Review of Noon: An anthology of short poems

NOON: an anthology of short poems, edited by Philip Rowland (Isobar Press, Tokyo & London, 2019) ISBN 978-4-907359-26-3.

Short poems have received quite a lot of attention (none of it undue) in New Zealand recently, with the publication of Jenny Bornholdt’s Short Poems of New Zealand (Victoria University Press, 2018) and Number Eight Wire: the fourth New Zealand haiku anthology (Piwakawaka Press, 2019), edited by Sandra Simpson and Margaret Beverland. Consequently, this international anthology is a welcome addition to the mix.

NOON: a journal of the short poem appeared in print from 2004 to 2009, then online from 2014 to 2017; with an imminent revival in 2019. The poems in the anthology are selected from the 13 issues so far by the sole editor, Philip Rowland. Because the enterprise as a whole has been an individual project for Rowland, his overview is significant. Rather than focusing on a specific genre of short poem, like haiku or tanka as in several other magazines, NOON has developed a more inclusive approach, aiming at a wider representation of the contemporary short poem. Rowland is correct in denying in his introduction that this representation is comprehensive (how can it be?) but modest in downplaying how generous and wide-ranging the scope of his concept actually is.

Equally intriguingly, Rowland’s introduction goes on to describe the physical production of the hand-bound print issues of NOON in Japan. While more technologically assembled, the anthology itself is a handsome volume. Genres of poetry encompassed include mainstream English-language haiku in one or three lines, translations of 20th-century Japanese haiku, haibun, prose poems, lyrics and satire, and the elegant vispo of Richard Kostelanetz and Philip Terry.

Terry also contributes some finely misunderstood ‘Mistranslations’, which are part of the entertainment of the selection. Experiment might also mean healthy irreverence. The austerity of Roberta Beary’s haiku

day moon –
we windowshop
caskets

is balanced by (Philip Terry again!) ‘Larkin Paraphrased’, a prose reconstruction of ‘This be the verse’ which restores some dignity to the ghastly doggerel of the original.

Elsewhere, well-known international poets such as Jeff Harrison, Carrie Etter, Bob Heman, Scott Metz and Rick Tarquinio rub shoulders with Marlene Mountain, Gary Hotham, Lee Gurga, Dietmar Tauchner and George Swede, names more usually associated with the haiku world. It’s refreshing, for example, to find Jim Kacian in an inquisitive mode with his ‘Sonnet for Philip Glass’. Mixed company throughout the anthology is stimulating for the reader and justifies Philip Rowland’s approach in general. As intended, single poems are given space to breathe but are equally part of a more collective voice.

New Zealand is well represented by some typically acute haiku from Sandra Simpson, Wes Lee’s hard-edged stanzas and, via the Tasman, the indefatigable Mark Young. There are rewarding and intelligent poems from considerable writers throughout, among them Morris Cox’s ‘Untitled Poems’, Alan Halsey’s ‘Ars Poetica’ and Bob Arnold’s surprising ‘Sidewalk’. Articulate discourse is moderated by sound in Robert Sheppard’s ‘hammerhead’. Helen Buckingham’s wry haiku complement Jane Hirshfield’s poised lines.

Quotation of too many of these poems would give their game away. If only more anthologies were as diverse and enriching as this one. Philip Rowland has identified and demonstrated a strong vein in contemporary poetry and deserves continuing attention for his commitment to it. Although Basho’s ghost (and his frog) haunts the spirit of this collection, it is excitingly open to what may come next in the always changing condition of creative imagining in words or their shapes or sounds.

– Tony Beyer

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