Online internet courses by Call of the Page

Are you interested in a Call of the Page course? We run courses on haiku; tanka; tanka stories/prose; haibun; shahai; and other genres.

Please email Karen or Alan at our joint email address:
We will let you know more about these courses.

Call of the Page (Alan & Karen)

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Fay Aoyagi and Beyond the Reach of My Chopsticks - A Haiku Collection Review by Alan Summers

(photo by Garry Gay) 

Fay Aoyagi’s haiku collections are a must for anyone serious about haiku, in my opinion. Fortunately for anyone who has missed out on her earlier work we have the extra bonus that her latest collection also includes a Selected Haiku section showcasing work from both of her previous collections.

David G. Lanoue has this to say about Aoyagi in his featured essay for Modern Haiku:
In recent years San Francisco poet Fay Aoyagi has been exploring what she calls “the inner landscape” with the same keen focus and subtle perception that traditional poets of haiku bring to birds, flowers and the moon.

David G. Lanoue further states:
Personally, I believe that haiku is about discovery: the deeper the feeling of discovery, the better the haiku, in my opinion. In a great haiku we sense the poet finding out something in the process of composition, not reporting on a thing that has been previously mentally digested.

Something with Wings: Fay Aoyagi's Haiku of Inner Landscape by David G. Lanoue, 
Featured Essay, Modern Haiku Volume 40.2 Summer 2009

Aoyagi’s first haiku collection was a landmark book when it looked worryingly possible that haiku may finally, at least in English, become dried up like one of those tumbleweeds you often saw in Westerns to show a town had died, become a ghost town. That’s what seemed to be the final logical outcome until books of the refreshing quality as in Chrysanthemum Love appeared.


Aoyagi had this to say about her work, in the introduction to her 2003 collection Chrysanthemum Love

If you believe haiku must be about nature, you may be disappointed with my work. There is a lot of "me" in my haiku. I write very subjectively. I am not interested in Zen and the Oriental flavours to which some Western haiku/tanka poets are attracted. I love the shortness and evocativeness of haiku. I don't write haiku to report the weather. I write to tell my stories.

Aoyagi doesn’t do weather report haiku yet she still harnesses kigo in both her Japanese and English-language haiku:

Saijiki are a treasure vault of kigo and sample haiku and I rely heavily on saijiki when I write haiku both in Japanese and English.  
Moon in the Haiku Tradition essay by Fay Aoyagi

Bill Higginson put it very forcefully, and unfortunately I agree with him. I’ve seen all too often that formula has become mistaken with form. Although in recent years, along with Aoyagi, there are promising signs that haiku in English have never been healthier.

Yet, for years now, I have had the feeling that our haiku community was somehow steering off in one or at most two narrow directions. On one road we have the Zen- imbued notion of the haiku as a momentary blip on the screen of our lives. 

On the other, haiku becomes a tool in the hands of the satirist, unfit for serious composition. The yeastiness of that implicit conversation among the formalists, the anti-formalists, the Zennists, the nature writers, the inventors of senryu on our continent, the haiku psychologists, and the damned-if-I-won’t-do-it-my-own-way innovators seemed to have dried up. 

Book after book of same-o-same-o haiku seemed to come pouring from the burgeoning presses of our haiku community, as well as occasionally from some larger press. This is not to demean the numerous collections of fine haiku that have appeared. Just to say that there seemed to be little coming out that was outstandingly fresh or developing a truly world-class richness and variety in our fledgling tradition.
Chrysanthemum Love by Fay Aoyagi reviewed by William J. Higginson 
Modern Haiku Vol. 35.2 (Summer 2004)

There may appear to be a lot of jockeying at present about who will be remembered as a haiku writer, outside of Japan, on a world stage level. I would suggest, whether you are new, or a seasoned reader, to haiku, to search carefully which books you add to your haiku library. If you are a writer of haiku as well, only quality reading will inform your own writing. Bill Higginson touches on this, in his important review of Aoyagi’s first collection.

At the same time, new books on Japanese haiku should have been broadening our view of haiku. It seemed as though Makoto Ueda’s greatest masterpiece, Bashô and His Interpreters (1992), and the eye-opening Chiyo-ni: Woman Haiku Master by Patricia Donegan and Yoshie Ishibashi (1998) had fallen under bushel baskets. Where were the poets taking heed, building into our haiku the new richness and diversity of even older Japanese haiku that these books revealed?

Chrysanthemum Love by Fay Aoyagi reviewed by William J. Higginson 
Modern Haiku Vol. 35.2 (Summer 2004)

There are few haiku writers who can harness, seamlessly, the old and the new, or can break out of a perceived mould of what a haiku should be, and what a haiku writer should be. All I can say is look out for them, and keep their books close to your side, and be particular about which haiku books build and increase your library.

I have my own list of authors who I see as the real thing, and some writers know that I include them, and I am always on the lookout for new exciting writers. I have high expectations after the stop start developments of the 1990s. Although the 21st Century is still new, barely over its first decade, we need more writers of Aoyagi’s qualities to cement haiku in the West as a true tradition, and not as a strange experiment. 

Bill says:
Fay Aoyagi has lassoed and galloped beyond most of what we have learned about how to write American haiku in five decades, and opened the way to a new century. Chrysanthemum Love is a stunningly original book and a whole collection of “my favorite haiku”—I hope you’ll make it one of yours. I guarantee, it’s the real thing.

Chrysanthemum Love by Fay Aoyagi reviewed by William J. Higginson 
Modern Haiku Vol. 35.2 (Summer 2004)

Aoyagi is the real thing, and I urge you to beg, borrow, or steal her earlier collections, and if you are quick, you can even purchase her latest collection.

Just a few of her haiku, but you’ll find youself both reading from cover to cover, and dipping in and out. The book is a pleasure to hold and look at, and is a suitably convenient size and shape to find permanent residence in a coat pocket.

low winter moon 
just beyond the reach 
of my chopsticks

who will write 
my obituary? 
winter persimmon

plum blossoms
a specimen of my dream 

sent to the lab

simmering tofu–
father asks where I intend

to be buried

slow ceiling fan
a town hall meeting
of the pet shop goldfish

pastel-colored day
a password
for the budding willow

Beyond the Reach of My Chopsticks
New and Selected Haiku
Fay Aoyagi
Blue Willow Press

The collection was a winner of both the Touchstone Book Award 2012 (The Haiku Foundation) and Mildred Kanterman Memorial Merit Book Awards 2012 (Haiku Society of America)   

Fay Aoyagi's website: 

This review was published:
Notes from the Gean Vol. 3, Issue 3 December 2011

A shorter review was published in 
LYNX XXVII:1, February, 2012:

Monday, June 15, 2015

Haiku Collection - John Stevenson: Live Again - A book review by Alan Summers

John Stevenson: Live Again
isbn: 978-1-893959-83-5  $12.00

A book review by Alan Summers

John Stevenson’s haiku “the reversible jacket” prompts me to feel there is, in many of us, only one side of that jacket we show to the world for work and play as we go out in a costume, even when there is no fancy dress party. 

reversible jacket
the side 
I always show

Often we only show the other side of that jacket to a chosen few. This author takes us on a multi-faceted trip round that side yet avoids the pitfalls of over earnest outpourings, of burying us in an avalanche of self-confessions that would require a mountain rescue dog to save us.

seated between us
the imaginary
middle passenger

If this wasn’t enough, we  can learn we are the core of our own material: those intimate themes within the circumference of our body space that provide resources to write for ourselves: the author writes “so much/of what I do/involves my body.”

Some of those resources from this will be poignant, painful, awkward. 

checkout line
my dad
could talk to anyone

midnight sun
I know for a fact
the bottle’s half empty

Of course there are weaknesses in the collection, although intriguingly I’ve come back to them, and found I’m reducing them one by one.  There is a cohesion to this collection, and possibly outside that structure one or two haiku aren’t strong enough to stand on their own two feet.  At  92 haiku and senryu; fifteen tanka; one renku; and two haibun I defy anyone to keep such a low count.

This book is divided into two parts: Live; Again.  I’ll be going back to this book again and again: sometimes to dip into, sometimes to read cover to cover. It won’t always be easy…

I put myself
in the shoes
of a dying friend.
He’d moved on by then
in his bare feet…

But sometimes…

A child’s
wide eyes
stares at me.
If I could
I’d have a look too.

John, I think you allow us to do just that from time to time:

we’re here
we might as well build 
a sandcastle

An earlier version of this review was previously published in Blithe Spirit, Journal of the British Haiku Society; and haijinx IV:1 (March 2011)

Live Again is John Stevenson's third full-length book of haiku and related forms. The author has served the Haiku Society of America as President; Treasurer; and Editor of Frogpond, its international membership journal. He is currently managing editor of The Heron's Nest.

John Stevenson’s latest book is called d(ark):

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: