Friday, February 22, 2013

Before Music: Philip Rowland - Small Press Friday

Before Music by Philip Rowland does not give up its secrets easily and that, of course, is not necessarily a bad thing. It might even be thought of as a bit of a mystery wrapped in a conundrum, not unlike one of my favorite poems gathered in this new collection

inside an envelope
inside an envelope:
   funeral money

If you have never witnessed something like this, either at a funeral or a wedding, trust me, it does happen. The poem itself captures Rowland's core approach, an approach shared in spirit with the best classic haiku. Show, don't tell. 


Because, if poetry is going to do what it needs to do, you, the reader, need to occasionally do some of the heavy lifting. When you start from this premise, the secrets begin to gradually evince themselves (though you might want to sleep in late the next day).

The collection is divided into 5 sections, each taking its name from a poem in that section. A sort of resounding, perhaps? You must make out for yourself what that might mean. I'm still doing some heavy lifting of my own.

One gets the sense of the poet working through some things or, perhaps, some single, overriding thing. The landscape of the work may be thought of as mental, or pre-conscious, or unconscious (I believe it has helped me immensely in reading Rowland that I was simultaneously re-reading Georg Trakl), or, as I'd prefer to think of it, as an attempt to capture with words the prelinguisitc state. 

What state might that be? Well, I can tell you it ain't Jersey.





This is somewhere we all, hopefully, at one time in our lives or another, have resided.  And, yes, this is modern haiku (if anyone wants to parse definitions, go ahead, I'm listening and I'm also aware) and I like it very much, resonating as it does the state which it describes.

There is much here that has to do with sound, and a lot that touches on music.

Prelude in C -
winter sky 
deep in the piano lid

There is a poem by Mary Oliver that resides somewhere in the neighborhood of Rowland's landscape here, a poem called "Music Lesson." Maybe it is another story altogether, but it surely comes from the same book.  Speaking of which, the poem which follows Prelude:

In the hush before music
the music of who
I am not

Yes, we know this landscape, of Rowland, of Trakl, of Oliver, of other, of not-other.

There is another piece that hits a similar note:

a Bach fugue
hands separately 
trying to make sense of
the rainy season

The landscapes are distinctly interior, but they are most definitely exterior, too. The interiorizing of the exterior, the exterioring of the interior? 

Among the final poems that conclude Before Music, this monostitch fills out the whole lost chord:

what's left of the light the music absorbs 

Much the same could be said of other themes which sound throughout this 50 or so odd poem collection, most notably rain and autumn (even the book's cover, pictured above, is part of the thematic whole). I will illustrate with 2 more, 2 of my favorites, from this fine, provocative collection of new haiku: 

      leaves . . .
mn    in autumn

Did I mention how very important sound is to Rowland? Yes, I thought so. May I confess, most miserably, how very, very much I wish I'd written this poem ... mmn? I always love "leaves" as both a verb and a noun, especially in a poem of 6 nearly words. And this one, this one:

leaf I leave
on the floor of
my childhood

I would say we need a scholar here to deliver the definitive treatise on time, that is past, present, and future time, in classic haiku, only I'm too busy brushing away the tears.

How about you?

Before Music is published by Red Moon Press, it fits perfectly in the hand, perfectly in the mind. Get it here direct from Red Moon Press.

After all, it is Small Press Friday.


Photograph by E. W. Kelley (1908)

deutzia blossoms--
the children play
translated by David G. Lanoue


Send a single haiku for the Wednesday Haiku feature. Here's how.

Go to the LitRock web site for a list of all 158 songs


Ed Baker said...

I really like/appreciate your "take" on Philip's book ...
precisely as
poems just seen out of his book
; everything interpenetrating
; simultaneously

He is ALSO a fine editor:
a cpl of my pieces were along for the ride in his issue 3, march, 2006

is he yet in Tokyo? Doing N O O N ?

Peter said...

Aborted Haiku Valentine

A bowl of brown leaves
a breeze’s breakfast
at the end of the yard
no need for legs
just flap your arms
the sun’s in my lap
but my back is freezing
twice a day whether
I notice or not I’m
re-born for a minute
a music starts up
that’s my cue
then fades away
one more word
gets forgotten
sleeps waiting
to be recalled

Constance Campbell said...

Thanks, Don. Very refreshing. I love the contemporary haiku world and am always heartened to read that others do, too. Stay warm!

Alan Summers said...

Thanks for the review. Books of this quality show what is really meant by modern haiku.


Philip Rowland said...

Thanks for the kind comments, and thanks again, Don, for the review. To answer your questions, Ed: yes, I'm still in Tokyo, and while NOON (a journal of the short poem) has been inactive for the last few years, I am hoping to restart it later this year - probably online, with occasional (perhaps annual best-of) print issues.

Ed Baker said...

an on-line N O O N ? The 100,000 online mags from what I see out there,
have ALL become out-of-control Monster "Magazines" with little-to-no
editorial "balls" and for the, whoevers who
are driving the thing -
an all-consuming endeavor
and a plethora of non-stop submissions of (mostly) drivvelthatlookslikepoems
that are accepted and 'published'
ad nauseum...

I, for one, look forward to what you do (if you do) especially if it continues along the line of your paper N O O N.

the one-issue paper mag that I did (DOZEN) I limited to 13 poets included AND it was "submission by invitation only" .... and there was no-room-at-the-inn for any

Greg said...

This sounds like a great book. Don, thanks for reviewing it -- you have a definite knack for reviewing haiku collections, and it helps me put together my wish list!

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

Ed, glad you liked ... I see you got an answer ... and replied.

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

Peter ... uh-huh

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

Cheers, Constance.

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

Alan ... you are so right ...

Issa's Untidy Hut said...


What fine work ... so my many thanks to you. It was a pleasure, truly.


Issa's Untidy Hut said...

Tip of the hat, Greg. Thanks for the very kind words.

Philip Rowland said...

No worries, Ed; the journal will remain decidedly non-monstrous, on-line or off! And thanks for the encouragement.

Ed Baker said...

well Phil
these days I don't sweat the small "stuff" or worry about much more than
whether or not I'll have a decent dump
today... or tomorrow .... or the day after that.

seems to me that the better editors and/or publishers have and have always have had a stable of writers/artists that have kept them busy...
those writers who have taken chances and were/are not concerned with rejection (well, mostly)

hope that you do not mind that I just
found that CC interview that you and Cid and Shizumi did in 2000 and
passed it along to someone who is
willy-nilly re-writing an history of...

the flashpoint folks are near me... Carlo and I went to school together at U of Md in our 1962-1967 period

He lives about two miles from me.