Walking into Autumn: a haiku collaboration by John Bird and Beverley George -reviewed by Patricia Prime

Walking into Autumn: a haiku collaboration by John Bird and Beverley George.  To order: B. M. George, PO Box 37, Pearl Beach, NSW 2256, Australia.  (2009) pp 33.  AUD$12.50.  Please add AUD$3 for Japan, NZ, and please add AUD$5 for UK, US, Canada.  Illustrated with b/w drawings by Carl Ripphausen.  Reviewed by Patricia Prime

Australian poets, John Bird and Beverley George explore new territory in Walking into Autumn.  Their writing entwines, echoes and engages with each other.  The result is an exciting literary journey into a variety of forms, styles and topics that haiku can take. There are haiku and senryu, divided into eight themed sequences in this beautifully produced booklet.  The number of haiku on each page vary from four to ten and Carl Rippehausen’s humorous black and white drawings are delightful.  As well as the Introduction, there is a page of publication credits.

In her informative Introduction, George tells the reader how these sequences came to be written:

We began by writing turn about in a sequence we later discarded, each taking  back our own haiku.  Next we wrote a parallel sequence, “The Counsel of  Crows”, in which the voice of the narrator in the left hand column of both pages  is separate from the mother’s voice in the right hand column.  From  there we  began again to write turn about in response to each other’s previous poem, as is  common practice for this genre but soon discovered we were most comfortable  when writing truly collaboratively, working together on each haiku and sharing  ownership.  With the exception of the haiku in “The Counsel of Crows,” each  formatted sequence is intended to be read from left to right and as if written by  single poet.

The collection is comprised of eight sequences; all of which have been published in journals, and many of which have received prizes.  The sequences are characterized as emerging from the encounter of two poets, meditating on the same topic.  This in turn combines to form a third element which transcends its component parts and, at its best, allows the reader a glimpse of what is behind appearances.  John Bird and Beverley George, both excellent poets in their own right, make plain that this endeavour gave them great pleasure.

How far the two poets succeed in fulfilling their ambition in Walking into Autumn is for the reader to decide.  The role of the reader is a crucial one in the creative completion of a haiku, and of a sequence.  Each individual haiku in a sequence should be able to stand on its own, blend with its partner’s haiku and form a complete poem.  For me, most of the sequences do reach their target and reward the reader with a complete experience.

Overall, the collection has an air of confidence that comes from these two experienced and talented haiku poets who have produced something genuinely worthwhile.

As the haiku are not attributed to a particular poet, acknowledgment can be given to neither poet.  Two of my favourite haiku from the sequence “Walking into Autumn” are:

the old school –
discussing Norfolk pines
no longer there

finding words
for the colour of things –
a skein of greys

“Market Day” is a senryu sequence and focuses on a theme with which many readers will be familiar:

the Salvo band
a boy wraps his arms
round a watermelon

jewellery display –
the stallholder’s navel
winks at me

“Aged in Oak” is a wonderful sequence about the forest, where we see the “filtered light,” “the docking saw” and the cooper making barrels:

split stavewood –
the cooper digs a splinter
from his thumb

forest clearing –
the splat of raindrops
on leaf litter

In “The Magpie Watcher” we see a man in a wheelchair observing bird life:

his wheelchair
crunches pine needles –
the cries of nestlings

shortening days –
through his open window
the dawn chorus

“Voices of the Rivers” is an historic piece in 3 parts about John Oxley, Surveyor-General of New South Wales, explorer; Leviston, Aborigine of the Ngamba tribe, blacktracker & bush constable and Daniel Watkins, convict prisoner, sawyer.

“The Builder’s Dog” focuses on something we are all familiar with “builder’s kelpie – / summer grasses stir / on the vacant lot.”  The last sequence is the “Winter Beach” “the beach path / weaves though bitou – / booming surf.”

The interplay between two of Australia leading haijin has produced a wonderful collaboration which can be enjoyed on many levels; as individual poems or taken as a whole in gorgeous chunks of poetry.

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