Christina Sng’s Catku

This is a review of Christina Sng’s book, “Catku,” from Allegra Press. To check out the book, and to purchase it, visit:

Though they say there are dog people and cat people, I believe that all of us see something special in cats: their individuality, their mysterious behavior, their love (given on their own accord), and much more.

Catku by Christina Sng is a celebration of and exposition into the lives we share with cats, and the inner lives of these felines through a mixture of light, meditative, and poignant haiku. There are standout haiku on every page, but the following are my favorite three from the book:

a world
of possibilities
kitten in a box

This points to several things: the possibilities of the power of innocence, the possibilities of the kitty tearing things up, and also imagining how the kitty will look in its future. Also, this haiku could be saying that our world is like a kitten in a box. It gives a lot for the reader to imagine and to ponder over. Notice also the great sense of sound with the use of “o” which gives the reader a strong sense of wonder.

meandering stream
our cat languorously
grooms herself

I love how the connection between the two parts of the haiku make one think if the stream is actually grooming its surroundings through its relaxed pace. People step on, spit on, and do whatever they like to Mother Earth, and the stream is in a sense cleaning and soothing the land. But on the other end, maybe it can be seen as the stream constantly purifying itself through its own movement. The sense of sound in this haiku is also intriguing, with a focus on “ea” in the first line, and “o” in the last two lines. The sound in the first line calls attention to the stream itself, and the sound in the last two lines lend to the slow pace of the stream.

white lilies
the empty pet bed
in the corner

Maybe the poet was sitting in her living room, and saw white lilies in her garden, and then turned to the white, empty pet bed in the room. White lilies commonly symbolize innocence and purity, and the empty pet bed gives a sharp contrast. This haiku implies that one of the poet’s pets died not long ago, and seeing the white lilies maybe brought back memories of her pet, in all its sweetness and emotional fullness. The haiku could also be a reflection of where the pet has gone in the afterlife, and that maybe there is a sense of hope in seeing the white lilies. Whatever the haiku brings to the mind of the reader, it has a clear mood that can be felt palpably.

My recommendation would be to read this book alone with your cat, sipping some tea. The haiku are quite striking, comedic, and at times rather emotional, so it is good to give yourself space to read it.

– Nicholas Klacsanzky (Ukraine)

Margherita Petriccione’s Acacia

the scent of acacia
carries it through the evening . . .
train whistle

© Margherita Petriccione (Italy)

The scent of acacia is sweet, and even candy-like. Acacia usually blossoms in early spring, and when one smells acacia, a sense of hope and renewal can be felt. Traditionally, this tree is found all over the world and especially in Australia. It has diverse mythological roots (playing an important role in both Egyptian and Judeo-Christian lore) and has been used as a source of medicine and incense. Acacia blossoms are also often associated with honor, resurrection, and immortality, and chaste or friendly affection.

The second line leaves a mystery for the reader—some suspense. The thought of the scent of acacia carrying something is intriguing in itself. The ellipsis is interesting in its use, as it shows the continuation of something being carried. The bright scent of acacia is contrasted by the evening and sets up the context for the third line.

The shrill sound of the train whistle is a sharp contrast with the scent of acacia. Train whistles can bring about many feelings: longing, nostalgia, a sense of distance, sadness, and more. With the mention of evening, I believe the train whistle represents more of a nostalgia or longing. What the nostalgia or longing is for is not presented in the haiku (which is good, as haiku writers like to leave mysteries for their readers), but one can guess that the poet misses someone deeply.

But by the scent of acacia carrying the train whistle (either physically through vibration, or metaphorically), there is a sense of renewal or even immortality of something or someone. This causes the haiku to be bittersweet in mood with the juxtaposition.

Looking at the haiku in terms of sound, the “s” sound runs through it strongly, which shows perhaps the wind and the scent of acacia passing because of it. Also, the “k” sound in “acacia” and “carries” brings more weight and starkness to the senses of the reader.

This haiku creates a poignant atmosphere that can be palpably felt. A sense of loss and renewal together, reading this haiku gives a real sense of life.

– Nicholas Klacsanzky (Ukraine)

Francesco Palladino’s Church

bells . . .
in the silence of the church
an ant

campane …
nel silenzio della chiesa
una formica

(Italian translation by the author)

© Francesco Palladino (Italy)

The first thing that got me thinking while I read this haiku was how bells were supposedly ringing in the church, and yet somehow the church was silent. Then I understood that ants can’t really hear. They can perceive vibrations created by sound, but not really hear in the sense that humans do.

Anyways, the ant is in the church for some reason. Did the bells call to him, like he was attracted to the vibrations the bells created? Probably not. The ant seems to be just there.

“Silence,” in the context of the haiku, has several implications. It implies that the ant is taking part in reverence or prayer. Also, it could imply that no one is in the church, except the ant. This reminds me of Saint Francis of Assisi, who encouraged animals to attend his services and sermons. Saint Francis even preached the gospel to birds when people would not listen to him. In this sense, the haiku could be reminding us of the universal spirit in all of us, even in an ant.

And maybe there is a connection between the ant and the calling of the bells. The ant, though small and not seen as worthy of being in a church, is showing humans how they should be: worshiping God and being spiritual. Though, of course, the ant is unaware that it is making this impression. In haiku, a common theme is that by things being as they are, the greatest truths are shown.

And finally, maybe the ant is representative of humans. Maybe we’re just ants in the eyes of God—small servants in a huge, divine play.

Now let’s look at the technical side of it. The ellipsis was used, to my knowledge, to show the swing of the bells and the continuation of their sound.

The pacing of the lines is quite interesting. It makes both the first and last line starker than usual by being so short.

In terms of sound, the letter “l” in “bells” and “silence” emphasizes a contrast and adds to the serious mood.

With overtones of religious and spiritual commentary, this haiku presents an observation through engaging pacing, sound, punctuation, and imagery.

– Nicholas Klacsanzky (Ukraine)

Jennifer Hambrick’s Shadow

Labor Day
the shadow
of Dad’s headstone

Presence 56, autumn issue, 2016

© Jennifer Hambrick (USA)

The commentary is by two writers: Jacob Salzer and Nicholas Klacsanzky:

Jennifer has provided a vivid haiku that resonates within us for a long time. We celebrate Labor Day as a day of remembrance, and in this haiku, it conjures up deep feelings of gratitude for the many years that her dad worked to support a family, provide a roof over her head, and bring food to her table. At the same time, Labor Day can stimulate sadness if we go back in time and recall the difficult, (and even harsh) working conditions of our previous generations.

This haiku provides that angle of interpretation: her dad worked so hard (in perhaps a difficult environment), his physical labor and/or environment may have (directly or indirectly) contributed to his death. There is sadness not knowing how old her dad was when he passed away, or exactly how he passed away. In that sense, this haiku may also shed some light on our current working conditions. How many workers are exposed to daily hazards, such as air and water pollution? How safe is our current work environment? “The shadow of Dad’s headstone” is symbolic of the length of  her dad’s life and of human life. Shadows are also cooler in temperature, and this only adds to the stark, vivid imagery.

– Jacob Salzer

To add to what Jacob wrote, the elongation of the shadow could have pressed the emotions of Jennifer when she saw it. The shadow could have been as long as her father was, and this could have magnified the sadness she felt from her father’s passing. In this way, “labor” could be a play on words, like the shadow was laboring to witness.

In addition, the capitalization of “Dad” strikes me as interesting. It seems to give prominence to him as somehow living, and in combination with “headstone” not just “grave,” makes this haiku more personable.

The sound of the haiku also enhances the mood. The letter “o”elongates the reading of the haiku, illustrating a laboring process. The letter “a” gives a starkness to the reading, and brings the reader more into the moment described.

The brief lines give this haiku a pace that is impacting. The last line being much longer than the other lines gives an impression of the long shadow. Also, with the lack of punctuation, the two subjects blend more together.

An emotional and surprising haiku, the author created a poignant mood and image without directly referencing it. This is not an intellectual haiku, but one that relies more on intuition to spread its meaning.

– Nicholas Klacsanzky (Ukraine)

Ken Sawitri’s Bell

abandoned house
I strike the bell
with my shadow

Wild Plum, 2.1, Spring & Summer Issue, March 1st, 2016

© Ken Sawitri (Indonesia)

The surprise in the last line is not just there for shock, but also for its image. It conjures a mood of intense loneliness.

“Shadow” could be physical or metaphorical. It could be a play of perception, or an introspection on the past or present misery that came to the house or the narrator.

The action (or imagination of the action) of striking the bell brings the house back to life, occupying it with sound. However, this occupation only increases its somber mood, as it is even more obvious that no one lives there anymore.

In reality, the bell probably was not rung, but the narrator only touched the bell with her shadow (showing that even in the possible reluctance to ring the bell, the shadow did it for him). Houses have characters and lives of their own, and only touching the doorbell with her shadow is in a sense displaying the lonely atmosphere the house emits.

The image of the shadow touching the doorbell also shows a sense of reflection about times past, and maybe that the narrator is thinking of how she could have done something different to change the situation that made this house abandoned.

Getting more into the technical side, I think the lack of punctuation adds to the atmosphere of abandonment. The somber pace of the lines also points to the mood.

The two most prominent sounds in the haiku come from the letters “s” and “o.” The letter “s” gives way to the sound of “shhh,” kind of like a shadow brushing up against the doorbell (though shadows don’t make sounds, but in our imagination they can). The letter “o” puts more emphasis on the melancholy mood.

Starting from an initial surprise, the haiku leads to introspection and wonder about the sad state of one’s past that led to the present, and what we could have done to avoid our suffering. Though the haiku appears simple, it revs up our imagination through imagery and sound.

– Nicholas Klacsanzky (Ukraine)