A Journal for Linking Poets  

Books in Lynx:

Reviewed by Jeffrey Woodward

Business in Eden by David Cobb. Equinox Press: Braintree, Essex, England, 2006.  ISBN: 0-9517103-5-4.  Perfect Bound, 5” x 6 1/2“, 96 pp., £7.95 UK Available, also, through British Haiku Society Bookshop.

Water Shining Beyond the Fields:  Haibun Travels Southeast Asia by John Brandi. Tres Chicas Books:  El Rito, NM, 2006. ISBN:  1-893003-09-4. Perfect Bound, 5 ½” x 7”, 190 pp., $14.00 US.

Table Turning: BHS Haibun Anthology 2005.  Edited by David Cobb and Ken Jones.  BHS Bookshop.  ISSN:  0-952230-78. Saddle-stapled, 5 ½” x 8”, 40 pp., £5 UK.

Shorelines: Haiku, Haibun and Tanka by Kirsty Karkow.  Black Cat Press: Eldersburg, MD, 2007. ISBN: 0-9766407-5-9.  Perfect Bound, 5” x 6 ½”, 132 pp., $15.95 US.

Gathering Peace by Carol Purington. Winfred Press:  Colrain, MA, 2007. ISBN: 0-9766407-4-0. Perfect Bound, 5 ½” x 8”, 100 pp., $15 postpaid within US – ordering details and prices outside USA.

Lip Prints: Tanka and Other Short Poems, 1979-2007 by Alexis Rotella. Modern English Tanka Press: Baltimore, MD, 2007. ISBN 978-0-6151-6501-1. Perfect Bound, 6 x 9 inches, 160 pp., $21.95 US.

The Tao of Water, edited by Giselle Maya. Koyama Press, France, 2007. Limited Edition, hand-sewn, 8 x 11 inches, 52 pp. Send $26 US plus $9.60 US postage or 20E plus 7.20E postage to G. Maya, Koyama Press, 84750 Saint Martin de Castillon, France.

A Piece of the Rainbow by Fujiko Sato.  Nihon Bungakukan: Tokyo, Japan, 2007.  ISBN: 978-4-7765-1448-0.  Perfect Bound, 5” x 7 ½”, 118 pp., $12 US or 1,200 yen.

Poets Behind Barbed Wire. Edited and translated by Jiro Nakano and Kay Nakano. Bamboo Ridge Press: Honolulu, HI, 1983. ISBN:  0-910043-05-1. Perfect Bound, 5 ½” x 8”, 88 pp., $8 US.

Outcry from the Inferno: Atomic Bomb Tanka Anthology. Edited and translated by Jiro Nakano.  Bamboo Ridge Press:  Honolulu, HI, 1995. ISBN: 0-910043-38-8. Perfect Bound, 6” x 9”, 128 pp., $10 US.

Reeds: Contemporary Haiga 2007.  Edited by Jeanne Emrich.  Lone Egret Press, 6566 France Avenue South, Suite 1210, Edina, MN 55435.  ISBN: None.  Perfect  Bound, 5 ½” x 8”,  102 pp., $16 US.

Adam Powell reviews: Geert Verbeke: An enigma, a modern master and a spellbinder.Literary criticism of the poetry and prose of Geert Verbeke (Flanders-Belgium), based upon “Brother Buddha”, 2007, Cyberwit (India), ISBN: 978-81-8253-094-2; “Frogs Croak”, 2007, Cyberwit (India), ISBN: 978-81-8253-091-1; “Rain”, 2005, Cyberwit (India), ISBN: 81-8253-021-0; “Jokerman”, 2005, Cyberwit (India), ISBN: 81-8253-038-5; and “Sweeps of Rain”, 2006, Cyberwit (India), ISBN: 81-8253-068-7.

Stepping Stones:  a way into haiku, Martin Lucas
192 pp., ISBN 978-0-9522397-9-6, £12 + £1.50 p&p British Haiku Society.  Order from:  Stanley Pelter, Maple House, 5 School Lane, Claypole, Lincs. NG23 5BQ Overseas orders, enquire.


Reviewed by Werner Reichhold

Wall Street Park, A Concrete Renku, by Raffael Gruttola and Carlos Colón, including text about Links & Linkages by the authors. PiXeLaRt Press, Upton, Massachusetts, U.S.A., 2007. $ 8.00 pp. Order from: Carlos Colon, 185 Lynn Ave., Shreveport, LA 71105



Business in Eden by David Cobb. Equinox Press: Braintree, Essex, England, 2006.  ISBN: 0-9517103-5-4.  Perfect Bound, 5” x 6 1/2“, 96 pp., £7.95 UK Available, also, through British Haiku Society Bookshop.

Reviewed by Jeffrey Woodward

Positioned as if bookends at the front and back of this, David Cobb’s newest book, are two long and ambitious haibun from previous collections. “The Spring Journey to the Saxon Shore” (1997) and “A Day in Twilight” (2002), approximately thirty and twenty text pages respectively, that share not only a certain measure of ambition but a compositional method as well. A dozen haibun of more common length – one or two pages – form the centerpiece of this triptych.

What is Cobb’s method? He outlines it clearly, in the second paragraph of “The Spring Journey to the Saxon Shore”:

“Early one morning in spring, towards the end of a millennium, I try to forget I own two cars, sling a leg over the crossbar of a bicycle, prepare to set out from the ‘lower part’ of Essex … for a cottage on the Norfolk coast…. No companions along the way but the living I may chance to meet and the dead who haunt it.” (1)

The poet’s unabashedly Romantic project is to evade the present (“I try to forget…”) and evoke the past (“the dead who haunt it”). Even the “living” who are met “along the way” are invested with a symbolic significance and spectral air. While the ghost of Bashō and his travels may flutter dimly behind these pages, Cobb’s tone and atmosphere are distinctly contemporary.

The ‘poetic places’ (utamakura) -- the topos famous for having inspired ancient poems ― formed an itinerary for Bashō’s journeys. Cobb seeks out or happens upon the same in his cycling tour, though the “the dead who haunt” his English countryside are often obscure writers or local historical personages of the 18th or 19th centuries. He brings these dead back; he revives them, with his vivid descriptions and lively detail:

“Outside Hedingham a crossroads. Here they drove rivets through the joints of Old Poll, the local witch.

blackthorn in bloom
worming underground
its seven-league roots

Out of the sloe bush the pewtery chinking of a wren. The panoply of spring praises this day. The lark ascends for the first time, glossy cuckoo-pint leaves and glistening celandines take the eye away from daffodils, wallflowers scent walls, violets bloom both mauve and white, cheery-eyed speedwells are there, primroses, poplars quick to follow weeping willows into tint.” (5-6)

The village of Honington houses the ghost of Robert Bloomfield, forgotten author of The Farmer’s Boy, whom Cobb promptly recognizes in the form of a “slip-smock style shirt” that “waves…from a washing line” (9), a discovery that leads to an interview of the dead by the living poet.

Attleborough brings Cobb, by chance, in touch with the living – a young schoolgirl with notebook in hand – and an opportunity for a rather witty metaphysical digression:

“’Do you believe in heaven and hell, sir? It’s all part of our homework, see? We gotta find out what everyone thinks and put it in a bar chart for Mrs. Scattermole.’

‘Well, yes, I do believe in heaven and hell, but not as a place somewhere else, not as somewhere to go to…. Have you got space in your chart for someone who thinks heaven and hell are the same place?’

‘Don’t think Mrs. Scattermole will have that,” the child answers mournfully, and then more hopefully, “What about the Devil? Do you believe in him?’

‘Or her. Yes, but not as someone else or the same individual all the time….’

My young interlocutor turns away and, pausing by the next street corner, I see her take out a rubber and erase the scribble she has taken down from me.” (17)

At journey’s end, under a vision of the Hale-Bopp Comet, Cobb reflects: “At bicycle speed, events from long ago come into sharper focus out of obscure memory, happenings of today drift away into the uncertainty of fable…. Never do we need words more than when we are alone, not for communication with others, but to talk to ourselves and define our own peace of mind” (32).

The twelve shorter haibun that follow “A Spring’s Journey” further display the breadth and originality of Cobb’s talent. The inevitable faux pas of a school nativity play, the black comedy of the burial of an emeritus professor of philosophy, the speculation on the poet’s own grave-to-be, and the nightmarish fable of a society that sanctions and glorifies euthanasia – Cobb assays each motif with a confident hand.

“A Day in Twilight” – the latter third of this collection – revisits the mode of “A Spring Journey” as Cobb hints in his introduction:

“Mythical beings share intuitions with us and desire our company?

Taken with this idea and feeling sure their need would be greatest when days are short, I determined, as it was winter solstice, to seek some of those beings out….” (60) 

Cobb’s characteristic wry humor is amply evident:

“I dress before dawn, no very unlikely thing to do on December’s twenty-second day, night making way slowly for the gloom which at this time of year we are pleased to call daylight.” (61)

As is his gift for the crisp and condensed turn of poetry:

“Even on a day of modest wind there is a chill in the air across the small-scale ridge land prairie where I now find myself. Set against a line of dark lime trees, like a lace jabot on a black collar, the eastern end of Little Sampford church. Mouldering. Its floor made of damp uncemented yellow bricks.

honey for sale –
my loose change clinks
on a silent hive” (71)

Unfortunately, Cobb’s peregrinations in “A Day in Twilight,” with his seeking out of the likes of highwayman Dick Turpin and merry King Coel, rings in the end, despite many brilliant passages, as emptily as Cobb’s “loose change.” It lacks the inner coherence of “A Spring Journey to the Saxon Shore” and comes close to lowering itself to a parody of that earlier achievement.

Such misgivings are easy to put aside, however, in a book that is otherwise rich in achievement and confirms, yet again, Cobb’s position in the front ranks of those poets who have mastered the difficult art of haibun. The detail from Hieronymus Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights that adorns the cover seems particularly apropos and the price, modest. Business in Eden is that reviewer’s cliché: a must for your bookshelf.


Water Shining Beyond the Fields:  Haibun Travels Southeast Asia by John Brandi. Tres Chicas Books:  El Rito, NM, 2006. ISBN:  1-893003-09-4. Perfect Bound, 5 ½” x 7”, 190 pp., $14.00 US.

Reviewed by Jeffrey Woodward

The book at hand, while covering separate journeys in Cambodia, China, and Thailand respectively, may startle many by its sheer bulk. “Haibun Travels,” John Brandi’s sub-title proclaims, and common expectations of a Bashō-like travel journal are aroused. Basho’s most ambitious journal – the Narrow Road to the Interior (Oku no Hosomichi) – ends after 40 or 50 modern text pages and Issa’s Spring of My Life (Ora ga Haru), while lengthier, doesn’t surpass twice that number. Meanwhile, book-length collections of modern haibun in English are relatively few in number and lean more closely toward the Bashō norm.

Certainly, no writer, however accomplished, might aspire to sustain over such breadth the verbal compression and emotive tension common to classical Japanese or modern English haibun. The prose in Water Shining Beyond the Fields, while rising on occasion to such heights by the common haikai methods of abbreviation and understatement, adopts no single style. Brandi echoes the breezy style of popular guide-books, imitates the excited breathlessness of the Kerouac of On the Road or Dharma Bums, reveals his social and political angst in passages of diatribe, and, occasionally, writes with the lucidity and pithiness more commonly associated with the haibun genre.

Brandi, at Angkor Wat, rises to the occasion of the scene before him:

“Narratives depicting Hindu myths adorn the inner galleries: architecture as storybook, the “pages” exquisitely carved on two meter-high walls, the detail minute…. “The Churning of the Milk Ocean” is our favorite. I’ve read translations of this story, seen episodes in New Delhi street plays…. Now the story leaps off the wall in front of us: gods and demons oppose each other, pulling on a great rope (the cosmic serpent) to churn amrita, the elixir of immortality into the world. Not only do they succeed, they froth into existence … dozens of erotic apsaras, heavenly dancers whose fingers flutter with secret mudras.

The apsaras float across the wall in dreamy trance, with sumptuous breasts and diaphanous outfits, heads adorned with flame-like tiaras. Their rapturous eyes and smiles evoke a state of communing with the Other …. Finally, there are half-parted lips that convey transience, a whisper emerging from a celestial realm.”    (23)

China, with its now pervasive and rapid modernization, calls forth one of Brandi’s finest passages:

“Awful town, torn up, getting ready – for what? Earthen walls, tiled roofs, cobbled alleys, sheltered markets, landscaped entrance ways, all that is (was) traditional, now in a heap. It’s challenging to walk; conduit and rebar pokes up everywhere, concrete tubes are rolled into open sewers. No one is working. Come next year, and the next, the town will likely still be under construction, the dream put off, everything sagging under abandoned scaffolding, money gone, the place bankrupt. The sweepers continue their task, though there aren’t really any streets to sweep. A warm breeze stirs yellow dust into whirlwinds; we mask our faces with kerchiefs, looking like bandits dragging suitcases of questionable weight:

in the wind
a man without a hat
holds his head.”(79)

The poet’s revulsion is palpable here in the rubble and dust of the past being swept away by the new. The wry portrait of Brandi and his wife with the burden of their dubious suitcases is set off nicely by the haikai humor of the closing verse.

Brandi, at times, reflects clearly upon his own absorption in a culture he often rails against and openly reviles:

“Cambodia, too, opens itself full-out to the world’s fastest growing industry: tourism. No matter the languages I speak, how cheaply I travel, how down-home I lodge, I’m part of it. Even if I go to Mongolia, stay for awhile, and shit in a hole, I’m hooked into the industry. Call myself traveler rather than tourist, seeker rather than traveler, so what? I’m the same old foreigner to the visa man, customs official, cyclo-driver, food vendor, red-light girl, monk, charity worker, guide, innkeeper, pancake lady, shoeshine kid – all who want my money, however much, whatever little. I’m a walking dollar sign.” (45)

This recitation of characters that are captive to a power greater than themselves (tourism!) is understood, at last, to include the poet.

In other times and other places, however, the author displays only perplexity as in this description of a bus trip in rural China:

“And the passengers? Each was a knobby backwater bumpkin right out of a fairy tale: dirty, coarsely shouting non-stop over the unmufflered engine, chain smoking (windows rolled up), heaving butts, sunflower shells, and wads of spit to the floor, dust slowly powdering their dark, threadbare attire. In 40 years of travels I can’t recall another journey (save for a Greyhound in West Virginia’s coal country) where I felt more unacknowledged, purposely ignored. Eerie, indeed, to realize how truly vague and dangerous it is to be among humans (wild animals are more predictable and lovelier to watch)….” (102-103)

Brandi is shocked by being shunned and “unacknowledged.” When these Chinese peasants fail to recognize exactly how interesting our poet is, he can only sulk and resort to insults – “backwater bumpkin,” “dirty,” “threadbare.” His underlying middle-class sensibility, suppressed elsewhere, is here allowed free rein to see in his fellow passengers something akin to those mean-spirited mountain folk in West Virginia’s poverty-stricken coalfields who likewise treated him as invisible some years ago. Brandi does not reflect that the peasant and coal-miner, while sharing his bus, do not share in his sightseeing trip but are engaged in the mean and difficult business of securing a meal.

Quite fortunately, such scenes are not common in this book and the poet more readily shows empathy with the displaced and poor met in his travels. Brandi, too, convincingly conveys a sincere longing for simplicity that will find its admirers:

“In America everything is big, except the computer chip. Big mugs, big cars, big schedules, big football games, big pills for big people, big flags over big malls, big talk from big sissies who run big business. Give me a twig fire. Cup of sake. Tea leaves unfurling in a clay pot. Narrow path through a parsley garden outside a willow shack. Chinese herb pills that slip easily down the throat. No smart bombs. No information bomb. No one going birth to death without chance revelation stirring the doldrums. I sometimes think America invented instant coffee, then sat down to avoid itself. Today, on a path to the beach:

In grains of quartz
from the sweeper’s broom.”      (179)

Water Shining Beyond the Fields, the first title from Tres Chicas Books that I have examined, is a sharply designed trade paperback with full-color cover and pleasingly legible typography. The price is reasonable and John Brandi’s prose, despite occasional lapses, is quite enjoyable on the whole. Along the way, the poet adds some sparkling haiku, also, which really leaves the reviewer little room to quibble.


Table Turning: BHS Haibun Anthology 2005.  Edited by David Cobb and Ken Jones.  BHS Bookshop.  ISSN:  0-952230-78. Saddle-stapled, 5 ½” x 8”, 40 pp., £5 UK.

Reviewed by Jeffrey Woodward

The British Haiku Society sponsors this annual competition, formerly known as the Nobuyuki Yuasa International Award, in the interest of improving “the quality and range of the haibun genre.” The aim, therefore, is educational with publication in the anthology as the only reward for the winning entrants.

The editors of this fourth anthology in the series – widely-known doyens of the haibun movement – inform the reader in their joint introduction that the winning haibun were chosen from over 90 submissions from 36 different poets. While the accounting data speaks well for the slow but steady growth of interest in haibun, even the 18 winning entries from 10 different authors vary widely in actual accomplishment. This fact lends credence to the BHS’s implicit claim that instruction in the genre is wanted.

Graham High contributes a breezy but sophisticated work ― the title piece of this collection ― about a middle-aged group of friends who gather for a séance to relive an adolescence of 30 years ago. “I haven’t spoken to the dead for decades,” High wittily asserts in introducing his motif of reunion.

“Memories, long unvisited, filter back, of a time when kisses and gravestones seemed a perfect mix. A remembered sense of teenage immortality pervades the room, mixed with the distant scent of barely defined romantic longings. We were all such close friends at school. And for a while back then, Sue was more than just a friend ―

talking of the dead
my hand slips into
her unbuttoned blouse

The wine glasses are cleared away and the circular walnut table, slippery with polish, spirited with lavender, shines like a sunflower. The perimeter petals of alphabet cards are played out around its circumference. I think of my long-dead grandmother playing clock patience in her declining years in a diminishing one-hander against time.”        (12)

The transition here is quiet but breathtaking. From adolescent innocence of mortality, with its union of “talking of the dead” and sexual exploration, to the narrator’s sudden recollection of a game of solitaire that a loved one “long-dead” played “against time” – all of this is dismissed, by High, in little more than 100 words. 

In “Silent Storm,” Lynn Edge also bridges an extended period of time with her plain and laconic delivery. The opening paragraph immerses the reader immediately in the unadorned landscape of a road trip that conveys the narrator’s barren marriage. The “ruby reds,” the apples so desired by the woman, provide the only color in this brooding piece. The narrator introduces them as a sign of promise or fulfillment but they afford, when the journey is resumed, only another excuse for marital discord.

“Two days later crossing the desert plains, our truck and trailer sway. A West Texas windstorm. He grips the wheel; I muffle my fear. Between Ozona and Sonora, we find a rundown RV park. I step from the truck and wind-driven sand stings my arms and face. The trailer door whips from my hand, slams against the side. From the doorway, the cloying scent of apples”            (4)

The fruit is decayed but salvaged by the woman and cooked into applesauce.

“Gusts rock the aluminum trailer; sand peppers the walls. The wind howls, but we eat our applesauce in silence.

our anniversary
only his voice
on the phone”   (4)

The notable leap in time from the West Texas scene to the telephone call is a striking effect by Edge but one in harmony with the economy of this haibun as a whole. The title and haiku unite in their uncompromising silence. The narrative is entrusted to the reader.

Competition judges David Cobb and Ken Jones append individual commentaries to each published haibun – interesting, in terms of the often differing perceptions and assessments of two masters of the form but, unfortunately, a distraction from the works proper. Some salient points are made, nevertheless, some points highly suggestive of our yet sketchy knowledge of the terrain that lies before the practitioner of this hybrid and relatively novel genre. 

Jones, in discussing Jane Whittle’s “Fron Goch,” astutely remarks, “If, as here, the prose imagery is strong and attractive, then the haiku need to play a different role than just attempting more of the same. This is an interesting and challenging question which even the most accomplished haibun masters have sometimes had difficulty resolving (35).” The proper balance and relation between prose and verse elements is the problematic crux of haibun. That the writer who excels in this form must command the two modes of writing in tandem is chief among the reasons that this genre is so difficult.

Haibun that attain a proper equilibrium are quite rare. Mastery in any medium is exceptional by definition – more so, perhaps, in what is in many ways an exotic import not yet fully naturalized. Examples of exceptional prose overpowering the verse or brilliant verse embedded in desultory prose have wider currency.

Jamie Edgecombe, in “The Georgian Table,” writes colorfully and lyrically in the prose that prefaces his haiku:

“Corpse. Which rotting vegetation, pollen scented air did you breathe? Through which angle of sun did you feed and grow strong? What colour hands cut the water from your roots, dissected you flat and thick; skinned you smooth? Which spinal brethren of yours flailed masts to grab at the wind, while others suffocated in warm to frigid waters, loved and hated by those, who scurvy-gummed and tribal fearing, bore you away to pencil ear’d artisans? Still, fingers run along all eight solid feet of you, as the eggs begin to harden on the cooker

black mahogany measures
our vague truths”(6)

The second-person address is dramatic and engaging. The prose is equal in exuberant violence to the colonial exploitation that is its motif. To carry this polished rhetoric into the haiku would be a mistake. Edgecombe, perhaps to skirt that difficulty, closes not only on a flat and undistinguished note but also without a haiku. His “vague truths” meet the criteria for a journalistic prose that favors abstract generalization over concrete specificity but fall short of any known criterion for verse.

The opposite shortcoming – that of luminous and deft haiku escorted by a poorly executed or conceived prose – finds an illustration in Dru Phillippou’s “… the soft watch is flesh; it is ‘cheese.’” Because the haiku display such a high level of accomplishment, the task of discussing them is pleasant:

Pleiades rising
a sprinkle of feta
over black olives                  



an old man lifting
a fish gill                                  


These haiku exhibit an acute and heightened sensory perception of the poet’s immediate environment on a tour of Mitilini on the island of Lesbos – the first in an evening café, the second in a morning fish market as the haibun edges toward closure.

The prose unfortunately offers little to commend, being void of the striking disclosures of the haiku while, simultaneously, rambling on in a pretentious and narcissistic show of learning. The haibun begins with a general précis of the tenets of Thales, Heracleitos, Democritus and others (21) but Phillippou can enlighten the reader only of what she canvassed in her undergraduate class in the Pre-Socratics. A recitation of various cheeses (22) allows the poet to shift from the melting dairy product to a pointless allusion to Salvador Dali’s watches – Art Appreciation 101. Questions about the primal elements of fire, water, and earth that the various Pre-Socratics entertained are now willfully reintroduced by Phillippou, a strategy that allows her to import quotations bodily from Paul Claudel, Herman Boerhaave and Gaston Bachelard while abandoning their foundational context (22). The educated tourist cannot walk Lesbos without some recollection of the poetess Sappho. Phillippou, no ordinary tourist, rifles her prosody manual to offer us not only a schematic of the scansion of the Sapphic stanza but an exercise in the stanza itself (not without echoes of Swinburne here). She would have been well-advised to stick to the haiku.

While this last may be an extreme example, two intelligent editors and excellent writers of haibun did see fit to include it in this anthology – one of the 18 best haibun of 90 plus entries. If this haibun represents the flowering of the green, what of the dry? Other interesting haibun by Jim Kacian, Marianne Kiauta and Laurie Stoetling, when joined to the previously discussed work of Graham High and Lynn Edge, save the day, however, and make this modest educational project by the BHS worthy of our support.


Shorelines: Haiku, Haibun and Tanka by Kirsty Karkow.  Black Cat Press: Eldersburg, MD, 2007. ISBN: 0-9766407-5-9.  Perfect Bound, 5” x 6 ½”, 132 pp., $15.95 US.

Reviewed by Jeffrey Woodward

Two years ago, Kirsty Karkow’s first book, water poems, established her name in the minds of many as that of a compelling and original voice in the genres of tanka and haiku. Shorelines, which collects one hundred plus pages of her varied work – from individual haiku to tanka, from haibun to the poetic sequence – will likely further consolidate this favorable opinion.

Karkow’s poetry is deeply tinged by the Maine coastal environment that she inhabits and loves but this regional flavor in no way lessens her broader appeal. While the range of subjects is narrow, restricted as it is to the local and bucolic, the depth and resonance achieved within the poet’s self-imposed limits at times approaches the marvelous.

The following haiku is deceptively simple and appears, at first sight, mere description:

the wave recedes
I take a handful of stones
from the wintry sea                  


The falling back of the vast Atlantic is contrasted with what is left behind, “a handful of stones,” and a solitary diminutive human figure that collects them. The sensation of numbing cold, never addressed, permeates this haiku nor is this chill merely physical but touches the very core of our being. This is a notable accomplishment for “17 syllables or less” and may be offered as an exemplar of why so many devote their energies to this bare form of poetry.

Karkow commands a whimsical and rustic humor, a quality very much in line with the traditions of haiku:

now and then
when my neighbor is away


There are occasional lapses in taste:

between my going
and my coming back
yellow jonquils (34)

in these dappled leaves …
trout lilies! (46)

Both haiku, on a first glance, are smooth and seemingly accomplished but the verbal construction of the first, with the parallel between “going” and “coming back,” and the pretty “dappled” leaves of the second are little more than clichés often met in haiku periodicals.

The tanka in Shorelines supply a greater measure of Karkow’s skill; she appears more consistently at ease and in command of its form.

on one hind leg 
a dancing bear 
snout raised to the sun 
and his Inuit sculptor     (75)

The setting of this poem is ambiguous – natural scene or finished sculpture – but the tanka, nonetheless, contains a curiously quiet reserve of power in its finely chiseled description.

Another lively extract might be made of the poet’s sequence, “Stones”:

who could ignore 
the lichen-crusted lure
of native granite
a tall and well-balanced cairn 
is worth the broken nails

a rock wall 
runs between hayfields 
to the water 
I skip along the capstones 
for the sea calls me as well        (95)

The reader is here allowed a glimpse of a private moment, the poet alone, but the poet alone in a landscape that she knows and loves intimately.  If the sea beckons, Karkow must answer.

Shorelines – the first Black Cat Press edition I have examined – is a neatly produced paperback with a pretty watercolor by the poet adorning its front cover. The price is reasonable and the pocket-sized book might be exactly what is wanted for a companion on a spring or summer jaunt:

its meaning carried
on the breeze
scents of fields in flower
undone buttons on my blouse    (72)


Gathering Peace by Carol Purington. Winfred Press:  Colrain, MA, 2007. ISBN: 0-9766407-4-0. Perfect Bound, 5 ½” x 8”, 100 pp., $15 postpaid within US – ordering details and prices outside USA.

Reviewed by Jeffrey Woodward

Carol Purington arranges the tanka in Gathering Peace into five decades, a design that proceeds logically from her description of the book, in her brief preface, as “a memoir of my inner life.” Each ‘decade,’ therefore, may be read as a retrospective act of composition and consecration of memory.

Every person possesses an interior being but this author, in particular, might lay claim to a greater stress upon its centrality. The disabling effects of polio have kept the poet largely bound to her childhood home from its onset at the age of six.

Given this autobiographical detail, and knowing as well that Purington resides in western Massachusetts, how tellingly she confides, in the prefatory note to her Third Decade: “But I also became more aware of the glass wall that disability placed between me and almost every path away from home. I dreamed of becoming the next Emily Dickinson and wrote poems no one read.” (31)

Might any poet be more apropos than Dickinson – Purington’s near-neighbor in place, if not in time?  Dickinson, just down the way in Amherst, certainly faced her own “glass wall” and barrier to “every path away from home.” Dickinson, too, turned her limitation into the source of a rich inner life and fascinating power.

Left by my parents
            in a hospital room
                        in isolation
the dark of their going
the dark of my staying               (7)

So Purington embarks upon her life of inner solitude. The plain style of direct address objectifies what must be a frightful experience for a small child and deepens the pathos of the scene by its understatement. That technique informs the following tanka as well

Between thunder
and the world seen again
            by lightning
                        the drag of my ventilator
                        losing power, losing breath                    (25)
The poet shifts skillfully away from this plain and unadorned style quite often to engage the reader with a contrast of outer beauty and inner limitation:

This hepatica
whose freshness lasts for an hour …
            if left in the woods
            I wouldn’t have seen it,
                        wouldn’t have seen it wilt                      (38)

Or again:

on a song the robin
gives to its mate
            This book of love letters I hold
            also written to someone else                  (46)

where the poet quietly implies that her act of overhearing the robin – sign of the other and outer world – is an act of transgression or trespass.

The confessional mode and tone which dominates any “memoir” readily places an author at risk of the sentimental. Purington largely evades such faults but there is the occasional saccharine moment

Heidi in a black-and-white film ― 
Shirley Temple with golden curls
Clara dark, like me, 
only she left her wheelchair
on a mountain                                                   (13)

This might best have been left unsaid. Such weak tanka are surprisingly few in number for such a generous collection, however, and Purington, whenever confronted with the contradiction between the outer world and her introspective experience, discovers a way to appropriate some of the world’s beauty to enrich her own:


The days I did not sing
the nights I did not dance
their joy
spiraling out of the throat
            of a hermit thrush                                  (83)

Gathering Peace is a gracefully constructed book with an attractive cover, pleasing typography, and a layout that employs much white space to allow the text to breathe. The tasteful design, quite reasonable price, and excellent tanka make it easy for this reviewer to recommend Purington’s latest.


Lip Prints: Tanka and Other Short Poems, 1979-2007 by Alexis Rotella. Modern English Tanka Press: Baltimore, MD, 2007. ISBN 978-0-6151-6501-1. Perfect Bound, 6 x 9 inches, 160 pp., $21.95 US.

Reviewed by Jeffrey Woodward

Alexis Rotella, a fixture for many years in tanka and haiku circles, needs little introduction to the readers of this journal. She has published often and widely, been the recipient of many awards and finds representation in most, if not all, of the better-known anthologies in the field.

A retrospective view of Rotella’s work – one that spans the period from 1979-2007 – must be appreciated, then, as a public event – or as close to ‘public’ as the relative obscurity of poetry will admit.

Lip Prints offers 360 tanka, more or less, in a spacious layout of three poems per page. The qualification in the sub-title (“…and Other Short Poems”) is peculiar, for only free-form tanka appear herein. 

Rotella’s range in subject and treatment is fairly broad. She writes well, complete with the seasonal topic, in the austere and classical manner of waka:

In the shortest
and longest
month of the year,
the chocolate I crave
is the dark bitter kind.               (72)

Too much time
has passed
to offer
an apology –
autumn’s end.                           (107)

it fall
in pieces,
the precious gold
of autumn.                                            (133)

She writes confidently in that mode of acute sensory perception that is a traditional haikai standard and a method popularized one century ago in the West by the Imagists:

The wind
pushing me
through the cemetery
as if to say
leave.                                                   (25)

Mountain road –
pink plastic flowers
nailed to a cliff
and ribbons
the color of wind.                                  (62)

Boarded up factories –
looking away
from the rusted buildings,
a family
of sunflowers.                           (129)

Her ability to perceive and convey the ironies of the human condition and of the particular social setting is frequently apparent:

An hour it took
to drive here –
my friend
sits with her back
to the sea.                                             (22)

And this very social alertness and curiosity lends itself to such deadpan comedy as

He was either
too short or too tall,
or he smelled funny,
our old maid aunt
relates.                                     (28)

or to

I like your new look,
I tell my elderly mother
and her sister chimes,
that outfit
is on loan.                                            (47)

Alexis Rotella possesses an ease and facility in composition that allows her to publish prolifically. This same native talent and confidence leads the poet to over-reach, at times, and to fail embarrassingly. For example

After dark –
are the male
Greek statues
in the museum
ravishing one another?               (76)

strains to win laughter where there is none, while

No, Officer,
nothing is wrong;
I was just
my primal scream.                              (37)

lacks not only the intended punch-line but any semblance of plausible motivation.  Only a similar lapse or absence of critical judgment can account for this trivial tableau:

French class –
the priest
and a young nun
titter softly
during break.                                        (18)

Or pardon the flavorless narcissism and self-aggrandizement of

No use trying
to figure me out;
everything I write
is fiction,
all of it true.                                          (64)

Rotella would have served her cause better, perhaps, by censoring such poems, instead of aiming for an exhaustive representation of her poetic career. Fortunately, such clearly flawed verses remain in the minority.

The poet occupies firmer ground when she lowers her sights somewhat and assays the intimate and near-at-hand:

House filled
with moving boxes –
I sit in the sun
and for the last time,
listen to the quail.                                  (196)

That note is subdued and modest, poignant in its resignation to loss and, ultimately, universal.

Rotella’s skill in organizing her tanka, too, is everywhere evident – from the initial page (17), where snow, lace and an elderly woman’s white hair unite three tanka with the motif of color, to the penultimate page (136), where the Potomac, a lake and a pan of water draw together three tanka that brood, respectively, upon violent predation, loss in the passing of time and a personal world that is broken.

Lip Prints lives up to advance billing as a major collection by a major tanka poet. Like every book from MET Press, the quality of production, design, and layout is of high professional standard but priced reasonably.


The Tao of Water, edited by Giselle Maya. Koyama Press, France, 2007. Limited Edition, hand-sewn, 8 x 11 inches, 52 pp. Send $26 US plus $9.60 US postage or 20E plus 7.20E postage to G. Maya, Koyama Press, 84750 Saint Martin de Castillon, France.

Reviewed by Jeffrey Woodward

The Tao of Water collects under one cover the haiku and tanka of seven poets as well as the very bold calligraphy of Yasuo Mizui and the dazzling photographs of Martin Timm.  Printed on fine speckled papers with a handmade paper-cover and bound with hand-sewn linen thread, this limited edition is available only directly from the studio of artist and bookmaker, Giselle Maya.

Water and meditations upon water, as one might surmise from the title, constitute the theme that holds this collection together. Christopher Herold alludes to the I Ching’s positing of water as a model of right conduct, a motif instituted earlier by the editor’s quotation of Lao Tzu’s famous dictum, from the Tao Te Ching, Chapter 8: “The highest good is like water. Water gives life to the ten thousand things and does not strive. It flows in places men reject and so is like the Tao.”  Herold’s meditation takes the interesting form of contrasting a deadpan prose with haiku:

“The water cycle is seamless, having no definable beginning or ending. The processes of evaporation and condensation can occur in quick succession:

the kettle whistles
a blur of garden color
on the window

Or there may be so little water present that it forms a mere shimmer:

desert highway
some buzzards settle
into the mirage”

Exceptional haiku with sharply defined sensory perceptions are the rule here:

with the poke of a finger
the sea urchin’s squirt

an’ ya


again today
the back of a rainbow trout
in tea-brown water

                                    Kirsty Karkow


a long letter …
honeysuckle in the window
and the enormous sea

                                    Michael McClintock

Occasionally, a metaphorical and mythical turn is taken:

the moon
talks confidentially
the dark creative sea
about this planet’s first life

                                    Mari Konno


I loose my shadow
to these waters and swim
to the other shore

                                    June Moreau


Some of the finest writing in this little anthology comes from the hand of artist and editor Giselle Maya:

“There is a spring on my land. It flows into a stone basin built with stones found in the cellar of my house. It is a snowmelt spring, a miracle in Provence where water is scarce.

Animals come to drink from it, I water my garden with its clear cool water; during droughts the spring continues to flow, thin as the span of a child’s wrist. This is my daily link with water…”

Another episode offers a conversationally casual but telling anecdote concerning the fine calligrapher of this volume, more widely known as a sculptor:

“Some years ago Yasuo Mizui went to see Nachi Falls near the great Shinto temple of Ise. He was awed by the power of the falls. André Malraux has called Nachi Falls ‘the spinal column of Shinto.’ Mizui considered the force of the water and imagined the waterfall drilling through the mantle of the earth.

Later he took his friend Eitaro Hasegawa to visit Fontaine de Vaucluse, the source of the river Sorgue in Provence. Its spring is 315 m deep and often capricious. Spontaneously Mr. Hasegawa said: ‘Here is the source from which springs Nachi Falls!’

For Mizui who has sculpted and lived in both Japan and France this was a revelation – suddenly his two lives felt connected.”

The brushwork of Yasuo Mizui, here employed in the creation of characters related to water (e.g., mizu umi, “lake” or taki, “cascade”), is bold and expressive and, when joined with the excellent photography of Martin Timm, a graceful complement to the fine poetry of The Tao of Water.


A Piece of the Rainbow by Fujiko Sato.  Nihon Bungakukan: Tokyo, Japan, 2007.  ISBN: 978-4-7765-1448-0.  Perfect Bound, 5” x 7 ½”, 118 pp., $12 US or 1,200 yen.

Reviewed by Jeffrey Woodward

Having pursued the demanding craft of poetry for many years, having acquired thereby an understanding of how very slippery language can be when the aim is precision, I am always astonished to discover a writer who, as if such perplexities were insufficient, adds to this degree of difficulty that of composing poems in an adopted language. Fujiko Sato, a member of the Nihon Kajin Club or Japan Tanka Poet’s Society, is such a person. 

Insects called Yukimushi
Gushed out of the air,
Flew in flocks for a day
And have disappeared
Somewhere.                             (20)

This tanka illustrates clearly one barrier to understanding across a cultural divide: the specific local phenomenon.  Sato carries over bodily the romaji word yukimushi for there is no English equivalent. This reviewer had to research independently, since the poet provides no notes, to learn that yukimushi, literally “snow insects,” are ephemera that hatch and fly in late autumn with an appearance like that of fine snow. The reader who is privy to this information immediately comprehends the beauty and poignancy of these delicate creatures that “have disappeared somewhere.” The reader not privy is perplexed.

Clumsy diction, perhaps a predictable by-product of composing in a second language, marks some of the tanka as well:

A baby girl next door 
Toddling in the garden 
Gives me 
A small happiness 
Over the fence.                          (7)

The English reader can anticipate only an object of anything given “over the fence” and not an emotive abstraction.

Fujiko Sato’s tanka sequence, “A Coffee Shop Called NonNon,” convincingly portrays a widow and parent of grown children intent upon maintaining a certain distance and independence:

Keeping a proper distance
From my children,
I’ve already lived
By myself
For ten years.               (48)

My children call Umeboshi
“Mother’s taste.”
So I add
My moderate love
When I pickle them.            (49)

Umeboshi, for the uninitiated English reader, is the pickled version of the native ume, an apricot or plum-like fruit. Sato’s “moderate love” imbues this particular group of tanka with gentle irony and pathos.

A Piece of the Rainbow has five tanka “chapters” of 10 tanka each, the text offered in English and Japanese, while a group of ten essays follows the poems. The essays, unlike Western conceptions of the genre, adopt the zuihitsu style – literally, “following the brush” – of Sei Shonagon or Yoshida Kenkō and of their classical Chinese models. They are casual, anecdotal, brief, understated, and deceptively simple.

“My Dearest Partner” (62-64) may be the finest essay in the book with its humorous relation of the confusion the poet’s nickname Ukko-chan caused when first entering primary school – for she did not know her proper name, Fujiko-san. This led to teasing by her classmates and then to her own determination to “play the parts of Fujiko-san and Ukko-chan.”

“I made Fujiko-san a good girl because I didn’t know what kind of character she had.  ‘A good girl is better.’ I thought. On the other hand, Ukko-chan was full of fun and mischief, which was my true color. I got right into the part of Fujiko-san for adults, but in front of my intimate friends, I turned into Ukko-chan. The two of them were good friends and talked to each other in joy and in sorrow.

However, as I grew, Ukko-chan’s chances to go on stage became fewer and fewer. By the time I became a high school student, no one had called me Ukko-chan for many years, though she was still within me like a guardian angel. Even now, she always helps me…
I don’t know who started to call me Ukko-chan or where the name came from.  The two names have no relation to each other. Fujiko is a popular girl’s name connected with Mt. Fuji.  But Ukko-chan is a very funny name with no particular meaning.
Anyway, it is true that the funny sound of Ukko-chan has given everyone around me and myself much fun for years. So as a token of my thanks, I offer this essay to my dearest partner, Ukko-chan.”                      (64)

Such charming scenes, in essay and tanka, compensate for the occasional variance from normative English and for the obscurity of unexplained Japanese terms. What reader would not find delight in little Ukko-chan?


Poets Behind Barbed Wire. Edited and translated by Jiro Nakano and Kay Nakano. Bamboo Ridge Press: Honolulu, HI, 1983. ISBN:  0-910043-05-1. Perfect Bound, 5 ½” x 8”, 88 pp., $8 US.

Reviewed by Jeffrey Woodward

This anthology, ably edited and translated by Jiro and Kay Nakano, presents the tanka of four Japanese-American internee poets of the Relocation Camps of WWII. The English translation is prefaced by a romaji transliteration of the original Japanese text and illustrated by the drawings of yet another internee of the camps.

The Nakanos, instead of organizing the tanka by author in the conventional Western manner, have arranged the poems into numerous small chapters that are linear and temporal:  arrest, temporary internment in Hawaii, deportation to the mainland, transportation to a mainland camp, internment at that camp and, finally, homecoming. This rudimentary narrative structure serves the poetry well. The strongest tanka still shine and stand out while the less accomplished pieces gain some luster from their better neighbors and from their contextual role in the overall story.

What does one do and what does one perceive when faced with imminent arrest?

The time has come
For my arrest
This dark rainy night.
I calm myself and listen
To the sound of the shoes.

Sojan Takei                  (13)

How does one face the immediacy of separation from all that one loves?

Gazing at the barracks
Where my wife exists,
Beyond the barbed wire fence,
I pluck and chew
The leaves of grass.

Taisanboku Mori          (25)

What is forcible resettlement in an alien landscape, in a time of war, like? What of the death of one’s comrade in that place, far from home?

When the war is over
And after we are gone
Who will visit
This lonely grave in the wild
Where my friend lies buried?

Keiho Soga                  (64)

What does it mean – going home?  What do we see, what do we feel?

Stained in blue
By the blue ocean,
The flying fish
Fly between waves,
Shining blue.

Sojin Takei                   (71)

Perhaps no single tanka in this collection rises to the level of great art but the fifty-odd tanka of these four war-time internees, when read as a unit, provides an intimate portrait of an uprooted, vilified people and of their resilience in the face of persecution by their fellow citizens. Poets Behind Barbed Wire is a valuable testament of the spirit therefore and a deeply moving human document.



Outcry from the Inferno: Atomic Bomb Tanka Anthology. Edited and translated by Jiro Nakano.  Bamboo Ridge Press:  Honolulu, HI, 1995. ISBN: 0-910043-38-8. Perfect Bound, 6” x 9”, 128 pp., $10 US.

Reviewed by Jeffrey Woodward

One hundred poems by one hundred poets – a classical waka formula – but in this collection, unlike Teika’s famous medieval anthology, editor and translator Jiri Nakano does not select poems with a view of presenting exemplars of poetic craft and aesthetic sensibility. His poets, in fact, were not chosen, by and large, from the ranks of Japan’s modern tanka elites. Nakano’s poets were less chosen by him than chosen by tragic fact. They step forward from the gray ranks of the hibakusha, the disfigured and debilitated survivors of the 1945 atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Most of these poems were composed, understandably, sometime after the horrors of August 6 and August 9, 1945, yet how vividly these everyday citizens, through deep psychological and physiological scars, recall, in the simplest language, these tragic events:

On newspapers
spread on depot platforms,
we sleep
with those
already dead.

Asao Izumi                   (28)


Into the desolate scene  
of burnt shops and buildings 
in Hiroshima, 
several shadows 
walk aimlessly.

Ayao Koyama              (41)


These retrospective meditations upon a waking nightmare ― commonplace because inescapable ― often startle the reader with their cool distance and objectivity:

The large skull 
is the teacher’s. 
around it, 
smaller skulls.

Shinoe Shōda               (74)

Other voices, not flinching from the apocalypse, achieve a kind of ontological grandeur:

The constant search 
for a loved one 
in the city of Hiroshima 
seems eternal ― 
looking for life among the dead.

Shizuko Ōta                 (69)

This anthology is not without fair representation of journalistic pieces that masquerade as poetry, purely topical verses that appeal for nuclear disarmament and peace or criticize the wartime policies of the American government or of the Japanese emperor. While the rage is justified, the didactic, soap-box poems have little appeal, despite their authors’ sincerity and conviction:

Let the voice of a girl 
blind with keloids,
over that country 
beyond the ocean.

Osamu Kimata             (34)

Anti-nuclear movement 
lies in “Denial of Death.” 
True words 
are simple, 
Osamu Hokino             (12)

Simple slogans and direct action, even when we are in sympathy with the aim and intent, eschew aesthetic distance, make no claim upon a reader, and, inevitably, fail to win our hearts. Few will mistake the emotive power, however, of a man who may only address the futility of an action:


I know, as a man 
with good grace,  
I should be gone by now;
yet, I keep working 
using my sick leave.

Yoshiko Kōmoto          (38)


In such quiet and understated despair, the reader of today and of tomorrow may recognize something of his own condition and of his commonality with friend and foe. That is the blood and flesh and air of true poetry. Everything else is only cardboard and fit for a placard.



Reeds: Contemporary Haiga 2007.  Edited by Jeanne Emrich.  Lone Egret Press, 6566 France Avenue South, Suite 1210, Edina, MN 55435.  ISBN: None.  Perfect  Bound, 5 ½” x 8”,  102 pp., $16 US.

Reviewed by Jeffrey Woodward

Reeds 2007 is the fifth and last in this series of anthologies devoted to haiga. Should this hybrid art, this admixture of painting, calligraphy and haiku, ever establish a permanent place for itself in the West, Reeds will have played an important role in its introduction, adaptation, and evolution.

The current issue, like its predecessors, honors the twenty-plus participating artists and poets with its excellent design, generous layout, fine quality papers, and full-color reproductions. Many of the contributors are well-known figures in the haikai community: Cor van den Heuval, Marlene Mountain, an’ya and Kuniharu Shimizu. The catholic policy of the editor, Jeanne Emrich, follows that of prior years with a liberal representation of various styles and techniques in watercolor, ink, mixed media, and digital art.

The compass of a review will not admit a comprehensive examination of the seventy-odd haiga that constitute this anthology’s raison d’être. A representative sampling of those artists who receive the fullest coverage, however, can accurately reveal the character of the current haiga scene as well as of this volume.

Susan Frame’s delicate graphic work adorns the pages of many haiku and tanka journals. She practices sumi-e and employs Chinese ink, watercolor and gouache on linen, mulberry, rice and other crafted papers. Her painting in Reeds 2007 consists of fourteen ink paintings in collaboration with two poets. A simple sketch of five cascading envelopes – black-bordered, blue-bodied – accompanies Andrew Riutta’s haiku

winter wind
this stack of bills
Its own paperweight                             (9)

Not every haiga is that spare or minimal, however, and to the unrehearsed irony of one haiku that plays such brilliant havoc with the conventions and antecedents of the genre

a shortcut
to the sanitarium
cherry blossoms                                    (2)

Frame answers Riutta’s text with clusters of delicate and pinkish blossoms that are sharply criss-crossed by a vertical up-and-down black brushstroke that scribbles its way left-to-right: a painter’s “shortcut.”

More color and modeling is allowed by Frame when working with the haiku of Pamela Miller Ness, perhaps because Ness veers away from the stark economy of Riutta and assays a richer vocabulary. The results, unfortunately, are not always favorable.  For example

Easter Sunday
in the cathedral garden
an empty birdhouse (51)

attempts to bring far too much to the table for the restricted form of haiku. Ness juxtaposes the holy day, with its many complex and ancient connotations, to a birdhouse. This does not require the colorful detail of a “cathedral garden” but the poet insists on her enclosure and the point of the comparison, if it ever possessed a motif, is irretrievably lost. Frame, in response, can do little but fill her paper with a pretty watercolor of vernal purple, yellow, and green flowers. A less affected haiku by Ness

                                    midday heat
                                    one petal of the red poppy
                                    sways                                       (50)

receives a solitary red and wilting flower from Frame. The finished haiga finds text and graphics perfectly poised and balanced.

Ion Codrescu, the Romanian haijin and artist, teams up with Irish poet Gabriel Rosenstock for six interesting haiga. Codrescu uses color and line sparingly. His painting is barely representational but aspires to a graphic sketchiness and simplicity that is one with the techniques of haiku. Rosenstock’s very elementary

two seagulls
up high
vanish in brightness   (44)

shares the page with a few interrupted blue brushstrokes (waves), two upturned black solids (prows) and Codrescu’s red calligrapher’s seal which floats high above the waterline with the first half of the text, “two seagulls / up high.” It is unclear whether the script is that of Codrescu or Rosenstock but the “tails” of the consonants /g/ and /p/ are hyper-extended and become, at once, watery mist or the masts of the ships below. The haiku-text, so interwoven with the graphics in this haiga, conceals its very lineation and various alternate line-breaks are possible. These two collaborators achieve something quite similar on the facing page where

reflecting nothing
dark leaves
darkening the garden pond        (45)

acquires, by way of illustration, only areas of gray and black, with a hint of mauve and rolling lines to suggest, perhaps the disturbed surface of a pond. Again, script itself is intermingled with the pictorial element and lineation is deliberately ambiguous.

Finally, eighteen haiga come from Gary LeBel – nine in collaboration with Michael Dylan Welch, nine others wherein LeBel is sole artist and poet. These works contrast sharply with the bright colors and light touch of Susan Frame as well as with the subdued and minimalist coloring and brushwork of Ion Codrescu.

Collage is LeBel’s métier. He does not shy away from color, from line, from the appropriated object. The tone and style are unabashedly modern and Western. His own haiku

road closed
to tiger lilies (84)

employs an upper and lower horizontal and textured border, perhaps fabric, for a blue sheet. This paper (or sky), slightly off-center, reveals a black background along its top and right edge and is interrupted, midway, by the horizontal placement of a weathered board.  Placed upon the wooden barrier is a torn photographic image of a road sign, folded so that the words are partially concealed (the first line of the haiku), while the remainder of the text, to the right, is written in cursive with a black marker. The various elements of this composition are made to cohere not with paper and paste but through digital scanning, appropriation and manipulation. Only the proto-narrative quality of the haiku separates this from the strictly chance or formal operations of a Kurt Schwitters; only technique and the haiku, again, from the acerbic photomontage of a Hannah Hoch or the Edenic paper cut-outs of a Henri Matisse.

Another text

the crickets gone,
November moonlight
fills her slippers   (83)

assumes similar poetic liberties with its material and pictorial construction, the cropped edges of various images – night stars, bare tree, woman’s eye, and illegible text – left undisguised as if to remind the reader and viewer that this is, in the end, nothing that mimics nature but rather the objectification of a reverie, the making exterior of what lies within.

While art is the focus of this anthology, two valuable documents accompany the haiga. Stephen Addiss, in an interesting article entitled “Where Do the Words Go? Text-Image Placement in Haiga,” closely studies the principles that guide integration and determine relations of calligraphy, painting, and text within one space (19-27). Addiss enlists a painting by Yosa Buson and two haiga by Inoue Shirō that illustrate well his chief points of discussion.

An interview of graphic designer and sumi-e artist Lidia Rozmus by Jeanne Emrich (57-67) centers upon Rozmus’ portfolio of sumi-e paintings for the haiku of Taneda Santōka. The conversation is a lively and intelligent dialogue rather equally divided between the concerns of bookmaking as a craft or art and haikai aesthetics and Santōka’s poetry in particular. The flavor of the interview might be conveyed by Rozmus’ rejoinder to the assertion that her haiga style is abstract:  “Santōka writes about abstract concepts such as emptiness, freedom, love and loneliness…. In art generally, negative space is space around and between the subject or subjects of an image. Balance of void and object is a key element of artistic composition…. In a good haiku, there is also plenty of negative space left for a reader to enliven it with his/her imagination (60-61).” Granted, such aesthetic propositions are really old hat and perhaps lost their novelty in the West fifty or more years ago. A reader, nevertheless, will forgive an occasional reminder when it is accompanied by the good writing and pleasing art of a book like that of Reeds 2007.



GEERT VERBEKE: An enigma, a modern master and a spellbinder.
Adam Powell

Literary criticism of the poetry and prose of Geert Verbeke (Flanders-Belgium), based upon “Brother Buddha”, 2007, Cyberwit (India), ISBN: 978-81-8253-094-2; “Frogs Croak”, 2007, Cyberwit (India), ISBN: 978-81-8253-091-1; “Rain”, 2005, Cyberwit (India), ISBN: 81-8253-021-0; “Jokerman”, 2005, Cyberwit (India), ISBN: 81-8253-038-5; and “Sweeps of Rain”, 2006, Cyberwit (India), ISBN: 81-8253-068-7.

The poetic artistry of Geert Verbeke.

It is not an easy process to become reviewed by “yours truly”. I do make several demands that have to do with professionalism and publishing achievements, as well as my commitment to raise awareness regarding small press published books written by international, bilingual/multilingual, and/or trans-cultural authors of poetry, prose and photography. I aim to re-enact a “renaissance” of literary criticism especially, which is critical, analytical and a subjective (yet professional) assessment of literary achievement and room for further development/improvement.

I write this review of the works of Geert Verbeke both in homage .. and in protest. It is simply “unfair” to challenge a reviewer with five books of such literary and philosophical quality and professional craftsmanship as is here the case. To be blunt, it is maddening .. to be sucked into the world and thinking of Geert Verbeke so easily – even though I consider myself to be a good critic in my area(s) of specialization – and to suddenly take on the role of ‘The Fool’ (in the Tarot) .. spellbound by the ‘magic’ of a master, who is both adept in his craftsmanship with regard to tradition and the expert ‘blasting’ of ever-developing contemporary expressions of haiku, tanka, senyru and haibun. He managed to “rope me in” .. despite several readings to double-check .. and I must simply declare Verbeke as a contemporary master. Damn!

Did I find no faults in these five books? Certainly, there are small issues that have to do with the occasional caesura placement or alternative suggestions in regard to how bilingual and multilingual versions of his haiku are presented on each page (sometimes I would prefer to have more space – i.e. to have each poem and its bilingual or multilingual versions on a page by itself), and the occasional typographical error. . . but these things are trivialities. The man is a genius. . . or/and ‘mad’ (in terms of artistic genius the two often go together).

Firstly, his understanding of the history and traditions of the art forms he employs is quite evident; and this understanding affords him the ability and the ‘right’ to experiment and further develop the literary forms he specializes in (including further development of the English haiku derivatives).

Secondly, he masters not just the haiku, but in addition tanka, senryu, and haibun. And as if that is not provocative enough for a literary critic, he dares to go so far as to combine several literary styles in several of his books. Most dramatically in “Sweeps of Rain,” where he combines haibun in a way that reads as a complete novel.

And finally, Verbeke is so cheeky and daring that he takes his readers and himself to the absolute maximal limit: he writes his masterpieces in several languages, including Flemish, English, French, German etc.

Already, as you can well understand, I am livid as a literary critic. . . With some extremely-talented authors I sometimes secretly wish that I had written this or that particular work of literature instead of him/her. However, in the case of this man Geert Verbeke I feel that he is so completely ‘superior’ – not only in regards to his understanding and craftsmanship, but also because he manages to access the inner reaches of philosophy, spirituality, humanity, social consciousness and frivolity. . . all at once. AND he pumps these works out effortlessly; as if he is practicing zazen. Effortlessness is – of course – the mark of an ‘artistic master’ – the point where “simplicity” and “difficulty” become indistinguishable because the level of mastery makes the distance between point zero and the ‘unreachable dream’ as short as possible. And that is the essence of Geert Verbeke’s literary genius: not only to achieve the impossible but also to transform literary dexterity into a literary and visual masterpiece at its lowest common denominator.

Geert Verbeke is impressive .. and he is scary. He can take any topic (for example: frogs or playing cards .. nature .. or political/social issues) and ‘spin his magic’.

Okay. You have understood that the man is now highly-regarded by me. Let me illustrate just a few of the many fine examples of his craftsmanship and genius:

memorial day –
a lot of grasshoppers
on the stupa

gravel and dune land –
an oasis

along the river
a row of singing monks –
dew on their hats

(from “Brother Buddha”)

terraced rice fields –
the annual frog concert
and her hangover

in the evening
croaks are getting louder –
a downpour

(from “Frogs Croak”)

half-naked sadhus
at the ritual cremation
click-clack Kodak

the taste of mango
on her lips

a flow of body bags
back to the USA

rising tide
the sky is the sea
outgoing tide

lasting for days
the singing of the rain
composing sad songs

(from “Rain”)

I am afraid that I must stop here ... most publishers have a maximum word limit, and I have already surpassed the standard commercial literary review limitations. But this is also relevant to my experience of the literature of Geert Verbeke: he knows the traditions, he knows the standards. . . and he possesses the genius and the integrity to know when to use the traditional. . . and when (and how) to surpass it. And I have a strong intuition that it is “art” which guides him, rather than “commercialism”.

GEERT VERBEKE: Born in Kortrijk, Flanders (Europe). Geert began writing haiku in 1968. The decisive factor to study haiku was the discovery of the Himalayan singing bowls and the travels to Kathmandu, the Sinaï-desert, Istanbul, Tunisia, Djerba, France, Tanzania, Zanzibar and the Grand Canyon in Arizona, USA. Geert has also written a few books about singing bowls. He has, in addition to have published several books on haiku, haibun, senyru and tanka and singing bowls, recorded 11 cd's with singing bowls, gongs and percussion.

ADAM DONALDSON POWELL (Norway) is a literary critic and a multilingual author, writing in English, Spanish, French and Norwegian; and a professional visual artist. He has published five books (including collections of poetry, short stories and literary criticism) in the USA, Norway and India, as well as several short and longer works in international literary publications on several continents. He has previously authored theatrical works performed onstage, and he has (to-date) read his poetry at venues in New York City, Oslo (Norway), Buenos Aires and Kathmandu (Nepal).


Stepping Stones:  a way into haiku, Martin Lucas
192 pp., ISBN 978-0-9522397-9-6, £12 + £1.50 p&p British Haiku Society.  Order from:  Stanley Pelter, Maple House, 5 School Lane, Claypole, Lincs. NG23 5BQ Overseas orders, enquire.

This is an anthology of 366 haiku, each with a paragraph of commentary.  There is a short introduction and afterword.  It is intentionally in the mode of R.H.Blyth but applied to British haiku of the past 20 years.  It helps to fill a gap that commentators such as Haruo Shirane have noted – commentary on English-language haiku, to emulate the work of Blyth and others in their studies of the Japanese tradition.  For anyone who has enjoyed my haiku journal Presence, the chances are you’ll like Stepping Stones very much.  All proceeds return to the British Haiku Society for further publishing projects.  Copies are in limited supply – order early to avoid disappointment.*


Wall Street Park, A Concrete Renku, by Raffael Gruttola and Carlos Colón, including text about Links & Linkages by the authors. PiXeLaRt Press, Upton, Massachusetts, U.S.A., 2007. $ 8.00 pp. Order from: Carlos Colon, 185 Lynn Ave., Shreveport, LA 71105

Reviewed by Werner Reichhold
    What a world of wonders! Give up and let yourself be pulled into the visual renku Raffael de Gruttola and Carlos Colón created:
    Here, with Wall Street Park, you are invited to stroll into the world of two artists / writers who developed their outstanding talents for linking word and picture up to a symbiotic masterpiece. No
 bitching, no whining, no self-petty, no cynicism, no sarcasm; indeed, Carlos and Raffael share a complete intolerance for sentimentality and kitsch. Wall Street Park is English language poetry at its best - an  eye opener for mainstream poets.

    If fantasizing is bound to a specific state of mind, then certainly it needs special skills to make it visible. Seldom, very seldom one has a chance to meet such artistically trained experts exploring their  most secret territories for us. Once pulled into Wall Street Park, and patiently staying there for a while, you may reach out even more confidently for the hidden worlds inside of you waiting to be freed.

    In addition to the concrete renku itself, we can read about “Links & Linkages,” two and a half pages text added to explain the process of creating this collaboration ­ on one hand, yes, probably helpful  for many readers. On the other hand it brings up the idea if there is a way to eliminate the sheer character of an “explanation.” Depersonalizing the text, or better: rewriting and transforming such a text into prose, into “the prose part” of the whole adventure, this could become another special gift for the viewers / readers. The prose would appear as a totally integrated part of the work, enriching it significantly.


Copyright © Designated Authors 2008.


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