened the morning paper to see his own name spread across the front page in stark black capitals: ANTHONY THWAITE. Much intrigued, he had prepared his breakfast and returned to find the headline now saying ANTHRAX THREAT. Imagine my surprise then, when, only days later, the same trick was played on me.

I was sitting quietly in an almost empty reception area of the eye-clinic at my local hospital. To my left was a large reception desk, between which and the swing doors to my right, a young nurse was scurrying to and fro carrying files and forms; sometimes equipment. And on the desk was a large notice which said I’M GOING MAD. Well, after she had passed me for the umpteenth time, I couldn’t resist. ‘I’m not surprised’, I said.

She paused, ‘Pardon?’

‘I said, I’m not surprised’. . . and I smiled to reassure her of my normality.

She frowned as if perplexed; and when she next appeared, she stopped, ‘What were you on about?’

I smiled again, ‘Sorry, I just said that I’m not surprised, really . . . about your going mad’, and I pointed to the notice, which now read INCOMING MAIL . . .

Is it any wonder that our long gone ancestors sometimes suspected an infinitely bored God of poking a divine finger into our human affairs? Wasn’t that, after all, why I had raised my eyes, then, in a mix of mock horror and amused embarrassment, to the thin blue shield separating us from that imponderable blackness?

that damned cat again –
it knows me through doubled glass
at 50 yards


Close Encounters references Spielberg’s film Close Encounters of the Third Kind (Man meets extraterrestrial visitors). The misreading of words has nothing to do with poor eyesight; this part of my tale is about the nature of perception—in this case visual perception. The retina of the eye is an extension of the brain; and it only receives various wavelengths of light. These are computerised at various brain levels, making reference to the memory banks of past experience, in order to provide the ‘mind’ with a consistent view of the world (there is no real objective view of things—only a useful illusion of reality). But visual ‘mistakes’ can be made, and probably everyone has experienced such mistakes. First, something seen at distance may change into something else on closer inspection. But also sometimes, ‘pressed for time’ perhaps, the eye takes in insufficient information to make accurate perception possible; and the eye-brain makes its best guess. This is what has happened in my story (the fact that I was in an eye hospital is just one of those coincidental quirks of life). Note, that possibly something similar happened to Soseki in his Grass Pillow (BS 10.3; Sep 2000, pp44/45) when he thinks that he has seen a woman—his eye-brain deceived his mind. In the final paragraph, my looking upwards in embarrassment is an example of what psychologists would call ‘displacement activity’ (many other animals use it)—a superficially pointless action to relieve stress or avoid aggression etc. However, I am willing to bet that in Man’s case the act of looking upwards also has its roots in the history of religious culture—we look up to curse or thank our God. The ‘thin blue shield’ is, of course, Earth’s atmosphere—and parallels the double-glazing separating me from the cat who may be regarding me as some vengeful god.

by Bamboo Shoot
Salisbury, Wiltshire, England

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Chen-ou Liu: Half-Past Tomorrow

Everything has passed me by; I yearn for unseized moments. I think more of what has passed than of what will be. High expectations of youth have given way to acceptance. My life has always been and will always be uneventful: a series of events.

tomorrow creeps in
day by day . . .
the joints
of my memory
age and ache

I'm not happy; yet I'm not looking for happiness.
by Chen-ou Liu
Ajax, Ontario, Canada

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Glenn G. Coats: Directions

On Saturday morning, the rear entrance to the corner building is locked, so I enter through the front of the coffee shop. It is early and no one is sitting around the small tables that look out on Third Street. Someone from behind the counter calls out , “Good morning,” but I don’t stop. Their coffee is strong and leaves a bitter taste that lingers for hours. The building was once a bank, and I walk quickly past the first vault with its heavy door left open—a manmade cave. I push open the door that reads Emergency Exit Only and pass the elevator that I will not ride and climb two flights of metal stairs that are dirty and spotted with coffee stains. I click on the hall light several times to get it to work and check to see if the restrooms are locked.

on the second floor
homeless stir

Wood is peeling from the door to room 2C, and the doorknob feels loose as I turn it. There are no windows in the office that now serves as a classroom for adults learning how to read. Two gray tables line up like roads coming to a T, and donated pictures hang on the walls. I settle into a heavy wooden chair and read over the story I will be teaching, asking myself about names and places that might confuse a new reader. I wonder about her experiences, has she ever gone camping, does she know what the surf sounds like? The door is open and I listen for feet tapping up the metal stairs. I know it will be my first student wanting to understand a few more words so The Holy Bible will begin to make sense to her.

morning classes—
through air ducts
the smell of burnt toast

by Glenn G. Coats
Prospect, Virginia

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Adelaide B. Shaw: Montgomery Place

We visit an historic house, one of many in the Hudson Valley.

Along the drive leading up to the mansion is an avenue of black locust. The signature tree on this estate. More locust on the river side. Some over 200 years old. Deep, knife-like ridges, forming as the tree ages, extend lengthwise down the trunk.

squinting in the sun—
character lines deeper
with each tree

We stroll past the trees, across the arboretum spread out on the far end of an expansive lawn. Red and white oak, beech, tulip, sweet gum, sycamore, maple. Each planted to give pleasure to the viewer for its size, shape and position on the lawn.

We continue around the mansion, stepping onto the veranda.

a reclining chair
with a river view—
a life before mine

A side path leads to a series of garden rooms, one spilling into another, like the waterfall in a shadowed corner tumbling into a pool. The breeze plays little tricks—first teasing with late blooming roses, then honeysuckle, then sage. We meander on the paths, noting the curving lines, the seemingly unplanned plan. A spontaneous eruption of vistas—lawns, gardens, river.

the cries of geese
crossing the hunting grounds
of ancient tribes

by Adelaide B. Shaw
Millbrook, New York

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Richard Straw: Haibun: It's a Family Thing

A haibun is a family gathering, perhaps a reunion, of young and old and middle aged. Some dads huff prose and some cousins whisper poetry and some sons and daughters do a bit of both or talk gibberish like an uncle through his beer and mustache. All are interacting, replaying old lines, trying new routines, listening to each other, or sleeping in front of the TV, the butt of a face-painting prank. The prose members and the haiku members can say the same lines elsewhere in another setting, such as in a formal gathering of poems or in a critic's selective review. Words voiced separately may even gain some acclaim and applause. Although what's said in nonfamily settings will sound similar to what was said before, it will have a different meaning, a loss usually of context. Outside the haibun family and its relationships, the family members will have different personalities, none perhaps as dynamic as what they share with those who also have similar lips and eyes, tones and intentions.

end of summer
another family
in my old home

So, in a haibun, the prose and the haiku can and will stand alone, just as they can and will stand together, depending on how a reader, the stranger, chooses to experience them. Haibunists can't expect that everything they write will be read in sequence and in its entirety. Novella-length haibun need to be broken up into edible parts, or they may not be read at all. Even some careful readers, such as Samuel Johnson, skim across the page and through a book, much like skaters on a river. The effect of the words that are read, either silently in one's head or aloud in an armchair or on a stage, will also vary depending on a reader's short-term memory and ability to comprehend what the writer may think has been clearly enunciated in black and white. It's all relative so to speak.

by Richard Straw
Cary, North Carolina

Monday, November 9, 2009

Editorial: The Survival of Haibun Today

One year ago this morning I celebrated the first anniversary of Haibun Today in an editorial review of this blog’s stated mission and publishing record. I do not intend to repeat that performance on this, our second anniversary, but prefer, instead, to address the broader problem of the survival of haibun as a viable literary genre.


The haibun writer and connoisseur alike may be forgiven the complacent view—one reflective of human nature, perhaps—that the good that is present today will, of its own accord, be here tomorrow. Hasn’t haibun had a place in haiku literature in English for many decades? Aren’t haibun now a fixture in many haiku journals? A literary form, however, may be compared to a garden. Future harvests are not insured by this year’s gathering but only by the care and cultivation of each subsequent season’s plantings.


Haibun, of course, do date back to the early days of the adaptation of haiku to English. Robert Speiss, long-serving editor of Modern Haiku, published his Five Caribbean Haibun in 1972 and his works are by no means the earliest datable examples. Haibun may fairly be said to gain traction only in the 1990s, however, and to reach some level of sophistication and maturity toward the close of that decade and the beginning of the new millenium in such poets as David Cobb, Michael McClintock, Ken Jones, William Ramsey and others.


What then is lacking? In the editorial “Haibun Tomorrow? Maybe, Maybe Not” (Haibun Today, March 12, 2008), I opined that little in the way of informed critical study of haibun had been attempted and that even an adequate bibliography, a necessary tool for such investigation, did not exist. A bibliography is offered here at Haibun Today but it must be considered provisional and sketchy in every respect. Further, in my list of haibun’s shortcomings, I added:


Perhaps most telling and damning is the lack of a comprehensive historical anthology of haibun classics, one that includes both the earliest and latest significant achievements in the form . . . . For young would-be writers of haibun, this deficiency is critical and debilitating, for they face the challenge of learning a difficult art with only contemporary examples and their natural talents to guide them—historical and aesthetic continuity being a chimera.

My enthusiasm for haibun as written and for haibun as it may yet be written has not wavered. It is this sense of promise, of great things yet to come, that explains the deprivation I feel in the absence of a retrospective collection of the finest haibun. However that may be, and however much I and others may believe that the haibun literature itself justifies such an authoritative and comprehensive anthology, many other tasks—less glamorous perhaps but no less essential to haibun’s survival—require the attention of sympathetic writers and editors.


The necessary work, broadly speaking, might be classed as critical and archival. Occupations for the critic, and haibun theorists and publicists alike are in short supply, include book reviews, historical and theoretical essays, and in-depth articles on or interviews with accomplished haibun practitioners. So little has and is being done, with respect to such activities, that every modest review or familiar essay must be regarded as a welcome contribution. Archival projects, on the other hand, include not only the compilation of an exhaustive bibliography but also the ultimate rescue, from the oblivion of the rare out-of-print journal or pamphlet, of many early exemplars of haibun as well as occasional essays or commentaries of historical and literary importance.


This labor is beyond the skill and resources of any one writer or journal but requires the participation of many hands in the haikai community. So, once again, I would like to call upon not only the self-interest of haibun poets in pursuing such goals but would like to appeal to the haikai community, as a whole, to meet what I see as an obligation, that of honoring and supporting a core aspect of its own artistic heritage, the haibun of Bashō and his far descendants.


by Jeffrey Woodward

Detroit, Michigan

Friday, November 6, 2009

Owen Bullock: Roche

My first full-time job was in a pub kitchen. They did bar food and had a ‘posh’ restaurant upstairs for the evenings. I washed dishes, prepped ingredients, made sandwiches. I also became a shoulder to cry on for my bosses’ wife.

I was nineteen and wore a skimpy beard. The chef advised me to “shave it off and grow un again.” One of the visiting salesmen told me, “rub it in yer wife’s doo-dah.”

When I’d been there a few weeks, the chef left. He’d been mis-managing the accounts and all I remember is the boss saying “I’ll break his fucking legs!” I got shuffled into cooking the bar snacks, which I enjoyed—I didn’t have to do so many dishes.

When the new chef arrived, he taught me how to make white sauce and paté. He was a large man and liked to bang on the bench with a broad-heeled knife. He’d served on the QEII and cooked for the Queen. When the old marge tubs on the bench were full of waste, he’d ask me to “take out the gash.” He found a hunk of venison in the bottom of the freezer, which the previous chef hadn’t known what to do with, and made the most wonderful pies.

But somehow the job didn’t seem useful enough to me and I got work in a psychiatric hospital. When I left the pub, they gave me a St. Christopher’s medallion. I didn’t know what to do with it; I sold it as soon as I could.

I was her confidante
but when I left her employ
she said
there’s a lot of things
I could say

by Owen Bullock
Waihi, New Zealand

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Patricia Prime & Catherine Mair: Uretara Estuary

on the stop bank
wandering with the shadows
cast by clouds

We walk beside the estuary taking photographs of bird life: shags, herons, ducks, Canada geese, pied stilts and bitterns. Along the stop bank we meet a rat-poisoner and his wife laying bait among the reeds. "None of the bait has been taken," he says, "so we must be doing some good." About a kilometer along our path we come across a houseboat. A boy greets us from the top deck where he's fishing. In a small tree a thrush sings his heart out: his song never faltering as it changes from high to low, from a warble to a stream of sound.

calm lagoon—
a blue heron's
sudden flight

On the jetty across the river Christine tricks us into thinking she's a statue standing so still holding the long handle of her white-baiter's net. It is tempting to shout out, "Have you got any? How are they running?" But white-baiters are a secretive breed and rarely admit their success. We hope the bread we carry to feed the ducks isn't viewed as sustenance for the water rats. Coming towards us along the grassy path edged by flax is another walker with two fluffy white terriers. We pause for a brief chat about the pleasant change in the weather from yesterday's wind coming off the snow.

Look! there it is—
the bittern sculpture
on the opposite bank

It's a brisk walk back to the car. When we touch our cheeks, which feel hot and stinging, we find they are cold.

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

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