Elsewhere, around the world in poetry, haiku & haibun.
Publication: November 2017, €12 / £10 / $15
One of Maeve O’Sullivan’s aims it to take haikai (haiku and related forms) out of what she describes in the preface “as the quasi-ghetto” it occupies “in the wider poetic world”. So, alongside other poetic forms, the reader is introduced to the forms and structures of the haikai world, as well as to a geographical journey to 13 countries and across 4 continents, travelling from Dublin to Europe, South America, the Indian sub-continent and back to Dublin in her reflective Envoi. It is also a journey through grief and the loss of her parents and sister (and friend).
Maeve O’Sullivan uses haiku, haibun and other poetic forms (see the definitions at the end*). She displays her virtuosity in the opening poems, in the section I Home. The haibun, Apples and Oranges, succinctly displays in prose the mores of a whole society, illustrated first by the nun’s dismissal of the 11 year old poet as a result of her faux pas in eating an orange in public, followed by the inundation of the child in “first assembly a sea of green gabardine”. Manicure is a beautiful sestina* which contains all the grief and pain of the gradual loss of her mother in the cool repetition of line endings. Then Dun Laoghiare, in which , with sharp immediacy, we see how the train “snakes into gorse”.
In haibun, the discipline of haiku amongst the prose with its intense descriptive power can be seen in Closure, for example, where amongst the details in the prose, there is the sudden:
her bony back
against my palm –
O’Sullivan has great skill in providing the sudden illumination, the turn of meaning in haiku:
somewhere a murmuration is missing you lone starling
In II West, the poet is excellent at capturing all the senses stimulated by place and pilgrimage (see Gijón – Asturias – reproduced below) and in Slow Camino, the instant recognition of the scent of roadside fennel…the squealing of pigs from a truck or in Southern California:
scent of a lemon just released from its tree
and there is a specific gift of capturing unforgettable images – which cannot be unseen!
Botero’s bronze nudes:
their eyes identical
to their nipples
Printed below in the poem Peregrina (wanderer) the poet has the pilgrim’s symbolic shell as she journeys to Santiago de compostela; here she uses rhyme to set the jaunty pace toward the final destination. However, this too is part of the serious journeying of the collection, which is in itself also a pilgrimage.
In III East, she meets up with family in Australia where in the haibun Resettled, with more wry amusement, she sees:
in the neighbour’s tree
overlooking our reunion
a fake koala
The relaxed prose brings her back to family connections to the 1911 census, where her grandfather’s signature is, in another contrasting haiku nugget so like mother’s. It is difficult to see how this sort of anecdotal prose could sit so easily with poetry in another form so the haibun is put to particularly successful in this collection with its series of diary like pieces.
The journeys she has taken are encapsulated in this poetry, experiences moulded like the green rice cakes in Japan’s A Slice of Autumn where “hundreds of tame deer roam” bowing their heads to the visitors “who feed them with special crackers sold at shops and stalls nearby”. She contrasts this gentle image with Hong Kong where “no bird ever sings in these cages” and New Delhi with a peacock strutting through a junkyard and the
pictures of various gods
at pissing level
And the sense of a pilgrimage continues in New Year at Rumtek Monastery, printed below, where the the rhyme and rhythm which create the form of the poem are intricately bound up with the sacred dance.
The journeying ends in Envoi: Back Home. Like every traveller she is both changed and the same, and as in Settling
the watch that’s travelled
and the one that hasn’t
both tell the same time
But this is not to say that it has been a static experience. Her opening quotation from T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets is a perfect summary of what an experience like this one should be, and from the evidence of this collection, has been :
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
*Summarised from Wikipedia:
Haiku – a very short form of Japanese poetry. It is typically characterized by three qualities:
- The essence of haiku is “cutting”. This is often represented by the juxtaposition of two images or ideas and a kireji (“cutting word”) between them, a kind of verbal punctuation mark which signals the moment of separation and colours the manner in which the juxtaposed elements are related.
- Traditional haiku consist of 17 on (also known as morae though often loosely translated as “syllables”), in three phrases of 5, 7, and 5 on, respectively.(An alternative form of haiku consists of 11 on in three phrases of 3, 5, and 3 on, respectively.)
- A kigo (seasonal reference), usually drawn from a saijiki, an extensive but defined list of such terms.
Haibun originating in Japan, combining prose and haiku. The range of haibun is broad and frequently includes autobiography, diary, essay, prose poem, short story and travel journal.
** Summarised from Wikipedia:
Sestina: a form consisting of six stanzas of six lines each, normally followed by a three-line envoi. The words that end each line of the first stanza are used as line endings in each of the following stanzas.
4 Poem by Maeve O’Sullivan.
Maeve has been kind enough to send us the following four unpublished pieces.
I’ve got my stick, I’ve got my shell,
all set for valley and for ridge.
It feels good to be ready, well
enough to make this pilgrimage.
The native oak too soon gives way
to eucalyptus trees, and pine,
from Morgade to Palas de Rei
with birdsong, though, remaining fine.
At Arzúa the rosary’s said
while on the street I drink latte
and later on some wine and bread
I share with new friends quiet, chatty.
Soon Santiago looms in view –
the goal of pilgrims, old and new.
New Year at Rumtek Monastery
We hike an hour to reach this special place
to see first-hand the sacred lama dance.
For ten full hours they never slacken pace
as one by one we’re drawn into their trance.
Sustained by snacks, free cups of butter tea,
we marvel at the costumes and the hats,
the players of the horns, the drums, uzmi,
their masks adorned with multi-coloured plaits.
A special day, Aquarius new moon,
of this pure spectacle we never tire;
with Losar, the Tibetan New Year, soon,
they toss the wrathful god into the fire.
Because of this auspicious conflagration,
we’re free next year from every obscuration.
Note: The uzme is the lead chanter at Tibetan Buddhist prayer ceremonies.
You’ve cast your finger aside
where the freesias are fading,
the wisteria is wilting,
and the roses are in full bloom.
It sits on the garden’s stone table,
next to the candle in the jam jar,
but is this unfired phallus
of clay a thumb or a middle?
Either way, it’s your gift to us,
left behind in this old farmhouse.
Our projects trundle on, while yours
hitches us onto each new breakfast.
It wasn’t too ambitious but, in truth,
there’s been a fair bit of partying,
with your crowd supplying the soap
bubbles, the glitter and the guitar strings.
We miss the trundle of your skateboards
on the tiles, and the handmade dream-
catchers, not so much the piano
practice or the overflowing ashtrays.
But, as well as being back in Oslo,
you’re still here, in a way,
your legacy a daily message
of Well done! or even Up yours!
Gijón, Asturias, a haiku sequence
the first sound
a seagull’s cry
beneath the café’s din
of TV and chatter –
the peacock shakes
his bridal feathers –
city park cage
its giant sculpture
amplifying the sea
artist’s former home its triple-locked steel door
after a week of sharing a pas de deux in the kitchen
rainy evening –
pouring cider from a height
to drink in one gulp