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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Roving Ambassador Roberta Beary

It’s not often I have an ambassador to stay at Chez Haiku (in fact, never) but a visit this week from Roberta Beary (and her husband Frank Stella) was exactly that. Roberta is the inaugural Haiku Foundation Roving Ambassador – and even has diplomatic credentials (well, okay, a visiting card, but still …)!

Roberta and Frank arrived in Auckland from the US by cruise ship on January 27 and will spend about 3 weeks in Aotearoa doing all the usual sight-seeing with Roberta making contact with haiku poets and editors wherever she can. The couple are travelling for most of this year and have plans to base themselves in Ireland for a bit rather than being constantly on the move. From New Zealand they go to Australia and then, probably, Singapore. It seems a bit ‘fly by wire’ but I think they’re looking forward to some spontaneity after a busy time before they left the US.

We spent Friday in Katikati touring the 45 poems on the Haiku Pathway with a small group, all then toddling off to an extremely nice lunch together.

Roberta took the opportunity to make a photo record of every poem on the Katikati Haiku Pathway. Photo: Sandra Simpson

She was delighted to see this haiku by her good friend Jim Kacian. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Out to lunch (clockwise from front left) are Jenny Fraser (Mt Maunganui), Roberta Beary, Frank Stella, Bob Edwards (Katikati), Catherine Mair (Katikati), Catherine Bullock (Waihi), Margaret Beverland (Katikati) and Sandra Simpson (Tauranga). Photo: A really helpful waitress at Café Nineteen (Fairview Golf Course).

If you’d like to contact Roberta to see if a visit is possible, please use the email address on her visiting card. As well as being an award-winning haiku poet, Roberta is also haibun editor for Modern Haiku and will continue in this role during her zig-zagging across the planet, thanks to the magic of email.

Good reads

I’ve been enjoying a couple of good books so thought I would share …

The Deep End of the Sky is Chad Lee Robinson’s award-winning collection from Turtlelight Press (click on the link for ordering details if you’re in North America, otherwise find out about ordering through The Book Depository which includes free shipping). Chad runs a chatty blog with the same name as his book.

The haiku are about the American prairies – Chad is a native of South Dakota – and capture the spaces and silences of the landscapes and lives there.

roadside stand
cornhuskers talk
with their hands

– Chad Lee Robinson

 

The wraparound cover image is perfect and the typeface, paper and internal images give the book something of a vintage feel. The haiku aren’t old-fashioned in the sense that they use well-worn images or the language of past decades. No, they’re old-fashioned in the best sense of having integrity, honesty, character and wisdom.

my body thinner these days I hear more of the wind

– Chad Lee Robinson

I have a soft spot for haiku that express the truths of working on the land so, as you might imagine, I have been thoroughly enjoying this slim volume.

watermelons
the weight of our grunts
breaks an axle

– Chad Lee Robinson

Hard to believe that this is Chad’s first book – I have been admiring his haiku for years. He is a very assured writer.

Roberta Beary, meanwhile, is one of the bravest poets I know. If she sees something she doesn’t like she speaks up but she also doesn’t shy away from examining her own life and writing about what she finds there, or from using traumatic events to create poems – read an interview with Roberta about some of that process in creating Deflection.

Deflection is a new collection of poems, some of which are haiku but all of which are inflected with a haiku sensibility – close observation and pared-back language (see here for purchase details).

with knife in hand
my son’s lover dissects
the last white peach

– Roberta Beary

The collection also includes some haibun (prose + haiku) and these add another layer of perception to a collection about the process of grief and grieving – Roberta lost her mother and nephew in quick succession, and had cared for her mother for 5 years as she had been steadily lost to dementia.

autumn coolness enters a hand long held in mine

– Roberta Beary, from the haibun Nighthawks

Deflection begins with a poem, 57 Varieties, that features a woman for whom “the switch is off”, and ends with What Remains, a haibun that contains this final paragraph:

You leave us with one last story. It is 4 o’clock in the morning. A police car sets its revolving light on a mother’s house. The shadow of two men appear. The front door opens. One man is a policeman. This is where the story ends. The other man is a priest. This is where the story begins.

To which, I can only inadequately say, wow! The choppy sentences perfectly convey what happens when dread and shock knock on the door, how ‘unreal’ reality becomes in a heartbeat, how all the mess and clutter and busy-ness of our daily lives become dust in our mouths and we are left with only elemental pain and grief.

Deflection is full of powerful writing by a poet at the height of her powers, do check it out.

Top of their game

Much excitement this week as two superb books by two superb poets arrived in my letterbox.

First to land was The Bone Carver by Ron Moss of Tasmania, published by Snapshot Press in the UK, and what a fine looking volume it is. Ron is also a talented photographer and painter, and the cover image is one of his own photos – I can’t believe this is his first collection as he seems to have been writing at the top of his game for ages.

ron

Ron C Moss. Photo: Sandra Simpson

 

valley mist …
running my finger over
the curve of a twig

– Ron Moss

It’s that “curve” that elevates this from a good haiku to an excellent haiku, isn’t it? I don’t often ponder word choice when I’m writing but this poem is a good kick on the shins to remind me to pay attention to all aspects of my work. It contains a vivid sensation (running my finger over) and the nice soft (misty) “v” and “f” sounds.

April 17 update: Ron has just emailed to advise The Bone Carver has today been named as the winner of a Touchstone Distinguished Book Award! Well done, that man.

The other book I was delighted to receive yesterday was the doors all unlocked by Carolyn Hall of California, published by Red Moon Press, another poet I admire greatly.

carolyn

Carolyn Hall. Photo: Sandra Simpson

unlabelled shapes
from the back of the freezer
winter stars

– Carolyn Hall

Anyone who has a freezer should recognise this poem, “unlabelled shapes” is a perfect description of … well, what? Pieces of meat, vegetables, fruit? Something which at the time we thought worthwhile to save and enjoy on another day but, being human, thought we would always recognise or didn’t have a marker pen to hand (or it’s been there so long the marker’s worn off). The “winter stars” leads me back to the package not being a neat rectangle. I like the humour of this.

I thought it might be fun to find haiku on similar themes in both books – for me it’s always interesting seeing what poets do with the same idea – but then I thought, what the heck, let’s just have another from each. Ladies first, this time.

colourless wind
the ashes
that don’t scatter

– Carolyn Hall

from someone’s baby a smile that knows me

– Ron Moss

Both are regularly published in The Heron’s Nest – Ron was voted Poet of the Year for 2014 by readers, with one of his haiku elected as Poem of the Year. Read those results here. Carolyn was Poet of the Year in 2011 and was first runner-up in 2008. In the current issue a haiku by Carolyn is the Editor’s Choice. the doors all unlocked received an honourable mention in the Touchstone Distinguished Book Awards in 2012.

I’ve recently been gifted a copy of fresh paint, the towpath haiku society anthology for 2015, edited by Roberta Beary and published by Red Moon Press. It’s a small book, pocket sized, that is lovingly produced and a nice thing to have, especially as I’m introduced to poets new to me.

merry-go-round all lit up      the galaxy

– Kirsten Deming

waiting room
how this blood test
is a poem

– Jimmy Aaron (Peach)

The towpath haiku society, founded in 1995, is based in the Washington DC area and named for the C & O Canal (Chesapeake & Ohio) that links Washington DC with Cumberland in Maryland – 184 miles (296km) – with the towpath these days a popular walking and cycling trail.

Red piano & others

I made the post below with the picture of Michael Parekowhai’s red piano and woke up this morning and remembered this haiku:

ants out of a hole —
when did I stop playing
the red toy piano?

– Fay Aoyagi, from In Borrowed Shoes (Blue Willow Press, San Francisco) 2006.

Fay’s haiku are always interesting as she ploughs a course different to most with her work. Read her blog, Blue Willow World, where she daily translates a haiku from Japanese into English.

And then this one … (red in her father’s face perhaps)

piano practice
in the room above me
my father shouting

– Roberta Beary, from The Unworn Necklace (Snapshot Press, UK, 2007)

And because it seems right to have haiku in threes, here’s another.

rain at last!
I ask the piano salesman
to riff a little Bach

– Carolyn Hall, The Heron’s Nest XVI: 2 (2014)

It was my pleasure to meet each of these talented poets in Long Beach last year.