Portsmouth Writers’ Season: Review of Plague by Sue Spiers

S&C‘s Paul Valentine finds much to appreciate in Portsmouth poet Sue Spier’s new book of haikus.

Like many, I have tried haiku and then left its comforting warmth. But I have a tremendous respect both for the form and for those who practise it. Having received an early copy of Sue Spiers’ latest collection, I realised  that it would be difficult to give any review due diligence without living with it for a while. It is just the way haiku is; in some ways less than a philosophy, more than a poem; a mindful dive into a changing world. And so it is wonderfully apt for our current moment that is being radically reshaped by the insidious spectre of the Covid pandemic.

The 100 days of ‘Spiro Haiku’ is an up-and-down rollercoaster ride of ordinary life in extraordinary times. Several themes do eventually break through; the need to indulge in calorific food:

                        resistance undone

                        buy pepperoni pizza

                        and what-the-hell sweets

Followed by the need to burn off said calories:

                        two and a half stones

                        target weight, stage one achieved

                        heart and mood lighten

The colour blue (and pink), Hula Hoops, the need for comfort, and the activities of cats and ‘randy sparrows’:

                        Sparrow lovemaking

                        She: making herself ready

                        Him: hop on, hop off

Spiers also addresses family, boredom, politics, poetry itself; uplifts and failures, daily life, memories, walks and nature. Indeed, there is a world here to enjoy, given that the real world is somewhat devoid of it. Whether consciously or not, she stretches the very idiom of the haiku and the music of the form, like a sonata, drives right to the 100thendpiece.

For me, there are some truly sumptuous images of nature:

                        Hillside walk, pine scent

                        Dry needles crunch under foot

                        Open cone spills seed

                        River runs through it

                        Coppiced walks among willows

                        Wild creature solace

These lines contribute to an authentic representation of life experienced through the lockdown. The haiku on sparrow lovemaking is beautifully crafted, creating a mind-picture that we all know – simple life, brilliantly portrayed. If I were to be nitpicky, which I am generally not, I would suggest that if ‘Plague’ were to go to another edition, a gap should be left between title and date, or italics be used.

The honesty and precision of these poems are bound to make this collection last over time. The insights offered by ‘Plague’ alone justify reprints. There is such self-effacing honesty in them:

                        Fish and chips for tea

                        Slathered in baked bean sauce

                        Knife and fork stomach

                        I write poetry

                        Working class mentality

                        Middle class pursuit

There is also the paused loveliness that gives an aching pull to moments throughout everyone’s life that can be enjoyed through some of these wonderfully framed vignettes:

                        Deep blue and huge sea

                        Rocks my boat, mesmerises

                        Mirror to the sky

                        White painted villa

                        Cerulean blue shutter

                        With low corona

                        Green canopy,


Sparrow song, stream xylophone

Tree breath

Mountains to oceans

Strange creatures between

Endless ways to be

I end with this one which I find devastatingly beautiful and wonderfully positive in spite of the conditions within which it was written. In this review I really wanted the poems to speak for themselves as much as possible, rather than for me to just prattle away. I do hope I have achieved a good balance across what is a rather open, and sometimes an extensive range.

So thank you Sue Spiers for brightening a rather dull time of it by opening a window of fine perspective and understanding. If you, reader, enjoyed these little gems half as much as I did, you can obtain the book ‘Plague: A Season of Senryu’ from Sue Spiers for the sum of just £6, a pound of which goes to the charity ‘First Story for Young Writers Programme’ in memory of Sue Wrinch.

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