Simply Haiku: A Quarterly Journal of Japanese Short Form Poetry
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Spring 2006, vol 4 no 1

Measuring The Depth
by Graham Nunn
A Review by Robert D. Wilson

 

cutting my toenails
a clipping
of the moon

Graham Nunn's second book of Japanese short form poetry, Measuring the Depth, doesn't start out with a pontificating introduction followed by a forward extolling who he is. Perhaps he's secure in what he writes and doesn't see a need to persuade people to read his book. Instead, he lets his poetry do the talking. Overall, Graham Nunn is a good poet. He writes with vigor, has a good grasp of metre, and displays respect for the genre he writes in (haiku, senryu, and haibun).

Haibun is a demanding art form. It either works or it doesn't. Nunn has included several haibun in his book. Some work, some are inconsistent, and some fall flat. The inconsistencies come from mixing verses that do not stand on their own as poems, with prose. The verse

boarding the boat
smell of coffee
and bait

is hardly a poetic gem. The poem serves the same purpose as a comment under a photo or in a box accentuating a news article. Further along in the haibun, however, Nunn includes haiku that do stand alone and have enough ambiguity to offer readers more than one tier of meaning:

on the horizon
first wind breaks
the sun

The inconsistencies, however, are few and far between. Most of Nunn's haibun works and some are memorable. For example:

On the boardwalk by the river a sax player lets loose with a melancholy blues riff. It's raw and dirty like the water and it flows in torrents. He's played London, Paris and New Orleans, or at least that's what his case says.

He's a real 50's jazz man, unshaven and misty-eyed, sweat gathering in the folds of his perfectly wrinkled skin.

The tourists gawk at him like he's dangerous and he sends it up, playing harder than ever.

It's loose. It's real. It's from the gut.

arching his back
he hears the sound
of money

I like the majority of the haiku and senryu in Measuring the Depth. They allow the reader to see Australia as only Japanese short form poetry can do.

strong westerly
the bamboo chime's
cold song

across the river
my voice raises
an echo

To his credit, Nunn knows the difference between a haiku and a senryu, something many poets today have trouble with, due in part to the failure of poetry journals and magazines to differentiate between the two closely related but separate genres. At the end of his book, under the label, New Haiku, all of the poet's haiku are haiku.

As with any book of poetry, there will always be a few duds, those poems that say little, have been said in a similar fashion before, or do not resonate. Nunn is no different.

up her leg
I trace a line
of goosepimples

thinner this year
the old dog's
winter coat

Reading through Nunn's book, I uncovered some gems that will stick with me. The mark of a good poet is the ability to write verse that is indelible and layered with meaning.

the hare flees
listening
in the arc of its leap

jotting the dots
my stone skips
from star to star

river bank ---
flood water steals
the pebble's song

On a scale of 1 to 10, I give Nunn's book a 7.5. He is a good poet, writing in everyman's language, communicating to his readers the tastes and flavors that make up his part of the world.


Measuring The Depth
Graham Nunn
Pardalote Press
ISBN 0 9578436 6 6