Review: ARMADILLO BASKET by Helen Buckingham

ARMADILLO BASKET by Helen Buckingham
Waterloo Press, 2011

One of the things I most admire about Helen Buckingham’s poetry is its ability to live within the moment of its making, a moment that goes on occurring over and over in the smallest of spaces. It’s a facet of the best haiku and one that, despite its reliance on the fewest words, is the hardest to produce. Take for instance this haiku from her latest collection, Armadillo Basket:

cold call…

Despite its cunning use of alliteration and the exquisite silence in its ellipsis, this poem, in only four words, manages to decorate the reader’s mind with an intensely vivid wallpaper. To embellish this poem further with what Jack Kerouac called “poetic trickery” or fit several extensions, an attic conversion and a conservatory to its modest structure would only fog the image. Good haiku is like a good shot of Scotch and Helen Buckingham has several fine malts in her desk drawer.

And so you’d probably expect Armadillo Basket to serve up another line of poetic shot glasses. Not so. Helen’s latest collection is an all-encompassing jaunt through this British poet’s many forms and styles. Whilst the collection dedicates a section to haiku and another to tanka, it also presents a selection of Helen’s longer poetry, including a couple of beautifully crafted haibun. To this reviewer’s satisfaction, it seems that Helen’s agile handling of short-form poetry extends to her extended works:

The moon is high.

I grapple with
a spiderleg,
a moth or two;
reach for the switch.

This is a snippet from the twelve-line poem, Night Terrors. Like many haiku poets, Helen brings to her longer poetry the essence of haiku. Whilst there is, at times, a narrative to Helen’s longer poetry, it is usually communicated with a somewhat abstract descriptive approach, one that we would associate with micropoetry and the poetry of the haiku-inspired modernists such as William Carlos Williams and L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poets such as Robert Creeley. In her attempts to convey the image, Helen relies upon her haiku writer’s eye:

soused streets
grief and chips
black ice
gritted lips

Despite using brief, fractured bursts of description, Helen’s longer poems glow with sumptuous imagery. Thanks to this poet’s expertise, Armadillo Basket proves that even the shortest and most modestly expressed lines of poetry can provide the reader with a feast of delicious images.

Helen Buckingham’s senryu has appeared frequently in Prune Juice. Her latest collection of long and short poetry, Armadillo Basket, is forthcoming from Waterloo Press.

Liam Wilkinson, Aug 2011