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Review - 'Spinifex' haiku by Beverley George

Pardalote Press, 2006, 62pp

Beverley George is an Australian haijin (haiku poet) who has won numerous national and international awards. She was the editor of Yellow Moon for many years, is now the editor of Eucalypt, and is the current president of HaikuOz, the Australian Haiku Society.

Spinifex brings together over 50 of her haiku, 5 sequences, and a haibun. The sequences "Village Hall April 25, 2006" and "Scorched Garden" have an Australian flavour, while "Saihoji Temple" and "White Pebbles" feel more Japanese. Yet one does not have to be Australian or Japanese to understand and appreciate these sequences. The moments captured by Beverley's pen tap into experiences common to all human beings.

When entering a tunnel, the sudden blanket of darkness and the change in sound reverberation catch our attention, our very breath - just as a good poem does.

train tunnel -
the sudden intimacy
of mirrored faces

Amongst the mirrored faces is that of the poet, and also our own. These reflections bring us face to face with ourselves, often giving us a glimpse of something we had not noticed or had forgotten.

The brevity of haiku seems to make it a form particularly suited to express our varied and often contradictory responses to the cycle of life, including the passing into old age and then death.

under the wisteria
his old cane chair

Precise word choice evokes an image that stirs both a sense of loss and one of peace. In some of us it may trigger a feeling of comfort: the chair, though unravelling, is still here with us. For other readers this haiku may raise memories of similar moments, or an image of a possible future.

A nugget of humour, irony, or sarcasm can do the seemingly impossible work of undercutting while at the same time reinforcing the truth or 'sting' in a haiku.

failing eyesight -
we sing only the carols
we know by heart

In the following haiku, by choosing the word 'dummy' instead of, say, mannequin, the poet has us considering our complex feelings about work and retirement.

retirement -
an op-shop dummy
wears my suit

Some moments have a way of lingering in the mind, almost haunting us.

sudden chill
a swirl of fallen leaves
among the wreaths

Other moments splash us awake, like cold water on a tired face. A decent splash 'scratches' us right to the bones.

frosty morning
a lorikeet's call
scratches the air

In moments like the above, we jump out of the stupor that is everyday and routine. We feel. We become alive to the present.

Spinifex is a collection that demonstrates over and over again that a good haiku, despite its brevity and sometimes because of it, has the power to evoke layers of meaning and stir a reader's emotions, thoughts and memories. It is for readers and writers, both novice and experienced, who are looking for a solid foundation to ground their understanding of haiku and broaden their own writing.