t. 97, Kokako 29, edited by Patricia Prime and Margaret Beverland

Kokako 29
, edited by Patricia Prime
and Margaret Beverland
Pb, 80pp. Available from
NZ$30 for 2 issues (one year); ISSN: 1177-0902
Reviewed by Mary Cresswell

  [Kokako 29 cover:
Hamarikyu Teahouse, Tokyo (2015)
by Sandra Simpson].

Kokako is a twice-yearly print journal of ‘haiku, tanka, haibun and related forms from Aotearoa New Zealand and around the world.’’ Reading this issue – as one who is meeting the forms for the first time in many years – is a great experience.

For starters, it is an insight into good editors at work. The poems are not grouped the easy way, by style or by author; they take off from each other, linking content with content to make an attractive whole, and reading the result is like walking through a master class in flower arrangement.

The takahē reviews editor’s brief for this review said: ‘please consider the role of Kokako and the people who put it together. It is a long-running effort… .’ So, Patricia Prime has very kindly agreed to engage in conversation about Kokako, and this interview follows:

Background from PP: Dr. David Drummond originally edited the poetry journal Spin and after he died p n w donnelly continued as its editor, along with several other editors over a period. The Spin orbital group was formed in which poets shared their poems with a small group of other poets for feedback and criticism. Through the orbit, our group decided to meet occasionally at the poet/editor p n w donnelly’s home for discussions about ongoing work.

MC: Kokako arose from the ashes of Spin – why did this come about?

PP: Spin was edited by p n w donnelly and the late Bernard Gadd. As they were receiving more and more Japanese forms of poetry, Catherine Mair suggested that haiku should be included and was cited to be guest editor. Catherine was guest editor of the first winterSpin No, 22, followed by the editions of winterSpin in July 1996 and July 1997.  The following year, she asked Bernard Gadd to join her as co-editor. It was then decided to publish two issues annually: the spring issue Spin and the winter issue winterSpin. There was some confusion with ‘winter’ from northern hemisphere subscribers. Bernard Gadd took over when Catherine Mair resigned and the name of the journal was changed to Kokako.  The first issue published traditional poetry and the second issue published the Japanese short forms of haiku and tanka. Spin eventually declined. I edited with Bernard, and eventually took over. The co-editors since then have included Owen Bullock and Joanna Preston. I have co-edited Kokako twice a year for 30 issues with a variety of editors and now with Margaret Beverland.

MC: How, as editors, do you see Kokako as part of the world haiku magazine scene? The scene seems remarkably co-operative to me – or is that just because I am not part of it? Certainly, the NZ journal comes across as a successful co-operative effort.

PP: We publish the Japanese short forms of haiku, tanka, haibun, rengay and cherita and several reviews of works of haiku or haibun in each issue. Kokako is the only publication in the Southern Hemisphere to publish these forms of poetry.

We now have 200 subscribers to the magazine from all over the world: NZ, UK, USA, Canada, Australia, Ireland, France, Malta, Singapore, Tunisia, Pakistan and Japan.

MC: Artistic covers are a feature of the journal. How are these images gathered?

PP: We have had covers – drawings or photographs from various artistic people in New Zealand, Australia and Great Britain. Most of them are friends, or those people we know are artists or photographers, who have been approached and asked for the use of their work.

MC: How are the poems gathered and selected?

PP: The poems are sent to the Kokako email address or by post to me. I make suggested selections and send these to Margaret for her approval or otherwise. Once the selections are finalised, Margaret organises them in the order in which they are to appear in the journal.

MC: I see differences in format over the years – are these different ideas about arrangement, or different strong-minded printers? Is identifying authors only by name (rather than having contributors’ notes) a haiku journal convention around the world? I like it, as it keeps focus on the poems.

PP: Over the years, each of the editors has brought his or her own ideas as to the focus and composition of the order of the poems. Names of authors and abbreviations of their countries are indicated at the back of the journal in order to save space. If contributors’ notes were added, it would considerably add to the cost of the magazine.

MC: Can you see differences/changes in the people who have read and submitted to Kokako over the years?

PP: The journal began with almost the entirety of work by New Zealand authors, but gradually more and more people have contributed their work from a variety of countries. The venue for publishing one’s work is limited to overseas journals and it is expensive to purchase overseas journals. Of course, we now have many internet journals to which poems can be submitted, but that wasn’t the case when Kokako was first published.

MC: I understand that this type of poem aims to show nature as something experienced in a flash of awareness, rather than a springboard for Romantic thoughts – how hard it is to maintain this perspective?

PP: Stanford professor, Steven Carter (eminent author of books about haiku) suggests that haiku has become the most popular poetry in the world. Haiku contest and haiku conventions are proliferating internationally and there are many publications which publish haiku. He says, “It’s terribly liberating for people. It’s perceived as being available in a way other genres are not.”

The essence of haiku is nature, human nature and emotions, captured in three lines or less, with a 5, 7, 5 rhythm (more or less). For more expansive expressions, there are the longer tanka (5, 7, 5, in 5 lines), or the lengthier haibun or tanka prose: prose poems which include either haiku or prose.

[Kokako 21 cover: nest (2013) by Kirsten Cliff]     

Mary Cresswell is from Los Angeles and lives on the Kapiti Coast. Fish Stories, a collection of ghazals and glosas, was published by Canterbury University Press in 2015. Field Notes, a satiric miscellany, was published by Submarine Books Mākaro Press in 2017.