Category Archives: Haiku

Almost hidden by grass – haiku

St John’s Church, Little Gidding, Huntingdonshire

It is 20 years since I visited Little Gidding, as the mid-week trip on a one-week course at Madingley, part of Cambridge University. Our tutor that week was the poet Lawrence Sail. Last Sunday I featured four poems from his collection Guises. That week I also met Kathleen Kummer who has become a good friend. Her poems have featured here over the last few months.

Little Gidding is famous for being the fourth and final poem of T S Eliot’s Four Quartets. Eliot had visited Little Gidding in 1936. The title refers to a small Anglican community in Huntingdonshire, established by Nicholas Farrar in the 17th Century.

I wrote the short sequence of haiku during my visit. It was published in Presence magazine.

Almost hidden by grass

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

Little Gidding, August 2001

Solstice – a haiku

It is almost Solstice, the day in December that means the most to me: the shortest day, the gradual turn towards the light.

I will celebrate with a short meditation, then some music and mulled wine. I send you warm wishes for Solstice, Christmas and for the New Year. Thank you all for your support and your comments. On Sunday 3 January I will post again.

The marvellous illustration is by gdizerega on Pixabay, and the winter solstice haiku by Matthew Paul. It was first published in The Haiku Calendar 2014.

winter solstice
the street-cleaner picks up                              
a glass half full

Winter Migrants

At a recent workshop I read from Winter Migrants, a collection by Tom Pickard. I saw the title and cover in an email from Carcanet, the publishers, and knew I would have to get the book. A short sequence and individual poems bookend a selection from Fiends Fell Journals.

This is a poetry-diary, or haibun, composed over the decade Pickard lived alone on the wind-blown North Pennines. The two dozen entries cover the period June 2003 – February 2004. They vary in length from a few lines to a page. Here is an example, showing Pickard’s sharp vision and economy of language:

12 February

Late at night, without a coat and the wind still raging, an old woman from the cottage hospital in Alston, banging on the deserted mortuary window, demanding entry – convinced she is home.

Water drapes over worn flattened rocks,
smooth as curtains.

Birds appear frequently in the Journal – an alert kestrel, a growking raven, snipes, curlews – and in the title sequence – the Solway estuary where winter migrants gather / in long black lines.

Heron, Annette Niemeyer, via Pixabay

This is also from Fiends Fell Journals:

A heron
criss-crosses the lashing syke,
fast, with sudden thaw,

its spiky tread sunk
in unscuffed snow

patient
and hungry as death

no inkling of urgency
in its measured step

close, almost overlapping,
at the water’s edge

Moment – haiku

Moment arrived at the beginning of the year. A wonderful surprise. It’s a pocket-book size anthology of haiku, senryu and tanka by Ian Turner. Ian, this month’s poet, was for many years a member of our regional haiku group which used to meet monthly. After his 30-year career as an Fine Art Lecturer, he relocated with his partner to France where he is now a practising fine artist.

Beautifully produced on thick cream paper, Moment includes well over 300 haiku. Ian has organised these in small sets on a number of themes which recur through the book: the seasons, various places and locations, both in nature and urban, animal behaviour, human activities. So, there is variety and consistency. The poems cover the period 1997 – 2020 and most have been previously published in quality haiku magazines: Blithe Spirit, Presence, Snapshot Press, Shamrock Haiku Journal.

Ian tells me he is photophobic, so instead here is the image of indigotyger, Ian’s taoist spirit persona. I hope you enjoy my selection from his anthology.

that’s me
in the far thistle field
stalking a tethered pit pony
hooves and heart
skip a beat

early thaw
a snail emerges
from the meter box

hospital maze
I become number seven
on a pink plastic chair

the cool silence
of a prayer room
last flight call

swishing shingle
the putter of a fishing boat
in a smudge of light

throngs of tour coaches
a gypsy woman’s
empty paper cup

phantom moon
red deer at the turnpike
in their own time

yet more protests
riot police greet each other
on both cheeks

stood
in a rippling white cloud
the black calf

safe storage facility
a life free of stuff
so insecure

wild sage
deep in the maquis
a clank of goats

after a squall
the ink stained letter
in an unknown hand

Birds on Paper (2)

 

sparrow-4334964_1920 (2)

Photo credit: Susanne Jutzeler, Suju Foto on Pixabay

More birds: here is the second half of the sequence Almost complete poems: encounters with twelve birds. The inspiration for these short poems came from different sources:

* The title comes from the Wallace Stevens poem Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird. I decided I needed at least one blackbird poem, but there are two.
* i – Almost complete poems is the title of a poetry collection by Stanley Moss. It is published by Carcanet who (used to) send postcards with pictures of their books with your order. The cover image of the book is Still Life of Grapes with a Grey Shrike, Antonio da Cavalcore. I keep dozens of art postcards in a box, in case there is no inspiration.
* ii – Painting The Sea-Birds’ Domain by Peter Graham in Manchester Art Gallery. The reproduction doesn’t show it clearly, but my dialogue is with the bird on the rock that is nearest to the viewer.

 

Graham, Peter, 1836-1921; The Seabirds' Domain

Graham, Peter; The Seabirds’ Domain; Manchester Art Gallery; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/the-seabirds-domain-205095

* v – inspired by reading Jaan Kaplinski, Estonian poet.
* vi – observation from my attic window.
* viii, x and xii – a short writing exercise from workshops with Ann Sansom, the Poetry Business. She often does these just before a break. Mostly six or seven lines with restrictions, for example line 1 must have a day of the week, line 2 a building, line 3 no rules. Written against the clock, some small jewels may appear.
* ix – observation from sun lounge window.
* xi – inspired by that phone call. The tanka was published in Blithe Spirit, the magazine of the British Haiku Society, some years ago.

 

peregrine-falcon-371610_1920

Peregrine falcon, Photo credit: Ray Miller on Pixabay

vii
Pocked and pitted stone
visible only to the peregrines
that nest on this cathedral –
a grimace carved by the stonemason
who used to beat his apprentice.

viii
Sundays summer and winter
we went to church at least once –
If I was that tiny sparrow
I would slip out, circle the white
spray, marram grass, the endless shore.

ix
Blackbirds nest in the ivy hedge,
as one comes in with food
the other exits at the side –
I remember those empty rituals
well-meaning suitors spurned

x
All around fields are planted with dill,
among the fronds an anklebone.
Just one pale bone.
Scrawny canaries fly across
the aria Verdi never composed.

xi
My friend calls:
an orphan
at sixty, suddenly
I hear blackbirds sing
thin, feathery clouds.
xii
A lost parakeet, friendly face
against turquoise wings
paper notice on the mat –
small birds are a comfort stone
to be carried around in a sombrero.

The Nettlebed

Matthew Paul June 2020 (002)

 

I feel that I have known this month’s poet for many years. But, I don’t think we have ever met. Like me, Matthew Paul has been a participant on The Poetry Business Writing School. We both had work published in an excellent haiku journal. I very much enjoy his blog posts and am pleased that I can introduce you to his work: grounded in actual place and rich in vivid detail.

Matthew was born in New Malden, Surrey, in 1966, has worked for 30 years as an education officer for local authorities in south-west London, and lives in Thames Ditton. Matthew’s first collection, The Evening Entertainment, was published by Eyewear Publishing in 2017.

He is also the author of two collections of haiku – The Regulars (2006) and The Lammas Lands (2015) – and co-writer/editor (with John Barlow) of Wing Beats: British Birds in Haiku (2008), all published by Snapshot Press. He co-edited Presence haiku journal, and has contributed to the Guardian’s ‘Country Diary’ column.

 
THE TOXTON TORCHERS

Still their identities are secret. Let’s call them Gary and Glyn,
names which are popular then, at the Sixties’ fag-end.
This nit-locked pair of toe-rags, seeking alms box and plate,
enter St Joe’s via its sacristy, find nothing of value
and burn down the sanctuary like proper East End heavies.

They’re not discerning: any place of worship will do-
in the next few weeks, Our Lady Star of the Sea, St Anne’s,
the Kingdom Hall and the new St Margaret’s all go up in flames.
It’s when they smash collection boxes in All Souls that it ends:
old Reverend Carew and his nimble curate get straight on the blower
to the Law, who tip up in Black Marias at Z-Cars speed.

Gary blames it all on gormless Glyn. Brought before the Bench,
their eyes light up like matches as they detail every deed:
how in the new church they hadn’t the heart to torch the tapestries
as so much effort had been put into them, most by Gary’s nan.

 
THE KITCHEN GARDEN

On Capability Brown’s last visit
to this well-temperèd chalkland estate,
he plumped for action instead of advice:
training espaliers of local pears,

which would otherwise have become extinct,
against ev’ry venerable wall of brick—
‘for market opportunities’, he said,
and focused eyes on an artichoke head

whose outer bracts formed interlaced patterns
around the heart’s delirious embrace,
aubergine-veined chroma of grey–jade green.
He claimed it resembled ‘a scarecrow’s brain’.

Unaccountably, he bricked up the arch,
to dead-end our last remaining path;
so now unscalable walls enclose us,
in God’s own country’s Hortus conclusus.
(Both from The Evening Entertainment)

 

TEE (002)

 

THE NETTLEBED

One September afternoon in August, a water vole
beavers through reeds. I feel the slap
of rain on my father’s umbrella. Mercy
and I compare families: I can’t compete
with her memory of travelling,
as one of five kids, with her moody
half-sister in the boot of their dad’s Datsun Bluebird,
without a torch. The teasel-lined tributary disappears,
reappears. Moorhen chicks stumble off lily pads,
to spatter at pace upstream, their parents
flicking tail feathers and squeaking alarm.

We reach beyond toddler-high nettles and burdock—
seedheads packed like the yellowest sunflowers—
to pluck the last few blackberries, sugaring
from ruby to plum. Mercy says the wide outdoors
keeps her well; that nothing else,
neither booze nor love in any of its myriad forms,
quite does the job. We sit on a log to wait and watch.

The moorhens tiptoe over stepping stones fording
back-water channels, to vanish like mumbled
anecdotes. I shake the rain from the brolly
into the river. Day’s end brightens
as an afterthought muttered out loud; becomes
a crumbling hurrah of loneliness. Dusk
spotlights parakeets sidling, like circus budgies,
along the railing of a tower-block balcony.
We realise, then, our arms are stung to fuck.

(Previously published, in a different form, in Fire.)

 

PLOUGH POND

Tiptoeing through them to the Co-op
would be impossible, this ragtag army

of marsh frogs. They block the alley
from our cul-de-sac’s cul, pairing up

to belly down within the water’s grease:
tansy eyes, camouflage-trousered legs

and lime-striped backs, clamped
in the fumble of joyful amplexus.

(Published in Poetry Salzburg Review 34, summer 2019)

A spot of sunshine

 

john-barlow (002)

 

It is an enormous pleasure to introduce the talented John Barlow: poet, editor, publisher and designer. I can’t remember exactly when and where we first met. It may well have been at one of the annual conferences organised by the British Haiku Society.

John Barlow is the editor of The Haiku Calendar, which has appeared annually since the 2000 edition, and co-editor (with Martin Lucas) of The New Haiku (2002). His other books include Waiting for the Seventh Wave and Wing Beats: British Birds in Haiku (with Matthew Paul).

John grew up surrounded by fields and woodlands. A keen amateur naturalist, his haiku appear in Where the River Goes: The Nature Tradition in English-Language Haiku, and he has given talks and workshops on haiku for organisations such as New Networks for Nature, Haiku North America, and the RSPB.

where_the_river_goes_large

His haiku and tanka have received more than 150 awards, including the Modern Haiku Award, The Heron’s Nest Award, the Haiku Presence Award (in 2007, 2010, and 2011), and British Haiku Society Awards (in 2015, 2016, and 2018), while works he has edited have been honoured by the Haiku Society of America and the Poetry Society of America.

In 1997 he founded Snapshot Press, described in Haiku in English: The First Hundred Years as “the most important English-language haiku publishing house outside the United States.” From his published work John has made this selection.  Starting with the inventive vertical haiku, it forms a seasonal progression.

 

down
the
leafless
beech
the
voice
of
a
nuthatch

 

under leaden skies the low-slung belly of a river

 

through her skin
the baby’s heartbeat
fieldfares in alders

 

each one on sunlight the yellowhammer’s phrases

 

summer morning
the riverbed stones warm
beneath my feet

 

sparroweight the groundsel bends to ground

 

a nestful of feathers
and tiny skulls . . .
clouds without rain

 

leaf-cast shade
a hoverfly moves around
a spot of sunshine

 

crab buckets along the quay the gait of trawlermen

 

train delays
for the fifth day now
the dead fieldmouse

 

our shadows holding hands the width of the stubble field

 

inside the clown’s smile the clown’s smile

 

calls of marsh tits
in the autumn woods
leaves release their rain

 

wind-rippled tarn
a raven’s croak
echoes through stone

 

for all the wind-borne spores lungfuls of the wood

 

a stoat arcs into undergrowth thin winter moon

 

the faint pulse
of out-of-tune strings—
winter light

 

 

 

 

 

After midnight …

DSC00273

 

A few days ago I learned that Stuart Quine died in hospital of Covid-19.  His haiku were featured on my blog in September last year, under the heading A glint of wolf. You can read them here

Stuart himself provided the biographical notes and he made the selection of one-line haiku.

Here in the caravan in the Netherlands I found a copy of Presence from July 2019 with the one-line haiku below.  I am grateful to have known him.

after midnight firelight playing the accordion keys

Snow still in sight

 

Scan0012

 
snow still in sight
the water becomes less cold
in this castle town

yuki nokori tsutsu mizu nurumu jokamachi

(haiku by Kiyo)

This castle town may be located somewhere deep in the mountains in the northern part of Japan. Snow still remains on the surrounding steep mountains, but the snowmelt water flows peacefully in the river running through the town. We can imagine the lives of the lord who owned this castle and its dwellers, which may not have been so peaceful all the time.

One of my bookshelves is filled with books and magazines on haiku, tanka, renga and renku. One of them is very special to me: Haiku. The poetic key to Japan by Mutsuo Takahashi, Hakudo Inoue and Kazuya Takaoka, published in 2003. It suddenly arrived several months after a Japanese postgraduate student who had shared my house had returned home.

Each haiku is accompanied by a wonderful colour picture, a brief explanation, the original Japanese text and the version in Romaji. Is late January too early for a spring haiku? I hope not!

Haiku calendars

haiku-calendar-2020.jpg

 

I bought extra copies of the 2020 Haiku Calendar to give as presents. This small desk calendar shows one haiku each month, with three or four more on the back.

Twelfth Night –
lobster pots
shouldered with snow
(Sheila K. Barksdale – England)

The haiku presented in the calendar are the winners and runners-up of the annual competition. The competition for the 2021 calendar is open until the 31st of January. Guidelines are on http://www.snapshotpress.co.uk

Twelfth Night was last Sunday when I was taking down Christmas decorations and carefully removing Christmas cards from the display on the kitchen door. And I was also thinking about the other haiku calendar – a present from a friend who lives in Japan. One of these calendars I’m going to take with me to my caravan in the Netherlands. No need to decide yet: my first trip there is early April!

snow scene

 

The images in the large calendar are all from the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria. Miyajima in the Snow is by Tsuchiya Koitsu (1937), wood cut on paper.

oyuki ya
yuki o mi ni yuku
tokoro nashi

 
So much snow – but
a place for snow viewing?
There is nowhere to go!

(Anonymous, 18th century)