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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New publications

The first issue of haiku journal Leaf-fall arrived in my letterbox recently, a gift from editor Akira Yagami who invited five poets to submit to the inaugural issue – Eva Limbach, John McManus, Alan Summers, Lucy Whitehead and myself.

after the scan
a dollhouse with
no one inside

Lucy Whitehead, Leaf-fall 1.1

This is from Lucy’s bio at Tinywords: Lucy Whitehead has a BA (hons) in Archaeology and Anthropology and an MA in the History of Art and Archaeology (of Asia). She has worked as an archaeologist and academic editor. She started writing haiku in 2018. Lucy lives in Essex in the UK.

star-spattered sky
the loneliness
we share

Eva Limbach, Leaf-fall 1.1

Eva writes in both English and her native German.You can read more of her work at her blog, Mare Tranquillitatis (Sea of Tranquility). She lives in Saarbrücken, a German town near the French border and has been writing haiku since 2012.

Both the male poets are from England. Read more about John McManus. Alan Summers is a busy haiku bee who writes, teaches and supports various haiku institutions. His website is here.

And me? Well, you know me already!

first cold morning
the unlined face
of my oldest doll

Sandra Simpson

Akira Yagami has sent submission and subscription details for Leaf-fall, which is a print-only journal: April 15-May 15 (estimated publication date in early June); October 15-November 15 (estimated publication date in early December). Annual subscriptions are available: £10 outside UK (postage included) for two issues, beginning with 1.2. All payments via PayPal to akirayagami (at) gmx (dot) com

Cover artwork is also being sought for issue 1.2. All kinds of art considered, but please send only jpeg files to the above email address with the subject line ‘art cover submission’.

The next publication to arrive was NOON: An anthology of short poems (Isobar Press), a collection from the journal of the same name, covering the period 2004 to 2017. From 2004 to 2009 NOON was a print-only journal, before migrating to the web in 2014. ‘Short poem’, by the way, is anything up to 14 lines, so yes, haiku, but other types of work as well.

In his Introduction, editor (of both the anthology and the journal) Philip Rowland says, that, even online, having one poem per page means “each poem [has] the space to ‘breathe’; [but] the poem must also, so to speak, warrant the page”.

In this way the journal’s format has helped open the question: how much can these poems of very few words do, individually and collectively? The challenge is one
of concision – but also connection, for each issue is meant to form a sequence of poems, short enough to be read at a single sitting.

Likewise, the arrangement of poems in this anthology has been a crucial consideration: they have been carefully juxtaposed throughout. Thus it is not simply a ‘best-of’ collection, but rather a new configuration of selected poems – a retrospective special issue, effectively. Given the scarcity of the print issues and the ‘virtual’ form of the later ones, the general aim has been to provide a representative sample of poems from the journal in a more readily available book, offering, it is hoped, a distinctive and wide-ranging selection of contemporary short poetry.

The result, Philip says, is a “renga-like chain of over two hundred poems by almost half as many poets”.

The NOON Anthology isn’t without its challenges for a conservative writer like me, but there’s plenty here for even the moderately adventurous reader – including humour.

art school
fixing
the urinal

Helen Buckingham

Read about Marcel Duchamp’s ‘artwork’ Fountain. The Lee Gurga piece below sounds like a snippet from a Billy Collins poem (a compliment, by the way).

we
linger
at
breakfast
mother’s burial dress
on

hanger
in
the
car

Lee Gurga

November wind
the garden reverts
to Latin

Rick Tarquinio

end of the month –
the clatter of a knife
in an empty jar

Sandra Simpson

A review of this anthology is in the pipeline and will be posted here on breath when the author has completed it.