Elsewhere

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.

deep-fried pork:
I await instruction
on how to eat it 

(Japan)

maeve cover

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.

fifty-something:
the birthday book of my youth
used for deaths now too

(Home)

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 …
kicking throughout

(Dublin)

the tropical fish
that lived in my uncle’s house –
I’m in their tank now

(Galapagos Islands)

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

(Slow Camino)

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

(Agra)

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

(Southern California)

rushing to lunch
I pass a homeless woman –
her sparkly sandals

(Colombia)

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:

viewing tower
in the rooftop pool below –
a lone swimmer

(Hong Kong)

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.

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NHK Haiku Masters Gallery

snow feather

Image & haiku: Sandra Simpson

My ‘photo haiku’ (as NHK Haiku Masters calls them) has been chosen as a runner-up for week 2 this month and Kazuko Nishimura had this to say:

For farmers, the radio weather forecast is a part of daily life that plays a heavy role in deciding how each day unfolds. However, sometimes just looking out the window can be more accurate than any weather report. The word “snow” used in the final line can also refer to the radio static that occurs during a bad storm, when radio reception is hard to come by. This piece has done a great job at presenting a specific slice of life many of us can relate to.

Usually there is no theme, but for this one they wanted something ‘seasonal’ for Christmas-New Year-winter. See the full gallery here.

The image was taken at a close-up photography workshop and is of a peacock feather in a glass container full of heavily salted water, the idea of our tutor Kim Westerskov. I placed my camera lens against the glass and later manipulated the contrast and colours to achieve this effect.

You don’t have to be a photographer to join the fun – NHK Haiku Masters also offers a photo as a prompt for haiku.

Reader Choice voting

With a large storm approaching today it seems like a good time to knuckle down and choose my favourite 10 haiku from the 2017 editions of The Heron’s Nest. As the journal’s got larger, the choice has become more difficult – The Heron’s Nest is a beacon of excellence.

Anyone may vote, you can find the details here (scroll down, deadline January 15).

Here are four of the haiku (one from each edition) appearing on my list – no guarantees they’ll make it through though as I’m still at a top 100 or so!

feeling the silence
sink in —
moose tracks in the snow

Angela Terry, THN 19.1

where an army
swept through wheatfields
hopping sparrows

Michael McClintock, THN 19.2

late autumn
the stillness of blue
miles deep

Jenny Fraser, THN 19.3

enough mint scent
to cross the milky way
high summer begins

Burnell Lippy, THN 19.4

Thinking about haiku deeply enough to feel swayed to cast a vote is a fun way to start the year.

News of the World

Just finished reading this lovely little story by Paulette Jiles (2016, HarperCollins). It is set in 19th century Texas and concerns an elderly man, a veteran of the American Civil War, who travels the state reading newspaper articles to paying audiences. At one stop Captain Kidd takes on the job of returning a 10-year-old girl to her remaining family. The child, who four years earlier was captured by a band of Kiowa raiders who killed her parents and sister, has been raised by the Kiowa, speaks no English and has no wish to return ‘home’.

The point of this post is to share a quote which struck me between the eyes – Captain Kidd has been wounded and is calming himself by thinking of his time as an army messenger, a runner:

Maybe life is just carrying news. Surviving to carry the news. Maybe we just have one message, and it is delivered to us when we are born and we are never sure what it says; it may have nothing to do with us personally but it must be carried by hand through a life, all the way, and at the end handed over, sealed.

I’m pleased to say that, unlike so many novels, the book has a happy ending, at least the happiest it could be given that time doesn’t stand still.

Butterflies

Watching four or five monarch butterflies dance around our swan plant (Gomphocarpus physocarpus) last evening was a delight – sadly though, unless I intervene, there likely won’t be a new generation as nesting wasps consume any caterpillars until about the end of February when the predator’s diet changes.

Leaving that unfortunate thought aside, I thought I’d browse my bookshelves for butterfly-related haiku and there in the first book I opened, on the first page I looked at was …

on the manuscript
the shadow of a butterfly
finishes the poem

Nick Virgilio
from naad anunaad, an anthology of contemporary world haiku (2016)

Heartened, I continued …

summer butterfly
between my fingers the thickness
of a playing card

Katsuhiro Takayanagi (tr Koko Kato)
from A Vast Sky, an anthology of contemporary world haiku (2014)

 

echium

Monarch  butterfly. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Two from the internet:

my son noticing . . .
the attention i pay
to butterflies

John Stevenson
from The Heron’s Nest 1.1 (1999)

黄色組白組蝶の地どりけり
kiiro-gumi shiro-gumi [chô] no chidori keri

yellow gang, white gang
the butterflies claim
their turf

Kobayashi Issa, written in 1820 (tr David Lanoue)

At his website, David Lanoue notes: Chidori is an old word, a form of the verb chidoru, which means to measure out a lot on which to build a house.

And back to the bookshelf …

blue butterflies
a knife without a handle
on the lichened stone

Peggy Willis Lyles, 1939-2010
from Haiku 21 (2011)

longtailedBlue - Copy - Copy

Long-tailed blue butterfly (Lampides boeticus). Photo: Sandra Simpson

first white butterfly
my cabbages
not yet planted

Elaine Riddell
from the taste of nashi (2008)

traffic lights
all eyes follow
the butterfly

Belinda Broughton
from Third Australian Haiku Anthology (2011)

Haiku doldrums

My writing has taken a back seat lately – and not just the back seat in a car, the back seat in a big bus! – so as the days lengthen I’m trying to kick start the brain and limber up the ‘haiku muscle’ in a variety of ways.

New books

I’ll write something more about the first two soon but can recommend all of them – and in my experience reading good haiku is invaluable towards writing good haiku.

Scott Mason is one of my favourite haiku poets so when he sent a note to say he has a new book out, imagine my delight. But it’s not quite a collection of his own work or at least not only a collection of his own work for Scott has produced a magnificent volume based on his thinking about haiku. If you’re quick The Wonder Code has a special pricing offer available until November 30.

The book is divided into themed chapters about haiku, each with a selection of poems previously published in The Heron’s Nest, followed by a ‘Solo Exhibition’ of his own work.

  slave burial ground
a mourning dove
         we can only hear

– Scott Mason

Carolyn Hall, another of my favourite haiku poets, has produced her fourth collection, Calculus of Daylilies, which doesn’t appear to contain a dud! Wish I knew how she did that – and how she makes many of her haiku so darn relevant.

cockleburs
the court reaffirms
open carry

– Carolyn Hall

Read more about cockleburs (Xanthium strumarium), a plant native to the Americas and eastern Asia.

The last of my new books I discovered by accident, reading something on the net that led to something else where I clicked on … well, I can’t remember now but the upshot was small clouds by Iza Boa Nyx, a 2016 collection of haiku, tanka and prose that is dedicated to her mother Jane Reichhold and which examines Jane’s sudden death and her ensuing grief and mourning.

It would be easy for the book to be maudlin and self-indulgent, the poems primal screams of pain. But the author has produced a slim volume that is essentially a series of linked haibun, although nowhere is it described as such. The prose acts not only as head-notes for poems that would otherwise be untethered on the page but also holds the book together as the story progresses from “At midnight she told me that our mother had killed herself” to “The peace of knowing that this life is all that it will be is echoed in the late summer heat that seems to stupefy even the lizards”.

cumulus, nimbus
cirrus, stratus and fog
all kinds of clouds
in the week of your wake
not knowing what to say

– Iza Boa Nyx

Recent publication

Presence 59 has wound its way from the UK recently and, as always, is packed full of good reading.

right where
the universe goes
fireflies

– Gary Hotham

an owl’s empire
the flecks of light
in snow

– Alan Summers

meteor night –
shaking the star chart
out of its folds

– Richard Tindall

wet spring –
in a box by the fire
a small bleat

– Sandra Simpson

Not so recent, but something I’d not seen until now …  the results of the last Setouchi Matsuyama Photo Haiku Contest include an Award for this combination of my own image with my own haiku (there’s also a section where supplied photos act as prompts for haiku).

waka-ama haiga - Copy

I took the photo standing on the lawn of a friend’s home in Apia, Samoa. The waka-ama guys paddled one way, then the other – and catching sight of me dug deep, then howled with laughter, stopped paddling and waved! Waka-ama, or outrigger canoes, are used throughout the Pacific as sea-going vessels although in Aotearoa New Zealand the outrigger gradually disappeared. These days, waka-ama has also become a team sport.

You have until November 30 to enter this year’s Setouchi Matsuyama Photo Contest so get going!

And I’ve had my first haiku appear in Akitsu Quarterly, a print journal edited by Robin White in New Hampshire, US. Among them is

burn-off season –
riding home on the back
of a grey truck

– Sandra Simpson

Writing with a buddy

We’re going at our own pace and exchanging whatever we have. We can comment, or not, on the other’s haiku, we can chat about the weather, we can leave the exchange for days … the main thing, for both of us, is that we’re actually writing, instead of worrying about not writing. Fingers crossed.