XX:1 February, 2005

A Journal for Linking Poets   

A Woman’s Life by Harue Aoki. Perfect bound, 120 pps., 8 x 5, includes kanji and romaji versions of the tanka, ISBN: 4-87944-065-5, $12.00. Contact author at 3-24-4 Inokashira, Mitaka-shi, 181-0001 Tokyo, Japan.

Fly-ku by Robin D. Gill. Key Biscayne, Florida, Paraverse Press: 2004. Perfect bound, 9.75 x 7.5 inches, 228 pp., haiku in kanji, romaji and English with copious commentary, 0-9742618-4-X. $15.00. Contact robin d gill.

A Piece of Eggshell: An Anthology of Haiku and Related Works by the Magpie Haiku Poets of Calgary, Canada. Flat-spined gated covers, 8 x 5, 86 pps., ISBN: 0-9734761, $15.00. Contact.

ADA by Jenny Ovaere and Geert Verbeke. Kortrijk, Flanders, Empty Sky: 2004. ISBN: 90-805634-71. Perfect bound, 6 x 8.25, 104 pages, full color photos, haiku in English, French, Dutch. Order from the author  at Leo Baekelandlaan 14, 8500 Kortrijk, Flanders, Belgium, Europe


Greatest Hits 1985-2004 by Joan Payne Kincaid



A Woman’s Life by Harue Aoki. Perfect bound, 120 pps., 8 x 5, includes kanji and romaji versions of the tanka, ISBN: 4-87944-065-5, $12.00. Contact author at 3-24-4 Inokashira, Mitaka-shi, 181-0001 Tokyo, Japan.

The 106 tanka in this, her second book of English tanka - A Woman’s Life, are culled from Harue Aoki’s previous Japanese tanka books: Nanaibashi (Seven Springs Bridge), Una Vida (A Life), and Ishidatamimichi (Stone Pavement). It was with the encouragement and help of Sanford Goldstein, who wrote the Foreword to A Woman’s Life, and who had read Harue Aoki’s previous book, Memories of a Woman, that this book came into being. Thus when Goldstein writes, quoting Tokuboku, "Poetry must not be what is usually called poetry. It must be an exact report, an honest diary, of the changes in a man’s emotional life" I question the advisability of taking Tokuboku’s words, written for an essay, "Poems to Eat," in the Tokyo Mainichi in the winter of 1909, for writing or even translating tanka now, one hundred years later.

The tanka poetry that Tokuboku was rebelling against then was very different from the mass of poetry in today’s world. Then in Japan the tanka genre was very controlled with over-abundant rules, stipulations on subject matter, and even the choices of words. For his times, Tokuboku was right on. What adhering to his philosophy in these days ignores is the gigantic fact of free-verse poetry. When one visualizes this mountain of written poems, one can understand why certain poets today feel as rebellious as Tokuboku did then. Poets who come to tanka mostly do so because they feel a need for a form, for a return to thrill of using poetic ideas and goals for their poems. It is too easy to just jot down the feelings and activities of one’s day as we all did with free verse. Writers of tanka want to demand more from themselves.

They understand the beauty of the pivot, they accept the mental exercise that finding a new parallel between their inner and outer lives demands, and delight in reading work that shows some craftsmanship in the choice of words and how they are placed. From reading so much "free-verse" we are as tired of the too-easy, boundary-less notes of complaint and bitching. There is a parallel in our poetry, and in our music.

Rock music lyrics would take a phrase or less and endlessly repeat it and call it a "song." When that came to be passé, we got rap, the complete opposite, with its intricate metrics and rhyme. Our poetry is in the same phase, even though we are not demanding that our tanka be rhymed, but we do expect them to reflect the poetics of the ancient Japanese form.

Harue Aoki, thanks to her sojourns in England and Germany, and her language abilities, has been able to translate her Japanese tanka into English herself. Therefore she stands at a very unique place where she could influence our understanding of the Japanese tanka. A careful reading of her tanka shows that her work does not exemplify Tokuboku’s creed for none-poetical poems, but are, thankfully, crafted with such ease that all the attributes of tanka writing seem to be second nature to her.

my left hand
holds the snow firmly
making a sound:
tight and strong
my inner heart too

Zansetsu o
nigiru Yunde ni
Oto no shite
kataku shimarinu
waga Kokorodo mo

Seeing her English version with minimal caps and punctuation felt good and right, but I wondered about the many capitalized words in the romaji version. It seemed there was some kind of lost carry-over here that was unnecessary.

Many of the poems in A Woman’s Life revolve around Aoki’s alienation and divorce from her husband, and the many hurts her children inflict on her. I think people need to be aware that what they publish are the stories they tell us as guides on how to perceive ourselves. While confessional poetry is an accepted genre, the reader needs to decide if this is what he or she wants to fill their mind and with, or if other ways of perceiving the world and ourselves is the story we want to take on as ours. The miracle of emotions is that they are every changing and what we feel in this one second will not last, unless one writes a poem about it. Therefore we poets have an obligation to decide which of our many emotions we wish to preserve in poetry. Since our days are filled with a variety of emotions, it seems our poetry should reflect this also. Therefore it seems one-sided to present only the poems written in self-pity or sadness with the idea that this is the person’s only valid poetical life. As with the quoted poem above, it seems Harue Aoki is steeling herself to be strong enough to live her live as it has been given to her. One can only give kudos for this.


Fly-ku by Robin D. Gill. Key Biscayne, Florida, Paraverse Press: 2004. Perfect bound, 9.75 x 7.5 inches, 228 pp., haiku in kanji, romaji and English with copious commentary, 0-9742618-4-X. $15.00. Contact.

If you missed getting Robin Gill’s previous book, in this series – Rise, Ye Sea Slugs! – because you just didn’t know if you were ready to read 1,000 haiku on the subject of holothuria (sea cucumbers), or even wanted to know anything on the subject, he has another book that is closer to home for you. Yes, Fly-ku contains haiku about flies. Here you will find glimpses in the lives of flies as they live, die, mate, raise their children and search to find the proper hobbies and or religion.

Most of the fly haiku are translated, by Gill, from the Japanese. The way Gill translates is not only marvelous, it is absolutely revolutionary. Instead of giving the reader the idea that there is only one way to translate a haiku, he offers a word-for-word translation and then goes into great detail explaining the ambiguities of the Japanese language along with the secrets of Japanese behavior. His final translation is often a series of possible ways of putting the haiku into English. He even goes so far as to add titles to his haiku (in America, a sacrilege). His titles are used properly though – to set the scene or prepare the reader for the viewpoint expressed in the haiku, and not just as a label or handle. He is even secure enough to admit when he really cannot figure out what the author was trying to say in Japanese. Marvelous.

Here is one example of the variety of possible translations Gill offers for just one poem in a system he calls "paraverse" – also the name of his publishing company.

hae hitotsu utteba namuamidabutsu kana – issa (d.1827)
(fly one, if hit [it] "namuamidabutsu" ‘tis)


each fly
we swat gets
a blessing


the good death
each fly
swatted earns
a sutra


plenty more where that came from
for each fly
we kill, another na-mu


each fly
she swats receives
my blessing


each fly
i swat enjoys
her blessing


a benediction
for every musca maledicta
we swat


each fly hit
is chased by a prayer, god
don’t hit me!


with each fly
we swat, we cry
god save us!


mea culpa
for each fly
I swat, a prayer:
may god have mercy!


a killer’s prayer
for each fly
swatted: a plea: heaven
have mercy on me!

In the commentary, Gill does translate the namuamidabutsu, and again, offers the reader the choice of "I sincerely believe in Amitabha," "Save us, merciful Buddha." "May he [his soul] rest in peace," or "Glory to [whatever sutra name is inserted]."

The book is full of humor and information – given in Gill’s distinctive way. His mind makes huge leaps so all the information about flies or Japanese and everything else in between feels as if it has been stirred in a great cosmic blender and poured out, in a decorative manner, suggesting a teahouse snack. Here, a sample suffices:

"Flies don’t need us or spiders to kill them. They are quite capable of dying on their own (Or, so I imagine. Perhaps a fly-expert would be kind enough to supply a gloss about their sicknesses – do they every go blind and run into trees? for example – and what old age is to a fly and so forth for the next edition.)."

The aberrations in typesetting above, and in Fly-ku, are pure Gill and a poke in the eye of the serious voice that lives by the Chicago Book of Style. He has his fun, but he also takes his readers’ comfort in mind, and here in Fly-ku, the notes and side bars are arranged on the same pages with an attractive border made of repeats of the Japanese kanji for, you guessed it – fly. Also, sprinkled throughout the book, often alone on a blank page or even among the haiku, are spots. They are either white, page colored, or black. Sometimes there is one, other times there are two of these spots or seemingly misplaced periods. It is either a secret message system of Gill’s for transmitting nuclear secrets – or flyspecks!

Kudos are in order for Gill’s decision to present his translations without line caps or and with only a minimum of English punctuation. Most of the haiku are centered giving the book balanced feeling. Also the titles of the poems are set in all lower case, which seems a good example to follow if one needs to emulate this.

So you are wondering about the haiku in this book. Gill begins the book with a brief explanation of haiku, including senryu and how he worked on the book, and how he used the on-line haiku publication Ukimidô to gather contemporary haiku, written in Japanese (about 80 which he used in the book). His original plan was to not use any haiku after Shiki (d. 1902), but after finding that the Kidaibetsu Gendai Haiku senshû – the largest collection of contemporary haiku only had three poems about flies, and he had gathered so many online, he decided to add another chapter with modern Japanese haiku on the subject.

His petit motif is based on Issa’s most famous poem:
yare utsuna hae ga te o suri ashi o suru

hey, hit not! [the] fly/flies [its] hands rub/s [its] feet rub

Gill even brings out that this verse, in Japanese, has been printed in at least four different versions. But before he finally translates the poem, he offers all the haiku by others in response to this verse by Issa and goes off on a tangent of comparing the verbs "rub" and "stroke" and the implications for sacrilege in the two. I never did find an actual translation of this ku, in the ordinary sense, but after reading everything else in the book, it was very easy to forgive Gill. Maybe he assumes the reader was smart enough, with his word-for-word help to do his or her own translation. I agree!

So what is actually in this book? All the haiku you could ever want arranged in such chapters as flies in the hands of bracken (did you know bracken make fists?), questions about whether to swat a fly or not, the messy results of actually smashing a fly, methods for disposing of the bodies, the sex life of a fly, the dangers to one’s karma if you kill mating flies, love-making and flies, (in the chapter titled "Cathouse Flies"), and sprinkled throughout, some haiku from Robin Gill.

for five days
between the "u" and "i"
a striped leg

Especially if you are a dedicated student of haiku, you should have this book, and while you are ordering it, get Rise, Ye Sea Slugs, so you will have the largest collection of Japanese haiku translated into English since R.H. Blyth’s contribution to the field. Gill is funnier and more human than Blyth ever was. There is still so much for us to learn from the Japanese about haiku.


A Piece of Eggshell: An Anthology of Haiku and Related Works by the Magpie Haiku Poets of Calgary, Canada. Flat-spined gated covers, 8 x 5, 86 pps., ISBN: 0-9734761, $15.00. Contact.

The members of the Magpie Haiku Poets are: Patricia Benedict, DeVar Dahl, Lesley Dahl, Jean Jorgensen, Joanne Morcom, and Tim Sampson. The book opens with a Foreword written by Bruce Ross telling of the year and a half, while he lived in Alberta, of meeting with this group. Tim Sampson continues the stories of their meetings in the Introduction where he relates the various issues around haiku writing the group grappled with in their many discussions.

Each section of the poetry begins with a brief introduction to the poet and then the haiku are presented, two to a page for nine or ten pages. Thus the reader gets enough poems to forge an image of the author before moving on to the next one. The poems are set without line caps and with a minimum of punctuation so they look clean and neat on the white paper.

Joanne Morcom includes two tanka from her wins in the Tanka Splendor Awards in her section:

feeling cranky
the palm reader tells him
she’s never seen
a life line
as short as his


crash, bang, boom
goes the midnight thunder
I snuggle closer to you
and then remember
you don’t live here anymore *

Both tanka also published in Countless Leaves edited by Gerald St. Maur


Most of the work in the book has been previously published, so the group had the security that their selections had been edited by others. The cover of the book has a marvelous sumi-ink drawing of a magpie by Ken Richardson that has been beautifully integrated with the title by John Vickers. Over all the book is perfectly made and the authors can be proud of their efforts in both poems and the book.


ADA by Jenny Ovaere and Geert Verbeke. Kortrijk, Flanders, Empty Sky: 2004. ISBN: 90-805634-71. Perfect bound, 6 x 8.25, 104 pages, full color photos, haiku in English, French, Dutch. Order from the author at Leo Baekelandlaan 14, 8500 Kortrijk, Flanders, Belgium, Europe

Ada is the Indonesian word for "be" in English, "être" in French, and "zijn" in Dutch, and being is what this book of one hundred haiku is all about. Haiku are so often spoken as the poem of "being in the moment" and yet, some will argue, as soon as one starts writing the poem down the moment of inspiration is now the past and the "being" in that moment is over. But haiku adds a new dimension to this equation. As soon as a person reads a haiku, no matter how many centuries before it has been written, that long-past moment be-comes real and actual for the reader. Thus, when one reads haiku one’s being is intensified by adding to the immediate reality of being another person’s own being.

Usually a haiku is about a live person or thing, (here I consider rocks alive, clouds are alive, the whole universe is alive with majesty of creation). So at the moment of comprehending a haiku, one is fully occupied in be-ing, and on top of that is layered the be-ing of the author as well as the be-ing of the subject of the poem. No wonder haiku are so valuable! They triple (and surely geometrically add on to that!) the possibilities of being in one nano-second. In that instant one is be-ing at a far deeper, or higher, level than normal.

ADA is listed as containing one hundred haiku, but actually there are three hundred because each poem is translated into English and French, as well as the original Dutch. Here I must admit my admiration for the way Verbeke translates haiku. People often get all in twist about how complicated translation is, how much is lost, how hard it to convey the original. Yet Verbeke goes at it very simply, word-for-word with as little grammar or sentence structure as possible to be as faithful to the original as possible. Even if you know only a little about Dutch or French, you can see how he makes translation bring the haiku from one language to another.

catching up
about this and that
the smell of tea

de choses et d’autres
l’arôme du thé

over ditjes en datjes
de geur van thee

One cannot talk about any of the haiku without also bringing in the color-photos of Geert Verbeke’s partner, Jenny Ovaere. The book is designed so that on the right hand page is a photo composition. The larger area is a detail that has been enlarged and dithered with a white overcast. Within this area is a smaller, bright rendition of the original photo. The white overleaf acts as atmosphere, so one feels as if truly seeing the scene with the rest of the world around it. This takes the photo from being "just" a photo to making an attempt at actual seeing (or be-ing). The photo always connects with the three haiku on the facing page in some way.

The photos are the results of trips around the world (in the back is an index of where each photo was taken) and seem to have been visualized in the haiku way of capturing a moment of reality. In the same way one tires of seeing a complete book of either photos or haiku, here that malaise is cured by switching from visual art to poetry and back again in order to deepen the perception of both elements.

Verbeke’s other vocation is playing the Himalayan singing bowls. In this profession he has made 10 CDs and written five books on the subject. His other book of haiku is Kokoro which has an accompanying CD (music to read with the haiku) which is also highly recommended.


October Twilight: Tanka and Haiku by R. W. Watkins. Poetical Perspectives, Box 111, Moreton’s Harbour, NL Canada A0G 3H0. Isbn: 0-9733510-4-7. Saddle-stapled, 8 x 5, 24 pps., $4.50 ppd.

October Twilight is composed of three series of tanka and haiku, the first being the title of the book and the others named "Tituba’s Legacy?" and "Hitchcock Presents." Lynx readers may recognize that major parts of "October Twilight" appeared in 1996 and 1997, but having the sequences recombined here in a book adds new weight and importance to the works. As always Watkins’ honest, machine-gun style of writing gives the old traditional Japanese form a new grittiness. Watkins sets himself up as a target by giving women’s reproductive systems the emphasis in poem and illustration. The third section, the shortest, is amenable to being given here as example of Watkins’ work.

Hitchcock Presents

frightened little girl
her first day as a woman
and bats chase her home!

Halloween prank at the drugstore
dead bat in the tampon section

log cabin horror:
bats beat against the window
as your cramps worsen

with each passing hot flash;
an exodus of bats from her attic

Both author and genres survive the encounter and the reader, after several jolts, will appreciate the dilation of the elasticity of both.



Greatest Hits 1985-2004 by Joan Payne Kincaid. The collection covers twenty years of published work. This invitational celebrates poetry's place in our culture and honors the artists whose lines elevate America's poetic sensibilities. Check out the Pudding House website for readings and performances nationwide by Joan Payne Kincaid and fellow poets  featured in Gold. $8.95. Pudding House Publications, 81 Shadymere Lane, Columbus  Ohio 43213




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