The Coffin Path

A massive thank you to Presence for publishing my first haibun, The Coffin Path, which I’ve posted below. I usually wait until a magazine has been out a while before I put published writing on the blog, but it’s been a long time since I posted anything. First work got in the way, then a lovely holiday in Norfolk! However, I’m aiming to get back on board with the blog now, so here goes:

The Coffin Path

Grass, waist high this morning, and wet with last night’s rain. Brushing past it, my jeans wick the droplets from seeding cock’s-foot and brome. No one else walks this way. Behind the hawthorn hedge is the cemetery. People tend to use the other path, the one that the council mows. Or else they drive – ‘to save their legs’ my mother says. Some days she says she wants to be buried. Other days, she thinks she’d prefer to be cremated and have her ashes scattered next to a memorial bench. No rush to decide, I tell her, trying to make light of things.

elderflowers
pressed in her prayer book
a recipe for wine

*


I’m currently trying to decide on 3 ‘water’ themed haiku to send in for the British Haiku Society’s members’ anthology. I admit I’m finding it hard to come up with anything original (most of my water poems are about rain – something we could badly do with at the moment)! And that leads me to my second plug for Presence: Matthew Paul’s essay on Caroline Gourlay, which is informative, incisive and highly readable. Here’s Gourlay on rain (as quoted by Paul):

listen!
the skins of wild damsons
darkening in the rain

Paul’s right to describe this haiku as extraordinary: on the sound patterns imitating rain, the power of the adjective ‘wild’ (I’m paraphrasing his comments here). For me, there’s a sense of a secret being imparted in this haiku. Despite the exclamation mark, I imagine the speaker whispering, a slight hush in the voice, a sibilance replicated in ‘skins’ and ‘damsons’ that might also imitate the sound of rain that Paul mentions. I also sense a relationship being played out (between lovers perhaps, or just friends). I go back to the words ‘wild’ and ‘skin’. To see those damsons darkening is to be out there in the rain, getting soaked to the skin. The command ‘listen!’ implies the moment is shared, that there is someone else in the scene. And the reader? Well, the the reader is being allowed to overhear, to be included in the experience. Yes, it’s an extraordinary poem, and Paul’s essay makes me want to revisit Gourlay, which hopefully I’ll have time to do over the summer.
So thank you Matthew Paul, and thank you Presence!

Hummingbird

How lovely to be in this beautifully produced magazine. I had three poems accepted some time ago, but wasn’t sure when they were being published. Then, a couple of days ago, an envelope arrived containing this little gem of a magazine. Here’s one of my poems:

And here’s a couple of poems I’ve really enjoyed as I’ve been reading. The first, by Ron Scully, is the title poem for this edition, and the second, by Scott Metz, is intriguing in its use of space and line break. Hope you like them as much as I do.

Tinywords etc

It was lovely to get back from a music festival last weekend and see my poem (above) published on the Tinywords website. One of my regular dog walks goes past an apple orchard with some bee hives in the top corner, and I’d been trying to write something about them for a while. I’m so pleased that the editors chose it, even though I was a bit worried that ‘crepuscular’ might be too heavy and go against the ‘lightness’ that haiku strive for.
It’s been a strange week, creatively speaking. The highlight of the Bearded Theory music festival, for me, was Patti Smith, especially when she read Ginsberg’s ‘Holy’ – I think I’m right in saying it’s the litany that comes at the end of Howl. Such a brave and committed thing to do, to recite that to a festival crowd who, let’s face it, aren’t there to hear poetry, although maybe these lines held some resonance:
‘Holy the groaning saxophone! Holy the bop apocalypse! Holy the jazzbands marijuana hipsters peace peyote pipes & drums!’
You’d think, spending last weekend at a festival, then having the week off work (half term) I’d be buzzing with ideas. However, as I said, it’s been strange, creatively speaking. I’ve jotted down about four haiku, one I like, the other three contrived and not really going anywhere. I’ve had a guitar lesson, but not given over enough time to practise. I’ve walked the dog, but dutifully, rather than enthusiastically. I know that’s how it goes sometimes. You just have to accept the peaks and troughs. And I know you can’t force a poem, although I do believe you can facilitate it. Writing this blog post, I’m trying to do that, because I realise it’s important to acknowledge success, especially when you think you’re hitting a fallow patch. So, I’ll leave you with this poem, which is one of three (I was amazed when they accepted three poems) recently published in the May edition of the British Haiku Society’s journal, Blithe Spirit:

dawn across the allotments
beads of coral spot
on last year’s pea sticks

Here’s hoping for further inspiration!


thread of light

I’m not quite sure why I’m suddenly getting very elongated photos from my camera, but in this case it seemed to echo the mullioned windows so I’m going with it! We were away for Easter and the photograph was taken at Gainsborough Old Hall (near Lincoln). It’s a mediaeval manor house, billed as a hidden gem, although I have a good friend who lives in Gainsborough so I’ve visited it before. Anyway, this post isn’t about that, it’s a quick apology for not having posted much recently, and a quiet celebration of some lovely work that has caught my eye online – Bill Water’s ‘fairy doors’ and Marianne Paul’s collage haiga:

by Bill Waters

by Marianne Paul

Marianne’s poem is published on the Tinywords website and it appealed to me because I love collecting bits of unusual paper (I have a carrier bag full upstairs). I’ve done a bit of collage, but always thought of it as separate to haiku. Having seen her work, I feel inspired to do something similar, although I’m well aware that there’s a huge amount of time gone into her piece – it’s not just the making, it’s the thinking behind it. These days I’m wary of setting myself up to do something I don’t have time to achieve! Still, her work will stay lodged in my head until the right time comes along.
Similarly with Bill Water’s work, I can see there’s a good deal of time spent not only on the crafting of the fairy doors, and the haiku that go with them, but also positioning them, finding the right space/ environment/ backdrop (call it what you will). Bill has many poems on public display and I like the generosity of that.
Both of these pieces seem to have a playfulness about them. ‘Playful’ is a word that is often applied to art, suggesting some sort of trick, or in joke, but I think in this instance, it’s in the creative process itself; the fun that was had in the making shines through.
Well, time’s up. I promised myself I’d do this post quickly – it’s Saturday morning, there’s a week’s worth of washing to hang out, some spider plants to pot, a guitar to be played and a dog to be walked. Happy days!

Hunger Hill

Lovely to have this haiku sequence in the current issue of Presence magazine. The poems (well, versions of them) were written on a walk I did in late December, but I probably wouldn’t have got them together in their current form without some helpful advice from Presence’s editor, Ian Storr. I know how busy editors are, and they often run their magazines alongside many other commitments, so I am always grateful when they offer feedback. Anyway, the best way to support their endeavours is to subscribe – so here’s a plug: Presence, £15 for three issues, great quality haiku (plus tanka, haibun and reviews). I don’t usually post recently published work here as I’d rather let people discover it in their own good time. However, I’m showcasing this sequence in the hope that it will give the magazine a bit of publicity.

And regarding Hunger Hill, here are a few photos of the walk:

shortest day
hawthorn berries darken
in the cold

late pink waxcaps
shafts of light
across Hunger Hill

gritstone outcrop
two crows circle
the storm-torn ash

cattle graze
through rusted wire
the lowing wind

old salt road
filling our pockets
with stones

low water

It’s taken me a while to get round to doing this post, but here it is. During a poetry walk led by Steve Ely for our local arts’ week last Sunday morning, I produced the photo haiku above. It’s a while since I participated in this sort of poetry event and it was good to see some familiar faces again, and to hear Steve’s take on the local landscape. However, listening to poetry on the walk, and then at a reading the following evening, made me realise how far away from that sort of poetry I’d moved (given that I almost exclusively read and write haiku now). This is not a complaint, simply an observation. I enjoy words in a different way these days: they need to be less involved with the imagination and more connected to things, more in touch with the surroundings. And I need to feel that connection too. Walking helps. I do it daily, and would probably do more and go further if work/ life didn’t get in the way. I’ve been reading Santoka recently. I admire his dedication to the act of walking, of going forward, following the philosophy of ‘step by step, you arrive’. He spent years on the road; I’m lucky if I spend an hour and a half walking in any one given day. He bedded down in rented rooms of varying degrees of discomfort, whereas I can return to the comfort of my own home. There’s no doubt that some of the hardships he endured shaped his thinking and his poetry:


Into my begging bowl ,
too,
the hail.


Tossing away
a pried out tooth:
evening dusk.

Sumita Oyama trans. William Scott Wilson, The Life and Zen Haiku of Santoka Taneda (Tuttle, 2021)

There’s something about the immediacy of Santoka’s poems that gives me a little shiver down my spine. I can absolutely enter the poet’s world through his words. Perhaps this is lazy thinking, lazy living, enjoying the poet’s experience from an armchair rather than experiencing those trials for oneself. But at least it affords me some awareness.
I need to mention Dave Bonta’s work here. His recent sequences have given me that same shiver down the spine, that sense of experiencing what the poet is experiencing. Take for example, the following photo haiku:


I love the eeriness of the image, the sense of acceptance that he bestows on the fridge (of all things)! Dave is phenomenally productive. I admire (and envy) the countless hours he must spend outdoors, being in the landscape, being in the moment, distilling that into words, marrying words and image. If you don’t follow his Woodrat photohaiku blog, you should. And if you haven’t read Santoka, give his work a try, enter his world for a while:

Somehow, right here,
I want to settle down:
evening moon.

Sumita Oyama trans. William Scott Wilson, The Life and Zen Haiku of Santoka Taneda (Tuttle, 2021)

Reviews and readings …

Great to get a mention on Gregory Piko’s blog after my review of his book, Breaking My Journey, appeared in Presence last month. You can read the review on Greg’s website here. There’s also a really good appraisal of paul m.’s Witness Tree on his site, which is another recent favourite of mine.
I’d like to say a public thank you to Presence for sending me books to review from time to time, and for having faith in my haiku. Sometimes it feels like I’m working very much on the fringes (probably no bad thing). Lockdown enabled me to follow some new routes too, but that has also led to me feeling a bit out of the loop (again, that might not be a bad thing). Nevertheless, Presence has linked me to the haiku community and I really appreciate that sense of fellowship.
Another poetic community is The Poets Directory who have invited me to read at their ‘virtual stanza’ event. So:

Join us on Sunday February 13th at 19:00 for the December Poets’ Directory Live! Virtual Stanza event via Zoom. The event is part of the Poetry Society’s network of Stanza groups and brings poetry into your home every month. With readings from the excellent Chaucer Cameron, Julie Mellor, Damien Donnelly, Rory Waterman and Pascale Petit.

I have to say I’m in awe of the poets I’ll be supporting. Anyway, I’ll be taking a deep breath and hoping for the best! The free online event takes place on Sun 13th Feb at 7.00 – further details can be found here. Hope some of you can join us.