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!

Scattered Leaves

Well, I should be on holiday – campsite booked, tent in the boot – and then my lovely lurcher got a grass seed in his paw! So, between hot poultices and visits to the vet, I’m writing a quick post: a review of Scattered Leaves by Kanchan Chatterjee (published in Presence earlier this month). I should point out that Chatterjee centre-justifies his haiku, but WordPress has an annoying way of cancelling that out. So, apologies for the layout changes – the poems read equally well left-justified!
Hopefully, we will eventually hit the road, so here’s wishing everyone a good summer, and thanks, as always, for reading. Now, here’s the review:

Kanchan Chatterjee, Scattered Leaves

Authorspress, Q-2A Hauz Khas Enclave, New Delhi – 110 016, India, 2020
68pp, $15, ISBN 978-93-89615-53-1, http://www.authorspressbooks.com

Scattered Leaves is full of the sights and sounds of India: tea sellers and border guards, monsoon rain and muggy nights. There is often a feeling of time passing, tinged with a sense of loss, as in the following:

long night …
the heap of incense
grows

fresh firewood
ashes at the burning ghat …
year’s end


Themes of aging and death often centre on the poet’s father:


dad’s monitor glows
through the ICU window
a sudden cuckoo


after the chemo
a cuckoo calls in between
dad’s whispers

Sometimes Chatterjee’s use of repetition can lack impact; there are a few haiku which are almost identical. Nevertheless, this book is full of finely observed detail, depicting a country where tradition and progress exist side by side, where ‘the faded chrysanthemums/ on mom’s shawl‘ and ‘a plastic rose/ nodding on the dashboard‘ inhabit the same cultural space.

Within this space, Chatterjee appears to live a quiet, sometimes lonely, life:

    

single, my status
in the hotel register …
deepening autumn

hotel parking …
a Nissan comes drenched
in spring rain

Of course, depending on how we read ‘hotel parking’, perhaps the hotel is the site of a secret rendezvous.

Many of the poems reference well known Japanese haiku, with rice planting songs, settling crows etc. However, Chatterjee is at his best, and most original, when he considers his own search for identity:


winter moon
a man eating two rotis
is what I am

Two rotis might well be an indulgence, but I don’t think the poet is passing judgment; this is a poem of self-acceptance. Later, there are hints that he becomes romantically attached:

             

Pink Full Moon
a faint sound of bangles
from next door

well then dahlink!
let’s go out and become
sunflowers

The first haiku seems to offer a tantalizing and erotic glimpse of a woman, possibly his future bride. The second (and final poem in the book) is affectionate in its use of the colloquial voice, and suggests the couple’s future is as bright as the sunflowers. It’s a good poem to end on, leaving us with a sense of hope and optimism.



Julie Mellor