Simply Haiku: A Quarterly Journal of Japanese Short Form Poetry
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Autumn 2005, vol 3 no 3


Water Poems by Kirsty Karkow
Reviewed by Robert D. Wilson

It is not easy to write a book of oriental short form poetry based on a single theme. The poet runs the risk of being trite, wearing a subject into the ground, or in this case, watering the subject matter down until it becomes a weak tea. Suffice it to say, I perused Kirsty Karkow's book Water Poems with baited breath, expecting a Hallmark card collection of cutesy poetry using flowery words to say what has already been said before, and better to boot.

So much for prejudgement. On page 9, there is a forward by Michael McClintock. That got me interested. McClintock is no lightweight. He is respected world-wide for his knowledge and expertise as a poet, teacher, and editor of Japanese short form poetry. Score one for the forward. Edited by Cathy Drinkwater Better? Okay, another kudo. Cathy is also a respected poet and editor. These two people wouldn't lend their names to a book that is fluff. Score two for Ms. Karkow. Now for the meat and potatoes: the poetry.

solstice dawn
a flotilla of sea ducks
turns eastward

Fresh imagery. Excellent metre. Hmmmm, this is a good haiku. Okay. Looking good so far. Let's turn the page and see another:

we wade into the current
of a great river

Another good haiku. She's consistent. Again, fresh imagery. And with more than one layer of meaning. Suddenly I am wanting to read more, to wade with Karkow "into the current" of what she calls "a great

cast up by the sea
fragments of a wooden boat
on the white-sand beach
tides reverse like steady breaths
uncovering bits of dreams

This woman writes beautiful poetry. Both tanka and haiku. I can't comment regarding her sijo, as I know nothing about Korean short form poetry. Suffice it to say, they were beautiful as well. Most poets specialize in one genre. To specialize in three separate though related genres, that is commendable. And to write them well, that is more than commendable. Karkow is that rare kind of poet whose poetry will be remembered long after it has been read.

the circle of calm
after a seal dives

a net of sunlight
in the shallows

beside the lake
I wait for your answer
back and forth
the pink feet of a gull

treading glassy water

People new to the writing of haiku and tanka would do well to read Kirsty Karkow's poetry; to study her form, the way she expresses herself with words, the tightness of her metre, and the layers of meaning she puts into her verse. Japanese short form poetry calls for compactness, discipline, and keen observation...To amend a quote from the late classical guitarist Andre Seqovia, "It is the easiest poetry to write and the hardest to write well."

Kirsty Karkow's book, Water Poems (ISBN 0-9766407-0-8) can be purchased via Black Cat Press:

Copyright 2005: Simply Haiku