Frogpond 32.1 • 2009

Museum of Haiku
Literature Award

Haiku & Senryu

Revelations Unedited





Tan Renga

Book Review

From the Editors



J. Barlow & M. Paul
Wing Beats" British Birds in Haiku

Barlow, J. & Paul, M. Wing Beats: British Birds in Haiku. Foreword by S. Moss; illustrated by S. Gray. Liverpool: Snapshot Press, 2008, 320 pp., perfect hardbound. ISBN 978-1-903543-24-5, 40 USD postpaid. <www.wingbeats.co.uk>

by Carole MacRury, Washington

Based on my deep respect for the editorial taste consistently demonstrated by Snapshot Press editor, John Barlow, and because of the skill and verbal dexterity of his own poetry and that of the poets he publishes, I wasted no time in ordering my copy of Wing Beats as soon as it was announced. I will admit to having the tiniest of misgivings as to whether a book devoted entirely to bird haiku could maintain my interest. It was a needless worry.

At the least, these poems offer an intimate look at the particular behaviors and traits of birds in their natural environment and, at the most, they soar beyond the bird into the ethereal; that indefinable moment in haiku when the essence of something deeper, something shared, is felt.

More than half of the 323 haiku are written by the editors, but the book also includes the works of 34 other poets culled from over 3000 submissions. The skills of these poets more than meet the high standards of the editors. For example, the following two haiku, through aural and visual suggestion bring us the wing beats of two swans and the listening found in the silence between man and bird.

summer clouds—
two swans passing
beat for beat

          John Crook

     keeping silence
each tilt
      of the sparrow’s head

          Keith J. Coleman

All of the haiku are based on actual experience to ensure an authentic record of wild bird activities. However, many of the poems move beyond simple bird behavior into human nature as well. I particularly enjoyed the euphony of these two poems through their effective use of alliteration and onomatopoeia.

     pipit song . . .
the cyclist’s
     creak of breaks

          Keith J. Coleman

sick in the dark—
a twitter from inside
the martin’s nest

          David Cobb

Occasionally I came across words that may be more familiar to British readers, but this fact rarely interfered with my reading of the poem. And in fact, a quick glance at a dictionary informed me that the breakwater that plunges into the ocean outside my window is properly called a “groyne.” And a “mere” (small lake or pond) is not too difficult to deduce within the context of the poem—especially to those who are familiar with Tennyson’s line, “sometimes on lonely mountain-meres / I find a magic bark.” I believe most writers appreciate discovering new words.

groyne’s end:
a pair of cormorants
hang out their wings

          Matthew Paul

darkening mere—
a heron coils its neck
the last half inch

          David Cobb

Here are two wonderful exceptions to the standard three line haiku:



          John Barlow


teals whistle over the seawall long black freighters

          Matthew Paul

Poets new to haiku are often told that haiku uses ordinary language. But, the poetry in Wing Beats reminds us that it’s not ordinary language but the best language that is required to transcend the ordinary into the extraordinary. Here are a few personal favorites that do just that.

through the curls
of a crow’s feet . . .
deepening twilight

          John Barlow


daylight fading . . .
a curlew’s cry
lengthens the hill

          Caroline Gourlay


stalking . . .
     bubbles gather
          around a heron’s shin

          Keith J. Coleman

twist through starlings . . .
distant rain

          John Barlow

Not to be rushed is the foreword by Stephen Moss and the introduction by John Barlow and Matthew Paul. Both will appeal to poets and non-poets as well as bird-watchers worldwide. The foreword offers insights into our love of birds through the history of British verse and the introduction shows the essential qualities that comprise the best of Western haiku while keeping to the spirit of its Japanese origin. The appendices found at the back of the book offer a wealth of detail for those wishing to learn more about haiku and/or birds through scientific names, and/or the seasonal aspect of haiku both in Britain and Japan.

Snapshot Press has once again lived up to its reputation of bringing to the market books not only tasteful in design but with contents that rise to the level of excellence found in all Snapshot Press publications. This book would make a unique and special gift to all who appreciate the joy of discovery and shared experience with the natural world.