Blowing up Balloons – review

A collaboration between Vanessa Proctor and Gregory Piko, Blowing up Balloons, is a collection of 90 haiku and senryu about the experience of becoming and being a parent. The moments shared relate to the stages in a child’s life from the first hint of pregnancy:

distracted the curve of a new moon

to the early years of childhood:

bathtime / they re-enact the sinking/ of the titanic

walking home from ballet/ my daughter pirouettes/ through the blossom

These sensitive and tender poems evoke a sense of wonder and amazement that bringing a new life into the world gives rise to, and of the joy that can be found in the presence of these little human beings entrusted to our care. The opening haiku perfectly encapsulates this: 

no-one knows/  how the world began/ tending a seed           

No attribution is given to the individual haiku. We are left to guess which poet wrote each one. This creates curiosity, for this reader at least, that perhaps results in a closer and more interactive reading with the haiku. Although I can see good reasons for not giving the author’s name or even using different fonts to distinguish one from the other, (particularly as a design consideration), I would have liked to see a list at the end of the book accrediting the haiku to their authors.

The poems are set out as a sequential narrative. This allows us to follow the stages from pregnancy through to birth and the first days of new life as a continuous story. This linear set out is interrupted when a girl baby suddenly enters. At this point the narrative begins to move away from the initial specifics of the new baby boy to a world that includes the wider family and their interactions with children. There are moments that portray a child’s imagination, curiosity, anger, tantrums and tears. There are glimpses of loss, disappointment and aloneness as well as the fun and excitement that are part and parcel of the childhood experience. The final haiku is particularly poignant, alluding to the transience of these halcyon years:

children’s voices/  from the cherry orchard/     …summer dusk

The tendency to want to follow the storyline by reading from beginning to end can distract from the full presence of individual moments. I would encourage the reader to also pay attention to each poem at random to discover the many nuances that it holds. A poem like

leaving hospital/  the jacarandas / in full bloom

 carries multiple allusions when extracted from the context of going home with a new baby. It can readily apply to any one going home after a stay in the confines of a hospital, or even after visiting a sick friend, into the fullness of a flowering spring day. It evokes a sense of relief and promise. The moment is especially significant here with its sense of completeness and elation as a mother takes her newborn into the blossoming world for the first time.

The book’s subject provides context in a way that adds meaning to many of the poems but, without the reference point of parenting, a few might be obscure or create different interpretations.

around dawn the dinghy breaks its moorings

 

how to say no to my friend/              with the weak wrists

 

all through the night/ the sound of rain / on the skylight

Blowing up Balloons is, according to its subtitle, intended for parents. In fact, it deserves a wider audience, being the work of two highly proficient and much-acclaimed poets. Those new to writing haiku can learn a lot from studying the way these poems are crafted to achieve impact, creating worlds of meaning with minimum words. It is an elegantly presented collection, easy to hold and to read, with bright primary colours on the cover and delicate, whimsical abstracts of balloons interspersed throughout. Blowing up Balloons is indeed, as the cover blurb says, “the perfect gift for all those who know the gift of parenthood.”

Blowing up Balloons: baby poems for parents by Vanessa Proctor and Gregory Piko (Red Moon Press, 2017)

ISBN: 978-1-936848-78-2
Purchasing details: https://gregorypiko.com/buy/