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

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


Recent publications

New editions of Kokako (26) and NOON: journal of the short poem (13) landed this week, plus I spied a hard copy of Frogpond 39.3 on someone’s coffee table the other night so quickly flicked through (a sampler of haiku from each edition appears on the website but, alas, mine weren’t among them).

Reproducing this haiku – on the second day the remnants of Tropical Cyclone Debbie have been pouring down on us – seems appropriate. (Thoughts are with those affected by landslips and flooding in the North Island and the full force of Debbie in Queensland, Australia.)

thrumming rain

the deeper sound

of rhubarb 

for RB

– Sandra Simpson, Frogpond 39.3

Bar-tailed godwits at Miranda on the Firth of Thames, New Zealand. Photo: Sandra Simpson

new year’s day –
black begins to inch up
the godwit’s bill

– Sandra Simpson, Kokako 26

We toddled off for a couple of nights in Miranda just after New Year as I particularly wanted to see the bar-tailed godwits that come for the summer from Siberia and Alaska, and that part of the coast along the Firth of Thames is one of their preferred migration spots. The Miranda Shorebird Centre has a hide and over the summer had a couple of volunteer guides there daily to chat and inform, plus share a high-powered telescope with visitors. One thing I learned is that as the males come into their breeding plumage, their bills also change colour, turning from mostly pink to mostly black with the change starting at the tip (they breed only in the Arctic).

I’m always slightly astounded that my work appears in NOON: journal of the short poem, it being a publication that favours the cutting edge and me not seeing my work as even a little bit ‘out there’. However, editor Philip Rowland often selects my haiku and two are in the latest edition.

wisteria in full bloom the rest escapes me

– Sandra Simpson, NOON 13: journal of the short poem

And, finally, a Senryu appears in the online anthology of this year’s Sharpening the Green Pencil Contest, organised in Romania. The poem tells it like it was.

new year’s eve –
a bare-chested man hollers

– Sandra Simpson

Presence & NOON

Presence 56 arrived in the letterbox yesterday containing 4 of my haiku, including

poolside zinnias –
the hummingbirds

– Sandra Simpson, Presence 56

This haiku was written during our visit to the US in June and July. We were kindly hosted by an illustrious haiku writer who had a swimming pool with zinnias planted nearby. The hummingbirds love the zinnias, we were told, but we must have been too noisy or too many or too something because they barely made an appearance while we were there.

Presence is a great publication that has been steady as she goes, despite the untimely death of editor Martin Lucas in 2014. There are, however, some changes afoot. Alison Williams is taking the role of tanka editor, the first time they’ve had a separate editor for that section; the submission window has been reduced to 6 weeks (from 2 months); and new maximum submission limits set (10 haiku or tanka, down from 12). You can also read details of the Martin Lucas Haiku Award (closes December 31) at the website.

This latest issue features Hamilton (NZ) poet Andre Surridge in the Focus section.

suddenly colder a spider comes in with the evening paper

– Andre Surridge, Presence 56

NOON 12 has also appeared, this is an online publication put out by Philip Rowland from Japan who from 2004-09 produced hand-sewn limited edition issues. Online issues begin at NOON 8 and can be seen at the website. I have 2 haiku in the latest issue.

the last sister
escorted to the front pew –
dandelion lawn

– Sandra Simpson, NOON 12

NOON is sub-titled “journal of the short poem” so doesn’t restrict itself to haiku or haiku as you might recognise it. Always an interesting read.

                      some of the darkness
is us

– Rick Tarquinio, NOON 12

Choosing carefully

Gion alley –
I follow the tsunami
on her kimono

– Sandra Simpson, NOON 9 (Japan)

Obi detail seen near Kyoto Station. Photo: Sandra Simpson

When I saw this obi (the waist sash around a kimono) I knew that one day I would use it in a haiku – it just seemed so different to the others that I had seen on my all-too-brief stay in Kyoto, which were mostly flowers, butterflies, leaves and embroidered balls. This obi design seemed so very strong, almost masculine (had it belonged to the wearer’s father?), and it appears to be depicting something rough and tough, rather than something delicate and pretty.

When I came to the word choice for my haiku, tsunami seemed to me to contain more possibilities for readers than, say, typhoon –  after a quick online check the latter turns out to be a Chinese word (taifu in Japanese). The editor of NOON lives in Japan so, whew!

Gion is an old area of Kyoto, best known for its geisha (called geiko in Kyoto). Westerners seem to think Gion is something akin to a red-light area but geisha are not prostitutes, rather highly trained entertainers who can be hired for an hour or a night (although I have played on the Western misunderstanding in my haiku).

Trainees (maiko) are taught to sing, dance, play a musical instrument, understand Japan’s highly nuanced etiquette and be good conversationalists. The one my group met had no questions for us after we had questioned her about her training and background, and the older geisha accompanying her advised (in Japanese) “next time have something to ask them”.

The Great Wave off Kanagawa by Hokusai (1760-1849). Image: Wikipedia

Made in about 1830, this woodblock print, often known simply as The Great Wave, was the first in the artist’s Thirty-Six Views of Mt Fuji and is now one of the best-known pieces of Japanese art in the world. Adding to the popularity of this print at the time, was its extensive use of the new synthetic colour pigment Prussian blue, which gave a greater range of shades of blue and a greater depth of colour.

her kimono sleeve
the first blossom –
spring wind

– Sandra Simpson, Famous Reporter (Australia, 2010)

Patiently posing during Haiku Pacific Rim in Australia in 2009 (amid the lingering affects of a dust storm) was Japanese poet Mariko Kitakubo. Photo: Sandra Simpson