Philip Rowland has a new, and deeply moving, collection out, entitled BEFORE MUSIC (Red Moon Press, 2012). It contains, i think, some of the very best and most intriguing haiku in English published over the last decade.
Rowland’s first collection, Together / Still (HUB Editions, 2004), was rousing in that it presented a mix of both haiku and short poetry; not unlike the journal he edits (and hopefully resurrects soon), NOON: journal of the short poem. Together / Still was awarded the 2005 Mildred Kanterman Memorial Award for Best First Book of Haiku.
BEFORE MUSIC, however, is all haiku, in all its free-wheeling forms and contemporary directions. Many of its poems, i’m proud to say, first appeared in R’r and MASKS. Rowland’s poetry very much encapsulates and connects to so much of what he has written about in essay-form over the last decade: haiku as poetry, the avant-garde, western poetics, Language poetry, surrealism, the Black Mountain poets, “the opacity of language,” and experimental Japanese haiku; all in all, the playfulness (or, for some, troublesome blurring) of short-form and minimalist poetries with haiku poetics, all, however, sincerely connected to, rooted in, and informed by our collective normative English-language haiku and traditional Japanese past. At times, Rowland makes terrific use of naked seasonal phrases and words; in the context of the more experimental flourishes, they are refreshing rather than cliche, especially so in the sense that what follows and/or is juxtaposed with them is always different than expected—flashes of a kind of Neoclassicism, if you will. So, to say the least, BEFORE MUSIC has tremendous range, but also exquisite balance, making it, for this reader, all the more satisfying and noteworthy.
Here are some ku from the collection, followed by the back cover, and links to some of Rowland’s excellent and inspiring essays which have had a definite influence on English-language haiku composition since their publication, and are always worth revisiting.
“Avant-Garde Haiku: A New Outlook” (Frogpond 25.2, 2002)
“From Haiku to the Short Poem: Bridging the Divide” (Modern Haiku 39.3, 2008)
“Surrealism & Contemporary Haiku -or- Surreal Haiku?” (R’r 9.3, 2009)