Tag Archives: Haiku

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)

Almost Solstice

 

solstice

 

As a Dutch national living in the UK I was unable to vote in the elections on Thursday. Never has Friday the 13th felt worse: those results and interminable rain, rain.

A couple of friends have just lost a parent, or friend, another friend is about to have the last Christmas with her father. Hospice care has already been arranged for him. I count my blessings and I count the days until Solstice on my fingers.

 
Waiting

The water meadows
are waiting
for the storks to return

 
always invisible
the other side
of her face

 
in this book
there is snow
on every page

 
even an old potato
can be turned
into a Christmas stamp

 
the naming of colours
is not a science.
I vote for bird’s nest grey

A glint of wolf

DSC00273

I am very pleased to introduce our September poet: Stuart Quine. We met almost 30 years ago. I hope you love his haiku as much as I do.

In 1998, after a few years of writing haiku in a three-line form, Stuart Quine started to feel that his haiku were becoming a little formulaic and so began to explore the opportunities of a one-line format without breaks or punctuation.. In addition to their aesthetic appeal, one-line haiku echo Japanese haiku which usually, of course, are written in a single, albeit vertical, line. While many one-line haiku contain an implicit caesura given by their syntax, at their best they can be broken in a number of places thereby enabling a multitude of readings. Haiku is a collaborative poetry with writers and readers working together to bring it to completion. Therefore the success of a haiku is not a matter of how well it conveys the writer’s intention to the reader but rather whether readers can enter and occupy it on their own terms.

Many of Stuart’s haiku have been included in anthologies and journals and he is a former associated editor of the journal Presence. He has also had two collections of haiku published by Alba Publishing (available from albapublishing.com ). Sour Pickle (2018) contains 100 one-line haiku and Wild Rhubarb (2019) contains another 80.

A practitioner of Soto Zen Buddhism for over thirty years he regards his haiku writing as a dao and is a member of the Red Thread Haiku Sangha..

 

hidden and unseen the burgeoning life in buds and bellies

through driving rain the ambulances’ dopplering sirens

round midnight moonlight playing on the piano hammers

a short night shrunk to a dog bark and the clanking of the trams

through the haze the headlights of a hearse

lassitude and languor these days without rain

snagged in machair a gull feather unzipped by the wind

distant thunder the old mouser raises an ear

-not yet, not yet” says the tumbling beck

pagan moon in the shadow of her cleavage a tiny silver cross

winter solstice darkness gathers in the unrung bells

birthcry deep in the night a freight train’s lonesome whistle

like the honed edge of a blade keen is the cold

winter moon a glint of wolf in the mongrel’s eyes

under mistletoe on her lips a tang of tamarind

new year’s day only the rain comes to my gate

 

Year of the Golden Pig

4

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…