Yvonne Adami reviews River’s Edge by Owen Bullock

Owen Bullock, River’s Edge. Canberra, ACT: Recent Work Press, 2016. ISBN:9780994456526

 

Yvonne Adami

 

Former editor of Kokako, New Zealand’s only haiku magazine, Owen Bullock has published previous collections of haiku, including wild camomile (Post Pressed, Australia, 2009) and breakfast with epiphanies (Oceanbooks, NZ, 2012). The title of his fourth collection of haiku, River’s Edge, suggests a journey, either embarking or returning; anticipation and apprehension. It evokes beginnings and endings. The haiku of Japanese poet, Matsuo Basho; (1644-1694) comes to mind, his extensive travel and his mortality poems.

There is stillness and quiet solitude in many of Bullock’s haiku. The gentle rhythms move from contemplation of the lives of elderly people in his care to observations of nature, where the two subjects often interact:

his voice younger

as he talks about

his wife

(4)

silence

after the wave breaks

silence

(9)

This interaction demonstrates the Japanese belief that humankind is not only part of nature, but that the two are one.

Using the themes of journey and personal memory, the haiku in this collection explore the depths of the self, the inspiration of the natural world, melancholy and transience. The following haiku demonstrate these themes.

nodding to her story

as if

for the first time

(6)

stillness after rain

a river

of sky

(31)

from his taxi

the loneliness

of night

(65)

meditation

I let go

what I lost

(50)

Owen Bullock’s haiku use imagery and memory to unlock the voices of the elderly. The tone and atmosphere of his poems create vivid moments of human emotion. The journey is of the everyday, of the lives of people and their engagement with nature. Bullock’s observations pay homage to the people in his care.

old notebook

his daughter’s

recipe

(23)

His poetry demonstrates insight, respect and compassion without sentimentality. The haiku speak of the impermanence of life reflecting the theme of transience in classical Japanese literature.

Other poems in this collection celebrate the sea, the land. And always, the river, the edge. They go beneath the surface leading the reader toward appreciation of nature and life.

dusk

birdsong pulls you

closer

(67)

 

 

Yvonne Adami’s poetry chapbook, TIDAL, was published by the Melbourne Poets Union in 2017. She assists in the organisation of literary events, workshops, readings and author talks in her local community.

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