BEFORE MUSIC by Philip Rowland

rowlandcover

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 poemTogether / 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.

pondmorning after

bright autumn noon  

  night drawing incrowdabsence rowlandcoverblurbs And, finally, some essays by Philip Rowland:

“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)

Mark Harris’s *burl*

I’ll admit that over the last decade there have not been too many haiku collections by individuals that have really excited me. A few now and then (Fay Aoyagi’s Chrysanthemum Love [Blue Willow Press, 2003], john martone’s dogwood & honeysuckle [Red Moon Press, 2004], and Philip Rowland’s together still [Hub Editions, 2004] come to mind) but not many, and not many, i mean, that have had a strong impact on me, or have sustained my interest.

Over the last couple years or so, however, there has been a nice cluster of haiku collections by individual poets that i think are outstanding (mostly at the hands of Jim Kacian’s Red Moon Press), collections i really enjoy returning to, find inspiration in, and seek out pretty regularly: Jim Kacian’s long after (Albalibri Editore, 2008), john martone’s ksana (Red Moon Press, 2009; out of print; but here’s a review), William M. Ramsey’s more wine (Red Moon Press, 2010), Fay Aoyagi’s Beyond the Reach of My Chopsticks (Blue Willow Press, 2011), and also her In Borrowed Shoes (Blue Willow Press, 2006), paul m.’s few days north days few (Red Moon Press, 2011) as well as his called home from 2006, and Peter Yovu’s Sunrise (Red Moon Press, 2010; out of print)—pretty much my favorite of these for its range of content, form, and techniques, and sucessful experimentalism (its melding of “tradition” with the “avant-garde”). The latest issues of Chris Gordon’s journal ant ant ant ant ant have been chapbooks of an individual’s work (Chris Gordon, Jack Galmitz, and Jim Westenhaver, respectively), and each has been well worth the waiting time between issues, and are nice to have close by. Two excellent, and important, retrospectives have also been published, Martin Shea’s waking on the bridge (Red Moon Press, 2008) and Robert Boldman’s everything i touch (Red Moon Press, 2011).

Mark Harris’s new collection, burl (Red Moon Press, 2012) is now among that group for me. It is outstanding in pretty much every way: the personal, oftentimes deeply intimate, emotive, and sometimes imaginative, poems; the range of poetic techniques and forms employed (the poems’ “internal energies”); the sequencing; and the excellent cover (utilizing Mark’s own artwork) which employs some of the “simplicity” haiku is supposed to be known for with a strong touch of modern complexity in execution (mirroring, in many ways, the poems within, and, i think, especially some of the content matter). Out of all the collections mentioned above, i think Mark’s work perhaps best displays the range of what is being done in English-language haiku today.

It all comes together amazingly. It’s a collection i’ve found myself going back to again over the last many months since it arrived, the poems offering new readings and new insights (and new inspiration) each time, always with something new to pick up on.

A powerful collection, and highly recommended.

8 poems from the collection:

Issue 12.3 of R’r will contain a substantial essay on Mark Harris’s burl by Jack Galmitz

BOOKS RECEIVED IN 2011

 

BOOKS RECEIVED IN 2011

Books (Poetry) 

Fay Aoyagi, Beyond the Reach of My Chopsticks: New and Selected Haiku, Blue Willow Press (2011), 930 Pine St., Suite 105, San Francisco, CA, 94108 (Attn: the author)

Robert Boldman, everything i touch, Red Moon Press, Winchester, VA, 2011

Jorge Carrera Andrade, Micrograms, translated by Alejandro de Acosta and Joshua Beckman, Wave Books, Seattle & New York, 2011

Gary Hotham, Nothing More Happens in the 20th Century, Pecan Grove Press, TX, 2011

paul m., few days north days few, Red Moon Press, Winchester, VA, 2011

john martone, handbook, (samuddo/ocean, 2011), 1031 10th St., Charelston, IL, 61920

john martone, mother tongue, (samuddo/ocean, 2011), 1031 10th St., Charelston, IL, 61920

Ban’ya Natsuishi, Turquoise Milk: Selected Haiku of Ban’ya Natsuishi, translated by Jim Kacian and Ban’ya Natsuishi, Red Moon Press, Winchester, VA, 2011

Books (Other)

Steven D. Carter (translator), Haiku Before Haiku: From the Renga Masters to Bashō, Columbia University Press, New York, 2011

Jeffrey Johnson, Haiku Poetics in Twentieth-Century Avant-Garde Poetry, Lexington Books, MD, 2011

Kaneko Tohta, The Future of Haiku: An Interview with Kaneko Tohta, translated by the Kon Nichi Translation Group (Richard Gilbert, Masahiro Hori, Itô Yûki, Koun Franz, David Ostman, Kanamitsu Takeyoshi), Red Moon Press, Winchester, VA, 2011

Kaneko Tohta, Ikimonofûei: Poetic Composition on Living Things, translated by the Kon Nichi Translation Group (Richard Gilbert, Masahiro Hori, Itô Yûki, Koun Franz, David Ostman, Kanamitsu Takeyoshi), Red Moon Press, Winchester, VA, 2011

Journals

ant ant ant ant ant 11 (spring 2011), Eugene, OR (edited by Chris Gordon). / SAY WHAT THE FENCE IS THE ANSWER by Jim Westenhaver.

ant ant ant ant ant 12 (autumn 2011), Eugene, OR (edited by Chris Gordon). / THE COINCIDENCE OF STARS by Jack Galmitz.

Books (Anthologies)

Lee Gurga and Scott Metz (editors), Haiku 21: an anthology of contemporary English-language haiku, Modern Haiku Press, Lincoln, IL, 2011