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


Hard to say who was more excited about the arrival of Presence magazine earlier this week – me or the dog.
Ozric, my lurcher, has become integral to my writing process because most of the poems I write these days are composed when I’m out walking.
Billy Collins, in his introduction to Haiku in English: The First Hundred Years, talks about the habit of walking and writing haiku: ‘I got into the habit of walking with her [his dog] every morning along the shore of the reservoir, and almost every morning I would try to compose a haiku before I got back home’.
I don’t know about Collins, but I don’t carry a notebook on my walks, at least not in the mornings. For one thing, there isn’t time. Also, I think that carrying a notebook would be an obvious signal to my brain that I was going out to write a poem and that’s the very antithesis of what I’m doing. It’s a dog walk, with all the attendant issues of route and timing, head torch and poo bags. Weekday mornings I’m out by 6.20 am when the world is still largely silent. I’m always tired but once I’m out, I experience a sort of alertness that I see in the dog, all his senses engaged. It’s a sort of openness, a state in which the smallest details become noticeable and important.
Daily composition has resulted in a lot of haiku, although if I’m brutally honest with myself, most aren’t any good. However, there’s been a shift in my focus. Morning or evening, I’m more inclined to be listening to the wind or watching my breath mist in the light of the headtorch beam, than fretting about work or whether to put the washer on when I get home. Sometimes, I stop at the brow of the hill and take a minute to just stand and gaze at the moon. It might be cold and windy, but the moon is so changeable it is proving to be infinitely interesting. That’s the brilliant thing about haiku, by the way, there’s still room for poems about the moon!
It’s a moon poem that Presence have published in this issue. I’m immensely grateful to them for taking my work. I’m sure I’ve sent out quite a few bad haiku to various magazines this year, but now and then I’ve hit on something and the editors have taken it. I have so much to read, to learn, about these poems, and about the way of living that allows them to come into being. I have a feeling of cautious optimism about all this, which seems completely at odds with the prevailing mood. Still, it’s something to hold on to in the midst of these unnerving times.

Haiku in English: The First Hundred Years, ed. Kacian, J, Rowland, P. & Burns, A. (Norton, 2013)