Wishbone Moon

Wishbone Moon, edited by Roberta Beary, Ellen Compton and Kala Ramesh (Jacar Press, 2018), 104 pages.

This anthology of women’s haiku features 108 poets from around the world – eight from New Zealand (including me) – and is dedicated to the memory of pioneer American haiku poet and feminist Marlene Mountain (1939-2018).

The editors themselves nicely span the globe and all are highly esteemed poets and editors – Roberta Beary (living in Ireland, American by birth), Ellen Compton (US) and Kala Ramesh (India) – while contributors come from five continents.

A brief “editors’ introduction” appears on the back cover of the book and explains that the poets appearing in the anthology were invited to submit work for consideration – there was no open call. “We asked the nominees to send us their very best work. We did not suggest a theme or topic. We wanted to showcase work representing the haiku aesthetic at its best…”

Wishbone Moon is billed as an “a groundbreaking anthology of haiku by women”, but it seems to me that it’s groundbreaking only in the sense this the first women-only haiku anthology. The poems themselves, while of a high standard and very readable, aren’t particularly experimental (with a couple of exceptions) nor “in your face” feminist.

Critics may well argue that an anthology of women writing about any old thing might as well be an anthology of writers of any gender. Do women intrinsically have a shared view of the world – no matter where they come from, their age, education or economic class? Do women have insights that other genders don’t possess?

There are plenty of haiku in Wishbone Moon to prove that, naturally, women write on any topic. (Try covering up the names in any quality haiku journal and see if you can discern the author’s gender with any certainty.)

communal riots –
trying to find myself
in the ruins

Iqra Raza (India)

a yellowing
of leaves on the oak …
I turn fifty

Anne Curran (NZ)

cowlick
some part of me
still wild

Annette Y Makino (US)

evening dusk
geese above the meadow
on the way to somewhere

Riet De Bakker (Belgium)

But there are also plenty of haiku that detail women’s life experiences.

casual embrace –
suddenly conscious
of my breasts

Harriot West (US)

miscarriage
my little girl
names her sister

Marianne Paul (Canada)

now we can talk 
of what might have been –
menopause

Geethanjali Rajan (India)

mastectomy
the surgeon’s word massive
in my mouth

Ruth Yarrow (US)

I’m always happy to read outstanding work and Wishbone Moon has that in spades by both new (to me, anyway) and established names.

tasting the word husband for the first time

Agnes Eva Savich (US)

petition for divorce
the period 
in every sentence

Anna Mazurkiewicz (Poland)

cello solo the owls in my bones

Tanya McDonald (US)

full moon –
the singers’ faces
turn skywards

Amanda Bell (Ireland)

However, I find the layout of the book unfortunate and wish it had been otherwise as the paper is a lovely weight and has an attractive silky feel, while the cover is a model of understatement.

There are three poems per page but they don’t have room to breathe, being concentrated in the top half to two-thirds of the page with, oddly, the rest of the page left blank. It feels unnecessarily crammed, especially as the author name, em dash and country of residence below each haiku is the same size as the poem. The other odd choice was to right justify all the right-hand pages. It works all right for single-line haiku but this isn’t the way they would have originally been written.

the leap
that pulls a muscle …
housefly

Elaine Andre (US)

Each contributor has a bio note, but there’s no index to show which authors appear where (I don’t mind this – perhaps it was intended as a democratising effect or to make sure readers actually read every page rather than heading to a particular name).

So don’t buy Wishbone Moon for its looks but do buy it for its contents. The poems are honest, sometimes startling, sometimes funny, sometimes wistful – but always top-notch.

breastfeeding
the slow drip of rain
on the roof

Vanessa Proctor (Australia)

 

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A mosaic haiku

Received the lovely news last night that mosaic artist Greta Doo has been inspired by one of my haiku to create a piece of new work which will be shown at the second A Palette of Poetry exhibition in Dunedin, October 14-28, at the Resene Colour Shop in Crawford St. (Click on this link to see what Greta did last year.)

Funds raised from the exhibition will go towards the Poems in the Waiting Room (NZ) project which every quarter creates trifold poetry pamphlets – about 7000 of them – and distributes them to medical centres, hospitals, rest-homes, hospices and prisons. People can read them while they wait or or take them away. Ruth Arnison, the moving force behing PitWR and the exhibition, received a Queen’s Service Medal for services to poetry and literature in this year’s Queen’s Birthday Honours.

The haiku which inspired Greta to create Autumn Table is

end of harvest
we pull out the leaves
on the dining table

– Sandra Simpson, The Heron’s Nest 13.2 (2011)

Greta says about the choice of this haiku: “It all started when I grew my first cucumber last year in the new glasshouse. I was so proud of it I put it on the kitchen table with a tomato to show off the size, plus some other produce that made a good arrangement for a photo shoot. I revisited the photo after reading Sandra’s haiku and they resonated together to form the artwork.”

greta doo

Autumn Table by Greta Doo. Image: Greta Doo

Autumn Table is 1.1m long and 0.5m high. It comprises 3 panels glued and screwed together to emulate the leaves of a dining table, thus the middle panel is slightly raised. The work should be hung flat upon a wall.

The exhibition opens at 2pm on Saturday, October 14.