An independent small press poetry review

NHI independent review
Hub Editions
East Bank
Sutton Bridge
PE12 9YS
ISBN 1 903746 25 6

George Mann Publications
SO21 1ES
ISBN 0 954629 92 2
[available direct from the author at
5 School Lane
NG23 5BQ
for cost of p&p — £1.50 UK; US$6 cash RoW]

Hub Editions
ISBN 1 903746 48 5

George Mann Publications
ISBN 0 954629 97 3
[availability as per PAST IMPERFECT]
A subsequent collection is INSIDE OUTSIDE (George Mann Publications ISBN 978 0 955241 57 4)

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What is haiku? Is haiku relevant? Is haiku a Zen art form? Is there a western haiku? Stanley Pelter raises and discusses these questions in this 110 page book.

The book is arranged in a haiku inspired format, suggesting the 5/7/5 syllabic structure of traditional haiku,with 5 introductions, 2 forwards and concluding TEMPORARY FINALES.

Pelter is as concerned with the global context of haiku as much as he is with the art of its composition. PENSÉES is sprinkled with quotes from and references to traditional and modern haiku poets, western poets, philosophers, artists and gurus with information about history and contemporary society. Pelter provides quotes from other haiku writers to supplement his own version of haiku's rules of grammar, techniques of composition and theories of convention, tradition and esthetics.

Is haiku a Zen art? While Pelter suggests that the Zen moment is the acme of the haiku art and that believers in Zen Buddhism continue to write haiku, he states

i am not a Zen Buddhist priest
there is an edging towards an Occidental rejection of a poetry genre with a religiously slanted value system.
One then must wonder what meaning remains for a Zen art that has discarded Zen.
The fiction of logocentricity blindly galvanises actions between birth and death.
Pelter rejects the authority of Zen and all religion as a source for defining meaning. But he points to a compelling reason to adhere to the fundamental haiku art form:
Haiku denies the Self because it is a form apart, a different medium from the Self.
Given that the human being who authors a haiku poem begins as a Self, if Zen and other religions have been rejected as sources for self transcendence, how does the aspiring haiku artist approach this dilemma? Pelter points to the poetry of T.S. Eliot as one possible source for guidance. Studies in nihilism and existentialism may also help.

Pelter is not at a loss to provide a new operating ground as a replacement for the loss of Zen Buddhism.

Haiku manufacturers eschew mystery, beliefs, obscurity, infinity, ostentious anything, but seem comfortable incorporating 'the depth of emptiness', 'space of the void', 'inner metaphor that have interpretive effects on the reality of the image or event.'
Pelter quotes Rilke to describe haiku as
'the interior of interior languages'.
The association with Rilke invites comparison of haiku with the highly compressed language in the poetry of Celan. Haiku
has access and exit, substance and dissolution, anticipating death while deeply embroiled in life.
Pelter criticizes both haiku traditionalists for avoiding risk and contemporary poets who claim to write haiku but ignore its rules of grammar and its ethic of self denial.

How should an aspiring haiku poet approach the task of bringing the reader to the moment of Zen within the space of 17 syllables? Pelter says that phenomena lead to moments. A haiku phenomenology of perception reduces a named object to an entity in consciousness punctuated by emptiness. Pelter recognizes the difficulty of the task and acknowledges that in fact the ideal is seldom achieved in the practice of the art.

Millions of haiku have been written and fallen short of the mark. Pelter even credits the master Bashô with only a few perfect haiku.

reviewer: David Stone.

Haibun is a Japanese form of autobiographical poetic prose accompanied by verse, usually haiku. The haibun has evolved into many forms over the years, including the travel journals of such authors as Thoreau, Kerouac and Snyder.

PAST IMPERFECT, Stanley Pelter's collection of haibun is innovative and quite original in that it combines prose, haiku, drawings, a photograph and what the writer calls "impact" poems. The style of the haibun range from humorous to solemn, explore such themes as the self, the emotional nature of love, and the sense of dwelling in places both familiar and unknown. PAST IMPERFECT is the first anthology using graphics and other forms of media to reflect the moving personal and spiritual journey of its author. The author's authority cannot be challenged. He is Membership Secretary for The British Haiku Society and he has a number of books to his credit including SEVENTEEN IS SUFFICIENT, I'LL SEE U IN MY DREAMS, COMING ON LATELY and PENSÉES. A new book of experimental haiku and another book of illustrated haibun are in the pipeline.

Pelter's concepts are clearly defined in his introduction and his ideas are developed incrementally in the many haibun contained in this book. Pelter writes from the viewpoint that it is possible

. . . for a haibun, replete with haiku qualities, to be diminished by haiku. There is a danger that mental barriers are put in place and the permissible is coloured. Although a useful concept to establish specificity, any tightening of borders is an inhibitor. Standards and expectations are defined; formal, contextual, aesthetic possibilities limited. Lateral approaches stay hidden.
The author's style is, on the whole, informal, employing simple everyday language, but there is a nod in Joyce's direction with the use of interior monologue; one or two words sentences, such as in EVACUEE:
Dad. Mum. War. Long way South. Evacuee. Cool warmth Leeds.
and compound words, such as "timefillingquestions", "proliferatingawardceremonies" and "hooklineandsinkersyou". Beckett also plays a part as one of Pelter's forefathers: the poems have the same kind of resigned acceptance of fate, the aura of inevitability, the frisson of humour that overlies the sadness of so much of life's experiences. But there is also humour as in the haibun REFRIGERATOR, where the old mother has never owned a fridge and the son buys one for her for her birthday:
Slowly, carefully, gently, she places the 2/3s empty glass bottle of milk in the middle and pushes the door firmly shut, followed by two confirmatory checks.
There is an immediate, spontaneous whole, in many of the haibun so that they are like pictures seen in an art gallery from which layer upon layer of meaning may be gathered.

The visual element is a feature that affords unity to the haibun, adding to them a certain resonance. This can take the form of a haiku, different in some cases from the more traditional form, or it can become the shock element that binds the whole together.

As a well published poet, and secretary to The British Haiku Society, with an interest in many forms of writing, Pelter easily deals with the themes that are a natural part of life, i.e. waiting, birthdays, sisters, slow hazy days, and more. These, of course, are important to the poems, but what are central to the works are Pelter's own concerns: with what can be found behind the surface of everyday things (whether of ideas, people or history); and with the injustices of society.

THE LUSTING, THE LOVE, THE ONE WITH NO 'THE' is one of the many haibun which deal with these concerns, pointing out the cosmetic layers we as a society place upon such things as love, lust and passion, embellishments which lose their freshness over time.

In this glorious 6-page haibun we are taken from "freakish timeback" through "wild ecstasy" until "we close rest each other". Extra dimensions are added to the poem including witty humour and a love of word-play; for instance, when he talks about

Luxurious of inside fleshly and more softness, always in free fall mist;
the fact that the lovers still have time
before bath share gives new angles to squashed flesh;
Gloriously mixed messages gorgeously dissipate. Much unsure but edging close to. Where? Where there such love thing is for sure. Uncertain how.
All the haibun are worth reading and re-reading, but for me some work better than others. I feel Pelter's haibun are at their best when they are sharpened by his sense of the historical and his sensitivity to past and present injustices, as in his haibun EVACUEE, LONDON SLUMS, HEAD CASES, DSAD. FATHSER, PAPSA. My favourite is BAR-MITZVAH PHOTOGRAPH, a 6-page poem in six sections complete with a photograph of the poet's grandparents.

This book is beautifully presented, the illustrations brilliantly apt, the concrete poems intriguing. At first, one could be deceived into thinking PAST IMPERFECT is merely a book for dipping into, viewing the photo and artwork, with the poetic text too difficult to comprehend. However, like a theme that comes out strongly in Pelter's haibun, the surface belies the interior. The poems are worth a great deal of looking at, and reading into.

reviewer: Patricia Prime.

	mask thrown aside
	he puts on another
	and another
A MOMENT IS FOREVER is Stanley Pelter's third in a trio of books from Hub Editions, the others being I'LL UNSEE U IN MY DREAMS (or I MEET U IN THE INBEETWEENITEE) and PENSÉES. This third collection contains haiku, tanka, Pelter's artwork and a lengthy (17-page) INTRODUCTION. The book explores (like his previous books) Pelter's very personal view of the world — a view influenced by philosophy, symbolism, modern art and music. Often, because of this, his settings are enchanted, mythical, spiritual and mystical: hence the play with words, language, syntax, visuals, etc., which are also a recurring and constant theme of his other collections. Here is an example of this use of play in his work:
	and pink-swishy-dress
	clash of tulips
For this reason Pelter's style of predominantly introspective, self-reflective poetry isn't to everyone's taste, and while on the whole a large number of readers and reviewers are sympathetic to his work, a number are also unsympathetic.

Some of this criticism will be levelled at Pelter's introduction and is perhaps legitimate. In the first paragraph, for example, Pelter has this to say about his previous collections:

Both highlight some content areas beyond the traditional, important only in that they provide means to extend the apparently timeless haiku spirit into a contemporary zeitgeist. This matters, irrespective of outcome. Failure is an essential ingredient of the risqué, the tapping at taboos, and areas of useful subversion.
Sometimes the style of his introduction becomes hard to cipher, meaning crumbles as does the form and content. However, Pelter is open to experimentation and his words do contain a certain energy and intensity and his legitimate experiments with the haiku form attempt to find a way to explore his personal credos. But what is a reader to make of a statement like this?
In order to attain the clearer indirection and positive unclarity necessary, some everyday, imprecise language and space requires dislocation, made more dysfunctionally apposite. If disparate and fragmented experiences, language, thought, feelings are to be reconciled, or at least reconnected, sensibilities need to be more unified. Most learning results from the study of traditional thought, ideas and form. This need not always be a wall separating creative processes from others. Haiku can reflect its post-Marx, post-Freud, post-Einstein, post-modern and super-modernity state of understanding and temporary cosmological picture of each individual's relationship to the world. Incorporation of the unfamiliar is needed, and recognition of that which avoids or slows creative change.
Pelter's artwork must also be commented on. His taste and choice of cover design may not appeal to everyone with its vivid colour and comic caricature, but his drawings are often intriguing. Some of his drawings are from nature and illustrate his haiku, whilst others are more enigmatic; although all are illustrative of the text they embellish.

In Pelter's haiku sequences there is also a strangely a-rhythmic use of open-form and minimalism. Pelter is fundamentally a musical poet, full of rhythmically charged lines, but I feel the pauses and silences in some of his sequences could have been better used, e.g.:

	rinsed sky
	inside shadows
Compare Pelter's pauses and silences to more devout exponents of haiku such as Basho and Issa and you will soon note the difference. In Basho's poetry, in particular, the pauses, line-breaks and silences serve a distinct purpose, so that when reading the poem they enhance the musicality. In Pelter's poetry (and this is intentional, I imagine), they fracture the rhythm to give a staccato effect:
	the sweeps of.
	the dives and curves of.
	the follow my leader of.
	distant swallows
The weakness in Pelter's writing, however, is when he appears too clever for himself and the reader, e.g.: in the section entitled 3 WORDS where the poems consist of only three words — clever, perhaps, but is it poetry?





Another example of this playing with words is in the section LANGWIDGE AND SINTAX. The poems in this section are not particularly amusing or entertaining. Instead they become irritating, with their twisting of words, e.g.:
	twoday is birthsday
	wedsday thirstday
	duesday dyesday

		runs his numberers
		over her
		scent binaries
This cleverness also threatens to destroy some of the poems with its lack of seriousness and several of the poems soon degenerate into silliness.

In the section entitled SEX, Pelter takes the often contentious subject of sexual politics and reinvigorates it, giving it a new life in an unusual way:

	we making mingles
	inveigle fondle and slonk
	until the funsets
	in the luv drumgle
In these poems, Pelter displays his ability to use language in new ways and then base his poems around it. Here he not only delivers — he also makes it look easy. The language in these poems is perfectly judged with just the right amount of wit, irony and understatement.

But these quibbles should not distract from the fact that Pelter is one of the more innovative practioners of haiku currently writing in Britain. His output is prolific, his list of publishing credits impressive, and he is quite capable of producing some remarkably well-turned haiku. The section 4/5 LINES, I think, exemplifies his skills most noticeably. There are many fine examples here of four and five-line poems, e.g.:

	and chocolate

		always abroad
		but only in her head
		an out of date
				he looks left
				she right
				they turn
				to face away
				from each other
The section contains some exceptional and lucid images:
	first leaves
	turn and cropple

		Uplit bedroom
		moonlightless night
There is also a wit at work:
	I wait
	for her
	not feeling
	that old.
This is one of Pelter's trademarks; his poems are structurally sound and compact, and narratively driven, yet reaching beyond the merely descriptive.

Pelter it seems to me is primarily an image-based, craft-oriented poet and throughout this collection his images are often immediate and accessible, e.g.:

	lifeless moon
	stuck on a paper sky
	she adds stars
	sound of drizzle
	between power lines
	a fuzzy moon.
In fact once you've become accustomed to Pelter's idiosyncrasies, you'll soon enjoy this book and begin to see why his reputation is growing.

reviewer: Patricia Prime.

Pelter starts his INTRODUCTION berating the idea of book introductions, one of three reasons being they are often

used to justify and explain the contents (which should stand or fall by virtue of an independent balance).
He proceeds then with a heavyweight introduction. I'm asked "whaty'r reading?" — "a book of haibun" — "what's haibun?" Were I to read them Pelter's 12-page intro they'd be asleep in twelve seconds. I tell them — it is prose writing of various kinds interspersed with haiku. Pelter's intro leaves me wondering whether such a brief definition is open enough for him or already too limiting.

Fortunately most general readers skip intros and get straight into the book, so let's do so. In the first section we are taken into the childhood world of the author growing up around the end of WWII. He is the green-fingered one

	dug earth  moves from this place to that  after a shower  weeds stir
I dig and sweat and live in the ache of distant muscles. An aspiration to accept weeds as flowers falls on stony soil, preferring earth that, when crumbly touchy, is clean of them and richly browns piling up next to greens of buttercup grass.
One piece includes quotes from a speech by Atlee. Another is set out in the manner of a comic strip — a successful presentation — its possible unorthodoxy in no way mitigating its status as haibun, not perhaps that I'd want a whole bookful presented thus.

Anyone familiar with postwar Britain or with Jewish customs will find these pieces especially endearing. Others may find them a bit on the obscure side. He uses a number of dialect expressions [familiar to me as Yorkshire, though some of the geographical settings seem to be confusingly not Yorkshire] such as Cum in an' mek thissen at 'ooam which makes perfect sense to me. On page 68 is what I at first thought was a group of haiku or perhaps a solo renga but is actually a glossary for the preceeding haibun. Why this one piece needs one when other's don't I can't say, since he uses some obscure expressions in several other pieces.

One of my favourite pieces is EXAM RESULTS, a humorous take on the faceless jobsworths at the end of telephone enquiry lines. Section 2 of the book opens up with pieces on a variety of subjects, sometimes humourous, sometimes a bit surreal. Only the last piece is not haibun being all poetry and no prose, but does that matter? Section 3 seems not much different from section 2 other than the pieces are mainly shorter and there is some experimentation with layout so that a few pieces are visually enhanced.

Section 4 has about half a dozen examples of what I would class myself as poesie concréte — avant-garde or concrete poetry that relies as much on the visual appearance of the text as on the text itself for its impact. This is a genre that has been going since at least the 30s and was published quite often in the 60s and 70s by writers such as Bob Cobbing and others in magazines like Second Aeon and ones whose names escape me at the moment. If Pelter is claiming these pieces are haibun then I fear he is stretching the definition too far, but if not, then I've certainly no problem with including them in a collection of mainly haibun.

I just wish Pelter had made his INTRODUCTION an AFTERWORD instead, so we could have enjoyed reading the pieces first and worried about traditions and definitions later.

reviewer: Gerald England.