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Friday, June 05, 2015

Earthlings - A review of the haiku collection by Allan Burns

Earthlings by Allan Burns
Art by Ron C. Moss
a muttering thunder publication (2015)

A statement says: “Earthlings is a thematic chapbook of 40 haiku by Allan Burns with artwork by Ron C. Moss.”    

I would certainly say that a collection of 40 haiku is plenty, and that 70 is a good absolute maximum.  Earthlings is the haiku eBook collection by Allan Burns, and the first individual collection released by Muttering Thunder that released the nature-writing anthology of the same name.  His collection opens with a quote from Henry Beston, author of The Outermost House, and Robert Spiess, the much beloved past editor of Modern Haiku magazine (USA) which place the collection into its theme.

Burns is a nature writer where living (and sometimes dead) natural history become a companion:

prairie dog skull–
the attendant’s jumpsuit
darkened by sweat

All of the haiku have been previously published, and an earlier draft of the collection received an Honorable Mention in the Turtle Light Press Haiku Chapbook Contest.

“In a world older and more complete than ours they move finished and complete…they are not underlings; they are other nations…fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth.”
Henry Beston
after the owl
an owl-shaped hole
in the cloud

Burns is highly knowledgeable about nature, and knows only too much about the trials, tribulations, and interactions of what we patronisingly call wildlife, or even animals as if we, the humans, are a species outside it.   I personally feel we are just a parallel life-form and one with a penchant for many things good and bad that carry an impact on our fellow travellers. Fortunately Burns carries his impact, on the water planet we mysteriously call Earth, with haiku, where its powder is always dry, and he never tries to shoot, incapacitate, or capture, but shares beyond and ‘outside the common human mindset that we own and control nature’.

How far has the human species travelled on this planet with its words?  Burns’ one line haiku:

far along the desert road a man under his hat

And if that is Burns on the desert road, he thankfully doesn’t keep his haiku under his hat for long.  His “I” subdued haiku reveal the nature around him so that we experience the natural history for ourselves accompanied by the vivid art work of Ron C. Moss.

Burns commences the collection with this poem - a scene I imagine he saw many times, but perhaps always as if for the first time, again:

sun-rimmed mist…
the asters trading

This brings me to a feature of some of the best haiku, and that is, if we use verbs are they merely per-functionary vehicles for carrying our concrete imagery?  Haiku has been called the poetry of nouns, and perhaps as a practice verbs are required to be unobtrusive, although poets outside haikai literature thrive on its vivacity, where they share at least equal status with all other words and devices.

Should haiku be informed by verbs and by how much?    Bob Spiess says no, that the verbal function can be taken over by other words, and well, yes, I agree.   I admire haiku using the agent of nouns to present action and elements of our senses from “one to five”, and those senses in and on our peripheral.   Well placed verbs that sit outside the neutrality expected of them within haiku can bring out astounding juxtaposition, revealing what our honed peripheral senses can reward us with:

cumulus bulking…
one of the shrub’s leaves
is a katydid

This is a collection that doesn’t depend on a single trick, and the use of verbs has brought up some startling scenes that inform strong nature writing not limited to a safe and perceived world of wildlife, and a out-of-sightedness of what we do to our fellow citizens:

the caged chimpanzee
injected with hepatitis
signs hello

This collection isn’t about otherness, it’s us recognising that we are part of “them”, that there is no real them and us or them or us; that we are not above or outside the rest of nature, that we can engage with the rest of ‘us’ via small eco-poetic hits like haiku verses:

ill this fall day…
a crow softens peanut shells
in the birdbath

Reporting the news has become a sinister trade embellishing what Joseph Goebbels (Reich Minister of Propaganda in Nazi Germany from 1933 to 1945) developed from the past, to the demise of one newspaper that was finally exposed as being far from the news of the world. Haiku is such a potent reporting tool: It can connect us to the small snippets that humans are in the bigger picture of things.  Nature may be tooth and claw, but opposable thumbs give us space, just as one of my opposable thumbs creates space by tapping the space bar on my computer.

What will become of us as we wonder less and less about nature, and what stays with me, and resonates, is carried by the verb in this haiku:

what’s to come of us…
long into the night
a fox screams

As at least one U.S. State has outlawed/criminalised the mention of climate change on the planet, we do need to connect with our partner denizens, and haiku is a wondrous and beautiful way for us to consider connecting and re-connecting while we still have time.   

firesky ridge–
the tanager drinks
his own red

We are all earthlings on this spinning floating rock and liquid thing called a planet which is, after all, one very large life-form in its own and collective right:

high-desert wind–
a migrant owl rests
on an earthship

I look forward to further collections from this author, containing such memorable scenes of natural history, where we can consider ourselves proud to be part of the earthship crew.

Alan Summers

Published by the British Haiku Society's journal Blithe Spirit
(Vol. 25 issue 2, 2015)

See also the FREE PDF Muttering Thunder anthologies which have natural history haiku:


Katheleen Mitro said...

Excellent haiku. Good job.

Area 17 said...

Thanks Kathy,

Yes, excellent haiku from Allan Burns, and a fine collection! :-)

warm regards,


dfleischer said...

Re-opened my eyes, your review, this poet, this collection . . . ever thanks! Donna

Area 17 said...

Thank you!

I'm delighted. That's what I hoped I might do, as I'm one of the regular reviewers for the British Haiku Society's journal.

warm regards,


Unknown said...

An informative and beautifully written review.

Area 17 said...

Thank you Edwin, that's deeply appreciated.

warmest regards,