Unless stated otherwise, all poetry on Swimming in Lines of Haiku is Copyright Kirsten Cliff and may not be reprinted in any form without written permission from the author. kirsten(DOT)cliff(AT)gmail(DOT)com

Monday, April 30, 2012

My Poetry Month Book Pick

...Is breath by Sandra Simpson (Piwakawaka Press, NZ, 2011)

I've admired Sandra Simpson's haiku for some time. She writes with such depth and yet lightness, with such delicacy and yet strength. I had struggled to explain to others the elusive quality which I found so appealing within Sandra's haiku, and only recently discovered the answer in John Carley's review of her book here

He says, of Sandra's haiku, “...we have effortless word choice, unforced structure, and a naturalness of subject that belies the deep resonance hovering just at the edge of perception. This is what Matsuo Basho called karumi - ‘lightness'. It is rare to see it done this well.” Many thanks to John for expressing that so eloquently, and to Basho, of course! 

Contrary to my absolute passion for haiku, I don't buy haiku books very often. But when I heard that Sandra's was coming out, I knew it would be of the highest standard and so did not hesitate in purchasing a copy (even though my health kept me away from the launch party last December). I wasn't disappointed.

Breath is a triumph from every aspect: the size of the book and the font, the cover design and title, the spacing and grouping of haiku. It all speaks of the karumi which Sandra conveys so well. I easily read it all in one sitting – something I've never done with a poetry book or journal before! 

I relished in reading some of my favourites, such as:

feeling it
not feeling it
the grasshopper
between my hands

(Daily Haiku, Vol 6: Cycle 11, 2011)

great-grandfather's diary
his sketch of an iceberg
fading away

(Third place, NZPS Haiku Contest, 2009)

                    pausing also
                    at the sacred matai … 
                    a wood pigeon
                    (First place, Kokako Haiku Contest, 2008)

Christmas recipe –
all the ingredients
except my mother's hands

(Ice Diver, NZPS, 2011)

And other haiku that were new to me, such as:

autumn leaves –
my forgotten chore
remains forgotten

(Kokako 2, 2004)

                    winter sun –
                    the time it takes
                    the sheet-scar to fade

                    (Daily Haiku, Vol 6: Cycle 11, 2011)

talking as though he
will die first –
magnolia petals

(first publication breath)

                    from the tobacco jar
                    last year's receipts

                    (HM, Robert Frost Haiku Contest, 2009)

As Sandra is also an accomplished photographer, I was pleased to see that she had used her own photos to mark seasonal chapter beginnings, as well as other points throughout the book. This is a wonderful touch that adds to the overall experience that is breath

I hope you'll purchase a copy of this first collection from an award-winning New Zealand haijin this National Poetry Month (US), especially if you don't already have a Kiwi poet on your bookshelf!

Ordering details can be found on the book’s website http://breathhaiku.wordpress.com/

Sandra Simpson grew up on a farm in Manawatu, New Zealand, and has been a journalist for over 30 years. She has lived and worked in England, Qatar and Lebanon and now lives in Tauranga in the aptly named Bay of Plenty in New Zealand.

Her first haiku was published in 1995 and since then she has gone on to win several international awards, has judged competitions in New Zealand and has had her work published widely, including in several anthologies.

Two of her poems feature on the Katikati Haiku Pathway (click here).

breath is her first collection and represents work largely from the past decade.

Sandra has kindly written a commentary of two of the haiku I chose from breath

great-grandfather's diary
his sketch of an iceberg
fading away

The diary actually belongs to my great-great grandfather John Simpson and records the journey he made with his wife and six children from England to New Zealand – leaving Gravesend in the Thames estuary on Christmas Eve. 1874 and arriving in Port Nicholson (now Wellington) on St Patrick’s Day, 1875.

Unfortunately, the extra “great” didn’t scan as well so was dropped. His diary is written in pencil so is, sadly, fading away. John sketched various things in his diary, including the skyline of the island of Tenerife in the Canary group, where his infant son Harry was buried at sea. In mid-February the ship began to meet icebergs and on February 18 John made a sketch of one.

The “fading away” was intended to apply equally to his hand writing as to the slow melting of an iceberg once it sets sail. The judge, Tony Chad, also saw the haiku as a commentary on global warming.

The haiku was written especially for the NZPS contest – coincidentally in November of that same year New Zealand was captivated by the sight of icebergs floating past on their way north to oblivion.

from the tobacco jar
last year's receipts

This may seem like a haiku that simply plays with words but I have written about what was, for me, a real event. My father kept important receipts in a tobacco jar and each year at tax time he would bring them out, unroll them and do the necessary paperwork. There is a strong debate among his three children as to who will inherit the china jar.

My thanks to Sandra Simpson for these insights, and for bringing us breath. A great end to a jam-packed Poetry Month!


  1. great post very encouraging her book is lovely
    cheers janet

  2. Thank you, Janet :)
    I don't do book reviews (if that's what this is) very often. But this book made me feel good from cover to cover and I just had to let others know!