Reviews: Surridge & Bullock

Two nice volumes have come across my desk recently – one hundred petals, the first collection of haiku by André Surridge (Hamilton), and summer haiku, a collection from Owen Bullock, once of the UK, a long-time resident of the Western Bay of Plenty in New Zealand and now working in Canberra, Australia.

Update: André passed away on December 23, 2019.

Cover art, a collage, is by Jenny Kippenberger.

First of all, a disclaimer: I wrote the Foreword for André’s collection. So you might think that I would be well disposed towards André and his work, and you’d be right!

One hundred haiku and senryu have been arranged into chapters reflecting the four seasons, a traditional approach from a poet who doesn’t always conform to the traditions of haiku – the non-conformity appears as a fifth (middle) chapter of senryu. André, who began writing haiku in 2002, has won many awards along the way and is  regularly published around the world.

I’ll let his work speak for itself by choosing one of my favourites from each season.

gentle rain a ripple runs along
                                              the foal’s flank

small crack
the albatross chick whistles
inside its shell

(I particularly like the sensory elements in these two haiku above; tiny details, but what impact!)

dark side of the moon
the stepbrother
I never met

autumn sunset:
the double bounce
of a persimmon

by the stile
a heel print
inlaid with ice

Having undergone some serious, and debilitating, treatment, André is facing an uncertain future healthwise, the prompt to gather this collection together. Yet there is no sentimentality in these poems, no self-pity … just an ongoing engagement with the world around him as he moves through it. I particularly like his quiet, but acute, observations in poems like these:

physio
the pillow
still warm

lavender stalk
the weight of one
white butterfly

“My thanks to Cyril Childs who showed me the haiku way and to Patricia Prime for steadying me on that path in those early years,” the author writes.

The 64-page book is printed on recycled paper and costs $20 within New Zealand (includes postage) and $NZ25 elsewhere. André is now kindly donating proceeds to Kokako journal. To order a copy please email Elaine including your name, postal address and how you’re paying. Payment for New Zealand orders may be made by bank transfer to Kokako 12 3071 0355785 00 using ‘petals100’ in the reference line. Unfortunately, due to changes in NZ’s banking system cheques cannot be accepted. International orders may be made using PayPal, Elaine will reply with payment details. ISBN 978-0-473-48250-3.

Cover artwork is by Dianne Firth, Canberra Tales III.

Owen keeps up a regular output of books, which is nice to see as most of us seem to work on single-poet collections maybe once in a decade.

A small-format book, Summer Haiku is published by Recent Work Press and follows Owen’s earlier books with the same publisher, Urban Haiku (2015) and River’s Edge (2016). In an email to me this month Owen revealed there are many previously unpublished haiku in this collection giving us plenty fresh to enjoy, among them:

teeth marks
in the soap
hedgehog-sized

yellow butterfly
from piece of air
to piece of air

In his Afterword, Owen explains the collection was written over three summers while camping on land he and his partner own in New Zealand and which they’re developing along permaculture principles – “and one winter sojourn there in our newly built gypsy wagon”.

she calls me cute
tears come easily
this winter holiday

3pm
ducks already folded
into their bodies

Owen has a knack of creating haiku that might seem ordinary at first glance, but that glance becomes a longer look and then one begins to think about the words and images and … Here he perfectly – and calmly, almost wonderingly – describes something I’ve experienced often, but always find frightening until my rational mind can take over.

not a man
but some kind of shadow –
daybreak

And the sound in this haiku is everywhere but, beautifully, is nowhere stated:

farm tour
a llama cleans its teeth
on the wire fence

Summer Haiku, 68 pages, is available from Recent Work Press for $A8.95. ISBN 9780648404279.

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).