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Reviews of Doghouse Publications

Capering Moons

Haiku from the Emerald Isle

Anatoly Kudryavitsky. Capering Moons: Haiku and Senryu Poetry. Tralee, Ireland: Doghouse Books, 2011, 62 pp., perfect softbound, 5 x 7.5. ISBN: 978-0-9565280-2-5, 12

Maeve O'Sullivan. Initial Response: An A-Z of Haiku Moments. Uxbridge, U.K. Alba Publishing, 2011, 66 pp., perfect softbound, 5.75 x 8.25. ISBN: 978-0-9551254-3-0, 16 USD .

"Capering Moons" is the third poetry collection by Anatoly Kudryavitsky, an internationally published and award-winning poet residing in Dublin, Ireland. Kudryavitsky devotes his book's first half to haiku grouped traditionally into four seasons. The haiku are mellow and descriptive, such as his 2008 first-prize winner at the Suruga Baika International Haiku Competition, Japan (p. 13):

sheep unmoved
in the green grass...
a slow passing of clouds

The poem contrasts inactive sheep with barely moving clouds: all are leisurely and probably display similar off-white colors and frayed edges. Rich softness occurs everywhere: sheep's wool, green grass, clouds. The consonance of the "s" in all lines (highlighted by the rhyme of "grass" and "pass") reinforces the impression of softness.

Similarly Kudryavitsky's 2009 first-prize winner at the Haiku Magazine International Haiku Contest, Romania-Japan (p. 23):

aspen in the rain
each leaf dripping with
the sound of autumn

offers not just a description. In addition to showing what is seen and heard, the poem suggests the tactile sense of rain that drifts so gently from the sky that it allows a listener to also hear the water collected by aspen leaves and dropping from them. The slant-assonance of "a"-like vowels (aspen/rain/autumn) connect to the implied "fall."

The second section of the book ("More Haiku and Senryu") maintains the meditative descriptive voice.

The third section comprises two rensaku. Kudryavitsky subtitles each as a "Haiku Sequence." He organizes both temporally, the haiku leading from dawn through a composite day to dusk. He sets one in Tuscany and the other in Flanders, and the haiku do give a larger picture together than separately. The "Ghent Rensaku" is a little more successful because its haiku, such as (p. 54):

castle keep
ninety-nine steps
to the rising sun

give a more individual sense of place.

The final section is a single haibun, of Ufa City and the Silk Road.

Another recent collection of haiku and senryu from the Emerald Isles is "Initial Response" by Maeve O'Sullivan (also from Dublin). This is O'Sullivan's first solo haiku/senryu collection. (She co-authored the 2005 "Double Rainbow" with poet Kim Richardson.) At first glance it's a more intriguing book than "Capering Moons": the cover and interior of Initial Response dazzle with exuberant ink-scribble-and-splash art by the haiku poet John Parsons; its poems are sequenced alphabetically rather than seasonally; its cream paper and robust font are easy on the eye. Unfortunately, a typical poem such as (p. 18):

one hundred degrees ice-cold lemonade warm banana bread

or (p. 53):

Chinese restaurant
the bride throws her bouquet
we collect our order

feels like a list that fades away rather than a crafted juxtaposition. Similarly, a poem that tells the reader an emotion instead of showing it, such as (p. 15):

six months pregnant
she sizes up the new prams
with disbelief

would be stronger if the description of the emotion could be replaced by an image (perhaps but not necessarily a season word or phrase) to add depth and imply the emotion.

The section that has the strongest work is "F: Father's Death Day" which does have powerful haiku, particularly (p. 20):

father's death day
after hours of phone calls
soft November rain

A poem like this and the beauty of the book's appearance show O'Sullivan has a love and respect for haiku. Readers will come away hoping that her next book shows a greater proportion of poems with haiku strengths such as in the last poem above, particularly its juxtaposed images and significant closing line.

However, readers will find that Kudryavitsky's "Capering Moons" is the more successful of the two books reviewed here. It shows that the haiku spirit thrives in Ireland.

By J. Zimmerman

Down The Sunlit Hall

The era of plenty that preceded the economic downturn had little space for poetry in the big publishing houses. Even in Ireland, where artists seem to be more valued by their government, poets don't sell well. If it weren't for the small publishers, like Black Inc. Publishing and John Leonard Press, Ivor Indyk and his journal, Heat - generous patrons of poetry, who typically put their life's savings into tiny volumes - Australian poetry would be a lost cause. There is more hope in the Irish poetry scene - and the Poetry Ireland Resources site demonstrates this: http://www.poetryireland.ie/resources. Doghouse, which functions very efficiently online, with its delectably ironic moniker, is a very small, specialist poetry publishing house that seems to be focussing on emerging writers, like Eileen Sheehan. Down the Sunlit Hall is a second volume, and Eileen Sheehan has an impressive tally of prizes to flaunt. The Irish poetry scene has for decades now boasted a phalanx of feisty feminist poets, and Sheehan is one of these. Her locale is domestic, her loves familial - dying mother, children, husband more equivocally - her sensibility dark and real, but with an eye on resurrection.

For me, the most moving sequence in the collection is a series of poems - 'woman in the small hours, walking', 'living in the surreal with Alois', 'Each Vessel Containing', perhaps 'In a Land that had already Known Hunger', 'On the Morning of My Mother's Passing', 'New Year's Eve', 'Threat of Rain', 'Down the Sunlit Hall', and 'To Keep' - about a mother who died when the poet was forty-three. Her sense of loss is understated, and the more real for being so. These are poems that enact loss and console simultaneously. The most impressive of them, 'living in the surreal with Alois', deals with a terrifying tumour-induced dementia, without dehumanising the woman who is tragically conscious of her condition:

she's even forgotten my name I am visitor I am the one to complain to
I am the one who is helpless as her she knocks she knocks
on the side of her head I imagine the lump she imagines
inside of her head I imagine it shrinking she knocks
on the side of her head and it falls out her ear
rolls like a marble look I tell her it's gone it fell out your ear
rolled under the table got ate by the cat she laughs was it grey
no, I say it was black, black as the darkness back as the devil
a right bad lot but he swallowed it up then he swallowed a rat
and she laughs I remember she says it was black, black as the darkness.
(p.24)

What the lack of punctuation and the matter enact is an imaginative fusing, through ameliorative storying, of difference and empathy. Mother and daughter are separate but mutually complicit in finding the saving narrative. The domestic simplicity of the tale bonds the two in gentle jocularity, which diminishes the malignity of the tumour and helps the old woman save face and briefly understand her appalling condition. In a lighter mood, in 'To Keep', when asked by the undertaker about taking possession of her mother's wedding ring, she notes the slenderness of her mother's finger and imagines a father twelve years dead, but 'always early for everything' and 'marking time/by leaning on the five-bar gate', and a reunion in which the mother is

... smoothing back the flying
tendrils of your hair and
running
Running to meet him.
(p.68)

The choice of present tense powerfully works against potential sentimentality, as does the satire earlier in the poem directed at the unctuous undertaker, and the clear-eyed image of dead hands 'threaded with unaccustomed/rosary beads'.

The volume aches with loss and miscommunications - apparently trivial, but telling. 'The Trigger Factor' recreates that moment when a partner or close friend drops a clanger the significance of which s/he is unaware - a 'How could you have' moment. The sharp, paranoid response of the persona is figured metaphorically as rancid milk or cheese in a refrigerator. Our persona is no angel-in-the-house, serving up first the rancid foods, and Lastly
I plank down a plate, which holds
my recalcitrant heart, pulsing and
steaming, completely given over
to this love; careful of it.
(p.12)

While the poems - for example, 'Leave me Be' (p.19), 'Bitten' (p.13), and 'some contradictions that beset the ex-wife's brain' (p.48) - sometimes remind one of Sylvia Plath's Ariel poems of eloquent abuse mixed with elements drawn from fairy-tale, they are much less uncompromising, more human and humane; far less angry, and no less real for being so. Another poem that focuses on the inevitable gaps in intimacy is 'Unspoken' (p.11) in which a close friend is hurt to discover a failure to disclose the deep shameful secret of having surrendered a child. Even with young children, one senses a respect for their difference, their otherness. This is motherhood and lover-hood being redefined as a need for private space and as a space in which imagination and empathy, vivid but momentary, are the temporary bridges between autonomous selves. But there is also a laughing acknowledgment of the costs of this separateness.

The poems also flow into another stream in modern Irish feminism, in presenting the self in comic mode, as properly lustful, greedily seeking enjoyment in sex. Eileen Sheehan's gambits are not as outrageous as those of her sister poet, Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill, who, by the way, pins her endorsement of Eileen Sheehan's poetry to the blurbcover of the volume, and so invites comparison. The quotidian pleasures of flirting with men on buses, in mini-series and at the hardware shop, as in 'Confession' (p.16), are not permitted to undo marital fidelity, though the converse is also allowed: sexual jealousy - 'Primitive' (p.18), 'some contradictions that beset the ex-wife's brain' (p.48) - and marital bonds are clearly negotiable in this volume. I was also delighted by the gently humorous 'The Sister of Martha Rejects Her New Man' (p.44):

He was arse in the air
picking marrowfat peas
off the floor

when she knew
she would leave him.

Life is too long
to spend with a man
who's obsessed
with white, shining tiles
and cobwebs in corners.

What recommends this poetry collection is its gentle, laughing feminism, its plain-speaking, its capacity to seek out the discomforting gaps in relationships and find a way through and forward, and its capacity to find the elegant, understated metaphor. Sheehan is a poet to watch.

By Frances Devlin-Glass

Morning at Mount Ring

Anatoly Kudryavitsky is one hell of a haiku poet. His book, Morning at Mount Ring, stands far above most of the haiku books I have read in the past several years.

Kudryavitsky has a genuine respect for the genre and the culture that gave it to the world, and doesn't see a need like some English-language poets to redesign the genre to mirror and elevate his ego. He writes poetry he obviously lives, painting truth with light, shadow, and varied shades of ah. Take for instance, the book's first haiku:
awakening
to the echo of wind chimes,
ten thousand birds and I

At dawn, the poet wakes up to the song of wind chimes. Not just him but a thousand birds as well. "Ten thousand" is a term borrowed from Chinese Tang Dynasty poets, signifying eternity. The poet feels at one with his surroundings in nature and symbiotically joins nature as a whole in celebrating the morning. Even for someone unfamiliar with Chinese poetry and its influence on Japanese poetry, this haiku invites interpretation indigenous to the reader's own cultural memory and social context.

Kudryavitsky is equally adept writing senryu:
police station
a map of Africa
behind bars

Many African nations are caught up in a web of transitional chaos, their futures up in the air, their geography, hotbeds of corruption, demogogy, despotism, instability, and violence. This particular senryu calls to mind Desmond Tutu's imprisonment in the Republic of South Africa when it was under apartheid rule.

One's familiarity or lack of familiarity, however, regarding African politics, determines how this poem is interpreted. This senryu has universal appeal because of its ability to connect with multiple mindsets.

I've heard it said many times that it's hard to say something in a haiku that hasn't already been said. Kudryavitsky writes with an original voice, drawing from the world he experiences. Take for instance:
climbing cloud peaks
for the first time -
New Year's moon

This haiku invokes multiple images: A peak, clothed in a cloud cloak, is climbing on New Years Day; the poet himself is climbing up and down more than one cloud covered peak from morning until after the sun sets. On the last mountain top he climbs, Kudryavitsky is greeted by the bright New Year's moon. The interpretation of this haiku may differ from the poet's intent, but invokes memories, feelings, and mental pictures, nevertheless, influenced by experience and perception indigenous to the reader's cognitive world. More than a postcard moment, the words, eleven in total, say much.
between snowfalls:
the moon through
cherry blossom petals

Anatoly Kudryavitsky paints with nuances, using words to craft a delicate, symbiotic balance between nature and cognitive perception. He paints a picture that is more than picture, breathing into his canvas what words in the West often fail to say.

The poet is experiencing a cold winter. There has been lots of snow, even as the season nears its end. Cherry blossoms are blooming, bringing a new kind of whiteness to the countryside. The poet looks up at the moon through the blossom laden treetops. White blossoms, white snow, and the white moon; the white representing purity, newness, and clarity.

The poems in this book are not uneven. Almost every one of them is a gem. I recommend this book without any reservation. It is more than just a pleasant read; it is an exemplary example of modern day haiku.

By Robert D. Wilson

PULSE - Writings on Sliabh Luachra

O'Connor is well-known and well-admired writer, indeed Clan File to the O'Connor Kerry Clan. His acclaimed poetry collection, 'Attac Warpipes,' appeared from Bradshaw Books in 2005. He is also a playwright. This is an admirable and beautifully-produced book of his reflections on and recollections of the Sliabh Luachra area; the only area in Ireland, according to the late Micheal Hartnett, where true Irish was spoken! Back cover notes by Brendan Kennelly. Considerably more than a local history

By Fred Johnston

The DOGHOUSE Book of Ballad Poems

The work of forty-eight writers is represented herem with contributors from India and Canada, the UK as well as Ireland. The ballad form is much overlooked and overdue a selection such as this. Of the more serious pieces in the book, 'Ballad of the Ploughman' by John Dillon and Ann Egan's Offaly Millennium poem, 'Esto Fidelis' are examples of why the ballad form should not be discarded completely.

By Niall McGrath

FINGERPRINTS (On Canvas)

FINGERPRINTS (On Canvas) is an impressive collection of poems from Millstreet-born Karen O'Connor. Karen is a poet of talent, a fact confirmed by the fact that Brendan Kennelly sings her praises. The poems in Fingerprints (On Canvas) range from the humorous, such as 92 And Driving, to the very poignant If I Regret.

It's never a good idea to pick a favourite out of a collection of verse, as poetry is so subjective, but if my arm was twisted I'd have to volunteer Inspiration - a vivid 23 lines that will mean a lot to anyone who has ever tried some creative writing. Besides, any poem that begins: 'Today I'm sick with poetry, I vomit poems, In ink red as blood, Onto white ruled pages' can't be bad.

By Des Breen

FINGERPRINTS (On Canvas)

Karen O'Connor's poems are modest journeys through intimate spaces that ring with a private knowledge. Images of hauntings, ritual, prayer and desire occur throughout. Often he reader may feel that they have happened upon an old quarrel or sentiment veiled in a light of mystery that she does not always, perhaps rightfully so, explain. Her work is most charming when it does not attempt to resolve or come to a realisation.

OConnor is most effective when she does not attempt to charm the reader with sentiment, then her voice carries a unique boldness, as in 'Hunger', 'I hunger to know/The smell of sex when flowers have mated/The scrape of a ladybirds tongue on leaves'.

By Sandeep Parma

Vortex

VORTEX is John Sexton's third collection of poetry. Here are poems that carefully dissect the careless cruelty of life, in the case of BUTCHER'S DAUGHTER, its unrequited love under the scalpel:
Next you display some hearts
under a glass window.
The smallest of which,
on the left hand corner,
is mine.

A more sorrowful view of unrequited love is found in CHENG YUN-SU UNDER SORROW BRIDGE, which ends:
I will wait here till water swallows me,
the river bursts and rises to Heaven;
till the moon's a hook from which hangs my heart.

This poem displays the poet's sensitivity to the natural environment, which appears in several other of these poems, including I AM A POEM OF NIGHTINGALES:
(xii)

Night lasts forever,
and the snow is white in the darkness.
I am the eternal moment of the nightingale.

There are also several surreal poems, rich in imagery and folkloric references. For example, A LETTER TO THE KING OF IRELANDS DAUGHTER, the narrator is turned into a kitten and then finds that:
the house was gone
and I could see you
pushing it down the street
on castors.

Another surreal poem, IN MY TWELFTH YEAR is a poignant poem of lost innocence and over-protective parenting, the narrator and his brother find an angel in the garden, but when they tell their Dad:
he erected a tall fence made from sheets of corrugated iron.
You'll see no angels now, he said.

Exploring his own role as a father in VORTEX, he watches his own autistic son take a shower and thinks about Joseph Mengele's possible thoughts about the boy. It is a powerful meditation on Nazism, but also deeply affirmative:
I can see a half circle of children, emaciated, their faces miserable.
Some are visibly retarded, others invisibly so,
but I can see what they are, know what they are,
have the space inside me that they fit.

This collection is powerful stuff that works both emotionally and intellectually and repays re-reading.

By Juliet Wilson

Shadows Bloom

Anyone can write a haiku and anyone can compile a book of haiku, or something similar to haiku. But good haiku and a good book of haiku are rare jewels. And becoming more so. As Managing Editor of Simply Haiku, I continually receive review copies of books in the mail and, to be honest with you, the majority aren't worth the time taken to read them.

John Sexton is an accomplished poet and writer who has written haiku for years and is the author of a series of books based on a popular children's radio show, The Ivory Tower, that ran for 103 episodes. A good writer isn't born. Being a good writer is the result of hard work, practice, study, and more hard work. Sexton's success is based on a solid work ethic and his ability to creatively translate and see life.

In John Sexton's poetry I see a deep respect for the Japanese haiku masters who gave us the genre and for the genre itself. I also see an original, fresh voice steeped in the social and geographical contexts experienced in the British Isles.

Take for instance this haiku:
a good game
but shadows of crows
are too fast to catch

This haiku has something to say but doesn't &tell all.& It paints a picture with words that are memorable, with intricate textures and tones. The &shadows of crows,& translated into something someone, perhaps a child, might be tempted to catch and the realization that they &are too fast to catch,& is a wonderful image.

Sexton's poetry is, for the most part, consistent, and sometimes brilliant.
first light
the river sheds a skin
of fog

thieving magpie
last slice of light
on the lawn

mysteries
I examine the drawings
on a moth's wings

Like many writing Japanese short form poetry outside of Japan, Sexton mistakenly labels both senryu and haiku under the haiku heading when, in reality, they are two separate, albeit closely related genres.

Senryu:
the teaspoon shows me
with furtive inspection
my true, foolish face

Haiku:
sunlit street
a jackdaw shadow
passes through me

Although at times mislabeled, Sexton's poetry is a joy to read:
busy in the garden of my fingertip the ant

some spider willed me
this necklace
of dust

Says Caroline Gourlay about Sexton's poetry:
"He has a keen eye and the imagination and skill to communicate his observations in unexpected, fresh images, which he juxtaposes without recourse to labored symbolism and/or metaphor . . . a pitfall that few haiku poets manage consistently to avoid."

And Emiko Miyashita:
"From the soil of Ireland where poetry is deeply rooted, a new bud of fresh green haiku."

walking through the brambles
without scratches ...
my shadow

By Robert D. Wilson