Simply Haiku: A Quarterly Journal of Japanese Short Form Poetry
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Summer 2007, vol 5 no 2

Spinifex
by Beverley George
A Review by Johnye Strickland

 

"Spinifex" is a type of grass found in every state in Australia except Tasmania, with 64 different species identified so far. It has an affinity for fire, growing back quickly from the roots and seeds after being consumed by one of the frequent brushfires that sweep the region.

I had to google to learn this, though I suspected it might be tall grass from the photo that graces the blue cover (my guess was sea grass, since the long blades bear a resemblance to what I have seen in Florida, except the Australian grass spires grow from hummocks rather than directly from the soil).

This is a small book, almost 5" high by 7" wide. Small enough to carry in your purse, or pocket, and whip out while waiting in line or on a subway platform. The opening poem, which you may have seen before, is well chosen to pull the reader in. Given the shape of the book, it is especially fitting:


train tunnel—
the sudden intimacy
of mirrored faces


On reading this, my mind immediately recalls specific images recorded during the past year when I rode the trains in Boston, New York and Minneapolis, en route to haiku meetings. I have to pause a few minutes to shift back and forth from the images in the poem—the train tunnel and mirrored faces—to the actual memories of colors and people in the foreground, and urban scenes or graffiti flashing by outside, of my own experience. And to think, this is a good subject for a haiku/senryu. Why didn't I think of it?

Such is the mark of a really good poet—to make you not only share her own experience, but also recall similar adventures, and even consider their potential for poems you may yet want to explore.

Turning the page, one finds the essence of contemporary Australia, according to recent news reports; or the Dust Bowl era of the 1930s in the USA, which I saw firsthand. In addition to finding humor in spite of the seasonal discomfort—


sweltering heat —
shouting the same to you
to a crow

--the poet is able to transfer her close observation of the natural scene to the printed page:


drought—
the dusty eyelashes
of a cow


The visual images are sharp and clear, but we also find the evocation of the tactile and olfactory senses:


sultry night—
the smell of jasmine
and old oranges


In addition to the seventy individual haiku, the book contains five haiku sequences: "Scorched Garden"; "Village Hall April 25, 2006"; "The Bucketts Way"; "Saihoji Temple"; and "White Pebbles."

It was in the "Scorched Garden" that I found the most intriguing image. I keep reviewing it, trying to catch the nuances of the action:


noon beach
a one-legged gull
changes feet


In the "Village Hall" sequence, I had to google again, for "Anzac Day." It is April 25, because it was on that day in 1914 that the newly formed Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) landed at Gallipoli and made a heroic effort to capture Constantinople and thus remove Turkey, an ally of Germany, from World War I. The mission failed, after a toll of 8,000 soldiers on both sides. The heroism of the original ANZAC troops is commemorated annually, and is said to be "probably Australia's most important national occasion."


My favorite poem in this sequence, partly because of its allusion to Hamlet (and thus, lost causes?), is:


sprigs of rosemary
something about the tea urns
makes me cry


The final piece in the book is a haibun, "Gathering Coke." It is a touching link of the past and future, and brings the book full circle:


gathering coke
along the railway track—
our father's ashes


I enjoyed reading, and rereading this book, having carried it around for the past three months. It is one that grows on you, encouraging you to see the universal in the particular, the lasting in the ephemeral. The meaningfulness in the everyday. Which is what haiku (or senryu, haibun) is supposed to do, in the hands of a skillful poet.


Spinifex
by Beverley George
Perfect bound; 62 pages
Designed by Tony Fuery
Cover design and images by Matthew George
Printed on recycled paper
Pardalote Press (2006)
ISBN 0 9578436090
http://www.pardalote.com.au