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Book Review: Armadillo Basket by Helen Buckingham

John McManus

Armadillo Basket by Helen Buckingham.
Waterloo Press, 95 Wick Hall, Furze Hill, Hove, East Sussex, BN3 1NG.
Trade Paperback, full-color cover, 6 x 9 inches, 70 pages, £10.
Contact: waterloopress@hotmail.co.uk

Before I begin to talk about the poetry, I must say that Armadillo Basket is a beautifully produced book. The team at Waterloo Press have created one of the most elegant and stylish books of poetry I have ever read.   

Helen Buckingham’s seventh collection of poetry is a blend of haiku, tanka, haibun and longer poetry. It is divided into four sections:

  • Green Light
  • Summer is a Hospital
  • Tea Dancing
  • Snowed In

Each section starts with Helen’s longer poems, then the tanka, followed by haiku and concludes with a haibun.
Helen’s years of haiku writing is apparent in her longer poems with the wonderful imagery she conjures between lines that are full of action and emotion. One of my favourite poems is this one which illustrates that point . . .

Just Another Chainsaw Massacre

They’re cutting back the lime outside:
Its leaves obscured a burn-out truck.
They’re filming something True to Life.

We’re watching as it bites the dust.

Helen’s tanka are amusing, relatable episodes from her life, which mainly deal with her relationships and her outlook on life. With skill and craft she takes us along on a journey through her exterior and interior life:

my new boyfriend
to salute a magpie
— I tell myself that’s just how it is
in the sticks

listening to The World Service
I tell myself
it’s not as good as it was
— or perhaps that’s just
The World

Helen’s haiku are certainly unique. That her haiku remain fresh after several reads is one of her biggest assets. As well as three line haiku, Helen has a number of one line haiku in the collection, which further shows how flexible she is as a poet. Here are some of my favourite haiku:

the point of white before Christ muscles in

mackerel sky
I dream
of galleons

date over
he shakes the petals
from his parka

snakes and ladders medusa holding me steady

Before I read Armadillo Basket I had no idea Helen wrote haibun, and judging by the standard of the four that appear in the collection I’m now aware that I have been missing out! I would like to show all of them, but this one is my pick of the four:

White Bull

The night his father died he recounted a legend that had been passed down on his Native American side. Something about being ‘chased by a great white bull’. ‘A symbol of imminent death’, apparently. Only I could have sworn he’d said ‘ball’. I began telling him about a programme I used to watch as a child, where this ultra-smooth guy, dressed head to toe in black, was pursued week after week through a surreal North Wales village by an enormous ‘white ball' . . .

He poured himself another vodka red. Reached for the remote control.

clear night
the space
between us

I would say this book is a must have for fans of Helen’s work, and if you haven’t already aquainted yourself with her work then I recommend you buy a copy of Armadillo Basket.


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