July 31, 2019

last night’s drunk
sleeps on a bench —
the gathering
of crows

Atlas Poetica 36

July 29, 2019


There is a pile 
of four books
on my desk.  It is not 
in my nature, typically, 
to read more than one
at once.  Actually, the idea of
multitasking anything
is completely without appeal.  
My direction is linear:
I make a list;
I complete the first item;
I strike off that item,
and then the next;
I create a new list;
and carry on.
That I am reading 
four books at once
surprises me.  Three are 
by John Levy
and the other 
is an anthology 
that includes 
a handful of my haiku.  
The contrast
between John’s 
thoughtful and patient
longer poems 
and my three 
line outbursts 
has created a space 
for my thoughts
to wander.
There are, of course, 
many ways to arrive
at truth poetically.  
As one who prefers
to map a path 
that mimics the route
the crow flies,
I am discovering 
a great many things
along this 
meandering trail.

Otata 40

July 26, 2019

moonlit tide ...
a boy washes

Presence 64

July 22, 2019

Review: Maeve O’Sullivan’s Elsewhere

Here is my review of Maeve O’Sullivan’s Elsewhere, as published in Presence last year.

The world is a vast and diverse place.  From the mountains of Peru to the coasts of Spain, from the beaches of San Diego to the shrines of Sri Lanka, a multitude of sights await.  A careful observer, with an artistic eye, will see the poetry around her - crafting verse that matches the essence of the place.
Maeve O’Sullivan’s excellent Elsewhere uses a variety of poetic forms to capture her experiences travelling the world.  Eschewing the practice of most haiku collections, which typically feature a smallish number of three-line poems, O’Sullivan has penned a wide, sprawling book of poetry that is as diverse in form as the localities of her travels.  Alongside haiku, she has included haibun, free verse, blank verse, sonnets, and even a villanelle.  
The opening section of Elsewhere is called “Home”.  Set in her native Ireland, “Home” is where O’Sullivan copes with the deaths of family members that preceded her world travels.  Observing the manners in which once familiar roles change, O’Sullivan gently describes the decline of her mother.  From the poem “Manicure”:

now it’s my turn to try and mother
you, my role to heal and cure.

Likewise, in a haiku from the haibun “Closure”, O’Sullivan touches on her mother’s frailty that has come with old age:

her boney back
against my palm -
Mother’s Day

Yet even in loss and endings, there are opportunities for people to gather, respect and appreciate the times and love they had.  The sale of O’Sullivan’s parents’ house leads to a “‘house-cooling’ party”, which is “a celebration rather than a mourning”.  In a similar vein, the following haiku:

Sandymount Strand -
birds that haven’t flown south
huddling together

metaphorically demonstrates the manner in which those who are left behind will gather and take solace in each other, their love and shared experiences.
Despite the gravity of “Home”, O’Sullivan is not without humour and a keen eye for the unexpected.  Indeed, her wit and observations create many funny moments here and throughout Elsewhere.  Even at a funeral she notices:

aunt’s funeral Mass -
a monk reaches inside his robes
to silence his phone

The majority of Elsewhere, in sections called “West” and “East”, contain the poems from O’Sullivan’s travels through “thirteen countries across four continents.”  Here, O’Sullivan details the places she has seen and her experiences within their natural environments.  She describes the majesty of the sites she visits:

the mist finally lifts 
revealing its grandeur - 
Machu Picchu

But she also exhibits playfulness, especially with the small creatures she encounters:

mine’s a slow Camino ...
your’s is even slower
stripy caterpillar

However, O’Sullivan is not a naive vacationer.  While she is open to the beauty of the countries she visits, she is honest enough to recognize their shortcomings and, in some cases, poverty.  In tempering the joy of travel with the harsher realities she encounters, O’Sullivan provides a richer picture of the world than had she simply written a travel log.  Consider:

new year     the peacock struts through a junkyard

And, from “Buddhas of Asia”, her observation of how religion can be hawked, like any other ware:

... big Buddhas mean big business -
everyone wants a piece of His calm.

O’Sullivan’s candour endears her to the reader and increases trust.  The world she depicts is far more believable than that which is encountered in advertisements or travel brochures.
Similar in variety to the locales she visited is O’Sullivan’s encounters with the people she met. The haibun “A Slice of Autumn”, is about meeting “an elderly gent named Paul” and their decision to “do some sight-seeing together” in Japan.  Likewise, the haibun “Resettled” recalls her reunion with her cousin in Melbourne, Australia.  “Resettled” is a family focused poem, recounting not only the details of their meeting but the character of their family and its history.  A particularly poignant moment came in one of its haiku:

growing wild here
both our mothers’ favourite -

Not all of O’Sullivan’s interactions were so easy.  In Peru, she discovered the awkwardness and uncertainty of being an outsider in another land.  “A Morning In Yacango” describes her experience attending Mass alone amongst a group of Peruvian citizens.  She speaks of feeling “conspicuous as the only gringa, and a little disrespectful in shorts.”  O’Sullivan’s self-consciousness resonates.  Shuttered off through language and uncertain of her attire, she captures the alienation of one immersed and alone in a foreign culture.
“West” and “East” also contain many poems that show how O’Sullivan’s expectations conflicted with the reality she discovered.  Many haiku explore the interruption of moments of serenity by technology:

ten miles to go     birdsong eclipsed by jet engines

On the other hand, there are instances where the experience of technology is enjoyed more than the setting.

boat tour of the port -
a drone generates
the most excitement

Her observations here are not limited to other people.  In a good natured manner, she examines her own relationship with her phone:

hand-bag free
no iPhone to count my steps -
beach walk

And, of course, in the day and age of widespread social media, a vacation is not complete without a selfie:

Plaza de Armas
under the jacaranda -
a selfied couple

The final section of Elsewhere, “Envoi: Back Home”, is short and, unlike the rest of the book, composed exclusively of haiku.  Most of the haiku here are humorous.  O’Sullivan is witty in reflecting upon her return from her journey and how certain things never seem to change:

after this world trip
my aunt cautions me
crossing her road

Elsewhere is an excellent poetic account of Maeve O’Sullivan’s “life-changing world trip”.  Diverse in both theme and poetic form, honest and humorous, and vast as the expanse of her travels, Elsewhere is a book to be enjoyed by readers of haiku and poetry alike.