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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International Women’s Haiku Festival

The multi-talented Jennifer Hambrick – classical musician, singer, radio host, poet and photographer – is running the second International Women’s Haiku Festival on her blog, Inner Voices and posted three of my haiku for the March 20 entry. Her commentaries  are insightful and sensitive so I am grateful to have been included.

This haiku has been rejected previously – by male editors. Jennifer understands exactly what I was saying and which life stage I was at!

heat wave –
holding the soft part of my wrist
under the tap

Sandra Simpson

The term “heat wave” has a wonderful double resonance as the natural phenomenon of a period of scorching outdoor temperatures and as a metaphor for the hot flashes that often come with the equally natural process of menopause. Either way, one can imagine seeking relief from the external or internal heat by holding the sensitive flesh of the underside of the wrist beneath a trickle of cool water, a common remedy for the discomfort of hot flashes.

– Jennifer Hambrick

Here’s another on the topic that was published in NOON 13 (Japan) last year. The editor of this journal is a man so I wondered if he’d experienced this from the other side! The build-up to menopause is recognised as a condition all on its own (perimenopause) and certainly there were times when I’m sure no jury would have convicted me. Demented was about right!

menopause
a swan hisses
dementedly

Sandra Simpson

Those Women who Write Haiku by Jane Reichhold is available as a free download and is well worth a read. In it, she surveys the earliest known women writing haiku in Japan through to 1990 and English-language poets.

stopping
my work in the sink
voice of the uguisu

Chigetsu (1632-1708), translated by RH Blyth (uguisu is a bush warbler bird)

Chigetsu’s son was a student of Basho and she was able to meet the master over a period of about 2 years. Uko was married to one of Basho’s closest friends, the doctor and haiku poet Boncho.

the fancy hairpins
along with the combs useless now
camellia flowers fall

Uko (died in the 18th century), translated by Blyth

summer   beneath my breasts

Marlene Mountain, published 1977

And finally, a tribute to Marlene Mountain (b 1939), who died earlier this week. Born Marlene Morelock, this distinctive and unique voice in haiku was married to haiku poet John Wills (1921-1993). She changed her surname to Mountain to celebrate the mountains of her home state of Tennessee. An activist feminist, Marlene began writing haiku in the 1960s and her work was experimental from then until her death – she was one of, if not the, earliest practitioner of one-line haiku in English. Read her work here. Her first book was old tin roof, published in 1976. Read an essay by Jack Galmitz in appreciation of her work.

old turtle pushes her shadow to sea

Marlene Mountain, published 1976