Blowing up Balloons

Blowing up Balloons by Vanessa Proctor and Gregory Piko ($US15 from Red Moon Press, 2017), 94 pages of haiku. Available from Vanessa or Greg, $A24 (including postage to New Zealand) through PayPal.

Two Australian haiku poets have together produced a delightful collection of haiku and senryu and done some clever marketing with their subtitle, ‘baby poems for parents’, as it won’t alienate anyone who becomes fearful at the terms ‘haiku’ and/or ‘senryu’.

The risk with such a venture is the cloying sentimentality that often surrounds the production of small humans but Proctor and Piko steer clear of the trap with poems that share the moments of joy – and occasional panic and/or tedium –  that make up parenthood.

For some pregnancy is a shock, for others a planned event. But it can often be nine months that veer, for both parents, from contentment to terror as B-Day approaches.

sleepless night
we pack the hospital bag
again

 

he leans the parenting book
                    toward the fairy light

Dr Spock, Penelope Leach and their ilk can teach new parents the why of how to care for a baby but they can’t address the imponderables – what you feel when you hold a fragile being in your arms, how to keep hold of a slippery infant in a bath, who to call on for help (anyone) and when to, well, do anything …

Bedsides all the dramas, large and small, and feelings of inadequacy, any parent (or grandparent) also knows about the unexpected humour that comes from having a tiny person with a sponge for a brain.

mothers’ night out
we all head home
at nine

 

parking ticket
my toddler wants
one too

None of the poems, which are presented one to a page, carry an author name nor are the poems assigned to an author in end notes. At first I found this slightly odd but after dipping in and out realised it may be a way of giving equal weighting to the roles of mother and father, and that both experiences and points of view are valid. And while some poems are gender specific, many are not which gives Blowing Up Balloons (BUB) a nice, cohesive feel.

baby’s balloon
floats above the bed …
were you inside me?

 

breakfast
throwing up
baby names

Cover art and internal colour art (which resemble balloons and separate roughly thematic sections arranged by baby’s development) is by Proctor.

my son
blowing up balloons
just to hear them fart

Some of the haiku/senryu have been published before, but there are also plenty that are being published for the first time.

and yet ….
only breast milk
went in

 

summer clouds
my children see dinosaurs
in everything

While many of the poems are gentle and revel in the magic of babies and childhood, neither of the authors is sentimental about the job of parenting – dirty work, long hours and no (cash) payment.

fresh celery
trying not to snap
at each other

 

before breakfast
pacing the streets
with pram and dog

Both authors are accomplished, award-winning haiku poets and together have produced a collection that will be hard to beat. Blowing Up Balloons is that rare thing, a book firmly rooted in reality that is nonetheless filled with love and is a joy from beginning to end.

It would be a delightful gift for anyone expecting a child or those with young children (so buy two and keep one). I hear you saying that the latter may not have enough time to enjoy it but I reply that among the attractions of haiku are its brevity and portability. Waiting for school to come out? Read a haiku or two. Nap time? Read a haiku or two (then get some kip yourself).

Visit Greg Piko’s website.

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Recent successes

Delightful surprise yesterday when I saw the results of the Martin Lucas Haiku Award – Second place! Apparently my letter of congratulations is still in the post (true statement, it seems they really have mailed the results).

Christmas eve –
the pop-up book’s manger
missing its baby

– Sandra Simpson

Judge Vanessa Proctor had this to say about my haiku: ‘Christmas eve’ presents the reader with a familiar domestic scene. It’s the night before Christmas when family members pull out those special Christmas books to read before the big day. Pop-up books are particularly magical, but this particular book is missing baby Jesus who is central to the story. How easily things can be lost. The wider message here is that in many ways the true meaning of Christmas has been lost too.

I’d almost decided not to enter many more contests, my results having been poor over the past couple of years so this result has helped boost my confidence.

And I’ve had a haiku published in a journal I haven’t tried before – Right Hand Pointing, an online US publication which has put out a couple of winter haiku editions collated by Eric Burke.

holiday cottage  –
the empty fruitbowl
at dusk

– Sandra Simpson

And the latest Red Moon anthology is out – dust devils – which includes three of my haiku published in 2016. As you may recall, I’m a nominating editor for the Red Moon anthologies so what happens when it comes to editors’ own work is: The haiku we vote on are without names or publication points (so judged ‘blind’) and we may not vote for our own work. The work of editors must receive at least 5 votes from the other 9 editors to merit inclusion – meaning our own work is held to a slightly higher standard than general nominations which need at least 5 votes from 10 editors.

All three of my haiku in dust devils have already been featured on this blog so I won’t bore you by repeating them. Instead let me include this one by a fellow Kiwi:

I would have given up
so many times …
we mend the tent

– Owen Bullock, Second place, Betty Drevniok Award (Canada) 2016

Winners & a loser

Heartiest congratulations to my mate Vanessa Proctor, winner of this year’s NZPS International Haiku Contest with:

all that I am mountain spring

I’ve just finished reading the report by judge John O’Connor and right at the end he mentions my name followed by the words “one of our leading haiku poets”. Gulp. Thing is, I haven’t won a brass razoo in this year’s contest! No mention of any sort, except that fulsome praise. Bet you can you all see my red face from where you are.

So here’s an earlier one that has done well – winning the 2008 Kokako Haiku Contest. This haiku also appears in breath and is featured on the Katikati Haiku Pathway.

pausing also
at the sacred matai …
a wood pigeon

– Sandra Simpson

Matai, or black pine, is a conifer native to New Zealand. Read more here.

The wood pigeon or kereru is a beautiful bird, but is also a greedy and rather stupid bird that will eat until it can no longer fly which made it easy game for Maori and early settlers. Apparently it’s quite good eating, my grandmother (born about 1903) could recall having it in a pie when she was young. Some of the trees in our native forest rely on the kereru to distribute seeds so it plays a unique role in forest regeneration.

count2

A kereru or NZ wood pigeon. Photo: Sandra Simpson

 

This link tells you a bit about the spot beside Lake Rotoiti that inspired the haiku.

John Carley, RIP

News has come that John Carley (born 1955) has died in England, on January 1. John had had a serious illness for four years, something he bore with good humour and fortitude. I feel privileged to have known John, even if only by email and through shared writing online.

His communication skills were second to none and he was one of the best teachers I have met. Thanks to him, my interest in renku is ongoing. He was also the best sabaki (renku leader) I have come across, patient, thoughtful and with the ability to see the whole poem even as we worked through its mysteries. His decisions were invariably sound and based in an expert knowledge of renku.

His love of linked verse saw him invent the four-verse yotsumono, and he celebrated the form with a collection written with several authors, myself included, in The Little Book of Yotsumonos (Darlington Richards, 2012). The same publisher is bringing out the hard-copy edition of The Renku Reckoner, John’s life work, and taken from his now-defunct website of the same name. Thanks to a pdf version being available earlier, Vanessa Proctor has reviewed TRR on Haiku NewZ.

I have looked this morning for John’s free e-book of haiku, nothing but the wind. Sadly, it seems to have disappeared along with its erstwhile host, Gean Tree Press.  Update January 30, 2014: The free ebooks, including John’s, published by Gean Tree Press have appeared back online. Find them here.

At my invitation John led a small team of us to write a 20-verse nijuin for entry into last year’s Einbond Award. We were up against a tight deadline and a trying period health-wise for him – he not only led us right through the poem but in his summing up said: “This is far and away the best poem I’ve ever been involved in. And all those thousands of words of renku theory are worth less than one good exemplar. If I have a style, this is it. Thank you. J”

No, thank you John … and we won! (Icing on the cake, as he reckoned he’d taken some risks with verse choices considering it was a competition entry, and an American competition at that.) Early Morning Heat is in the new issue of Frogpond.

There are several articles by John on Basho, renku, kigo and other topics available online (Haiku NewZ, A Hundred Gourds, etc) and I urge you to seek them out and read them.

I feel like I’ve lost a mentor, a guiding light and a dear friend. I can’t imagine what his family must be feeling (typical John, though, he arranged for an email to be sent to advise of his death) and my thoughts and good wishes are with them and with the others, like me, who mourn him.

new year’s day –
a single shaft of sunshine
across the penines

(for JEC)

– Sandra Simpson