Monday, June 29, 2015

Book Review – Floating Nest by Cynthia Rowe

Floating Nest cover croppedOne thing that I find difficult in exploring Haiku as both a reader and a poet is being able to easily find and obtain collected works by contemporary poets( contemporary being the last five years).  Surfing the internet, once you have found those treasure troves of Haiku content, will reward you with quality Haiku, but rarely do you get a chance to participate in a concentrated reading of one poet’s work.

So I was excited when a review at A Hundred Gourds pointed me toward Cynthia Rowe’s Floating Nest.  I was excited for the reasons stated above i.e. substantial body of work, contemporary but also the fact the Rowe is Australian and has represented quite well in International Haiku circles.

A lot of what I have read until know (aside from Ashley Capes’ work) has either been historic Japanese poets or American poets from the last 20 years.  I wanted to see what an experienced poet writing Haiku had to say about Australia.

A not insignificant number of the poems had been published and so I did recognise a few.  On the whole though it was a fresh reading experience.  The mark of a good poet writing in any form/genre is the ability to make a perceptions and connections anew. In Haiku I think this is doubly important.  English language Haiku is freed somewhat from the stricture of season words, but also divorced somewhat from the allusions and culture that inform Japanese poems.

What I was/am looking for is a poet that can write great Haiku from an Australian cultural perspective and I think Rowe demonstrates that in this work.  So it’s not just mention of eucalypts or magpie geese but attitudes inherent in certain common experiences;

tourist group -

the eucalypt leans away

from the path.

that make these poems stand out. As with any poetry I also look for someone who can imbue the everyday with meaning or perhaps trigger our own memories and emotions.  Take this poem as an example:

dining table

my sister’s first essay


I also like a poet who doesn’t always take things or themselves too seriously and Senryu can be a perfect vehicle for dry wit or understated comment:

country market-

the tribal musician plays

electric didge

The reader is treated to a couple of sequences, a sumi-e Haiga collaboration with Ron Moss and a Haibun in addition to nearly 100 Haiku/Senryu.  Of these I thought  Rainforest Wet showed what a linked extended Haiku set could achieve.  At $6.40 including postage and packaging I feel I may have robbed the poet.  If you are interested in the form and a good contemporary exponent I can highly recommend it.

This review is part of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2015.  Please check out this page for more great writing from Australian women.aww-badge-2015

Book Review – Six Different Windows

sixwinPublished by the University of Western Australia, Six Different Windows is my first exposure to Paul Hetherington, but his eighth collection of poetry. The collection is organised into six similarly themed selections. 

The first section, Corrugations, really hit the sweet spot for the kind of poetry that I enjoy.  I don’t know if it’s middle age but I love pieces that riff off nostalgia and present a solid narrative.  Hetherington gives us 16 poems that focus on an Australia that’s immediately tangible for someone like me who grew up on the edge of suburbia.  My favourite is Chicken, which tells the tale of revenge enacted on a bastard of a History teacher.

…It hadn’t been his bossy irritation

or the murder of his dull monotone—

these, and other crimes, we had forgiven.

It was what he did to noisy Amy (who

had Down syndrome and adored her chickens),

bringing a dead bantam into class,

hanging it from the ceiling: ‘This a lesson

for girls who should not talk unless they’re asked.


Next are seven poems corralled under the title of the first poem in this section, Five Abstractions of Blue.  Here Hetherington becomes a little less direct and the poetry becomes strongly focussed on imagery.  As in Double Scull

A scull planes

on this early morning stretch

of silver-foiled water.

The sun’s upturning lip

brushes on

the horizon’s down-turned scoop;

The poetry from here becomes a little more observational, in the present moment. The titular poem Six Different Windows, headlines a section of the same name and here we a treated to Hetherington’s experiences travelling, in this instance to Ireland, England and Europe.  It’s beautiful language and imagery and despite it’s deviation from the first section I do find I like it.

The section I liked the least was Afterlight: Icarus and Ariadne, which contained only four poems.  The poetry here is clever and funny especially The Muse Drafts Her Business Card but I while I could enjoy the poems it didn’t effect me on an emotional level.

The Vanished Villages heralds a section on well, vanished habitations or peoples, from Pompeii to mining at Coober Pedy, an Inca Sacrifice to a 15th Century Greenlander.  


The Vanished Villages

Here were undistinguished villages

of wood and freckled bricks, and in between

a straggling remnant of forest hinting at

border raiders and ancient Saxon legend,

where women gathered washing into baskets,

granting the landscape a practised scrutiny.

I like the speculative storytelling Hetherington engages in here, building a reality from museum piece, a landscape.  The collection finishes strongly with the section Findings,Keepings which sees a return to what I feel is an Australian context.  The poems here are varied in subject matter and approach.  We are treated to the poet’s childhood or past memories but there’s also speculative elements that featured in the previous section. 

Six Different Windows as you would expect from a poet with 7 previous collections, is a solid and enjoyable poetry experience.  I love the nostalgia fix he dishes out and am jealous of his skill with evocative imagery.  I’ll be chasing down more of his work.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Port Issac Senryu

Port Issac
everywhere I look Doc Martin's

A couple of years ago my wife travelled to England and Port Issac was one of the towns she travelled through.  Having watched and enjoyed the show Doc Martin, she was a bit disconcerted to see the town taking full advantage of its association with the show, plastering Martin Clunes’ pictures over everything. This senryu penned after our morning coffee conversation.

Hollie McNish in response to Tennyson

In conjunction with The Poetry Society, Hollie McNish performs a response to Tennyson’s The Charge of the Light Brigade.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Book Review – Imagined Sons by Carrie Etter

imagined-sons I can’t remember how I was put on to Carrie Etter’s latest work, Imagined Sons.  My taste in poetry runs more towards form and free verse with a distinct focus on sound and rhythm.  That being said I found Imagined Sons as a whole product/project a powerful work. In this, Etter’s seventh collection she presents 38 poetically crafted scenarios similar to the one below. 

Imagined Sons 4: Black and Velvet

I see a group of teenage goths outside Fopp, and one girl’s mélange of black chiffon and crimson velvet reminds me of a previous self. I look at the boy she leans against, with studs in his nose, eyebrow and chin, and silver, inch-wide hoops inside his lobes, and I look away, feeling queasy.

But as I turn, our eyes meet, and his flashing glare says he saw an unintended look of revulsion. And it occurs to me, as I head into the shop, that he is about my height, that he has my large, dark eyes, and that to glance back would evoke a sneer.

I remember The Sisters of Mercy, a band I listened to in those black and velvet days, and start browsing my way toward them from the beginning of the alphabet, thinking to avoid him, thinking to meet.


These don’t refer to the same son, but rather possible sons.  Sometimes these ponderings, these fantasies of “what could have been”, seem a torture. Sometimes there are happy endings.  Some of the poems could standalone and others are multipart and spread throughout the collection:


Imagined Sons 11: The Friend (Part 1)

At the park, I find the bench and watch families, couples and solitary dog-walkers stroll by. After a while, a young man, tall and thin with wispy blonde hair, sits down at the other end of the bench.

‘You’re not him,’ I say, suppressing a sigh.

‘No, but I’m his friend. I’ve come to take you to him.’

I jump to my feet, and he rises to my side.

After a few minutes, I ask, ‘Is he close?,’ walking so quickly I nearly run.

‘Yes, just ahead,’ he replies, not meeting my gaze.

We pass through a stand of trees, sunlight sprinkling the path as the canopy of leaves shifts, rustling, with breezes. Coming out on the other side, I’m surprised to see no people, no one visible in the distance, only low stones, tablets of grey and black, occasionally a white cross, and I apprehend that this is a –

At the park, I find the bench and watch families, couples and solitary dog-walkers stroll by. After a while, a young man, tall and thin with wispy blonde hair, sits down at the other end of the bench.

‘You’re not him,’ I say, suppressing a sigh.

‘No, but I’m his friend. I’ve come to take you to him.’

I jump to my feet, and he rises to my side.

After a few minutes, I ask, ‘Is he close?,’ walking so quickly I nearly run.

‘Yes, just ahead,’ he replies, not meeting my gaze.

We pass through a stand of trees, sunlight sprinkling the path as the canopy of leaves shifts, rustling, with breezes. Coming out on the other side, I’m surprised to see no people, no one visible in the distance, only low stones, tablets of grey and black, occasionally a white cross, and I apprehend that this is a –

To break what is in essence a multiplicity of poetic narratives is a presentation of the Birth Mother’s Catechism every 5 or so poems.  I love the religious overtone this device implies and the repetition of the questions simultaneously gives the reader a break from the prose while giving an insight into the mother’s state of mind, into the questions many birthmothers must ask themselves.  Here is the first which occurs before the first prose poem:


A Birthmother’s Catechism

How did you let him go?

With black ink and legalese

How did you let him go?

It’d be another year before I could vote

How did you let him go?

With altruism, tears and self-loathing

How did you let him go?

A nurse brought pills for drying up breast milk

How did you let him go?

Who hangs a birdhouse from a sapling?


Despite the work being structured around what is a serious and highly emotive subject/reality I think Etter has managed to be subtly balanced in the construction.  The gamut of emotions are explored and I never felt I was drowning in sorrow.  I did wonder what it might have been like to come to the works in individual form.  My understanding is that some, if not most were previously printed in poetry journals and I’m not sure if the impact would be the same if the they were not read closely together. I felt that Imagined Sons benefited from being read as a complete collection of poems. 

Imagined Sons, as I said, wasn’t necessarily within my usual preferences for poetry, but I do feel that the narratives do continue to work on me after I have closed the covers.  Readers of short fiction as well as poetry would certainly enjoy her work too.

This review was based an a copy obtained from the South Australian Library Service.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Haiku – Why the prejudice?

Regular readers of this blog will note that I recently read at SpeedPoets, performing That Summer and The New Development.  The former a pantoum and written in iambic pentameter, the later free verse.  On the whole they seemed to be well received ( one audience member, who I didn’t know, took the time to thank me for the first and a partner of a friend who had inadvertently been dragged to a poetry reading said he liked my poems as well – he may well have been just being polite but I’ll take it at face value).

I also heard Haiku/Senryu performed at this event ( and they were actually good  ie technically good and interesting). Indeed there was a wide range of poetry presented that made me feel comfortable performing.

One thing niggled though. A comment from one of the compères which I put down to “on their feet” mc’ing but which I thought revealed some latent prejudice.  He announced that the next SpeedPoets event which was going to be on short form poetry ie Haiku and Tanka.  The compare made a Haiku on the spot which was a sentence of 17 syllables and encouraged the audience to get cracking.  I was left with the impression that the compare compère didn’t have a high regard an understanding of the form.  Having just heard some great Haiku from a first timer which demonstrated that Haiku is a wee bit more than just a sentence of 17 syllables I though it was the wrong direction to take. 

I know most people probably wrote Haiku in grade 3; mine was about a Koala if I remember correctly.  The thing is, most people seem to leave their understanding at that level and that’s fine. A poet though of any mettle should respect a form, enough at least to know what it is they a talking about.  This comment, which perhaps no one else even noticed had me in mind of some comments made by Peter Sansom in his otherwise good book  Writing Poems.

I can laugh at Sansom’s comments because even though I think he’s wrong (ignorantly so) his snark is delightful.  But it does make me wonder what is the general perception in the Australian community of poets (that nebulous Venn diagram of a community)

Check Sansom’s comments below (mine in red) from page 209 (ebook) in Writing Poems:

Haiku. The ultimate beginner’s classroom poem: haikus help you to talk about imagery, concision and mood; and they have a fixed form which on the one hand gives the writer something to work within, but on the other is purely syllabic and so threatens no tantrums over metre.(not much to disagree with here, very easy to learn the ropes, on meter though I’d check out some of Kenneth Yasuda’s work.  They are used for the ease of which they can demonstrate some poetic techniques,but this is grazing the surface)

Only if you are Japanese or bananas should you call them either ‘haikai’ or ‘hokku’.( have not observed anyone doing this, for sure those terms relate to earlier forms ie Hokku was/is the first link in a Renga and the Haiku was developed from them)

Haikus (the plural is Haiku) are lines of five, seven and five syllables respectively.(this is one older form owing to a strict interpretation or porting over of rules from Japanese to English)

Strictly, their imagery should be drawn from nature and you are meant to at least allude to one of the seasons; but since these measure gale force on the tedium scale, don’t bother. Nobody does that anymore.( Few people, indeed, write haikus. Few people, that is, except the coach-loads who turn up at writing weekends with folders full of the things. (this was written in 1994, currently thousands still writing them in English, Japanese and other languages and the nature focus is as strong as ever. This aversion to coach-loads turning up to writing weekends is weird though)

Try not to be one of these people, but if that’s impossible, claim to be continuing the imagist tradition.(reading Kenneth Yasuda, even the imagists failed to understand what Haiku were all about) Apparently, haikus are extremely demanding in Japanese, because putting words together in that language changes the meaning of both the words, and indeed of other words in their proximity. English of course doesn’t work like that, which is perhaps why most English haikus stay what they are, very short, rather thin poems. My favourite is by John Cooper Clarke and goes something like:

Getting everything

in seventeen syllables

is very diffic

(Yeah not a Haiku, and a cheap shot…funny if its not the 10th time you have heard something like this trotted out.  Look writing Haiku isn’t rocket science but it’s taken me longer to write a good Haiku than it has to write some of my published free verse work.  In some ways I find them more like puzzles).

All the worse for being rarer at poetry events are the Tanka crew: these are usually smug,(I am detecting a certain amount of smugness in this paragraph :)  ) prematurely middle-aged men who consider themselves true craftspersons. (we all know poets like this, pretentious w*nkers are not exclusive to Haiku)

The tanka is also called ‘waka’ and ‘uta’, names which I believe derive from the sound made by the legs of thick corduroy jeans as the poet struts up and down counting. Tankas are five lines of 5,7,5,7,7 syllables(ok, that was funny).

Their theme is supposed to centre on love, nature, loss, that sort of thing. There is no double form called the supertanka. Until, that is, you invent it. Or any equivalent, e.g:The Torrey Canyon. A tanka manqué: syllables as 5,7,5,7,1,1. Less formal in diction than the traditional tanka, but considerably more slick.(Christ, lets not experiment with poetry huh)


The excerpt above is taken from a work published in 1994 but I do currently sense a subtle prejudice, similar perhaps to that directed against folks who say they enjoy bush balladeers. I wonder if it’s a hold over from a time when Haiku may have been a bit of a fad owing to the ease with which the form can be picked up. 

But to criticise a form for its worst exponents is picking some very low fruit. No ?

So do you roll your eye’s when someone says they write Haiku ?  Do you find writing Haiku easy, child’s play? Is the form unjustly maligned?

Light winter rain - Haiku

light winter rain
even the crow croaks softly

s b wright

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Book Review - How to Haiku by Bruce Ross

howtohaikuI continue to find writing Haiku endlessly fascinating. It’s a form that I can return to again and again and still find something fresh.  So I am always keen to read advice on how to write Haiku.

I don’t tend to favour an overtly spiritual approach to writing the form and so Bruce Ross’ approach, which I feel does stem somewhat from this vein was initially …well not off putting, but presented a small hurdle (this is my baggage I think). The again, perhaps I am simply focussed on improving my technique and any “fluff” so to speak, how ever eloquent, poses an annoyance ( patience Sean-san).

How to Haiku doesn’t knock of its pedestal, Jane Reichhold’s  Writing and Enjoying Haiku - A Hands on Guide, as my number one recommendation for new Haiku writers. I did find it offered additional insight though.  So I think that its worth coming to, after you have had some experience and experimented with techniques outlined in Reichhold’s work.

In general I enjoyed Ross’ inclusion of relatively contemporary American Haiku in addition to traditional Japanese examples.  I felt that this gave me a sense of where tradition has been continued ( albeit slightly altered through the change from Japanese to English) and where contemporary Haiku poets have begun to experiment or diverge.

I also enjoyed the inclusion of other forms of Japanese Poetry ie Haibun, Tanka, and Renga/Renku. 

One of the things that I struggle with in reviewing poetry is the technical language with which to talk/ discuss it.  Ross’ explanation/analysis of the poems he presents was aimed at a broad audience (leading some readers to criticise it as boring) which I think acts to both give the reader some pointers on how to talk about Haiku in addition to providing an explanation of the content and techniques.  Better to over explain I think.

Like Reichhold I do appreciate Ross’ “Guideline” approach to the writing of Haiku.  He presents the tradition, gives you examples of that tradition – contemporary and pre-modern and leaves it up to you.  I think this allows for respect of the form without slavish adherence to rules that I think will ultimately restrict it and result in stagnation.  His discussion on the difference between the qualities of Wabi and Sabi was also helpful.

In each of the other forms mentioned above I gained something from reading Ross’ work.  I have struggled for sometime to attempt Haibun and Ross provided four different approaches and highlighted traditional and contemporary examples.  His identification of the divergent traditions of Tanka were similarly illustrative.  His explanation of the linking in Renga was perhaps the best I have come across.

So, a worthwhile addition to your library?  I think so.  Not a beginning point but certainly worth it for those with some experience/exposure to the form under their belt.

PS – I got my copy at Kobo which appears to be the cheapest for ebooks.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Book Review – Haiku Moment: An Anthology of Contemporary North American Haiku

haikumLet’s face it.  If you are not “into” writing and reading Haiku then you might find the some 800 odd poems in this anthology a bit thin.  I think in most cases Haiku can be a bit of an acquired taste (though a relatively easily acquired one).  But I really did enjoy it.

Now it’s touted as contemporary, but the selections were made from poems published in the decade 1982 to 1992, making it 20-30 years out of date.  As an indicator of what’s going on in English rendering of Japanese form poetry currently, it possibly has less value.  It does bring together a good slice of North American poetry of that period, minus some noted poets.

There’s a succinct(okay it’s 30 pages but there’s a lot of info squeezed in) introduction to the collection that covers what elements make up Haiku, both in traditional Japanese and English language Haiku, the four masters Basho, Buson, Issa and Shiki are covered and the intersection with the Imagists Ezra Pound, Amy Lowell and later the Beat Poets.

The introduction should prepare you well enough to enjoy most of the works that follow - I come to it as a practitioner of the form so its hard for me to tell.  Being Haiku, the majority of the poems a nature/ observation based.  A note on the poems splits them roughly into two types:

…. these haiku are meant to reflect either the style of the Basho School of haiku with its emphasis on the presentation of temporal loneliness and emotional objectivity in the treatment of nature subjects (and occasionally, as in later Basho, an elevated warm-heartedness found in one's relation to commonplace things) or the haiku of Issa with their joyful evocations of the liveliness and empathic resonance found in the natural world. All of the haiku in this anthology, moreover, should convey a moment of insight experienced by a poet in real time through real beings and objects, a moment that the reader may enter and share.

Some of the difficulties I experience in finding good Haiku to read and learn from, is discerning good sources (this is becoming easier as a grow as a poet).  Anybody can attempt a Haiku (and many do) though I am not sure how many see it as anything other than writing something poetic in 17 syllables.  A search for Haiku on Kobo will give you hundreds of books of whose quality it can be had to determine.  Haiku Moment addresses that problem to some extent. It gives you a sense of what one well known gatekeeper thinks is quality Haiku and you can then attempt to track down works of the poets contained therein.

Here are three haiku to give a general idea.  Mind you there’s 800 to choose from.


Summer is over.
A horse walks its reflection
along the lake's edge

Ann Atwood


The way silence waits
     and waits ... for the next
          cry of the loon

Beatrice Brissman



                                        migrating geese
           one falls farther and farther

Charles Dickson


You could jump straight into the work having never read Haiku before, but the real value I have found is as a source for good examples of the continued lineage of the form.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Reminder – Poetry and Place Subs are open

Just a reminder that Close-Up Books have reached the open submissions stage of their 2015 Poetry & Place Anthology slated for release in December.


Check out the guidelines here.

Mathematics by Hollie McNish

Hollie McNish is one of my favourite spoken word poets.  If you like poetry with rhythm, rhyme and a bit of political/cultural criticism then check this video out.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Performed at SpeedPoets

shot_1431752795759 I was recently in Brisbane and took the opportunity to meet up with fellow writing and poetry friends at Brisbane SpeedPoets. I, along with about 30 poets, performed poems over 3 sets.  Featured poets were local poet Chloe Callistemon, who read an extended set from her as yet unpublished manuscript and American slam poet Good Ghost Bill (Bill Moran) who is currently touring internationally.

I performed That Summer ( which you should be able to listen in the Soundcloud widget to the right) and a new piece called the new development which I dedicated to S G Larner who gave me the confidence to read it on the day.

If you would like to pick up printed versions of these poems as well as others performed on the day, get along to the next SpeedPoets and they should have copies of their magazine for sale/donation.


the new development

for SG Larner


they squat


consume their blocks


almost touch

so that you can hear

each other's drip fed dreams

fill the open plan

square footage


a sign

promised rural living

but this could be any batch

of uninspired


squashed into another

sweaty subdivision.


sixties yellow brick veneer

replaced by dull grey brutalism

or an off-cream glut

of expectations




like a cancer

of want

they squat

eat their fill

and dream

dream always

of the horizon

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