small town lazarus & teeth of the world – ebook release

Hi folks – here’s a quick note to let you know the ebook versions of my two new poetry collections are slowly filtering down to retailers – I see the Amazon territories and B&N are on it but other folks are lagging a bit.

Still, you can collect the slender teeth of the world for $2.99:

and small town lazarus is available for $3.99

if you’re more in the mood for free verse 🙂

Some links for print editions are back here from late last month – or you can sample some of the contents over at my Medium profile!

 

And once again, massive thanks to Vivid Covers (small town lazarus) and also Erik Ly (teeth of the world) for the covers!

old stone & between giants – print & ebook available now

Very pleased to announce that my latest poetry collection – a combination of two of my previous collections – is now available in print and ebook form from a variety of retailers 🙂 bgandos(small) Click on the image for some samples of the poetry and see below for a list of some of the outlets. Signed copies will also be available from me directly toward the end of the month 🙂

Ginninderra Press – print

Angus & Robertson – ebookprint

Collins the Bookseller – ebook

Amazon – ebook print

Barnes & Noble – ebookprint

‘7 Years’ Available Now!

For a little while now I’ve been working with Ginninderra Press on a new release – it’s a small collection for their new series ‘Pocket Poets’ – which features slender chapbooks comprising around 20 poems, with each title featuring a single poet. My entry to the series (#37) is called 7 Years and is something of a mini ‘selected works’.

rwsitelogo

For 7 Years I drew out a handful of poems from each of my preexisting collections and included a few uncollected pieces at the end too. It was enormous fun to put together! I love the idea of the Pocket Poets, it’s a great way to sample the work of a poet at an ace price and the neat ‘regular’ envelope size makes it so easy to ship!

7yearsPP

Once again, I’d like to thank Stephen and also Brenda for being so fantastic to work with and putting together a great release!

7 Years (and a lot of other great pocket poet titles) is available for $4 via Paypal at the Ginninderra website or by contacting me right here 🙂

Poem from ‘Old Stone’

old stone - sample

    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    

Next up, planning for this year (2014) will be old stone. Here I want to bring together a collection that features haiku, haibun and senryu, with both more traditional forms and experimental pieces. Not quite gendai haiku style, but hopefully pushing the form a little.

Here’s a piece that should appear:

 

Firenze

beneath the Duomo, cameras mill about like ants. their owners are most dutiful, clicking then looking. inside my skull are painted green and white stripes and when I look back, it’s with some terror. I don’t know if I wanted to go home. the air here is warm, eternal pink, as if trapped in a fairytale. the tourists are so alive, even as they kill the moment with SLR

grand bells
cross the rooftops
our hands meet

 

old stone – a mock up

Last night I spent some time messing around with covers, and came up with this for a future release. I don’t have a home for this MS yet, nor a solid title but I did have fun making it.

I wanted a thematic link between this and between giants because they both feature travel pieces, hence another image of the amazing Colosseum!

old stone - mock up

And here’s a couple of (possibly familiar) pieces that might appear in the collection:

shuffling over old stone
the echo
of tour guides

you are trying to sleep
and I am Coltrane’s sax
steeped in sound

en route

The ultra cheerful sound of The Asteroids Galaxy Tour chirps from the radio as our driver sets his tanned hands on the wheel. His sleeves are rolled up over the wrist, where a wealth of dark hair lives like localised forest. He does not move his shoulders much, but to roll them occasionally. Twice he gestures to the green range of Monte Cerreto, to tell us that Amalfi is on the other side.

He does not mention the columns of smoke that pour from different spots on the mountain, coloured slow. They grow as if exhaled by dragons buried deep in the earth, perhaps smuggled over Byzantine trade routes from beyond the sea. We stare out the window, catch glimpses of bright scales glittering on waves.

narrow way –
black garbage bags
tied to fences

An Introduction to Haiku – Compositional Techniques 2

Sense Switching

“Sense switching” is a great technique for surprising and delighting the reader. A haiku poet might use it to engage the reader by introducing something unexpected in the poem or to connect two seemingly unrelated events or images. You can do this through careful placement of information across the phrase and fragment. Here, sense switching is illustrated by what’s perhaps the most famous haiku of all, BashĹŤ’s “Old Pond” haiku:

old pond
a frog jumps into
the sound of water

—trans by Jane Reichhold

The poem starts off by focusing on an image—on the visual—but by the end, the sense has been switched from sight to sound.

Again, we see the use of phrase and fragment, where the visual aspect appears in the fragment and sound element appears in the phrase. What’s especially impressive about this haiku is the way the movement of the frog leads to the transition from sight to sound, neatly tying the elements of the poem together and avoiding the “list-like” haiku.

Here’s one of my own verses, featuring the same switch:

through the shutters
a single fly
carries the chug of boats

This poem, while far less graceful, uses different subjects but the same senses. The reader should go from watching the fly pass through the shutters to listening to the chug of boats enter the room.

Narrowing the Focus

“Narrowing the focus” is a similar technique, a change occurs over the phrase and fragment. A haiku begins with a broad description of a scene in the first line, then takes a progressively closer view of something over the following lines (generally the phrase portion of the verse).

This can be seen in the haiku by Graham Nunn, featured earlier in these posts:

distant thunder
each stroke of the oar
stirs the clouds

Line one establishes a broad view before we shift closer with line two, to the moving oar, before the poem finishes with a micro view of the oar tip, as it stirs clouds which have been reflected in the water. “Narrowing the focus” can be achieved if you think of your poem like a camera—begin with an establishing shot, then move to the subject for a close up, and finally an extreme close up where the most telling detail of your poem is revealed.

This technique is favoured by haiku writers seeking to establish an intimacy between subject and viewer, and can be useful in drawing attention to something seemingly insignificant—but which becomes poetic through either its position in the wider world or the lens through which the poet views it. In Nunn’s poem the ripple of the water is both a disruption of the image of the clouds, and a precursor to the approaching storm, a kind of calm that’s depicted as always fleeting.

Shasei

The last technique I’ll explore is Shiki’s theory of shasei. In shasei, the poet attempts to “sketch from life” by writing directly and simply, without a focus on other techniques. Instead, this approach attempts to represent an experience “in the moment”, or an image or a scene “just as it appears”. These types of haiku strive for simplicity and reject artifice (which is especially unappealing in a traditional haiku). Here’s one from Shiki himself:

spring day
a long line of footprints
on the sandy beach

—trans by Yuzuru Miura


It begins very simply by establishing the scene, written as a fact and showing something the writer has observed. This haiku could be reduced to very basic units; spring, day, footprints and sand. When the modifier “long” appears, a sense of time is introduced and we might ask ourselves, “who walked here before me?”

Actually, asking “who walked here before me?” is a useful way to describe the key to shasei—the directly observed experience. To write in this style, the poet personally experiences some sight or moment, then composes it “live”. The poet goes out and sees the footprints in the sand. This is part of the reason why the ginko or “haiku-walk” is popular: The poet actually goes outside, often into picturesque landscapes, and simply walks, unhurriedly, until they see a striking image.

If writing a haiku in the shasei tradition, remember to state what you observe in the simplest of terms.

Amalfi Coast – the ‘chug of boats’

Composing Your Own

Try these techniques and approaches in your own haiku and see if they make a difference. While there are many other techniques out there, and trying them out is important, it’s just as useful to keep your observation skills sharp and to be direct in your expression.

Haiku has a long history and its evolution has sometimes occurred simultaneously in multiple countries. What used to be scripture and what’s current practice can always be bounced off of each other—just as what works in one literary tradition or era won’t always have the same effect here and now.

  • And so instead of counting syllables, count a single breath: Does your poem feel like a mouthful? If so, maybe there are too many words.
  • Remember the phrase and fragment approach, which incorporates the important “cut”—but remember, not all cuts need to be sharp!
  • Remember also that the phrase and fragment is the hinge upon which the haiku’s prosody hangs, and it can further serve as a compositional framework.
  • Instead of searching for the perfect classical kigo, find a referent that suits your culture, your experience of the season.
  • And finally, instead of cramming multiple ideas, images or techniques into one verse, go for something that isn’t overburdened, and something that takes the reader somewhere unexpected.

Thank you

First and foremost to Graham Nunn, for allowing me to quote from his work, for teaching me so much about haiku, and for inspiring my thoughts on the techniques. I’d also like to thank Alex Cabal for helping to get the article up to shape, and for publishing it first, and to John Carley, renku master, for his valuable feedback too!

An Introduction to Haiku – Compositional Techniques 1

Haiku can be tough to write, but they’re worth the challenge, and there are a few techniques that can help during composition.

Juxtaposition

The first technique you can take advantage of—and if you’ve read haiku you’ll have seen it often—is the use of juxtaposition.

Jane Reichhold’s “phrase & fragment” theory is one of the most powerful techniques there is for using juxtaposition in a haiku. It has long been used in contemporary English haiku, and it’s also common in translated works. The theory suggests that a verse ought to be made up of both a phrase and a fragment.

The fragment appears at line one or line three and usually dispenses with articles, while the phrase is made up of the remaining lines—lines two and three, or one and two. You can see this technique in the above examples—some feature it more strongly than others—and you’ll also notice that the “cut” is a vital part of this approach. Below is an example of another BashĹŤ poem, where line one is the fragment:

waterjar cracks—
I lie awake
this icy night

—trans by Lucien Stryk

The lines dealing with his wakefulness make up the phrase of the poem.

Now while this theory is the easiest way to achieve juxtaposition, it more importantly allows the poet to avoid a ‘crowded feeling’ – which can happen when a haiku has too much going on—haiku with something vivid in each line. Haiku with three or more images (or ideas) competing for the reader’s attention often suffer from this feeling of crowded-ness, and they can become list-like. They can also lack an internal relationship between images and ideas.

Juxtaposition thus seeks to compare or contrast fewer ideas, instead bringing them together in a single image. In the following example, one location is described and contrasted with the people visiting it:

church steps
lead to a beggar’s cup
sunburnt tourists

If we were to rewrite this with a more vivid or ‘full’ image in each line, we might end up with something like this:

speckled church steps
a beggar’s empty cup
the chatter of sunburnt tourists

See how it’s become crowded with description, and how the relationship between ideas and images is now unclear due to the list-like appearance? Contributing to this new feeling in the poem is the removal of the phrase and fragment. Further, this re-written version is also too prescriptive in its description; it doesn’t allow the reader to infer information about the scene and its participants.

Here’s another haiku, written by Graham Nunn, featuring juxtaposition:

dawn sky
steam from the lamb’s
throat

As you can see, juxtaposition is achieved by setting one image or idea in the fragment portion and contrasting it with a second, often related, image or idea in the phrase portion of the verse.

By doing this, the haiku avoids overcrowding, retains a sense of lightness, maintains the “cut” or natural pause, and allows the reader to draw the two parts together in their mind. The phrase and fragment approach is also key to many other techniques and will improve the quality of your haiku if you’re facing difficulties keeping the haiku brief, or struggling with achieving either a satisfying internal structure or a sense of connected-ness between images.

(Mizusashi) Edo period waterjar (1615–1868)

Next – sense switching, narrowing the focus and Shasei.