Poetry Shelf Occasional Reviews: Doc Drumheller’s ‘Drinking with Li Bai: 100 haiku from China and India’

Drinking with Li Bai: 100 haiku from China and India, Doc Drumheller, trans Liang Yujing, Cold Hub Press, 2022

silk and poetry
in the local dialect
both mean the same thing

Doc Drumheller

This gorgeous collection, Drinking with Li Bai, is like a pocket guide book. Or an exquisite stand-in for taking travel photographs. Or sending memento postcards home. Doc Drumheller has written a sequence of haiku that capture moments, views, experience as he travels through India and China; visiting Enshi, Guangzhou, Guizhou, Suiyang, Shengze, Shanghai, and Beijing in China, and Odisha, Bhubaneswar, Kolkata, New Delhi, Varanasi, Agra, Bodh Gaya, and Allahabad in India.

Haiku is such a divisive genre among poets, yet a good haiku is a poetry treat. Haiku offer sweet morsels that delight the senses, that deliver visual impact, that place little poetic frames on the world, that favour economy, that open out onto richness of effect.

There are haiku rules teachers insisted on in school, that are still observed but often played with. Doc has generally followed the traditional rules: three lines, no title and a syllabic pattern (5 – 7 – 5). The haiku are translated by Liang Yujing with Chinese calligraphy by Dr Gong Qin. Many of the poems have been published in online and print journals, with a number appearing in Best NZ Poems.

climbing the Great Wall
you must go further to see
how far you can go

Doc Drumheller

Nature is a traditional haiku theme, and Doc celebrates the beauty of the natural world but also draws in people, things, actions, anecdotes, cityscapes, philosophy. The poems thread surprise, fascinations, questions, a personal presence.

Drinking with Li Bai, is a treat of a book, especially if you like to imbibe little poetry morsels across a week.

view from the turret
All Along the Watchtower
playing in my mind

Doc Drumheller

ancient turtle shell
a man builds himself a home
inside the fossil

Doc Drumheller

Doc Drumheller was born in Charleston, South Carolina and has lived in New Zealand for more than half his life. He has worked in award- winning theatre and music groups and has published eleven collections of poetry. His poems have been translated into more than twenty languages, and he has performed in Cuba, Lithuania, Italy, Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania, Japan, India, China, Nicaragua, USA, Mexico, El Salvador, and widely throughout New Zealand. On his travels Doc Drumheller has represented the Waimakariri District as a Cultural Ambassador to Enshi in a Sister City Cultural Exchange. He was appointed New Zealand Director of the Silk Road Poetry Project, and has represented New Zealand at international poetry festivals in China and India. He lives in Oxford, where he edits and publishes the literary journal Catalyst. Haiku from this collection were selected for Ōrongohau Best New Zealand Poems in 2018 and 2020. Election Day of the Dead, Seventy Haiku from the Americas by Doc Drumheller was published by Cold Hub Press in 2020.

Liang Yujing is a Chinese poet, translator and scholar who writes in both English and Chinese. He was born in Changde and studied for his BA and MA in Wuhan. From 2014 to 2020, he lived in New Zealand and completed his PhD in Chinese literature at Victoria University of Wellington.

Cold Hub Press page

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