cloud drift

Despite the sugar pink font, this wasn’t intended to be a romantic poem – or an apology, although it can be read that way. I was messing about with the camera, trying to see how good a shot of the sky I could get, and the way the cloud was drifting made me think about time passing, about the way life flies by while the small but important stuff gets overlooked. Then we changed the clocks yesterday. Time passing again. Anyway, this is the result.

Half term is over now and I’m back at work tomorrow. It’s been good to have more time for poetry, and I’ve been playing my guitar a lot too – the next big hurdle is to learn the notes (as the very accomplished and oh so patient guitar tutor put it yesterday ‘you’ve learnt how to ice the cake without learning how to bake it’). So, if the blog goes quiet again, you know what I’m doing (A to G on 6 strings – surely I can get my head around that)!

mushroom season

It’s half term this week – yippee! I didn’t think I’d got much to blog about, but then I read a comment on Dave Bonta’s blog, and it prompted me to get started. You see, Dave’s Woodrat photohaiku site has become an integral part of my day. No matter how busy I’ve been, I’ve always found time to look at his photo haiku. And I’ve come to realise what a big influence his work has had on the way I think about haiku, and how I produce them. Those who know me well know that I don’t use a mobile phone. Well, guess what? I do now. And I bought it mainly for the flexibility of having a camera on me more often when I’m out walking. Like Dave, I do a lot of a walking. Much of my walking feeds my writing. I feel I’ve let things slide a little over the last couple of months, writing-wise, but having time off work has reminded me that the lack of writing is only due to lack of time. So, this week is a bit of a luxury: time to practise the guitar, time to read, time to write.
The photo haiku above is the result of a walk along the old railway line that used to run through our town. The mushrooms are porcelain fungi I believe, and they were growing out of an old railway sleeper, so the ‘long sleep’ is a bit of a pun, although what I wanted it to refer to was my lack of poetic output recently, which has also felt like a bit of a long sleep. I was going to have the phrase read ‘their long sleep’ because ‘a long sleep’ seemed less strong, but that would have meant I was referring solely to the mushrooms, and I wanted the poem to have a wider resonance. So, there’s a long explanation for a short poem. Of course, if the poem were better it wouldn’t need any explanation, so I’ll keep writing, and keep alert to my surroundings, and I’ll keep reading Dave’s blog, which is so fresh and full of surprises it never fails to inspire me.

by the canal

coffee by the canal
the time it takes
for goslings to swim past

Just had a lovely weekend break camping in Hebden Bridge. Beautiful sunny days – despite sun cream and hat I still managed to get sunburn! The nights were chilly of course, but we had plenty of blankets. We don’t use a campsite but pitch in a farmer’s field with use of the outside loo and tap. Very basic but all the better for it. Eggs for breakfast from the farm (laid by white star hens) then boots on and out for a walk.
We did a few good routes this time, taking in Hardcastle Crags and, across the valley, Stoodley Pike. Coffee by the canal was a great way to relax in between, and the Fox and Goose, a community owned pub just out of the centre, was as friendly and welcoming as it always is. Due to lockdown we haven’t visited Hebden as frequently as we would have liked this year, but it was good to be back and spending time in some of our favourite places. Despite many changes, it’s a town that, for us, never loses its charm.
I took the recent edition of Blithe Spirit with me and read most of that, in between walking and scribbling. The haiku (above) was actually inspired by a pair of Canada geese chaperoning 11 goslings down the canal. Of course, by the time I’d rooted about in the rucksack for the camera, the moment had passed. Capturing the ‘haiku moment’ is hard enough, but pairing the poem and the photograph is even trickier. Admitting to this to myself resulted in the haiku below, and I think the poem is stronger for it.

photographing the well
failing to capture
the sound of water

Clearly, one way of being more spontaneous would be to use a mobile phone, but I don’t – I realise this is increasingly unusual. I don’t know many people who don’t use a mobile and when I say that I don’t, people are surprised. There’s no doubt that as an artistic tool they can yield some fantastic results (I’m thinking of Dave Bonta’s Woodrat blog where there’s a real sense of depth and thoughtfulness and the words often take you outside the photograph). What I notice and admire about Dave’s work is that strong sense of connectedness with his subject matter. The photographs are always unusual, and then there’s that extra surprise that he manages to get in the haiku, which moves the whole thing up another level. I’d also add that Dave’s level of productivity is enviable – daily posts of such high quality. Inspirational!

twisted branches

twisted branches
the blackbird retreats
into his song

Having faffed around for the best part of an hour, trying fonts of various colours (including a stunning marigold to match the blackbird’s beak) I finally decided that the photo was good enough and should stand alone. After all, I’d already stalked this blackbird around the garden for quite a while in order to get as close as I could, and time never seems to be on my side!
The final version of the haiku came a few days after the photograph, and after an email conversation with poet Sue Riley, whose advice and support I value greatly. If there’s one thing I’ve missed during lockdown it’s those face-to-face conversations we have about poems that occur outside workshop situations, conversations that might not even be about poetry but that feed into it all the same.
So, thanks Sue, for helping me come to some sort of conclusion on the poem (Sue’s Ginko prize-winning poem is to be featured in an anthology about climate change published by Valley Press in May).

edge of day

Hard to believe that this photo was only taken last Friday- this afternoon it’s been about 15 degrees warmer. Interestingly, the word ‘edge’ seems to have been cropping up quite a bit in my haiku recently. On the surface, I think it’s to do with the walks I take, which often follow field boundaries marked by dry stone walls. Millstone grit is a feature of the landscape here, and the walls are a couple of hundred years old at least. The stone is mapped with lichen of various colours: yellow, green, white, and after hard weather the iron deposits oxidise and the stone becomes rust-coloured.
But, back to the word ‘edge’. Perhaps it’s signalling where my work is right now, sort of on the fringes, between making and doing. Somehow haiku demand more ‘doing’, more living. Nothing seems to surface unless I’ve been out walking, crossing the fields while it’s still quiet, listening, thinking. I walk everyday. The end of last week was hard because there was a bitter East wind. The start of that week was even harder because I was still self-isolating. But my period of self-confinement was short. Some people have been isolating for the best part of a year. I can’t imagine how that must feel, what it must do to a person. I found myself constantly going to the spare room window to look out over the fields, almost as if I needed to check they were still there. I didn’t write much either. Okay, I was working online, so I didn’t have a huge amount of spare time, but I usually manage to write and work, so I can only put it down to the restrictions of being locked in. I’m very grateful I wasn’t ill (despite the much-publicised inaccuracies of lateral flow tests, the two I did that week were negative). Still, self-isolation has made me more aware of the freedoms I have, and how lucky I am to live in a place where it’s easy to wander, and lose yourself in the landscape.
Now the days are lengthening and the birds are singing. The forecast is for mild weather all week. If it rains, I’ve promised myself I won’t complain. I’ll take it in my stride and be thankful just for the simple fact that I’m able to go out.

holding my breath

holding my breath
the dragonfly’s
stilled wings

I’ve not been particularly poetic, or productive, this week. Tired from work, tired from the cold weather, maybe tired of the gloom that surrounds us mid-pandemic. But January’s like that sometimes. I keep telling myself spring is just around the corner. The days are lengthening a little, and I hear the birds singing when I go out with the dog. I’ve done the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch this weekend – 2 male blackbirds, a pair of collared doves and a scattering of house sparrows. I was hoping for more variety as we often have goldfinches and blue tits, and now and again the trauma of a sparrow hawk. Anyway, I had to be content with what I saw.
The colouring/ collage above is from a mindfulness colouring book someone bought me for Christmas. I had more time over the Christmas holiday, and rather than just colour, I also used collage techniques to fill some of the pages (see below). Anyway, the dragonfly page lent itself to a haiku. I’m going to qualify this by saying it’s not the way I think haiku should be written. They need to come from experience, rather from a given image, but as I said, I’ve not written much this week, so I’m going to allow myself this one!
By the way, the book is Animal Kingdom by Millie Marotta (Batsford 2014) if you fancy giving it a go.

night frost

Thanks to Dave Bonta for sharing his brilliant photo haiku on his Woodrat photoblog, I was inspired to play around with this image. There was a real nip in the air on Wednesday afternoon which created frost ferns on the Velux windows in our kitchen. I stood underneath and took some photos, and although it wasn’t dark outside and there was plenty of light, the flash kept going off, so I assumed all I’d get was a blur. In fact, I got these finely beaded images, frost ferns pearled with light from the flash, almost like underwater photos of coral. It was the sub-aqua atmosphere that gave me the word ‘surfacing’, and originally I had ‘frost ferns’ in the poem, but that seemed too obvious, so I was left with what appears above. Looking at Dave’s work, maybe I could have been a bit more adventurous with the font, but it was a fine line between foregrounding the font/ text or the image. Either way, I enjoyed the process. Thanks Woodrat!