EVENING BREEZE – the anthology of the inaugural Janice M Bostok haiku award

A review

It struck the entire Australian haiku community as a fitting mark of respect when paper wasp announced its new prize – the Janice M Bostok haiku award – as a replacement for the Jack Stamm Haiku Award, for years our pre-eminent haiku competition. If she were able to read Evening Breeze – the anthology of finalists for the inaugural contest bearing her name – surely Janice herself could only be delighted.

The late Janice M Bostok (1942-2011) is revered as Australia’s pre-eminent haiku poet, with over 4,000 poems published across a career spanning over forty years. Her supportive approach as an editor and mentor was widely valued.

Some might regard it as ironic, however, that the first year of a competition designed to commemorate this icon of Australian haiku has seen all of the prize-money being sent off-shore!

Both the winner and the second place-getter – André Surridge and Sandra Simpson – are New Zealanders, although André hails from England originally. Third place has gone to Chen-ou Liu, a Taiwan-born Canadian.

André Surridge’s stand-out winner captures the instance when a gust of wind makes a flag appear to offer its stars to the sky on nightfall:

evening breeze
a flag releases
its stars

Chief judges Jim Kacian (revered American haiku expert) and Cynthia Rowe (president of the Australian Haiku Society) note that this piece could even be seen as ‘shaped’, with its subject-matter of a fluttering ensign potentially emulated by the haiku’s centred/ symmetrical configuration.

Not only have Jim and Cynthia been prepared to give second-prize to a powerful one-liner by Sandra Simpson – they have noted how its form directly mirrors its content, with the solitary line of text as straight as a gun barrel. From the rifle concerned, a threatening noise emerges – its safety catch being freed – suggesting a far louder, more dangerous sound to follow:

hoar frost the click of a safety being released

is as chilling as its weather is icy; as ominous as it is onomatopoeic.

While the judges see shape-on-the-page as a possible link between the first two place-getters, one could scarcely anticipate other coincidences – the winner and the runner-up not only come from the same country overseas: they both focus on moments of release so much that each uses that very same word!

A sizable group of five Honourable Mentions includes Australian poets Quendryth Young , Jan Dobb and Mark Miller.

The overall impact of Evening Breeze has been enhanced by deft editorial work on the part of Jacqui Murray, making the anthology more varied and less predictable in texture. Conventional page numberings have been replaced by sub-headings, beginning with the most successful entrants, before grouping other finalists into a dozen sets of six or so poems per page. These seem to be gathered according to season or mood, theme or generic variation.

Equally the judges deserve credit for their readiness to recognise innovative forms of haiku. Such openness to experiment might even make Evening Breeze influential in its legacy, encouraging other haiku practitioners to pursue a greater diversity of poetic approaches in future, stretching the boundaries of a tradition-based genre.

Interspersed between conventional three-line pieces (justified against a left-hand tab, with punctuated breaks), readers will find two-line haiku, as well as others which are either centred or stepped in lay-out. A few finalists pivot around a punctuated kire placed in the middle of a line, rather than at its end.

Duncan Richardson’s haiku could easily have been rendered in a more expected three-line format – instead, a wider space has been left blank in mid-line, maintaining a sense of linkage while leaving readers room to wonder:

over the roadworks
an unfinished moon

After taking third place with “snowy dawn”, Chen-ou Liu extends the notion of a one-liner to a one-worder:

olddogandiautumnmist

The preponderance of single-line haiku in Evening Breeze (six in total) is perhaps attributable to the involvement of Jim Kacian, a leading exponent of this most challenging branch of the haiku craft. As added evidence of Jacqui Murray’s guiding touch, the booklet concludes with a set of four striking pieces of this kind, three of which evoke emotional attachments to female figures with a delicate wistfulness:

wind-swept snow the same memory of her

Seren Fargo

The recurring sense of loss which haunts this haiku reverberates against feelings of sorrow and threat inherent in various winter-based haiku across this anthology, starting with Sandra Simpson’s “hoar frost”.

As a sign of growing sophistication with the handling of kigo in English-language haiku, seasons apart from winter – likewise linked to emotional states – are also skillfully inferred in various poems throughout Evening Breeze.

In fact, seasons have been named explicitly in only four of the 77 finalists chosen.

Yet such overt labelling of a season can still be arresting:

a winter
dawn – the last stars are
shivering

John Carroll

With enjambment between the first two lines redefining this moment, Carroll’s piece might act as a companion to Surridge’s masterful winner. While André’s haiku gives a sense of evening in transition, John’s focus of course is on daybreak instead. Yet the two pieces share more than an eye for stars, whether emerging or disappearing. Both also show a level of charm; a suggestion of human empathy to offset the physical coolness of night; plus that elusive capacity for surprise integral to the best of final lines.

A thought-provoking haiku from Lorin Ford likewise ends delightfully. As the sense of sight tricks the observing mind, the instance of transformation and realisation captured here is akin to that magical moment caught in “evening breeze” itself:

hail storm over
a white horse quietly
becomes the sun

Although Evening Breeze’s cover design is minimalist, there are strengths in its lay-out internally.

Photographs of natural settings complement the poetry throughout the anthology.

Crucially, the haiku are presented in a clear font, pleasing to the eye, with winning pieces reproduced in larger point-sizes.

Most importantly of all, every poem showcased is worthy of selection as a finalist.

Including the text of all prize-winners and Honourable Mentions, Greg Piko’s posting on this website http://www.haikuoz.org/2012/12/janice_m_bostok_award_results.html#more notes that Evening Breeze can be ordered from Jacqui Murray at jacquimurray@bigpond.com.

Single copies cost AUD $10, or $25 for a set of three. Prices payable for overseas orders will depend upon international exchange rates/ postal charges.

This anthology is well worth reading, thanks to the expansive approach taken by the contest’s judges, combined with the editor’s shaping hand, not to forget the resonant writing offered by a wide variety of entrants.

A piece of Janice M Bostok’s visual artwork – featured in Evening Breeze – shows a beaming female figure, rendered in an authentically Japanese style. If she were able to read this fine publication, derived from a major new haiku contest named in her honour, no doubt Janice would bless it with that same broad smile!

Rodney Williams

Rodney Williams edited an Atlas Poetica Special Feature entitled Snipe Rising from a Marsh: Birds in Tanka at the start of 2012. Early in 2013, his book A bird-loving man: haiku and tanka will be available through Ginninderra Press.