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Flash Fiction: Very Short Stories
Flash Fiction: Very Short Stories
by Tom Hazuka
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Some Gems, Some Rock, 20 Mar. 2015
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I’m a big fan of flash fiction. When executed correctly it reads as dense as poetry, offering the reader a different experience of prose altogether. Flash is also understandably a practice ground for many writers, being the perfect length for experimentation, and sometimes benefiting from the novelty of new directions being tested.

There are a few pieces in this collection that share these qualities, including Clasky’s dreamlike “From the Floodlands”, Joyce Carol Oates’ lustful “August Evening”, and Margaret Atwood’s fiction-cum-though experiment “Bread”. Sadly, many others seem plain and uninspired.

I was also under the impression flash fiction was something of a modern phenomenon, micro-writing to connect with the over-info-stimulated attention spans of a digital age. These stories were all copyrighted sometime between the 1950’s and 1990’s. That leaves me with the distinct impression of reading stories written without any specific model or market in mind, stories that don’t quite know themselves or what they are trying to be.

If you are looking for a more up-to-date, and more assured collection of flash fiction then I recommend Flash Fiction Forward, which is also edited by one of the editors of this volume, James Thomas. Not only does it have a greater depth of quality, but you get the feeling the fictions inside are the product of writers who know their aim and their audience far more clearly.

For this volume though, a plain-Jane three stars is just about fair.


The Red Moon Anthology 1997
The Red Moon Anthology 1997
by Jim Kacian
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars The Gold Standard, 19 Mar. 2015
Whether you are writing haiku, senryu, haibun, or essays on short form poetry, the Red Moon Anthology (RMA) is where you want to see your name. The 212 individual works in this year’s anthology were selected from 34 different magazines, 30 books, and eight competitions, all voted on from over 1,250 initial nominations, making this book the “best of the best” of the year’s haiku and haiku-related literature.

The haiku in the 1997 RMA are listed alphabetically, two to a page, which is just the right amount of space to appreciate them individually. Some online magazines cram their haiku in ten, twelve to a page, which reduces their visual appeal somewhat. Here the RMA has it just right.

The essays in this collection were a real treat. Kaneko Tohta writes about how a good haiku discreetly makes use of internal rhythm and rhyme to create the internal tension we associate with any other form of poetry.

Most of the great and the good of the haiku world make an appearance; we have Lee Gurga, Bill Higginson, Robert Spiess, etc. The asking price on Amazon for these anthologies tend to fluctuate a bit, so it can be worth popping over to the Red Moon Press itself, where they sell their own for $17. Whatever the price though, it's definitely worth bagging a copy. There's plenty of decent haiku inside. This one was my favourite:

autumn moon
sound of a rake
hitting a rock
(Jerry Gill)


101 Sonnets
101 Sonnets
by Don Paterson
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Praise for His Praise of the Sonnet, 14 Mar. 2015
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This review is from: 101 Sonnets (Paperback)
I’m not any kind of big poetry aficionado but I really enjoyed this collection of sonnets, selected and introduced by Don Paterson. His choice of one sonnet to a page is both attractive and inviting. Paterson himself describes how “the visual appeal of an approximately square field of black text on a sheet of white paper [is] impossible to resist… [it is] a mandala that invites our meditation.”

The sonnets themselves are prefaced by a nicely sized preamble in which Paterson eulogises about the form. In seventeen swift pages he summarises the sonnet’s main structural points: the length, the metre, the turn, and the differing rhyme-schemes developed in English.

The selection itself covers sonnets written in early English (translation of key-words provided) through to modern ones published in the 1990’s. I think Seamus Heaney’s ’98 sonnet, The Skylight, may be the most recent. Everyone will have their own favourites, mine was Wallace Steven’ The Poem that Took the Place of a Mountain, which surprised me given how I remember feeling pretty stumped when looking through a copy of Harmonium.

Anyway, for a book that works as both an accessible route into sonnets and also a hundred and one different poets, £7.50 makes for a bargain. In fact, I reckon you could buy two and send the other to someone you like. They’ll love it.


The Red Moon Anthology 1996
The Red Moon Anthology 1996
by The Red Moon Editorial Staff Jim Kacian
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars "The Spirit of Haiku is Democratic", 27 Dec. 2014
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So says Big Jim Kacian, the man in charge at Red Moon Press. The idea of the Red Moon Anthology is simple; take the best haiku published over the past year and put them all together in one place. The RMA includes submissions that have previously appeared in haiku magazines around the world, but can come from any source providing it meets the board of editors' gold standard - awesomeness. That means you're always likely to find something you haven't read before.

The haiku in this 1996 anthology are listed alphabetically, two to a page, and although the type has a large, blocky look to it, the pages are spacious enough to not cramp in one's appreciation of the micro-poems. The haibun feel a little unrefined, which probably reflects the relative (un)popularity of haibun writing at the time. Compare that to the situation now, with all the choice available on Contemporary Haibun Online and Haibun Today. Things have changed in the past 20 years.

The essays section I really enjoyed. There's a couple of longer essays on haiku in the US, and seasonality, but it's the smaller essays (reflection pieces really) that stand out for me. I always like it when someone with a clear mind goes all out and unpacks a haiku. It's a pleasure to be reminded how much a good writer can fit into such a small space.

Most of the great and the good of the haiku world make an appearance; we have Garry Gay, Alexis Rotella, Cor van den Heuvel, Michael Dylan Welch, etc. At the time of writing the asking price for this edition on Amazon was over £30. The Red Moon Press sells its own copies online for $17 so it makes sense to go there if you can wait the international shipping times. Whatever the price though, it's definitely worth bagging a copy. There's plenty of decent haiku inside, this one was my favourite:

Spring
The child sharpens
The green pencil
(elena mantu ciubotariu)


Masaoka Shiki: Selected Poems (Modern Asian Literature Series)
Masaoka Shiki: Selected Poems (Modern Asian Literature Series)
by Shiki Masaoka
Edition: Paperback
Price: £24.95

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sketches from Life, 27 Dec. 2014
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Masaoka Shiki (1867 - 1902) was the last recognised haiku master. With this selection of poems and 13-page biographical introduction Burton Watson tries to present a picture of why Shiki is so important to the history of haiku.

Watson introduces Shiki as a man who approached Western literary practices with “excitement and zeal”, but who still saw that with haiku “its very brevity is its strength.” Shiki applied the contemporary Western painting technique of “sketch from life”, which he called “shasei”, to develop his own realist school of haiku writing. The effect was to stop haiku from degenerating into “a little story”, and instead create examples “as starkly noncommittal as a Cubist painting”.

Shiki wrote over 25,000 haiku in his life, and Watson has boiled these down to a selection of 144 (plus 34 tanka and 4 kanshi). But that reduction doesn’t necessarily mean we are missing out. Watson is keen to emphasise that Shiki’s importance was his schooling of haiku into the modern world. He even states that many of Shiki’s haiku would have “little meaning for general reader”, due to their “strongly occasional nature.” What we have here are the haiku that have consistently been considered outstanding by Japanese editors over the course of the last 100 years.

The haiku themselves are printed two to a page in chronological order from 1891 - 1902. Quite often a two-page spread will cover a season for each year, nicely referencing the importance of seasonal context to haiku composition. Whilst the haiku are rich in flowers and fruits, there is also a definite sense of how the modern world was seeping its way into Japan. There are references to baseball and railways, and for some reason (as so often with haiku) this one stuck in my mind:

Spilling its pink
in the spring breeze -
tooth powder

Anyone looking to write haiku today should be familiar with the work of the four masters; Basho, Buson, Issa, and Shiki. If you’re after a quick introduction to Shiki and his haiku, you can’t get better than this volume. It’s a well-presented, good quality publication. Well worth the £15.


The World in a Flash: How to Write Flash-Fiction: Volume 1
The World in a Flash: How to Write Flash-Fiction: Volume 1
by Calum Kerr
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Flash-Fiction in a Flash, 12 Nov. 2014
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I enjoyed this snappy intro to flash-fiction. Dr Kerr writes in the style of a friendly tutor, guiding you through various explanations and exercises, each helping you feel more familiar with what flash-fiction is and what it can do. The end point is to get you writing pieces of your own and, if you like, submit them for publication.

The nine chapters are each between 10 and 15 pages long, making them perfectly digestible over the course of one sitting. You could probably take the whole book on in one day if you were so inclined, but many of the exercises are aimed at helping you reflect as a writer, both on what you do and what other writers are secretly up to. I found my pace of a chapter an evening felt just right.

All the basic points are covered (prompts, plot, dialogue, perspective, etc) and there are plenty of references to other books if, for example, you fancy a more substantial account of the importance of plot types or characterisation.

So there it is. If you have £6 and a few free evenings, as well as an interest in writing and how to get better at it, then this is the book for you. 5 Stars.


The End of History and the Last Man
The End of History and the Last Man
by Francis Fukuyama
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.38

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Newsflash! "Global War Triggered by Boredom", says Fukuyama, 2 Nov. 2014
Okay, maybe not in so many words, but all the way through The End of History and the Last Man, Fukuyama treads a fine line between reasonably lucid interpretations of political philosophy on the one hand, and then deliberately provocative value-judgments on the nature of man and society on the other. Maybe that's why it's been such a seller the past 20-odd years.

Fukuyama argues that History (always a capital H) is a Mechanism (capital M) by which liberal democracy overturns a series of irrational and inegalitarian forms of government (feudalism, monarchy, fascism, soviet communism, etc) to ensure the majority of people are provided with an equal opportunity to freely participate in a world of material comfort and mutual security.

Liberal democracy, according to Fukuyama, is the only form of government that rules for the people, as opposed to a range of otherwise authoritarian regimes that govern only to fulfil the megalomaniacal whim of a despot or local oligarchy. Only liberalism allows for the educated and egalitarian society required to rationally maximise the flow of technologies and goods demanded in a post-industrial state. Only democracy can facilitate and regulate all the different businesses and interest groups involved in a complex modern economy. Authoritarian rulers wither away before the task.

But, being a pessimist, Fukuyama doesn't see this as a good thing. The pay-off for stability is domestication, with men becoming hollow creatures addicted to material possessions and unable to aim higher than their lowest-common-denominator set of paper thin values. What man needs most, he says, is dignity and community, the very things that liberal democracy itself has paradoxically undermined through its equalisation of society.

That's what gets me about this book, it's a bit of a downer really, as if Fukuyama appalled himself in writing out the logic of his own neoconservative position. He calls people who are unmotivated to work, "dead wood". He talks positively about the "benign suffering" of working people required for swift economic development. He warns that if injustice is ever abolished man's life will "come to resemble that of a dog." He says things like, and I quote, "many European publics simply wanted [World War I] because they were fed up with the dullness of civilian life." He sees Humanity as mechanistically resolving itself into a cow-like condition of peaceful uniformity, where the only hope for Man lies in the rediscovery of self-identifying communities and the reawakening of his lost dignity and self-esteem at the End of History. Phwoar.

One thing you can't argue with is this book makes you feel very clever. It's simple to read but jam-packed with references to thinkers and philosophers through the ages; Plato, Hobbes, Kant, Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche, they're all in there. It's the sort of book you look good reading whilst at lunch in your city office, which, of course, is what matters most to us Last Men. I definitely recommend giving it a go. Don't worry, it won't turn you into a rabidly Thatcher-loving neoconservative Tory monger straight away. It's too much of a sad story after all.


The Penguin Book of Modern British Short Stories
The Penguin Book of Modern British Short Stories
by Malcolm Bradbury
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Book is Basic Equipment for Discreet Boob-Watching..., 17 Oct. 2014
...so says David Lodge in his story, titled Hotel des Boobs. The holiday voyeur, however, will find him (or her) self poorly served by this racktastic collection of short-fiction, offering, as it does, a more than distracting array of stories and styles.

We have the silent desolation of Elizabeth Bowen's Mysterious Kor thrust against the bustling wartime energy of Kingsley Amis' My Enemy's Enemy. We have affairs and unhappy marriages, spiteful rivalries and blackmail and sex. We even have one episode of man versus horse (thankfully sex-free). There's no soft and fluffy genre writing here either, just Class A literary Acapulco Gold. So even when Dylan Thomas' The Burning Baby touches on incestuous horror, and J.G. Ballard's Memories of the Space Age features a post-apocalyptic, time-leached Cape Canaveral, you never need worry that your all-important principles of belletristic taste be compromised. Believe me, these guys are professionals.

One thing that struck me as a little off was the title. The stories collected here were all originally published sometime between 1947 and 1986 (ish). That's a world before mobile phones, before the fall of Communism, before me; a strange world where all computers wrote in green font on black screens. Plenty has changed in the world since, so it seems a little misplaced to call these Modern short-stories. Perhaps The Penguin Book of British 20th Century Short Stories is somewhat less catchy.

Anyway, it's a small hang-up, and those old dudes could write. I mean, just consider the depth of this line from Martin Amis' Let Me Count The Times:
"He closed his eyes and he could see his wife crammed against the headboard with that one leg sticking up in the air; he could hear the sound her breasts made as he two-handedly slapped them practically out of alignment."
Amen.


Consider Phlebas: A Culture Novel (The Culture)
Consider Phlebas: A Culture Novel (The Culture)
by Iain M. Banks
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.99

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Consider This, Alien Bad Guy - *kakakaboom*, 6 Aug. 2014
Okay, no-one writing science-fiction is gonna be bagging literary plaudits any time soon, and, reading Banks, you're not going to find a Dalloway-esque stream of consciousness masterpiece. No. What you will find though is a stream of alien excrement, lasers, spaceships, spaceships smashing into other spaceships, and boobs; you know, all the grown-up stuff. And that's why his Culture novels are great. You've had a sod of a week in the office or wherever, last thing you want to do is punish yourself with the next volume of Proust's A la Recherche du Temps Perdu (as nice as a bit of early Modernist fiction is), no!, what you want is spaceships, and boobs, and spaceboobs with guns. Big guns.

Basically, Banks has left us some big old blockbuster movies in novel form, and Consider Phlebas is pure Hollywood. The first half of the novel is the protagonist, a dude called Horza, getting flipped from one frying pan to another (space battles, cannibalism, laser fights, fist fights, etc). Part of this seems to be about showing how much of a hard-core survivor he is, the rest is pretty gratuitous to be fair. But then Banks is also building up a new world (or galaxy) for the reader, a galaxy filled with all sorts of weird aliens and technology and the worlds they live on. That stuff takes time. The resolution however, set in a series of forgotten underground rail tunnels, is perfectly dark and well-paced, and several elements all come crashing in together on an already claustrophobic situation to... well, read it and find out.

This Banks guy had a good sense of humour. Consider Phlebas had me laughing at times, but not to the extent that the dark/bleak tone is undermined. This was the first Culture novel I've read, and I'll definitely be reading the others. 5 stars.


Japanese Haiku: Its Essential Nature, History and Possibilities in English, with Selected Examples
Japanese Haiku: Its Essential Nature, History and Possibilities in English, with Selected Examples
by Kenneth Yasuda
Edition: Paperback

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars What Your Grandad Thought..., 3 April 2014
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Yasuda’s aged but intelligent introduction was first published in 1957. Back then (dinosaur time) no-one but a few Beats were writing haiku in English, making Yasuda, together with H. G. Henderson and R. H. Blyth, a real pioneer of what has since become known as English Language Haiku (ELH).

In The Japanese Haiku, Yasuda describes the huge aesthetic potential locked up in this very short form of poetry. He justifies its brevity as being the time required for the writer/reader to elucidate, with one breath, a “haiku moment”. Haiku moments are supposedly brief observations of beauty, or experienced aesthetic wholeness, made accessible via the haiku writer’s use of simple, objective language and concrete imagery.

Yasuda provides in-depth analyses of several classic haiku, demonstrating how their seasonal references provide grounding whilst internal patterns of rhyme, stress, alliteration, and assonance are used to ramp up internal coherence and attachment to the subject. The best haiku, he contends, are every bit as complex as longer poetic forms.

So far so good. But, if you are haiku newby I wouldn’t make this the first book you buy. Firstly, Yasuda’s writing lacks pace. He has a tiring habit of quoting obscure 20th century lit critics at every point, breaking up the flow of his thoughts. Secondly, the haiku translations he provides are of his time. His use of the 5-7-5 syllabic form is more ponderous than poetic, his reliance on 1st/3rd-line rhyme sounds childish to today’s ear. English Language Haiku has evolved since the 1950’s; you only need to read Cor van den Heuval’s Haiku Anthology, or Kacian et al’s Haiku in English to see how dated Yasuda’s own attempts at ELH have become.

As I said, Yasuda was a pioneer, and people will want to read The Japanese Haiku because it forms part of the canon of ELH literature. It does contain lots of still valid points on traditional form, and his account of the development of haiku and the importance of seasonal reference remains interesting in itself. Definitely a classic to add to your collection.


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