Jun 14, 2015

Book Review - How to Haiku by Bruce Ross

howtohaikuI continue to find writing Haiku endlessly fascinating. It’s a form that I can return to again and again and still find something fresh.  So I am always keen to read advice on how to write Haiku.

I don’t tend to favour an overtly spiritual approach to writing the form and so Bruce Ross’ approach, which I feel does stem somewhat from this vein was initially …well not off putting, but presented a small hurdle (this is my baggage I think). The again, perhaps I am simply focussed on improving my technique and any “fluff” so to speak, how ever eloquent, poses an annoyance ( patience Sean-san).

How to Haiku doesn’t knock of its pedestal, Jane Reichhold’s  Writing and Enjoying Haiku - A Hands on Guide, as my number one recommendation for new Haiku writers. I did find it offered additional insight though.  So I think that its worth coming to, after you have had some experience and experimented with techniques outlined in Reichhold’s work.

In general I enjoyed Ross’ inclusion of relatively contemporary American Haiku in addition to traditional Japanese examples.  I felt that this gave me a sense of where tradition has been continued ( albeit slightly altered through the change from Japanese to English) and where contemporary Haiku poets have begun to experiment or diverge.

I also enjoyed the inclusion of other forms of Japanese Poetry ie Haibun, Tanka, and Renga/Renku. 

One of the things that I struggle with in reviewing poetry is the technical language with which to talk/ discuss it.  Ross’ explanation/analysis of the poems he presents was aimed at a broad audience (leading some readers to criticise it as boring) which I think acts to both give the reader some pointers on how to talk about Haiku in addition to providing an explanation of the content and techniques.  Better to over explain I think.

Like Reichhold I do appreciate Ross’ “Guideline” approach to the writing of Haiku.  He presents the tradition, gives you examples of that tradition – contemporary and pre-modern and leaves it up to you.  I think this allows for respect of the form without slavish adherence to rules that I think will ultimately restrict it and result in stagnation.  His discussion on the difference between the qualities of Wabi and Sabi was also helpful.

In each of the other forms mentioned above I gained something from reading Ross’ work.  I have struggled for sometime to attempt Haibun and Ross provided four different approaches and highlighted traditional and contemporary examples.  His identification of the divergent traditions of Tanka were similarly illustrative.  His explanation of the linking in Renga was perhaps the best I have come across.

So, a worthwhile addition to your library?  I think so.  Not a beginning point but certainly worth it for those with some experience/exposure to the form under their belt.

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Jun 12, 2015

Book Review – Haiku Moment: An Anthology of Contemporary North American Haiku

haikumLet’s face it.  If you are not “into” writing and reading Haiku then you might find the some 800 odd poems in this anthology a bit thin.  I think in most cases Haiku can be a bit of an acquired taste (though a relatively easily acquired one).  But I really did enjoy it.

Now it’s touted as contemporary, but the selections were made from poems published in the decade 1982 to 1992, making it 20-30 years out of date.  As an indicator of what’s going on in English rendering of Japanese form poetry currently, it possibly has less value.  It does bring together a good slice of North American poetry of that period, minus some noted poets.

There’s a succinct(okay it’s 30 pages but there’s a lot of info squeezed in) introduction to the collection that covers what elements make up Haiku, both in traditional Japanese and English language Haiku, the four masters Basho, Buson, Issa and Shiki are covered and the intersection with the Imagists Ezra Pound, Amy Lowell and later the Beat Poets.

The introduction should prepare you well enough to enjoy most of the works that follow - I come to it as a practitioner of the form so its hard for me to tell.  Being Haiku, the majority of the poems a nature/ observation based.  A note on the poems splits them roughly into two types:

…. these haiku are meant to reflect either the style of the Basho School of haiku with its emphasis on the presentation of temporal loneliness and emotional objectivity in the treatment of nature subjects (and occasionally, as in later Basho, an elevated warm-heartedness found in one's relation to commonplace things) or the haiku of Issa with their joyful evocations of the liveliness and empathic resonance found in the natural world. All of the haiku in this anthology, moreover, should convey a moment of insight experienced by a poet in real time through real beings and objects, a moment that the reader may enter and share.

Some of the difficulties I experience in finding good Haiku to read and learn from, is discerning good sources (this is becoming easier as a grow as a poet).  Anybody can attempt a Haiku (and many do) though I am not sure how many see it as anything other than writing something poetic in 17 syllables.  A search for Haiku on Kobo will give you hundreds of books of whose quality it can be had to determine.  Haiku Moment addresses that problem to some extent. It gives you a sense of what one well known gatekeeper thinks is quality Haiku and you can then attempt to track down works of the poets contained therein.

Here are three haiku to give a general idea.  Mind you there’s 800 to choose from.


Summer is over.
A horse walks its reflection
along the lake's edge

Ann Atwood


The way silence waits
     and waits ... for the next
          cry of the loon

Beatrice Brissman



                                        migrating geese
           one falls farther and farther

Charles Dickson


You could jump straight into the work having never read Haiku before, but the real value I have found is as a source for good examples of the continued lineage of the form.

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Book Review – Gentlemen of the Road by Michael Chabon

cahbonThis is the first book by Chabon that I have read.  It wasn’t the name that attracted me ( it was familiar) but the production of the hardbound edition by Sceptre.  The cover as you might be able to tell harks back to an era of adventure novels with gold embossed decoration and the inside covers feature a full colour map.

Ah maps, the value of a wonderfully rendered map.  Gentlemen of the Road also features some lovely black and white illustrations by Gary Gianni.

So the presentation caught my eye.  I can’t say that I would be stirred to pick it up if I had seen the paperback cover that this review links to at Booktopia.

Originally published as a serial in the New York Times magazine it does tend to move forward in small jumps.  Some reviewers found that this undercut the momentum of the story in novel form.  I just found it very easy to pick up, put down and pick up again.  I think the serialised approach to story construction may help some readers deal with the stylised language (beautiful paragraph long sentences in some cases) though after a few chapters I found myself delighting in the work of a skilled craftsman.

The African reined in the tottering horse with its flecked lips and wild eye, and the travellers dismounted, the African with a weary grace and no expression, the scarecrow with grimaces and a show of soreness in the underparts.

Much of my entertainment stemmed from Chabon’s prose.  The plot is nothing extraordinary, the action, for an adventure story isn’t really seat of your parts, but I don’t think this is what Chabon was really trying to achieve.

We have two Jewish rogues, on adventures getting caught up in situations they know they should avoid.  It’s light hearted adventure with smooth writing.  If I can make one observation (bearing in mind that I don’t generally read that type of adventure novel that Chabon is riffing off) is that the treatment of Filaq and certain things that happen to him seem to be glossed over and resulted in a crack in my suspension of disbelief (I am aware I am being a bit cryptic here but I don’t want to spoil things).

Its all very well to have a cracking good adventure and everything is squared away nicely at the end… but there were elements of a sexual and violent nature that I thought may well have sat fine in an adventure novel written in the 19th century but I’m not convinced they do so well here.

That being said, it was an enjoyable read.  You can purchase a paperback here at Booktopia.

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Book Review – Caution: Contains Small Parts by Kirstyn McDermott

cautionGlancing at my Goodreads stats, I began reading Caution well over a year ago.  It was going to be one of those quick personal reads you fit in before the review copy starts padding the walls of your cell library.

I may have let it languish longer were it not for the death of my ereader, which prompted the purchase of another ($65 Kobo Touch at Brisbane Airport).  I had bought Caution through Kobo and it downloaded as part of the setup process again.  The intervening year of not reading hadn’t dulled my memory but I embarked on reading the first 3 stories again.

It struck me on a second reading that this collection does really showcase McDermott’s versatility.  All the stories are a mix of dark/weird/horror/fantasy but McDermott gives us something fresh in each of the 4 tales.

Kij Johnson (whose work I also have in the personal reading pile) introduces the collection, outlining the reasons why I continue to enjoy Kirstyn’s work i.e. that Kirstyn isn’t afraid to drag the reader toward big messy uncomfortable themes and bind them together with good story.


What Amanda Wants kicks off the set and presents initially as a fairly straight psychological thriller before edging its way into the weird. Without giving too much away, I enjoyed being manipulated in this story, the build up of dread and the twist.

Horn was a very interesting bit of fun, a thick vein of cultural commentary wrapped up in a good horror story. If you like fluffy tales about unicorns…well ( why would you be reading McDermott) skip this one.

Caution: Contains Small Parts was another wonderful piece of manipulation, playing with genre expectations around possessed childhood toys.  I think this would work well as a short film.

The final novella is The Home for Broken Dolls where Kirstyn manages to blend genre tropes, criticism and adult dolls in the one story that should be given so much more critical analysis than this short recommendation will provide.  Out of all the stories this one impressed me the most.  Horn, What Amanda Wants and Caution are great stories, entertaining stories.  The Home for Broken Dolls though managed to really provoke some introspection on top of having the qualities of the stories previously mentioned.

This collection continues Twelfth Planet Press’ wonderful series of female talent. Caution and indeed the entire series should receive wider attention than the usual genre haunts.  I encourage readers especially those not fans or readers of genre to try Kirstyn’s collection, to sample what serious topics and themes can be packaged in horror and dark fantasy short story.

So a thumbs up from me.

Taww-badge-2015his review is part of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2015.  Please check out this page for more great writing from Australian women.





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Jun 10, 2015

Upcoming Book Release: Day Boy by Trent Jamieson

day-boyTrent’s new book is out on the 24th of June but its just occurred to me that Booktopia have been running a free postage promo for the last week and I hadn’t recommended it.  So here it is:

Mark is a Day Boy.

In a post-traumatic future the Masters—formerly human, now practically immortal—rule a world that bends to their will and a human population upon which they feed. Invincible by night, all but helpless by day, each relies on his Day Boy to serve and protect him.
Mark has been lucky in his Master: Dain has treated him well. But as he grows to manhood and his time as a Day Boy draws to a close, there are choices to be made.

Will Mark undergo the Change and become, himself, a Master—or throw in his lot with his fellow humans? As the tensions in his conflicted world reach crisis point, Mark's decision may be crucial.

In Day Boy Trent Jamieson reimagines the elements of the vampire myth in a wholly original way. This is beautifully written and surprisingly tender novel about fathers and sons, and what it may mean to become a man.
Or to remain one.

Booktopia have it for $24.95 sans shipping if you use the code word SNUGGLE before midnight tonight.

The Sara Douglass Book Series Award

battleaxe I can remember, particularly after the Hugo in which the final book of the Wheel of Time series featured, a number of people suggesting that there really should be an award that examines a series as a whole.  It seems the wonderful folk at the Aurealis Awards have done just that, for an Australian series at least.  With the blessing of Sara Douglas’ executor, The Sara Douglass Book Series is now open for submissions.

This Award is named for one of Australia’s best known speculative fiction writers. Sara Douglass was the flagship author of the HarperVoyager Australian line, which launched the careers of many of our most popular writers, and paved the way for the vibrant and diverse speculative fiction scene Australia has today. Sara’s contribution to the state of speculative fiction in Australia cannot be underestimated, and we are proud to commemorate her in this Award.

Please check their website for more.



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