Category Archives: Haiku

Synchronicity

Cover Narrow Road

I am listening to the BBC Radio 3 programme Private Passions: today’s guest is the novelist Richard Flanagan. Only two nights ago, I started reading his novel The Narrow Road to the Deep North. The book was the winner of the 2014 Man Booker Prize. The title is borrowed from Basho and haiku by Basho and Issa start the different sections of the book. It is based on his father’s experience in a Japanese Prisoner of War camp. His father was a survivor of the Burma Death Railway.

Only two days ago I collected my first set of hearing aids and as I am typing this, Flanagan describes how he lost his hearing at the age of three and how he was thought to be “simple”. My hearing aids are brilliant: I feel more alert and it’s already helped me feeling more confident in social situations and meetings.

Richard Flanagan didn’t want to write The Narrow Road to the Deep North. He says It was a burden, a stone. A stone that grew. He also knew that, if he didn’t write the book, he would not be able to write another. He finished the book and emailed the manuscript to his publisher. Then he went to see his father who was 98 and ailing. That afternoon his father died.

Year of the Golden Pig

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Shop Window in Siena, Italy

Wishing you a happy, healthy and prosperous Year of the Golden Pig, with a haiku sequence.

I wrote this after a visit to Little Gidding in August 2001, while on a writing week with the poet Lawrence Sail. Little Gidding is, of course, well-known as the fourth and final of T S Eliot’s Four Quartets. He wrote it after his own visit to Little Gidding.

My haiku sequence was published in Presence #18, in September 2002. The illustration below of the wild boar is by Ian Turner. It’s a photograph of Wild Boar Clearing Sculpture by Sally Matthews, 1987. It was made of mud, cement and brash and situated in Grizedale Forest, Cumbria, UK. Grise dal is Norwegian for Valley of the boars.

 

Little Gidding

following her
across the field
a white butterfly

almost hidden by grass
three wooden crosses

the church bell
covered
in pigeon droppings

pink geranium petals
a droning plane

on the terrace
calling us old, advanced –
the toothless guide

finding the pigsties –
number one boarded up

as we leave
sunlight
on the font

 

Golden Boar

More an ache than sorrow

Ian Storr

This month I’m featuring one of my fellow haiku poets: Ian Storr.  He is a history graduate and trained social worker whose last job before he retired was with Voice for the Child in Care, managing their advocacy service in the north of England. Ian  has been writing haiku and tanka since the mid-1970s and he has had over 200 published in British and oversees journals.

His poems have won prizes in Britain, Canada and Ireland and they have been included in British and international anthologies. Ian is the production and poetry editor of Presence magazine, described by the Founder and Chairperson of The Haiku Foundation as “the most important haiku journal in English outside the United States.”

I first met Ian more than 25 years ago and I’m delighted to share a selection of his writing with you.  His tanka, in particular,  I find deeply moving and masterful examples.

 

Haiku

Brightening
the house in winter
orange roses from the wreath

Cleft of the brook
wood sorrel bright
on a fallen birch

wind strengthening a skylark holds his place of song

The rhythm of
this baby’s sleep upon me
. . . days of rain

Valley head
white with cotton grass
the silence before the raven

Sweeping rain
deer on the ridge
climb into cloud

Gusts from the street
the store greeter’s
unreturned hellos

Darkening marsh
the swirl of golden plovers
settles again

 

Tanka

Night mist . . .
back where I was born
I walk this lane again
down to the flooded pit shaft
where tinkers used to camp

 
Snow falls tonight
as I drive slowly home
against the windscreen
a drift of stars
melting into water

 
Our son of seven weeks
struggles from sleep in my arms
tight in his hand
from the night’s feed
a long strand of your hair

 
Our balcony
over the settled sea . . .
you bring on two white plates
grapes the green of jade
the seeds within like shadows

 
More an ache than sorrow
this second anniversary . . .
falling on shrouded hills
and reservoir
the wet november snow

 
I put on my father’s boots
for a path I’ve never walked . . .
through reeds and cotton grass
comes the autumn wind
sounding like the sea

 

Year ending
frost covers the boards
of the empty pier
above a beach
strewn with razor shells

 

A stretcher-bearer
wounded twice and twice
returned to the front
Grandpa back on duckboards
over the sucking mud

 

Cover Presence

The Haiku Calendar

I’m not that superstitious, but I never open a new calendar before January.  I came back from a wonderful traditional Dutch family New Year’s Eve yesterday.  The small desk calendar sits on my dining table.  I gave several as Christmas presents.  I’m keen to support small publishers: John Barlow has published the haiku calendar since the start of the century, along beautifully produced anthologies and single-author collections of haiku and tanka.

Each month has one haiku with that month’s dates and on the back are three or four more seasonal haiku.  Billie Wilson from the USA has the January slot with a haiku that mentions “winter stars”.

John has an annual competition to select the haiku for the calendar and submitting some is on my Writing To Do list…

Very best wishes to you all and happy blogging…

Poetry Carousel

I celebrated Solstice by scribbling possible titles for a new poem in a beautiful suede notebook which was a retirement present from one of my supervisees.  Then I decided to hop on the bus into Manchester City Centre to buy a special 30th Birthday present for my niece in Holland. Wow!  There were two men dressed up as Father Christmas singing karaoke Christmas favourites.  They said it was their ninth day and all to collect money for the local children’s hospital.  It was cheerful, people smiled and donated money into their bucket.

That new poem was written 10 days ago on the Poetry Carousel, up in Grange-over-Sands, Cumbria.  I think it’s a great format: four two-hour workshops (Friday afternoon up to and including Monday morning) where you stay in your small group of eight and move along the carousel.  It was organised by Kim Moore who also ran one of the workshops on “veiled” narrative.  The other poets were Steve Ely (workshop on speaking with the dead), Hilda Sheehan (workshop on surreal/absurdist poetry), and David Morley who presented on the links between nature and poetry.  Afternoons were free and the tutors and four guest poets read in the evenings.  Mealtimes were an chance to catch up with people in other groups.  I met some old poet friends and made new ones.  It’s no surprise that the next event (Cornwall spring 2018) is already sold out.

Season’s Greetings to you all.  I’m signing off with a seasonal haiku, written during the Carousel:

old snow     behind the bench     rustling birds

Almassera Vella

I have just returned from the Old Olive Press, the Almassera Vella, in Relleu, a poetry writing week with the excellent Ann Sansom from the Poetry Business.  This was my sixth visit and it was a perfect time: writing new work in the morning, time to type up poems or have a swim, leisurely lunch with the other poets and with Christopher North.  A published and prize-winning poet himself, he has run the Almassera Vella with his wife Marisa since 2002.  The olive press has been retained, there is an infinity pool with views of the terraces and a small white hermitage on the hill outside the village.  Inside there is a library with over 3,000 books.  There are a few bars in the village and it’s only just an hour’s drive from Alicante airport.  As well as attending poetry courses, you can book self-catering accommodation next to the Old Olive Press for writing retreats.

broken blue chess piece

the morning after the storm –

our words, free as swifts

The Snail

I’m planning to get the 10.41 to Liverpool Lime Street. I’m on the single-decker blue Magic bus, with the bright orange bars and handles inside. We’re crawling through the Curry Mile – with the newly completed cycle lanes and a few badly parked cars, the buses have to manoeuvre; even the walkers are catching up with us.

white petals float
towards the shisha bar
sleeveless cyclists

The Liver birds are shimmering, a salt tang, ice cream sellers and flocks of French pupils draped around the dock. The Tate opened late this morning. A friendly guide – grey curly hair, faded lilac shirt – directs me to the first floor.

On one side of The Snail four bronzes: a backbone has become an “abstracted plait”. In fuzzy black-and-white film Matisse points with a walking stick to where the next piece of cut-out should be attached. The Snail’s alternative title is Chromatic Composition. Apparently it was planned as part of a triptych, this “purified sign for a shell”. The pin holes are visible in the brightly coloured paper.

In a traditional saijiki (list of kigo, or season words) the snail is linked to summer and that fits with these colours: orange, lilac, greens, blue. My own saijiki is Haiku World: an International Poetry Almanac compiled by the late William Higginson. It’s a unique anthology: over a thousand haiku, from more than six hundred poets, living in fifty countries, writing in twenty-five languages. At 400 yellowing pages it’s too heavy to carry around.

The snail is caracol in Spanish, slak in Dutch/Afrikaans and katatsumuri in Japanese. The Spanish word sounds like the shape of the protective shell and katatsumuri is, perhaps, the non-moving or slow moving, the snail stuck to the window. Many years ago I had a Korean manager lodge with me at Norwood Rd. He and his colleagues were learning English at the Business School. Smoking he paced through the rear garden, saw me sprinkle blue pellets…Miss Fokkina, you nourish the snails?