Blowing up Balloons

Blowing up Balloons by Vanessa Proctor and Gregory Piko ($US15 from Red Moon Press, 2017), 94 pages of haiku. Available from Vanessa or Greg, $A24 (including postage to New Zealand) through PayPal.

Two Australian haiku poets have together produced a delightful collection of haiku and senryu and done some clever marketing with their subtitle, ‘baby poems for parents’, as it won’t alienate anyone who becomes fearful at the terms ‘haiku’ and/or ‘senryu’.

The risk with such a venture is the cloying sentimentality that often surrounds the production of small humans but Proctor and Piko steer clear of the trap with poems that share the moments of joy – and occasional panic and/or tedium –  that make up parenthood.

For some pregnancy is a shock, for others a planned event. But it can often be nine months that veer, for both parents, from contentment to terror as B-Day approaches.

sleepless night
we pack the hospital bag


he leans the parenting book
                    toward the fairy light

Dr Spock, Penelope Leach and their ilk can teach new parents the why of how to care for a baby but they can’t address the imponderables – what you feel when you hold a fragile being in your arms, how to keep hold of a slippery infant in a bath, who to call on for help (anyone) and when to, well, do anything …

Bedsides all the dramas, large and small, and feelings of inadequacy, any parent (or grandparent) also knows about the unexpected humour that comes from having a tiny person with a sponge for a brain.

mothers’ night out
we all head home
at nine


parking ticket
my toddler wants
one too

None of the poems, which are presented one to a page, carry an author name nor are the poems assigned to an author in end notes. At first I found this slightly odd but after dipping in and out realised it may be a way of giving equal weighting to the roles of mother and father, and that both experiences and points of view are valid. And while some poems are gender specific, many are not which gives Blowing Up Balloons (BUB) a nice, cohesive feel.

baby’s balloon
floats above the bed …
were you inside me?


throwing up
baby names

Cover art and internal colour art (which resemble balloons and separate roughly thematic sections arranged by baby’s development) is by Proctor.

my son
blowing up balloons
just to hear them fart

Some of the haiku/senryu have been published before, but there are also plenty that are being published for the first time.

and yet ….
only breast milk
went in


summer clouds
my children see dinosaurs
in everything

While many of the poems are gentle and revel in the magic of babies and childhood, neither of the authors is sentimental about the job of parenting – dirty work, long hours and no (cash) payment.

fresh celery
trying not to snap
at each other


before breakfast
pacing the streets
with pram and dog

Both authors are accomplished, award-winning haiku poets and together have produced a collection that will be hard to beat. Blowing Up Balloons is that rare thing, a book firmly rooted in reality that is nonetheless filled with love and is a joy from beginning to end.

It would be a delightful gift for anyone expecting a child or those with young children (so buy two and keep one). I hear you saying that the latter may not have enough time to enjoy it but I reply that among the attractions of haiku are its brevity and portability. Waiting for school to come out? Read a haiku or two. Nap time? Read a haiku or two (then get some kip yourself).

Visit Greg Piko’s website.

Werner Reichhold 1925-2017

Received the sad news yesterday that Werner Reichhold had died on June 21, the summer solstice in the United States. He was the husband of the late Jane Reichhold, who chose to end her life last July and Jane’s daughter Heidi tells me that Werner also chose the time of his passing.

Werner and Jane Reichhold, pictured at their home in July last year. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Werner, who was born in Germany, would have been 92 on July 18. A prisoner of war in Egypt during World War 2, Werner began exhibiting as a sculptor in 1955 (winning awards in the 1960s) with his final participation in an exhibition in 1995. His art work was exhibited throughout Europe, including at the Musee Rodin in Paris, and in Japan, Canada and the US.

He and Jane founded and co-edited Lynx journal (2000-2014), and published one of the first anthologies of English-language tanka – Wind Five-Folded – in 1994. They also explored other genres of poetry, including what they termed ‘symbiotic poetry’ and published anthologies such as A Film of Words (the link takes you to Jane and Werner’s description of the book).

Haiku by Werner Reichhold at the Gualala Arts Centre Haiku Walk. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The couple were penpals for 4 years before meeting and when Jane decided to go to Germany she suggested they exchange photographs – without discussing it, they each chose a third grade photo (9 years old) to send. And when they exchanged wedding gifts, it turned out they’d bought each other the same thing! The couple moved to Gualala, California from Germany in 1987 and lived there until their deaths.

Read Werner’s selection of his favourite German haiku (with translations).

Postcard from Iran

Shiraz is one of Iran’s jewels and while in that city we visited the shrine of Khwāja Šamsu d-Dīn Muḥammad Hāfez-e Šīrāzī, the poet better known as Hafez (1326-1390), an honorific bestowed on him after he learned the Koran by heart as a child.

Hafez wrote poems about love which, according to what I’ve read, are almost impossible to translate into English because of their inherent mysticism – however, he is one of Iran’s best-loved poets and people know his poems off by heart. A recording of a dulcet-toned man reading poems (in Farsi) that was being played over loudspeakers in the garden had a beautiful rhythm and I even caught a rhyme or two. (Hafez said of his own poetry, when questioned, that “my poems lift the corners of the mouth – the soul’s mouth, the heart’s mouth …”.)

The Hafez garden in Shiraz. The poet’s sarcophagus is under the dome. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The garden was busy with visitors enjoying the many flowering, potted plants and visiting the poet’s sarcophagus inscribed with calligraphy. We decided to take advantage of the tea-house in the corner of the garden … unfortunately, it was playing loud Iranian pop music. Bit of a mood shatterer. (Our guide told them they should be ashamed of drowning out Hafez poetry with such stuff – they turned it down a slight notch!)

Goethe translated Hafez and, after much study of the Persian’s works, said “Hafez has no peer”! There is a long tradition of consulting Hafez in times of need – even Queen Victoria is said to have done it – with a reader treating his books as an oracle and opening them with a deep wish from their soul for guidance. Read more here in a BBC Culture story.

The sarcophagus of Hafez. Photo: Sandra Simpson

I mentioned to our guide that Omar Khayyam is probably the best-known Persian poet in the West but she said in Iran Hafez, Rumi (1207-1273) and Saadi (c1200-1292) all rank above Omar Kahayyam (1048-1131), who is better known there as a mathematician and astronomer. Saadi, whose tomb is also in Shiraz, has a verse about the unity of all peoples from his 1258 poem Bustan inscribed on the United Nations building in New York – the opening lines are:

The sons of man are limbs of one another,
Created of the same stuff, and none other.