Business in Eden

What a good find this was, in the Old Station bookshop in Wells-Next-The-Sea, Norfolk. I’ve been enjoying the haibun in it all week, and Cobb’s knowledge of the area and its history is stunning. Here’s a couple of ‘Norfolk’ haiku that appear together:

Suffolk and Norfolk
the boarder between them marked
by sheep on both sides

ewe and small lamb
the bleating of parted sheep
across the Ouse

I think the second poem is the strongest; it almost says the same as the first but not so overtly. However, in the context of the haibun, ‘Spring Journey to the Saxon Shore’, placing the two poems together gives the sense of immediacy. This haibun is a journal of a cycling trip, so placing the poems consecutively almost makes us feel that the first might have been the first draft, whereas the second is a little more crafted. Speculation, of course, but I’ve always been interested in the writing process, so I’m often on the lookout for little clues like this.

Another poem I like from the same haibun is this one:

day and night equal:
as celandines close
the stars come out

What I like here is how much is implied, rather than actually stated. The shapes and colours of both the stars and the flowers are there, but not in words! And in the context of the haibun they also colour the prose and bring the landscape and Cobb’s journey vividly to life.
As you might have guessed, it’s been a bit of a haibun week, both in terms of reading and writing. How fortunate I feel, to have reading and writing time. Two weeks to go before the start of term – and believe me it always comes around too quickly. So, I’ll finish with this fun haiku, taken from the haibun ‘The School Christmas Show’:

a child blows
into a balloon
the balloon blows back

Cobb, David, Business in Eden, Equinox, 2006

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.

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):

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!

Self isolation

Once again, I’ve been self isolating, after some cases of Covid in the class I support at the local primary. And once again I’ve found it really hard! Luckily I’m well, and my lateral flow tests are negative, so I should be happy enough, although working online all week and not not being able to go out, really doesn’t sit well with me. Acceptance, I keep saying to myself!

One good thing, however, is that it’s given me time to appreciate the garden, and the number of birds that are flitting about at the moment. There are lots of sparrows, like the one pictured above, busy nesting in the conifer hedge (and the roof space of the house). Their chitter has replaced the sound of children for a while and I’ve found myself listening to them more closely. There are visiting goldfinch too, and a blackbird’s nest in the hedge, quite a robust nest I have to say, pushed up between one of our conifers and the neighbour’s fruit cage. All of this has given me some diversion from the monotony of online marking, although it hasn’t inspired me to write many poems. I’ve scribbled odd things in my notebook though, and maybe this is a haibun, although I don’t think the haiku is strong enough:

… looking out of the patio windows, the grass pale because it hasn’t rained, and earlier, a goldfinch picking away at the curly branches of the twisted hazel. A cool breeze lulls the pine in the neighbour’s garden, cone-tipped branches, the place where the magpie likes to hop about, serious and concentrating on his next big find – a blackbird’s or a sparrow’s egg – and there’s a house sparrow, dipping and sipping the water from the birdbath, freckling the patio with droplets…

self isolation
picking up a dead fly
by its wings

Originally, I had a haiku about sparrows in the birdbath but that didn’t really convey the mood I was in (I’ve done a lot of housework this week, just to try and keep moving about, and the dead fly relates to that)!

To end on a lighter note, here’s the blackbird and its chicks. It’s a shame my finger somehow got in the way, parting the hedge, plus there’s the mesh of the neighbour’s fruit cage in the background, but it was fantastic to get so close. I didn’t want to go back and disturb the nest again, or alert the magpie to the fact that there are some young chicks nearby, so I’ll stick with these photos for now.

Counting down the days until I can go out for a walk again!
Stay safe everyone.