New book

I’ve been labouring over two a book reviews for Haiku NewZ and am pleased to say that I got them both it posted yesterday.

The book are is waking echoes by Nola Borrell (NZ) and Where the River Goes: The Nature Tradition in English-Language Haiku edited by Allan Burns (the editor is American, the publisher in the UK). The former is a first collection of haiku and haibun. the latter a collection of more than 900 haiku published between 1963 and 2012.

You can find the reviews here – waking echoes.

twilight whistling down the lake black swans

– Nola Borrell



storm warnings –
the deep blue reach
of delphiniums

                                                                      – Billie Wilson (Alaska)
from Haiku in English: The First Hundred Years (Norton, 2013)

My delphiniums have been terrible this year. I shifted the two that have done all right in previous years to what I thought was a better spot for them. One promptly died and the other has put up a pathetic little spike. Meanwhile, the new one I bought in spring, which was planted alongside, has also stood still. Pah!

delphinium6 - Copy

Delphiniums in VanDusen Botanic Gardens, Vancouver, Canada. Photo: Sandra Simpson

planting delphiniums
in dark soil –
the taste of rain water 

– Sandra Simpson, published in tinywords 13.1.2013

The Vege Grower’s great-grandfather was a champion delphinium grower and we have the RHS medal to prove it. The Vege Grower, however, refuses to have anything to do with them. Dowdeswell’s Delphiniums, in Wanganui, is the home of this country’s top (only?) delphinium breeder, Terry Dowdeswell.

David Fagan & shearing

Today I had the good fortune to see David Fagan in a shearing contest. We’d decided to go to the Tauranga A&P Show (for readers outside New Zealand, Agricultural & Pastoral), which is a sad urbanised shadow of a real A&P Show but it’s all we’ve got.

Right at the end of the tented section of the show was the Home Industries display (I could have won the pikelet section, honestly, only one entry and the Vege Grower reckoned they looked stodgy) … and next to that the shearing and there he was, shaven head down, bum up.

Hurrah, yet David who? is a question that, sadly, many New Zealanders would ask even though he’s one of the greatest sportsmen this country has ever produced. Yes, that’s right, I put him alongside Peter Snell (athletics, double Olympic gold, 5 individual world records) and Mahe Drysdale (rowing, five-time world champion, Olympic gold medal). Read a 2007 profile of him here (by a sportswriter).

Seven years later at the age of 52 he’s still competing – and still winning. Just last month he notched up Open win number 622 in Manawatu and had the pleasure of competing against, and beating, son Jack.

David Fagan set world records for 9-hour strong-wool lamb shearing in 1985, 1988 and 1992. Nine hours (take that, netballers (see below))! He set a 9-hour world record for strong-wool ewes in 1991 and 1994.

David was in the 2010 World Champion Team with Cam Ferguson (who also took out the world individual title) in Wales – a repeat of his 1994 success in Wales. He was also in the team that won the world title in 1986 (Australia).

He was individual world champion and part of the champion team in 1988 (NZ), 1992 (England), 1998 (Ireland) and 2003 (Scotland). He was individual world champion in 1996 (NZ). By my reckoning that’s 12 world titles! This year’s world champs is in Ireland in May.

Today I watched him shear 8 lambs, starting out not that much faster than the young fellas he was up against, step on the gas and get an entire lamb ahead and then ease back to win by about half an animal. His blows were clean, animal handling meticulous and his movements economical. By rights his back should have given out by now (the most common career end for shearers) so I was chuffed to see him looking good.

He was on the long-list of nominees for Halberg Sportsman of the Year award in 2010 but didn’t win and in 2004 was nominated for Waikato Sportsman of the Year, walking out after his list of achievements was cut short and the netballers (netballers!) started sniggering when his name was read out.

His home town of Te Kuiti has put up a statue in his honour and quite right too. The man is a legend.

I was brought up on a sheep farm and always loved going to the shearing shed when it was in full swing – the buzz of the machines, the smell of the wool, the fleeces being thrown on to the sorting table (thick with lanolin), tramping the wool down in the bales and the old hand-cranked wool press.

I’d help take smoko over in the big basket (allowed to do it on my own when older), carrying a smaller basket (the kit). The cups were thick, white china that bounced if dropped, there was fresh milk, sugar and tea leaves in individual jars, teaspoons and inside the cardboard box were freshly made sandwiches, scones or pikelets and a cake. My mother and grandmother always made sure there was fresh baking. An old enamelled tea-pot and old electric jug stayed in the shed.

I once helped sweep up the dags and chase sheep into pens and that sort of thing and was paid 10 shillings. Goodness, that was a lot, and the first time I’d been paid for anything.

shearing machines stop …
for a moment
no one talks

Sandra Simpson, Second New Zealand Haiku Anthology (NZPS, 1998)
with thanks to editor Cyril Childs for his suggestions


Had my first acceptances for the year – three to appear in the March edition of A Hundred Gourds, two in the March edition of The Heron’s Nest and one in the winter issue of Frogpond (which comes out in February, I think).

And on January 1 the first edition of cattails appeared, the online journal of the United Haiku and Tanka Society (UHTS, sounds like a kind of milk!), including three of my haiku.

August heat –
screams from the theme park
rise and fall and rise

– Sandra Simpson

This one was written after my visit to Disneyland in August last year. Our very nice motel, the Candy Cane Inn, which I can highly recommend, was just a couple of hundred metres from the entry and partly alongside Disney California (directly opposite Disneyland). When we were in our room there was a vague backdrop of regular screaming.

The noise came from the Tower of Terror which Sophia rode (twice). It is set in an abandoned Hollywood hotel with the riders taken to the top and strapped in to an “elevator”. The doors opened and they could see right across the two parks, the doors closed and they dropped in darkness, thought “whew” and then dropped again!

Needless to say, I waited outside and took the photos.

All text and photo copyright Sandra Simpson and may not be reused without permission.

John Carley, RIP

News has come that John Carley (born 1955) has died in England, on January 1. John had had a serious illness for four years, something he bore with good humour and fortitude. I feel privileged to have known John, even if only by email and through shared writing online.

His communication skills were second to none and he was one of the best teachers I have met. Thanks to him, my interest in renku is ongoing. He was also the best sabaki (renku leader) I have come across, patient, thoughtful and with the ability to see the whole poem even as we worked through its mysteries. His decisions were invariably sound and based in an expert knowledge of renku.

His love of linked verse saw him invent the four-verse yotsumono, and he celebrated the form with a collection written with several authors, myself included, in The Little Book of Yotsumonos (Darlington Richards, 2012). The same publisher is bringing out the hard-copy edition of The Renku Reckoner, John’s life work, and taken from his now-defunct website of the same name. Thanks to a pdf version being available earlier, Vanessa Proctor has reviewed TRR on Haiku NewZ.

John’s free e-book of haiku, nothing but the wind (Gean Tree Press, 2013), is available from the Calameo website or from The Living Haiku Anthology.

At my invitation John led a small team of us to write a 20-verse nijuin for entry into last year’s Einbond Award. We were up against a tight deadline and a trying period health-wise for him – he not only led us right through the poem but in his summing up said: “This is far and away the best poem I’ve ever been involved in. And all those thousands of words of renku theory are worth less than one good exemplar. If I have a style, this is it. Thank you. J”

No, thank you John … and we won! (Icing on the cake, as he reckoned he’d taken some risks with verse choices considering it was a competition entry, and an American competition at that.) Read Early Morning Heat.

There are several articles by John on Basho, renku, kigo and other topics available online (Haiku NewZ, A Hundred Gourds, etc) and I urge you to seek them out and read them.

I feel like I’ve lost a mentor, a guiding light and a dear friend. I can’t imagine what his family must be feeling (typical John, though, he arranged for an email to be sent to advise of his death) and my thoughts and good wishes are with them and with the others, like me, who mourn him.

new year’s day –
a single shaft of sunshine
across the penines

(for JEC)

– Sandra Simpson