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Volume 35.3
Autumn 2004


book review

Together / Still, by Philip Rowland


Reviewed by Ce Rosenow

Together / Still, by Philip Rowland (Longholm, U.K.: Hub Editions, 2004). 55 pages; 4I x 8; paperback, perfectbound. ISBN 1-903746-34-5. ¥1000/£6.00/$10.00 postpaid (U.K. cheques, U.S. cash, or IRCs) from Philip Rowland, Seijo 8-23-21-510, Setagaya-ku, Tokyo 157-0066 Japan.

The subtitle of Together / Still is “a sequence of short poems,” and it accurately describes this collection. Haiku, tanka, and other short forms of poetry comprise a sequence that focuses on the relationship between a husband and wife, although it also includes other topics. As many of the forms are beyond the scope of this journal, this review will focus primarily on the haiku.

Rowland uses haiku to approach his marital relationship from a variety of perspectives and through a wide range of images and moments in time. Some of his erotic haiku are very successful, especially when read in the context of the complete sequence. They offer not just sexual imagery but a sense of the life force that is part of the larger focus of erotic literature.
Other haiku in the collection, however, are less successful because of problems with content and/or form. For example, many of them lack a haiku moment. There is no “aha” resulting from the combination of images. The poems don’t convey a moment’s true essence or, if they do, that essence is not especially meaningful. A number of the poems take the concept of the haiku as a playful phrase too far and are simply over-intellectualized renderings of a moment that, while cleverly worded, do not result in haiku. Many of the haiku also struggle with formal problems. For instance, they may lack successful internal comparisons or useful punctuation. The combination of problems with content and form results in an interesting challenge for the reader: it is often difficult to tell if a poem is a less-than-successful haiku or if it is simply a short poem rendered in one-to-four lines.

Together / Still functions best as a collection of short poetry. There are formal innovations, poetic insights, and some solid short poems. If readers are looking primarily for well-written haiku, however, they will be disappointed.



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