Irish poet Maeve O’Sullivan set off on what she calls a ‘life-changing world trip’ in late 2016, visiting 13 countries on 4 continents – one of the outcomes of her peregrinations is Elsewhere (Alba Publishing, London, 2017, $US10; click on the link for other currencies), a collection of haiku, haibun and long-form poetry.
In her preface, O’Sullivan says of the decision to mix long-form poetry with haiku in her fourth collection, I also believe that haikai – haiku and related forms – shouldn’t be confined to a quasi-ghetto in the wider poetry world …, an admirable sentiment so here’s hoping the contents find a wide readership.
I await instruction
on how to eat it
Elsewhere takes the form of a travel journal, although this is no collection of dashed-off shasei (sketches from life) but rather a book that’s more in tune with the Basho tradition of travelogue, rewarding consumption in a linear fashion as we travel alongside our narrator.
Fittingly, it begins and ends at ‘Home’, opening with a haibun that could only have been written in Ireland (I found myself automatically reading the acerbic nun’s words in a Father Ted accent) and including the sweet haibun Closure about clearing out and selling her parents’ home after their deaths, one of the prompts for O’Sullivan’s extended travels.
the birthday book of my youth
used for deaths now too
Flashes of that humorous Irish voice are also to be found in the haibun Dateline Quito and Resettled and these haiku, among others.
an Irish lullaby
for the infant …
the tropical fish
that lived in my uncle’s house –
I’m in their tank now
The book is divided into four sections – Home, West, East and Envoi: Back Home – and O’Sullivan has helpfully titled her sets of haiku within these sections to allow us to place a pin in the map as we share the locale with her.
108kms to go the mule and I share an apple
How difficult it is to travel as a woman alone – at any age. And although not all her trips were solo, most were so my hat’s off to O’Sullivan for stepping out into the wide world, opening up her senses and experiencing everything. My interpretation, or perhaps intuition is, that she set off wanting to be filled with joy and I hope she found enough to have made the travelling worthwhile.
en route from Delhi
the monsoon has yielded
yellow mustard flowers
O’Sullivan was not only writing and editing as she travelled but, thanks to technology, also submitting pieces – and having them accepted for publication – thus giving her a solid core of work for a book by the time she was back in Dublin.
San Diego Bay –
its deep blue darkened
by an aircraft carrier
rushing to lunch
I pass a homeless woman –
her sparkly sandals
Elsewhere offers much to be enjoyed and, for me, contains only one tiny ‘flaw’ in that some of the em-dash breaks in the haiku seem to be in the wrong place but I wasn’t sure if this was an editing error or a deliberate choice:
in the rooftop pool below –
a lone swimmer
To me, the natural break is:
viewing tower –
in the rooftop pool below
a lone swimmer
Elsewhere is well produced with three or four haiku per page on a nice weight of paper and the attractive cover image was taken by O’Sullivan at Kompukuji temple, Kyoto, Japan. Armchair travellers, those who have visited these places and those longing to get out and explore will enjoy O’Sullivan’s genuine and honest approach. She has done a grand job of using her fresh, traveller’s eye to bring us thoughtful glimpses of the people she met and the things she saw – and has gifted us the chance us to keep her company on the long journey from Home and back again.
I haven’t commented on the long-form poetry as it hasn’t been my field for a good while, but I did wonder why so many are rhymed – have they come back into fashion and no one’s told me? Quite possible.
Read an Irish Times article by O’Sullivan about her travels and the book.
Thirty percent of the profits from sales of this book are to be donated to environmental group Friends of the Earth Ireland.