Book Review

Mirrormoon by Helen Buckingham
Original Plus
, 2010
ISBN 978-0-9562433-8-6

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: what I love most about Helen Buckingham’s poems is their immediacy. It takes years of study, buckets of patience and a very keen eye to write a good haiku, but to make the haiku appear effortless and spontaneous takes some kind of wizardry. There aren’t many writers out there who have this talent, so when a new collection by Helen Buckingham is published you know you’re in for a rare treat.

Mirrormoon is the follow-up to Helen’s Water on the Moon – a collection that prompted writer and artist Pamela A. Babusci to remark on the poet’s knack of making us want to revisit the poems again and again. With Mirrormoon, Helen has prompted this reviewer to re-emphasise Pamela’s comments. These are haiku and senryu that, like the moon itself, inspire us to go on looking and looking:

day moon
over a revving crane

Having grown up in a house that backed onto a scrap metal yard, I know all too well the sound of that crane. And despite the ‘love at first sight’ that existed between the poem and I, I have found myself returning over and over to this tiny, enormous image. The same has happened with most of the senryu, too:

blue moon
scissors paper

full moon
his glass
all head

Helen’s often minimalistic style lends great strength to her senryu. What is often seen as a flippant, off-the-cuff brand of poetry is only reinforced by the brevity that Helen has mastered. And then there are those senryu that place Helen’s poetry firmly in the present:

full moon:
the last mini mars bar
docks with my stomach

Helen isn’t a poet who’s afraid to look for haiku and senryu in the stuff of modern living. Whilst every one of the poems in Mirrormoon includes a reference to our oldest of friends, the moon, there’s also the mention of Pringles and Mars Bars and allusions to goth teens, cash points and cellulite!

Finally, if one is pushed to find a flaw in this delightful collection from one of Britain’s best writers of micropoetry, it is that the poems stop at page 24. I only hope, as the moon shrinks in the window of our rocket, that Helen is cooking up plans for another lunar mission in the near future.

Liam Wilkinson, October 2010

Book Review

Our Sweet Little Time by Hamish Ironside
Iron Press, 2009
ISBN 978-0-9552450-7-7

Hamish Ironside probably subtitled his book A Year in Haiku because most people have a vague idea of what haiku is. We remember it from school. We carry the term in the same vocabulary box as ‘sonnet’ and ‘limerick’. If Ironside had called his collection Our Sweet Little Time: A Year in Senryu, most people would have wondered where on Earth Senryu might be and, judging by the size of the book, how little there must be to do there. In actual fact, most of the poems in this richly entertaining and often very moving book are, to us sticklers, senryu.

These are small poems of the human heart and mind. Whilst haiku, by definition, would be more apt to deal with nature and the changing seasons – a job this little book does well as it follows the year in linear fashion – these poems address the very human issues of a year in a life. Hamish and his wife are expecting a baby and, thanks to the poems, we’re able to inspect they’re expecting. From January to December, the poet takes us on what he knows will be a very unique and often emotionally precarious journey.

There are bittersweet moments such as “in the charity shop / a Clanger and I / gaze at each other”- so extremely modern and so extremely British, yet so extremely embedded in the spirit of senryu. There are moments of deep yet carefully mined sorrow: “in a cold phone box / my wife’s sadness / muffled by traffic” and then refreshingly crystalline renderings of human nature: “I berate my friends– / then when my wife joins in / I defend them”. Thanks to the brief mutterings of these short poems we’re able to gain insight into the musings of a man who is being carried along by the tumbleweed of emotions that is his wife’s pregnancy. Pinballing from one emotion to the next, we get lost in Ironside’s foggy world via the clarity of his poetry: “at the doctor’s / her heartbeat crackling / like the moon landing”. There are quirky little illustrations, too, by Barnaby Richards, but not even drawings can beat the visual splendour of Ironside’s poems. As with the best haiku, the reader draws the picture.

For those of us who enjoy a good tale that tugs at the heartstrings, you could do worse than avoid the literary fiction section of your local bookshop and head over to the poetry shelf, where this little book may well be sitting (should your local bookseller understand the difference between quality poetry publications and The Nation’s Favourite Poems About Bathtime). If Basho managed to take us on a journey with his haiku, so Hamish Ironside has managed to twist our arms and persuade us to follow him down a very personal road, with not a moment lost along the way. And, even in its old age and thanks, perhaps, to the versatility of senryu, haiku, as a literary genre, has never been fitter.

Liam Wilkinson, September 2010