River’s Edge review

River’s Edge by Owen Bullock (Recent Work Press, Australia, 2016).
ISBN 978-0-9944565-2-6. Purchase details.

A new, slim volume of work from Owen Bullock who is rapidly becoming a citizen of the world – born and raised in Cornwall (UK), has lived for decades in the upper North Island of New Zealand and is currently a PhD candidate in Canberra (Australia). 

Many of the poems in the book, which follows his 2015 collection Urban Haiku (Recent Work Press, read a review here), stem from his work in New Zealand as a home caregiver and are more properly senryu, although the author terms the collection ‘haiku’ in his brief introduction. (See Owen’s footnote 1 at the end of this review.)

“I was visiting elderly people in their own homes, which was far more meaningful. They told stories in which their wisdom shone through.”

Bullock is finely tuned to the daily struggles, humilities and joys of the end stage of life and these senryu are touching, without being in the least sentimental or demeaning to either party, and I heartily recommend the book on the strength of these poems alone.

on the piano
photos of the ones
who don’t visit

 

not good news …
he puts the lid back
on the jam

Caregiving must throw up many moments where both the giver and receiver need to grin and bear it (or bare it) and Bullock’s sense of humour doesn’t fail him.

massaging
my male client’s back
in a bloke-ish way

As it is, River’s Edge intersperses caregiving senryu with senryu on other topics and even some ‘maybe’ haiku – poems that have a nature focus, although often without a season word – leading to a somewhat jarring progression. (See Owen’s footnote 2 at the end of this review.)

However, knowing Bullock, I expect this ‘leave and return’ is an intended subtlety, a reflection of the messiness of life where our interests – and the calls on our time – are many and varied. This happens, then that and now we go back to this. After a week of caregiving he has mental space to observe nature, carry out a few chores, then it’s back to work.

fence wire
oscillating blue
the water drop

 

shopping for clothes
wanting to buy
what I’m wearing

Seen as a journal of a period from Bullock’s life River’s Edge becomes a more cohesive whole and, to my mind, a more satisfying read. The author however, offers no nudges in this direction in his introduction (so I may be quite wrong).

The book, which uses good-quality paper, features one poem per page, giving the words of each poem plenty of space to interact, both with each other and within the reader’s mind.

The collection is dedicated to his brother Brian, who died in 2013, and Martin Lucas, long-time editor of Presence haiku journal, who died in 2014. There is also a senryu dedicated to Christchurch poet John O’Connor, who died in 2015.

somewhere
in that mass of cloud
a few of your cells

And for the one or two poems I found myself unable to mine below the surface image:

wave lift
phosphorescent
moonlight

there was one like this on the next page:

ahead the pouring light

I hope Bullock will delve further into his caregiving work and consider a complete themed collection on the subject, perhaps including haibun, another form for which he’s known.

It would be an unusual – and I suspect valuable – collection, especially given Bullock’s eye for detail, his calm observation and clear humanity towards the people for whom he was caring.

dusting
her little vases
this is my devotion

Through his words they have been given a voice and it’s one I suspect they’d rather like.

Sandra Simpson

Owen Bullock writes in reply:

Footnote 1: I can’t be bothered distinguishing too much between senryu and haiku, but when I do try I realise that my definition of haiku is broad and takes in many pieces that others label senryu. To me, the fact that a piece is about a human being doesn’t make it a senryu, because we are also nature. It’s only a senryu when the poem gets into the mind of an individual and directly reflects human perception.

Footnote 2: I’m afraid I don’t and haven’t for a long time seen seasonality as essential to haiku. Partly this was because of my being from Cornwall and then moving to New Zealand, where I began writing haiku. Living in New Zealand, it took me many years to be able to consciously distinguish between seasons enough for that to be reflected in my writing – there simply weren’t seasons in New Zealand, it was basically mostly summer, and I still don’t countenance the idea of winter there (only when I lived in Southland and the pipes froze every day could I perceive winter).

Words that flow

I had occasion this week to paraphrase Martin Lucas, the late editor of Presence, while critiquing one of my own haiku at a group session, saying something like “I’ve made a weather report of the first line”, dissatisfied because I knew I was wasting the line.

Here is what Martin actually said, from his essay Haiku as Poetic Spell (click on the link to read the whole thing, well worth it):

The internationally accepted formula runs something like this (expressed here in 5-7-5 for my own amusement, though 5-7-5 is now outmoded as far as the arbiters of taste are concerned):

seasonal ref’rence —
then two lines of contrasting
foreground imagery

Seen in isolation, any one of these haiku can be impressive. Taken in quantity, the effect is numbing.

And towards the end of the essay, he describes what he wants in haiku: Words that chime; words that beat; words that flow. And once you’ve truly heard it, you won’t forget it, because the words have power. They are not dead and scribbled on a page, they are spoken like a charm; and they aren’t read, they’re heard.

Sometimes it does me good to remind myself of what I should be striving for, especially as the ‘dry’ spells become longer and more frequent.

This is not to say we shouldn’t use a seasonal reference in our haiku, just that they should be carefully chosen – the single-line ‘fragment’ carries just as much weight in a haiku as the two-line ‘phrase’; it’s not a throw-away scene-setter.

Here are some haiku from my bookshelf, ones that use a ‘weather report’ first line to great advantage, in my opinion. The first poem I shared with the group and it was one of those wonderful moments when everyone in the room reacted … by laughing.

mild winter day
the neighbour’s dog barking
till I’m hoarse

– Carolyn Hall
from Water Lines (Snapshot Press, 2006)

midsummer morning –
the dead tree’s shadow
stretches upstream

– Adele Kenny
from The Haiku Hundred (Iron Press, 1992)

outgoing tide
my mother’s togs
a year looser

Catherine Mair
from incoming tide (Quail Press, 2016)

twilight: across the lake
distant reeds take the shape
of a bittern

– Martin Lucas
from Wing Beats: British Birds in Haiku (Snapshot Press, 2008)

And to finish, an actual weather report haiku!

weather forecast
searching the sky
for an isobar

Jeanette Stace
from A to Zazen (Zazen Haiku Group) 2004

Swans in winter

using the headlines
to practise origami –
swans in Fukushima

– Sandra Simpson, NOON 11 (March 2016), Japan

Haiku Husband noticed the “goodie box” headline in The Japan News delivered to our hotel room in Hiroshima on November 20, 2015. Swans herald winter, it said. “Swans have been spotted in Lake Inawashiro in Fukushima Prefecture, marking the arrival of winter. A conservation group representative says they arrived a week earlier than usual.” Read the full story here. It ends by saying there would be about 3000 swans at the lake by the end of February.

Bewick’s swan. Photo: Dick Daniels, Wikimedia Commons

On October 12, 2015 the Gloucester Citizen newspaper in the UK reckoned the early arrival of swans from Siberia foretold a bitter winter, saying the Bewick’s swan (Cygnus bewickii) sets off with the raw Arctic cold hot on its tail – the first swan arrived 25 days earlier than in 2014. Read that story here.

a moment before sunrise –
     ice singing
            beneath the swans’ feet

–  Martin Lucas (UK), winner of the Katikati Haiku Contest, 2010

a full moon
resting on hoar-frost meadows
tundra swans

– Jane Reichhold (US), from her AHA website

I’m slowly reading Basho: The Complete Haiku translated and edited by Jane Reichhold but the index of haiku content shows nothing for swans! Read more about the book here.

mute swan
at the base of its neck
a tracking device

– Kathleen O’Toole (US), Honourable Mention, Turtle Light Press Contest 2010

A mute swan in flight. Photo: Pjt56, Wikimedia Commons

To complete this sampling of swan haiku I consulted Wing Beats: British Birds in Haiku (Snapshot Press, 2008) edited by John Barlow and Matthew Paul.

snow light …
meltwater falls
from a swan’s bill

– John Barlow

This is the other excellent swan haiku in the book, which I couldn’t resist, despite being in the ‘wrong’ season. Both haiku are about mute swans (Cygnus olor).

summer clouds –
two swans passing
beat for beat

– John Crook

Publications

Spring has brought a number of publications to my letterbox and inbox …

A Hundred Gourds features a loving tribute to Martin Lucas by Matthew Paul, and two of my haiku.

summer solstice –
the flock passes into darkness
one by one

– Sandra Simpson, A Hundred Gourds 3:4

The Heron’s Nest also features two of my haiku, which means I’m in reasonably select company as few have been accorded that honour this time. I’m humbled, as always, to have anything accepted anywhere so to get two each into these fine journals is exciting.

pioneer cemetery –
here and there a name
faces heavenward

– Sandra Simpson, The Heron’s Nest XVI.3

Two of my haiku are to appear in the New Zealand Poetry Society anthology (editor Nola Borrell, launched in November), and Kokako 21 includes four of my haiku.

another lotto loss –
the sparkle of my mother’s
costume jewellery

– Sandra Simpson, Kokako 21

The latest paper wasp arrived by post from Australia today, the penultimate issue of the 20th anniversary series, this one dedicated to senryu and edited by Jacqui Murray, Vuong Pham and Katherine Samuelowicz. Individual issues are $A6 each. (I would link to the website but it appears out of date.)

The editors have shoe-horned the senryu into the 20 pages, no doubt about that. To be fair I should point out that production values are one of my (many) hobby-horses. I’m not sure how successful all the senryu are or why one by Vuong Pham is in twice (not the only proof-reading error). The journal is published four times a year … but is only 16 or 20 pages so I find the proof-reading and layout issues surprising.

I have on my shelf a copy of paper wasp from spring 1996, edited by Janice Bostok and Jacqui Murray which is 16 pages with, generally, five or six poems per page, compared to, generally, 13 or 15 per page for spring 2014.

Okay, that all sounds a bit negative and I’m sorry for that. Every person who edits a haiku journal should receive an award – Knight Companion of the Order of Basho, or somesuch. But, on the other hand, readers of haiku, tanka and haibun journals should be able to expect a minimum standard, evidence of some care.

Presence turns 50

I have spent the past week dipping in and out of the new issue of Presence, a print haiku journal from Britain that was, until his tragic death in April, edited by Martin Lucas.

Matthew Paul and Ian Storr, who have picked up the editorial reins, say in their editorial: “Since so few non-publicly-funded poetry magazines have the kind of longevity that Presence has had, this was to have been a celebratory issue. Martin’s sudden death has cast a dark shadow over what has undoubtedly been one of his major achievements, bringing Presence into existence and developing it into its current position as one of the world’s leading English-language haiku magazines.”

Presence is to continue – Matthew, Ian and Stuart Quine (who rejoins) form the editorial team with Chris Boultwood continuing as webmaster. Read submission and subscription details here.

Issue 50 features a lovely shot of Martin on the cover, contains an obituary for him, plus two articles and two book reviews by him. Despite all the upheaval and grief, the editors have produced a volume of which, I’m sure, Martin would be proud.

uncut meadow
the sun sets
in a rabbit’s ears

– Matthew Morden

where the sun shines
a loose school
of fingerlings

– Greg Piko

There are several works dedicated to Martin and of the two haiku of mine in the journal is this one that, although I didn’t say so, is in memory of Martin, a hugely talented, kind and downright top bloke with a dry sense of humour. (In case you don’t know, birdwatching was one of Martin’s favourite things.)

bleak morning –
the brisk chatter of godwits
turning for home

– Sandra Simpson

No news

Martin Lucas pictured here at the 2009 Haiku Pacific Rim conference in Australia, with organiser Beverley George. Photo: Bev Lapacek

Sadly, there is still no news of Martin Lucas, coming up to three weeks since he walked out his front door in Preston, Lancashire during the night, without phone, money or medication.

Britain is reckoned to be one of the most observed countries in the world, thanks to its love of CCTV – one camera for every 11 people – so it’s puzzling and worrying that there have been no reported sightings of Martin.

Martin, former president of the British Haiku Society, is editor of Presence, a journal that comes out twice a year. He has a PhD for his study of haiku as creative writing and is author of Stepping Stones: a way into haiku (British Haiku Society, 2007) and co-editor of The New Haiku (Snapshot Press, 2002). Martin is a keen bird-watcher and some of his haiku were included in the Wing Beats anthology (Snapshot Press, 2008).

a light rain …
sweeping the moor
the peewit’s cry

                                                                               – Martin Lucas, from Wingbeats

a moment before sunrise –
     ice singing
            beneath the swans’ feet

–  Martin Lucas, winner of the Katikati Haiku Contest, 2010

For updates on the search for Martin keep an eye on the BHS Facebook page. There has been nothing new from Lancashire police since this bulletin.

Sadly, Martin’s body was later found on a Lancashire beach. Read the update here.

Martin Lucas missing

Shocking to hear today that Martin Lucas, the editor of Presence haiku journal, is missing from his home town of Preston, Lancashire in England and that police have grave fears for his safety. Martin was last seen at his home on March 22. Read a police update here.

I met Martin in Australia at the Haiku Pacific Rim conference, a lovely man and a fine editor and poet. Good thoughts and prayers, then, both for Martin and those searching for him and those waiting for him.

British Haiku Society members are helping with the search, see the BHS Facebook page for updates.

March 27: No new updates from the police.

March 28: An email from Ian Storr, one of the Presence editors, this morning to say there has been no further news of Martin. “The range and depth of affection and respect for him that has been shown has been quite extraordinary,” Ian writes.

March 29: One of Martin’s brothers has posted on the BHS Facebook page to say that Martin had a ticket to London booked for yesterday but didn’t turn up to board the train.

April 2: A new update from Lancashire police but no sightings of Martin, unfortunately.

April 3: A story in the Lancashire Evening Post with more information about when Martin went missing (also a video, but I couldn’t get it to play).