Friday, February 29, 2008

Jeffrey Winke: A JAR OF PAINT

Snow clouds fill every inch of the sky while the artist carts his framed, exactly 23.5-inch square digital graphic prints into the gallery. He leaves wet footprints on the worn, maple floor. The young curator with dancer-straight-back posture and the soft cotton blouse enunciates the rule: “All nail holes must be filled and painted after your show is down. I have a jar of paint in my office.” The artist nods a bit too eagerly. She grimaces, pivots and returns to her office to shuffle documents into folders on her computer desktop. The artist stares at a blank, white wall.

slush puddle
a little wider than
he can leap

by Jeffrey Winke
Milwaukee, Wisconsin


Water Shining Beyond the Fields: Haibun Travels Southeast Asia by John Brandi. Tres Chicas Books: El Rito, NM, 2006. ISBN: 1-893003-09-4. Perfect Bound, 5 ½” x 7”, 190 pp., $14.00 US.

Reviewed by Jeffrey Woodward

The book at hand, while covering separate journeys in Cambodia, China and Thailand respectively, may startle many by its sheer bulk. “Haibun Travels,” John Brandi’s sub-title proclaims, and common expectations of a Bashō-like travel journal are aroused. Basho’s most ambitious journal – the Narrow Road to the Interior (Oku no hosomichi) – ends after 40 or 50 modern text pages and Issa’s Spring of My Life (Ora ga haru), while lengthier, doesn’t surpass twice that number. Meanwhile, book-length collections of modern haibun in English are relatively few in number and lean more closely toward the Basho norm.

Certainly, no writer, however accomplished, might aspire to sustain over such breadth the verbal compression and emotive tension common to classical Japanese or modern English haibun. The prose in Water Shining Beyond the Fields, while rising on occasion to such heights by the common haikai methods of abbreviation and understatement, adopts no single style. Brandi echoes the breezy style of popular guide-books, imitates the excited breathlessness of the Kerouac of On the Road or Dharma Bums, reveals his social and political angst in passages of diatribe and, occasionally, writes with the lucidity and pithiness more commonly associated with the haibun genre.

Brandi, at Angkor Wat, rises to the occasion of the scene before him:

Narratives depicting Hindu myths adorn the inner galleries: architecture as storybook, the “pages” exquisitely carved on two meter-high walls, the detail minute…. “The Churning of the Milk Ocean” is our favorite. I’ve read translations of this story, seen episodes in New Delhi street plays…. Now the story leaps off the wall in front of us: gods and demons oppose each other, pulling on a great rope (the cosmic serpent) to churn amrita, the elixir of immortality into the world. Not only do they succeed, they froth into existence … dozens of erotic apsaras, heavenly dancers whose fingers flutter with secret mudras.

The apsaras float across the wall in dreamy trance, with sumptuous breasts and diaphanous outfits, heads adorned with flame-like tiaras. Their rapturous eyes and smiles evoke a state of communing with the Other …. Finally, there are half-parted lips that convey transience, a whisper emerging from a celestial realm.
China, with its now pervasive and rapid modernization, calls forth one of Brandi’s finest passages:

Awful town, torn up, getting ready – for what? Earthen walls, tiled roofs, cobbled alleys, sheltered markets, landscaped entranceways, all that is (was) traditional, now in a heap. It’s challenging to walk; conduit and rebar pokes up everywhere, concrete tubes are rolled into open sewers. No one is working. Come next year, and the next, the town will likely still be under construction, the dream put off, everything sagging under abandoned scaffolding, money gone, the place bankrupt. The sweepers continue their task, though there aren’t really any streets to sweep. A warm breeze stirs yellow dust into whirlwinds; we mask our faces with kerchiefs, looking like bandits dragging suitcases of questionable weight:

in the wind
a man without a hat
holds his head.

The poet’s revulsion is palpable here in the rubble and dust of the past being swept away by the new. The wry portrait of Brandi and his wife with the burden of their dubious suitcases is set off nicely by the haikai humor of the closing verse.

Brandi, at times, reflects clearly upon his own absorption in a culture he often rails against and openly reviles:

Cambodia, too, opens itself full-out to the world’s fastest growing industry: tourism. No matter the languages I speak, how cheaply I travel, how down-home I lodge, I’m part of it. Even if I go to Mongolia, stay for awhile, and shit in a hole, I’m hooked into the industry. Call myself traveler rather than tourist, seeker rather than traveler, so what? I’m the same old foreigner to the visa man, customs official, cyclo driver, food vendor, red-light girl, monk, charity worker, guide, innkeeper, pancake lady, shoeshine kid – all who want my money, however much, whatever little. I’m a walking dollar sign. (45)

This recitation of characters who are captive to a power greater than themselves (tourism!) is understood, at last, to include the poet.

In other times and other places, however, the author displays only perplexity as in this description of a bus trip in rural China:

And the passengers? Each was a knobby backwater bumpkin right out of a fairy tale: dirty, coarsely shouting non-stop over the unmufflered engine, chain smoking (windows rolled up), heaving butts, sunflower shells, and wads of spit to the floor, dust slowly powdering their dark, threadbare attire. In 40 years of travels I can’t recall another journey (save for a Greyhound in West Virginia’s coal country) where I felt more unacknowledged, purposely ignored. Eerie, indeed, to realize how truly vague and dangerous it is to be among humans (wild animals are more predictable and lovelier to watch)…. (102-103)

Brandi is shocked by being shunned and “unacknowledged.” When these Chinese peasants fail to recognize exactly how interesting our poet is, he can only sulk and resort to insults – “backwater bumpkin,” “dirty,” “threadbare.” His underlying middle-class sensibility, suppressed elsewhere, is here allowed free rein to see in his fellow passengers something akin to those mean-spirited mountain folk in West Virginia’s poverty-stricken coalfields who likewise treated him as invisible some years ago. Brandi does not reflect that the peasant and coal-miner, while sharing his bus, do not share in his sightseeing trip but are engaged in the mean and difficult business of securing a meal.

Quite fortunately, such scenes are not common in this book and the poet more readily shows empathy with the displaced and poor met in his travels. Brandi, too, convincingly conveys a sincere longing for simplicity that will find its admirers:

In America everything is big, except the computer chip. Big mugs, big cars, big schedules, big football games, big pills for big people, big flags over big malls, big talk from big sissies who run big business. Give me a twig fire. Cup of sake. Tea leaves unfurling in a clay pot. Narrow path through a parsley garden outside a willow shack. Chinese herb pills that slip easily down the throat. No smart bombs. No information bomb. No one going birth to death without chance revelation stirring the doldrums. I sometimes think America invented instant coffee, then sat down to avoid itself. Today, on a path to the beach:

In grains of quartz
from the sweeper’s broom.

Water Shining Beyond the Fields, the first title from Tres Chicas Books that I have examined, is a sharply designed trade paperback with full-color cover and pleasingly legible typography. The price is reasonable and John Brandi’s prose, despite occasional lapses, is quite enjoyable on the whole. Along the way, the poet adds some sparkling haiku, also, which really leaves the reviewer little room to quibble.

by Jeffrey Woodward
Detroit, Michigan
first published in Lynx, Winter 2008

Sunday, February 24, 2008


in interview with Lynne Rees

nearby in the dark
someone calls someone else
using my name[1]

When David Cobb first moved to the small Essex village in the east of England where he still lives, the locals used to refer to him as ‘The Colonel’, convinced that someone who spoke foreign languages and made frequent, sometimes twice daily, trips to the village post box, not to mention trips to unheard-of countries ‘to do research’, had to be involved in something military and secretive. But there is nothing either military or secretive about David Cobb, a relaxed and rather shy man who is nevertheless happy to share his thoughts and ideas about haibun writing, although he self-effacingly says, “After 10 years struggling with and talking about haibun I’m not sure I have anything more that’s worth saying.”

It was in 1977, at the age of 51, “somewhere over Anchorage”, on his way to Japan for Longman Educational Publishers, that Cobb found an article about writing haiku in the in-flight magazine.

“My first attempts at writing them were little more than word photos,” he says, “and it would be another twenty years before Spring Journey would be published.”

Spring Journey to the Saxon Shore, a book length haibun, or ‘nikki[2]’ as Cobb prefers to call it, was published in 1997 and established Cobb as the ‘initiator of the haibun in Britain’.[3] It was inspired by Basho’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North but as Cobb saw no value in creating a pastiche he also sought out the works of British writers that might give him some ideas about the prose, among them Gilbert White, Edward Thomas’s The Icknield Way, R.L. Stevenson’s An Inland Voyage, and the collage haibun of his contemporary, Bill Wyatt. He encourages other haibun writers to do the same.

“Read the sort of people whose prose will inspire you,” he says, “not just other haibun writers”. Two of his own more recent inspirations have been WG Sebald’s Rings of Saturn and Iain Sinclair’s Edge of the Orison. “Although not in themselves good models of haibun prose, they gave me reassurance that haibun ‘has found its time’ in European letters.”

What other advice does he have?

“Concentrate on writing good haiku until you have confidence in your ability.”

no pencil—
my poem goes to Ladbrokes
to be jotted down[4]

“The haiku have to be important and necessary,” he says. “It shouldn’t be a case of ‘I’ve written a paragraph of prose and now I need a haiku.’”

In creating his own haibun he normally starts with the prose, and while he will often write haiku specifically for that piece, he will equally use previously written haiku that feel appropriate to the theme and subject matter.

“I believe that Basho did this too, so I’m with the angels on this.”

What does he see as the function of the haiku within a haibun?

“It’s crudely simplistic, but I suppose in the prose one might look for settings and actions, whereas the haiku are deeper into reflection. There’s also the visual impact they have on the page. Something we haven’t fully exploited yet, I think. In fact, some of Basho’s seem to go beyond ‘link and shift’ and act as punctuation, bringing an end to particular sections.”

In the Introduction to Table Turning[5] Cobb re-confirms his opinion that the haiku need to be ‘good in themselves and also perform a role within the haibun’ although he considers this desire for autonomous haiku as an ‘ideal’, a rule that can be relaxed occasionally rather then being written in stone.

“I’m humble enough to admit that it’s a very difficult thing to do” he says, “but I do believe that the haiku should retain a link and shift relationship to the prose, which should also have the capacity to stand alone too. But the essential thing, surely, is that neither prose nor poetry should upstage each other.”

He remains dubious about the often stated ‘rule’ that a haiku shouldn’t be easily capable of being ‘folded back’ into the prose. “There’s such a variety of prose that’s acceptable in haibun – clipped syntax, stream of consciousness, a more relaxed narrative voice – that almost any haiku could be written out as part of it!”

So how does he feel about the idea of the ‘haiku-less haibun’? Can such a thing exist?

“I haven’t seen one yet,” he says, “and it really seems illogical. After all, the one thing that distinguishes haibun from other kinds of short prose writing is the interplay between poem and prose. Take away the poem and what have you got?”

He draws a parallel with the debate around ‘one-word haiku’ – “It’s inconceivable such a haiku can contain a kireji.[6] – but admits that he’s less interested in philosophical discussions of this kind than with the literary merits of haiku and haibun and his responsibility as a writer to his audience.

While other writers might wish to stress the value of ‘process’, Cobb’s motivation is normally towards ‘product’ and the satisfaction of the reader.

“A reader wants to be entertained and/or informed. A reader wants a sense of fulfilment and enjoyment. As an author you have a profession and a responsibility to enable that to happen.”

But a lot of contemporary haibun are written from autobiographical or life material. How can haibun writers avoid the trap of self-indulgence when using their own personal experiences?

“Yes. I’ve read a lot of haibun that seem to me to be substitutes for a trip to Freud’s couch. A haibun writer must not be looking for some kind of therapy for him or herself, but keep an eye on the reader and what will not be wasting his or her time. Interest is all, to adapt a well-known phrase of Keats.”

I listen to the lark
flat out[7]

Self-indulgence is not an accusation that can be levelled against Cobb’s haibun that celebrate landscape, nature, literature, history and myth, and the characters that populate them. Their blend of story and poetry is close to his heart as someone who began by writing short stories, then shifted to haiku, and subsequently found the haibun form.

So where do his haibun come from?

“From things that have been sitting in my consciousness for years (memory), from things that are new to me (experience), and from my imagination. I used to look for things to write about – we all need the practice when we start out – but these days I wait for them to arise.”

And how does he go about creating them?

“Nowadays I compose on the computer screen, print off a copy and make corrections, then go back to the screen. After several drafts, and when I feel I’m in danger of losing the spontaneity, I’ll put it aside and let my subconscious carry on working on it.”

And how does he know when a haibun is finished?

“I’ll have any number of writing sessions to bring a haibun to a state of completion, but is any haibun every really finished?”

This question isn’t at all rhetorical. In 2006, Cobb revised his 1997 version of Spring Journey for inclusion in Business in Eden, a task he received some criticism for, but he defends his decision because, among other things, he wanted to correct an element of “unfairness” he’d displayed towards one of his characters.

By “unfairness” he doesn’t mean a lack of truthfulness but more a misjudgement, and he has definite ideas about the ideas of truth in relation to haibun.

“People who want factual truth [in haibun] are evaluating them in terms of philosophy rather than in terms of literature. We know that Basho’s account in The Narrow Road does not always conform to what really happened by comparing it to his companion Sora’s diary of the same journey. Sora’s diary was a faithful, or ‘true’ if you like, account. Basho took artistic liberties, selected and re-organised things to create art[8]. I view haibun as reorganised experience.”

Some people might be alarmed to know that Cobb’s own Spring Journey deviates in places from the factual truth. “But why should that matter, if the reader believes it?” he asks. “What matters in literature is emotional truth.”

‘Room’, a haibun from Business in Eden, is a sensual and playful account of how, during a Sicilian siesta, he is seduced by his hotel room, by ‘her cool breath’ on ‘a steamy afternoon’. ‘Withdrawing’, another haibun from the same book, places its narrator in a future society where voluntary euthanasia is a socially acceptable alternative to natural death, an obviously fictional scenario.

“’Withdrawing’ started as a short story,” he explains, “and was an exercise in seeing what a haibun might be able to achieve. Up until now, this totally fictional approach is a one off, and isn’t really representative of my work. But I still believe it has emotional truth.”

through a small circle
of paint-splashed glass
the open sea[9]

“It’s liberating to write haibun,” Cobb says. “Haiku, although they can sometimes arrive whole like a gift, even if they are open-ended and one may take liberties with the form, can feel claustrophobic in their making. There’s less constraint with prose, it’s more like setting out on an adventure.”

In 2005 this adventure was extended when Rich Youmans (USA) invited Cobb to collaborate with him and Ion Codrescu (Romania) on a project of linked haibun. Several of the haibun appeared in ‘Modern Haiku’[10] and apricot tree was subsequently published by Leap Press in 2006.

Cobb says, “To be in at the birth of a genre is somehow idyllic,” but he admits he was apprehensive about the endeavour at first. “Would there be some irksome loss of independence? Would artifice supplant integrity? And we didn’t even have the sketchiest plan that might help us produce a coherent literary work.”

But in fact, the lack of all but the most minimal prescriptions turned out to be an advantage, and he was delighted to experience a boost in creativity, writing things he might not otherwise have written, roaming “between actuality and fiction”, without ever feeling he was really compromising his cultural “differences” as a writer and lapsing into what he regards as “infertile” homogeneity.

apricot tree is an astonishing text. It opens with a stand-alone haiku by Codrescu followed by a short haibun written by Youmans in response. That haibun’s concluding haiku acts as ‘the link and shift’ for Cobb to continue. The reader then travels with these three writers through memory, experience, and imagination, across geographical boundaries and cultural perspectives, but never outside the domain of universal human experience.

Does he think that collaborative linked haibun have a promising future?

“[Rich was] a sensitive and discerning ‘manager’ [and] his instinct for picking writers who might collaborate in a positive way must have been crucial. I suggest that it would be unwise, as some person might be tempted to do, to ‘go one better’, to launch a grandiose open invitation to all and sundry to take part in a linked haibun. It would not be ‘one better’, it would risk the infant’s life before it had begun to toddle well. It would be good if ‘linked haibun’ could keep its innocence a healthy while before the rule-mongers set to work on it.”

And one final word about how he sees his own haibun?

“Nobuyuki Yuasa recently said to me[11], ‘What is important is that the author is absolutely true to his or her feeling. If he contrives to be fanciful or serious, he loses his genuine feeling. It might also be a good idea to be both fanciful and serious at the same time, because our feelings are usually mixed… it is clear to me that there is philosophy behind your comic descriptions. You only hint at your philosophy and do not preach it.’

“I would be very happy if my haibun achieved something like that.”

the journey goes on
I squeeze just that bit higher
up the toothpaste tube[12]


[1] from ‘a day in twilight’, Palm (2002)
[2] nikki: “By this I mean extended or serial haibun… Basho referred to Oku-no-hosomichi (The Narrow Road to the Deep North) as michi no nikki.” Cobb, 28.1.08
[3] ‘Batting for Essex, England − and The World’ by Nigel Jenkins in ‘Planet – The Welsh Internationalist’, No 173 Oct/Nov 2005
[4] from The New Haiku, Snapshot Press 2002
[5] British Haiku Society Haibun Anthology 2005
[6] kireji – cutting word
[7] from The New Haiku, ibid
[8] “The writer seems more interested in giving us the… spiritual experience than in the prosaic recording of facts. This is expected of any literary journal.” Makoto Ueda, Matsuo Basho, Kodansha International 1982, p.140.
[9] from ‘Second Course’, Business in Eden (2006)
[11] from an email exchange with Nobuyuki Yuasa (Basho’s translator) about one of Cobb’s recent haibun, ‘A Walk with Issa (and the dog came too)’, Blithe Spirit, Vol 18 No 1, 2008
[12] from ‘deliverance’, Palm (2002)

Selected Bibliography:

Business in Eden, Equinox Press 2006
apricot tree, with Ion Codrescu and Rich Youmans, Leap Press 2006
Forefathers, Leap Press 2004
Palm, Equinox Press 2002
A Bowl of Sloes, Snapshot Press 2000
The Spring Journey to the Saxon Shore, Equinox Press 1997
Jumping from Kyomizu, Iron Press 1996

As editor:

Euro Haiku, Iron Press 2007
Table Turning, The British Haiku Society Haibun Anthology, BHS 2005
The Dead Poet’s Cabaret, Iron Press 2003
The British Museum Haiku, British Museum Press 2002
The Iron Book of British Haiku, Iron Press 1998


David Cobb: ROOM

Room is very white in every part, well-proportioned, and breathes conditioned air.

I am a torso of half-roasted meat. Torpid.

Room and I are sharing a day of rest, a day out of the sun, the third of our holiday together. Under her cool breath she supplies the answer to three-down in the crossword puzzle we are doing. Pervading atmosphere of a place. Ambience.

This sets us to swapping words in our different languages. Room's is Italian and she tells me her real name is in fact Camera. I begin to suspect she's been taking pictures of me all this steamy afternoon, focussing on me her lens hidden somewhere up there in the Sicilian soffits and catching me in the nude.

To have carnal knowledge of Room I plump up her white pillow and imagine she is Leda and I am the swan.

from Etna's heat
flowing around my thighs
the melted snows

by David Cobb
Braintree, Essex, England
from Business in Eden, Equinox Press, 2006


It is earlier in the morning than he intended when he draws back the bedroom curtains and peers out of the window. Takes stock.

glorious conkers
fallen in the night
the paper boy
misses a skip

A better Spicing than his yesterday evening he could not have imagined. Every one of his remaining longtime friends there, even those who were themselves squeamish about Withdrawing. A fine evening for the time of year; and when the high point of the celebration came, the ushers from the Terminal carried the Spicing Cup and the Withdrawal Cake out onto the patio, it was still so warm. The silver Cup had gone round from hand to hand without a drop of dew forming on it. A ceremony at once sober and lighthearted; nothing to embarrass.

a suppressed wind
until the night air
can bear it no more

Now the morning of the day itself is come. His steady hand smoothes a small crease from the Withdrawal Robe laid out neatly on the spare bed the night before; the spare bed where until she died his wife used to sleep. More now than ever he feels sorry she did not Withdraw, but took the more traditional way out of the world.

When the ushers come for him with the almost silent stretched limousine, he hands over the keys of the house and the chauffeur seals them in an envelope and puts them in his pocket. As they make the three circuits of the house, he wants to sing, a song about the wind through the trees, didn't they say though, the art was to Withdraw in silence?

But finally, when they have passed through the saltmarshes and reached the staithe where they must wait for the tide to swell under the ferry boat, and he can see through the haze the gates of the Golden Park, and the island and the Terminal itself, one of the ushers slots a CD into the car radio and plays a cantata by Bach.

sea lavender
a ship with an empty hold
putting out to sea

by David Cobb
Braintree, Essex, England
from Business in Eden, Equinox Press, 2006

Saturday, February 23, 2008


all the humid night the fan squeaks like a blowfly in a jar or a distant corella calling in flight

morning comes and the ceiling timbers are the first thing i see their joints discontinuous as lines of morse code or a transcript of the faltering conversation of people who do not yet know each other

above my head the boards are easing apart to release dark beginnings small falls of webby dust depositions of previous lives old memories others’ voices and dream utterances sifting down into the room

outside a neighbour child plays with a mock-growling dog a cell phone chirps and a crow asserts its right to the clothes hoist

and daylight colours-in the room as you swim up through waves of sleep and into my arms

a room full of words
among book islands
our easy silence

by Ynes Sanz
Brisbane, Queensland, Australia
first published in talking poetry blues, 2006

Friday, February 22, 2008

Barbara Strang: Be Careful

my mother calls as I run towards the rocks at the base of the lighthouse. It is unnecessary to warn me. Stirling Point is a splinter of land, aiming for Antarctica. The sea below bolts through the narrow gap to fill Bluff Harbour. I see a rusty spike of iron rising from the waves – Dad told me the skeleton of a ship lies below. Buoys mark the shipping channel. Once more I roll “buoy” around my mouth, and squint, trying to turn the weathered red drums into real live boys. One is making a human sound. Among the rocks I find a piece of green glass, worn smooth by the sea.

moaning buoy
my brother
casts a stone

by Barbara Strang
Christchurch, New Zealand
first published in Yellow Moon, 2006

Thursday, February 21, 2008


We’re hunkered – and that’s the correct word – in anticipation of a major snow accumulation. Streets are pretty much empty, except for delivery trucks and mad-driving SUVs. I’m in a coffee shop where a big man wearing big yellow boots just walked in and ordered a small cup to go. He holds the paper cup daintily with his big fat fingers that look like mutant alien slugs. His mouth squawks like a pterodactyl. The snapping action of his jaws looks mildly menacing, even though his eyes crinkle with friendliness. Everyone talks about the weather as though we’re all college philosophy students examining truth as intently as a Fabergé egg.

snow globe
a sparkle flake rests
on Elvis’ head

by Jeffrey Winke
Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Wednesday, February 20, 2008


The ear’s conch still holds the ocean entire from last night, that undulation Yosa Buson had so memorialized with his notari, notari of the ever young spring sea. If the blade of the underdark were to prick my skin tonight, only a rill of shadows would flow out. Such is midlife, less crisis than removing clothes that were never a comfortable fit: it has taken me many years to learn to appraise the world above the belly’s horizon, the low chakra that jails us by stroking our baser instincts.

I bow to those who live more simply than I do, to those who take but one and leave two. To those who carry their calmness and serenity with them like a shell, I bow even lower…to listen.

As falling rain
can’t be held by shingles, old friends go their ways
just as water, finding its level,
reflects to each
a different moon.

by Gary LeBel
Cumming, Georgia

Tuesday, February 19, 2008


Just a day before the Year of the Rat, sitting in a kopitiam having breakfast, I read about a duck that refuses to die. A farmer outside of Kuala Lumpur slit its throat but several hours later found it still alive. Puzzled, he took it to the local imam who slit its throat again. The next morning it was still an undead duck.

In the photo in the newspaper, the farmer holds the duck with its mangled neck in front of him for the camera. He explains, in the caption, that the duck has stopped eating and has begun to smell a bit but otherwise continues to waddle around in the pen with the other ducks.

eating runny eggs
not giving death
a thought –
perhaps death
will ignore me too

by Bob Lucky
Hangzhou, China

kopitiam = a Chinese-style coffee house in Singapore or Malaysia

Monday, February 18, 2008


Early morning: “Is anyone awake yet?” Eating peanut butter off the crackers, Cinderella’s pink chemise and frilled socks, beagle licking her fingers, with glittering eyes telling stories half-understood. No nap. “Let’s go visit the peacocks and horses!”

appaloosa’s mouth
through split rails: a carrot
on our granddaughter’s palm

Running, full moon rising, sweet gum trees bending. Stopping to smell winter wisteria and early cherry blossoms’ ginger, wanting a sprig, then another. Whoosh, down a slide, “Higher, higher!” in a swing. And getting chilly? She doesn’t care.

under a sea of leaves
an acorn and its tender root –
“let’s plant it, Pappa!”

by Jay Bryan
Chapel Hill, North Carolina


Heritage climbing roses adorn our deck. Pink and white, they attract thousands of bees. Heaven on a long stem. A couple of over-grown shoots offend my eye, so I fetch the secateurs to lop them. Two down, one more – out there…. I miss the top step and begin a short journey to the concrete paving. Half over the top railing I fling an arm around a bunch of rose stems, hug them to my chest.

The thorns bite into my hand and bare arm, I teeter a moment, stop. A thousand nervous bees circle my head.

on the thorns of a dilemma –
all that bites
is not necessarily your enemy

by John Irvine
Auckland, New Zealand

Saturday, February 16, 2008


A sunken blob of paint marks the centre of the football pitch, almost spot on where Turner created a watercolour of the old churchtower, west-facing on the brow of the hill, beyond trees in full leaf then as now, their varying shades - five black and white cows caught where the goal posts stand today, between here and the new hedge, obscuring the view he brushed in of the river's flow...

to the chalky curve
a dragonfly

A pair of maintenance lads in green wheel out a new layer from a plastic container; turning the corner, a chemical smell, some kind of weedkiller they say, burning it in.

coated grass blades –
re-ruling them
the wind

by Diana Webb
London, England
first published in Presence 34, Jan. 2008

Friday, February 15, 2008


The black Doberman’s name is Messerschmitt. I had suggested the name Fluffy, but I’m fond of the ironic. The canine drools when it growls. My daughter, who is studying Eastern medicine, says the drooling is due to an abundance of cold wind – at least, that’s what I think she said. I like Messer when he’s on a taut leash and is wearing a choker chain collar to keep him in check. He’s best straining to snap my head off – leash tightening the choke while his black, wet marble eyes bulge in disdain for me.

nuisance call
sound of dead air
after I click off

by Jeffrey Winke
Milwaukee, Wisconsin


Thin but Rich

Correspondent: Lynne Rees

We’re a little thin on the ground when it comes to journals dedicated to haiku writing in the UK, but we’re lucky to have Presence, edited by Martin Lucas and published three times a year. It’s down to his insightful, editorial eye that a high standard of writing (haiku, senryu, tanka, linked verse, haibun, essays and reviews) is maintained. The amount of haibun published varies but there are usually between four and six in each issue.

In his most recent editorial (no. 34) Martin has specifically asked for submissions on the theme of ‘Climate Change’ but to avoid work that is politically ineffective and poetically disastrous he suggests that potential contributors write in response to a personal experience of climate change, adopting an oblique rather than a direct polemical approach.

Haibun on this theme should be submitted directly to Martin at: m.lucas27 (at) btinternet (dot) com

Other haibun, for the next and future issues, should be sent to the haibun editor, Fred Schofield, at: fredly24 (at) yahoo (dot) co (dot) uk

The deadline is 31st March 2008.

Presence costs £4.50 ($10) for a single issue; £12 ($25) for three issues.

by Lynne Rees
Juan les Pins, France

Thursday, February 14, 2008


On a spring day in March, we walk to the morada. A low building of now rotting adobe, it was once used by Los Hermenos, the brotherhood of Penitentes. They practiced secret rites, such as self-flagellation and crucifixion, outside of the approval of the Catholic Church.

far-off silver statue
of a horse running –
droppings in this field

We take a path out along the mesa, on Pueblo land, expansive view in all directions. We walk towards Taos Mountain, looking enormous and blue-green in the clear air. Aren’t all mountains sacred? This one still knows it.

my pilgrim’s stick
no affectation –
my bad knee

About half a mile from the morada is a large cross – the first that Georgia O'Keeffe painted in New Mexico. Her painting is “White Cross” but it is now weathered gray. There are offerings of stones and pebbles at the base, left by visitors.

scattered feathers, scat
wild sacrifice at the base
of the swaying cross

I sit down on the foundation and look out over the land.

fence posts, barbed wire
shadow of the cross
bisects Taos Mountain

by Miriam Sagan
Santa Fe, New Mexico

Friday, February 8, 2008


by Jeffrey Woodward

Ken Jones contributes regularly to UK Haiku magazines and is represented in British and American anthologies. For his contribution to Pilgrim Foxes: Haiku and Haiku Prose, co-authored with Jim Norton and Sean O'Connor, Jones was awarded the Sasakawa Prize for Original Contributions in the Field of Haikai. In 2005 his "Travellers" took first place in the annual English Language Haibun Contest. His other collections include: Arrow of Stones (British Haiku Society, 2002); Stallion's Crag (Iron Press, 2003); The Parsley Bed: A collection of Haiku and Haibun (2006). In 2002 he acted as UK judge for the first Nobuyuki Yuasa International Haibun Contest. Jones is a Zen practitioner of thirty years standing, and author of books on socially engaged Buddhism.

In January of this year, he generously agreed to the following interview, conducted by Jeffrey Woodward, for
Haibun Today.

JW: Perhaps an inquiry into the when and why of your first haibun is the proper place to begin. Did you practice other forms of composition before turning to haiku and haibun? Do you recall a specific turning point when haibun became a viable option for you, that is, when the genre held sufficient interest in its own right and when you acquired confidence in its pursuit?

KJ: As with many other British haiku poets it was The Haiku Hundred (1992) that got me going, and by the later 1990s I had graduated from haiku sequences to being an enthusiastic haibunist. The earliest that I can trace is entitled “Defusing an Ancient Curse: Climbing the Hill of the Hag” (May 1997) and the opening line sets the tone of much that was to follow: “Among the glens, bogs and lochans of the Western Highlands of Scotland the line between the natural and the supernatural is thin indeed”. It’s still a gripping read and already much in the style of Stallion’s Crag (2003). However, in terms of my total output of some two hundred haibun (almost all published in haiku journals) it would be unfair to categorise me as a misty, impenetrable Celtic folklorist not for export. My latest collection, The Parsley Bed, (2006) has perhaps helped to dispel that impression on your side of the Atlantic.

For inspiration, support and ideas I owe much to David Cobb, Jim Norton and George Marsh over here, and to William Ramsey, Michael McClintock and Jim Kacian over there. All should feature prominently in the anthology of “classic” haibun which surely by now deserves publication.

The other major influence is Zen Buddhism, which I have been practising, writing about, and latterly teaching, for over thirty years. Essentially I write haiku and haibun as a dō or Way of spiritual practice, and – despite the protestations of friends –don’t really see myself as a literary gent or even “a proper poet”. I owe much to the classic Japanese haiku, with Nagata Koi as my favourite modern. It is an ingrained Zen sensibility which makes my haibun an exploration of the elusive, paradoxical and shape-shifting nature of what passes as “reality”. I have not been alone in this spiritual orientation. In 1997 a small group of English, Irish and Welsh haiku and haibun writers met up for a literary retreat on Pumlumon, the sacred mountain of Wales. We founded the still flourishing Red Thread Haiku Sangha, dedicated to the spiritual and existential development of the genre.

JW: At the close of your introduction to Arrow of Stones (2002), you alluded favorably to Haruo Shirane’s view of a “vertical axis” of myth, history and literature – what might be termed our common cultural heritage – as a preferred backdrop or foundation for the “horizontal axis” of a contemporary scene enlivened by sharp sensory perception. Shirane’s Traces of Dreams devotes a fair amount of space to debunking such Western concepts as the “haiku moment” or, at a minimum, of pointing to the poverty of such beliefs. If I may safely assume that you still share Shirane’s view, what improvements, if any, have you noted in haibun in this regard since you published your introduction?

KJ: David Cobb’s Spring Journey to the Saxon Shore (1997) was arguably the first extended exemplar of Shirane’s “vertical axis” (and inspired my Welsh equivalent, Stallion’s Crag, six years later.) However, although there has been a strong development of the haibun as a literary genre over the past ten years the emphasis has largely remained on “sharp, sensory perception” which is presumably – and mistakenly – seen as opposed to the imaginative use of myth, history and literature. Attempts to promote a homogenized, globalised, and readily exportable haiku have not helped.

JW: On a related point, in the same writing, you characterized much Western haibun as “colourless and banal prose” without a discernible theme or purpose. You proceeded to make an argument for a “literary haibun” in these terms: “Consider the distinction between ‘a walk’ and ‘a pilgrimage’. The former rambles from here to there, this and that may be observed, but, so what? The latter is imbued with purpose, aspiration and self-discovery …. Poetic truth should be set above factual narrative, but always on a bedrock of authentic experience.” Do you see more or fewer “literary haibun” today and what is the prospect, in your opinion, for its further growth?

KJ: Over here, at the start of the new century, with David Cobb, Jim Norton, George Marsh and other friends I initiated what we loosely termed “the haibun project”. Our goal was to encourage the development of haibun as an authentic literary genre, replacing the predominant but banal “literal” haibun which William Ramsey characterized as consisting of jewels (the haiku) set in mud banks (the prose). Our opening shot was a special issue of Blithe Spirit, journal of the British Haiku Society, which aimed to highlight the work of British and Irish literary haibunists and which was introduced with a manifesto by David Cobb ominously entitled “A Few Timely Heresies about English Haibun”. Meanwhile, over in Dublin, Jim Norton’s Haiku Spirit had been pioneering “the new haibun” since 1995. And George Marsh initiated an e-group, the Haikuprose Group as a forum for mutual discussion and critique. It is still going strong, and virtually every one of my own haibun has benefited by being passed through it in draft. In 2006 I helped launch the BHS annual Haibun Anthology project. This replaced an annual competition. The aim is an educational one of showcasing a diversity of selected haibun submissions of high literary standard, including assessments by each of the two adjudicators who make the selection. The selected haibun are deliberately not placed in any order of merit so as to emphasise the equal acceptability of a wide range of literary styles. There are no prizes; to be published in the Anthology is considered in itself a sufficient recognition. Finally, the annual anthology Contemporary Haibun, initiated by Jim Kacian in 2000, and joined later by an online quarterly version, is now surely the major contemporary benchmarker for haibun of literary standard.

In my view, on both sides of the Atlantic, there has been a distinct progression from literal haibun to literary haibun; the “haibun project” has come of age – from expository writing towards creative writing; from reportage to literature; from pieces that are no more than interesting or entertaining to haibun which engage our feelings, stir our imagination, enrich our sensibilities, profoundly enhance our experience of social cultures, and which – unless they are very short – have some underlying theme which gives them a metaphoric resonance. What is particularly interesting is the wide range of styles – surreal, stream of consciousness or whatever – in which literary haibun are being written but which nonetheless are all “in the spirit of haiku” which Bashō himself recommended for the prose – concrete, direct, imagistic, showing rather than telling and hopefully also playful, elliptical and leaving space for their readers’ imagination. As William Ramsey has put it, “for the committed haiku writer there will be pressure to employ haibun prose that will be consistent in voice and esthetic order with haiku’s lyrically imaginative and esthetic mode.” Jamie Edgecombe has characterised this “haibunic prose” as including “the fragmenting of sentences, the exaggerated … use of noun-phrasing or word-block associations, literary allusion and so on. All of which help to disrupt the usual lineation of our language, thus averting the prose’s slip into standard narrative “(Blithe Spirit 16/1, 46).

JW: Various writers – including you, I believe – have asserted that the haiku within haibun must be able to stand alone as works in their own right. The demand that haiku have such autonomy, in fact, may be one of the more commonly accepted qualities that commentators note in haibun. I’m sorry to return to the introductory remarks of Arrow of Stones again but therein you write: “With haibun of, say, over a thousand words, haiku prose … may run too rich, become wearisome, and need to be orchestrated with more bland passages, anecdotes, conversations and the like.” Now, this argument, where the part is subordinate to the whole, is common parlance when discussing literary works of any size, from the sonnet to the novel. My question, however, is this: If we recognize that an overtly poetic prose may require “bland passages” in its orchestration, must we not recognize, also, that the haiku, when present, may not claim full autonomy but must often give way to the prose? Is it not possible – even necessary – that certain of the haiku, with the support of their immediate prose environment, might fall short of those qualities we expect of so-called “stand-alone haiku”?

KJ: The prose context enables haiku to be written which would not otherwise be possible unless they were much longer than the traditional 17-syllable “length of a breath”. The scene can be set in the prose. I see no reason why this should in any way necessarily diminish the quality of the haiku.

A more serious problem is the ability of the haiku to interact effectively in some way with the prose when the latter is being written “in the spirit of haiku”, and hence closely resembles haiku. There are various ways of resolving that problem, some of which I have discussed in “Ken’s Corner” #4 on the Contemporary Haibun Online site. As a rule of thumb, if a haiku reads just as well when folded back into the prose then it should be left there; better strong prose than a haiku which is no more than three chopped up bits of prose. Contrariwise, if the haiku doesn’t sit easily in the prose when folded back there and stands out somehow differently from the prose, then it is better left to do its job as a haiku. What that job may be – and there are several possibilities – can be elucidated in each particular case.

JW: I would like to discuss Stallion’s Crag (2003), your longest and perhaps most ambitious haibun. The work concerns your hermit-like retreat to the mountain of Plynlimon or Pumlumon and makes this the occasion as well for much reflection on local and national Welsh culture and history. Something of Shirane’s horizontal and vertical axes might be seen in this. Welsh terms are sprinkled throughout Stallion’s Crag. One that interests me, in particular, is disgwylfa which you define as “a place of watching and watchfulness” or disgwylgar, a derivative, which you describe as “bare attention.” What role does this mental state play in the writing of your haibun?

KJ: “Bare attention” is a standard Buddhist meditation practice, and my solitary retreats seem to provide the best conditions for producing a rich crop of haiku. Without reading matter or any other diversion (including day dreams and similar entertainments in the skull cinema) there’s no alternative but to “be here now”. Keep at it and it’s not difficult to work through the boredom and come out the other side. In these circumstances, and immersed for years in the landscape, history and folklore of the Pumlumon range, a long haibun was inevitable. And David Cobb had already demonstrated the possibilities in his Spring Journey to the Saxon Shore. In the longer work the style can be – and needs to be – more varied, without the intensity of a shorter piece.

JW: I note also that you refer to Dafydd ap Gwilym, perhaps greatest of Welsh poets, and to the “official twenty-four metres,” such as englyn and cywydd, of classical and medieval Welsh poetry. Has Welsh traditional poetry, either in the original or in the modern English translations of Joseph Clancy or Tony Conran, played any significant role in your own writing?

KJ: If anything, I owe more to the tradition of Dylan Thomas than to traditional Welsh language poetry, and to Welsh landscape and history. Also, there is a certain Welsh sensibility which defies definition and is well exemplified in “The Skinner Street Salon”.

JW: In your essay, “Writing Reality: Fictional Haibun Stories,” you return to a distinction that I believe you made earlier, in your introductory remarks to Arrow of Stones, between “mere reportage of experience” and crafted writing – between, in other words, the narrowly experiential “haiku moment” and haibun as literature. Your reason for doing so in the more recent essay is to advocate for the development of “haibun as short story.” Why, precisely, propose the short story? If the aim is to achieve the scaffolding, say, of a beginning, middle and end, why, for example, would the expository essay, with its introduction, body and conclusion, not suffice? What specific advantages do you discern in the conventions of the story for the crafting of haibun?

KJ: I doubt if the rhetoric of “the expository essay” would provide an appropriate model for haibun, although I have come across two or three quite successful pieces which echo the classic essay. As to the haibun as short story, I am concerned simply to argue it as a worthwhile possibility, rather than an ideal goal. There is a kind of continuum at work here. First, haibun writers have to be persuaded not to include incidents in their reportage which are not relevant to the underlying purpose or theme of the piece (that is, to say “What are they really up to ?”). The underlying theme is what emotionally engages the reader, and makes the haibun more than a mildly interesting account of someone else’s doings. (Most submissions I receive as a Contemporary Haibun editor are no more than reportage, and the raw material for a haibun, not the finished product). The next stage is to include imaginary material in order to craft what is now becoming a literary artifact. Unless the piece is very short, there is next the possibility of evolving the theme, and the resemblance to an autobiographical short story begins to appear, with a beginning, middle and end. Even in my historical haibun the convention of a first person narrator is retained, if only to recount scenes which are imaginary – “pure fiction.” However, at least one of my own haibun, “Worrying the Carcase of an Old Song” doesn’t have a narrator. It’s very difficult to induce even talented haibun writers to let go and give their imagination free rein. Readers are always asking me if my stories are “true”. But if fiction is necessarily no more than recycled experience, then how “true” is that? Finally, a very few writers, most notably Bill Ramsey, have ventured even further, into the realms of fantasy.
JW: You point to Nietzsche, Wittgenstein and Derrida as leading to the contemporary Western understanding that language is not “a representation of reality.” You cite Nagarjuna and Dogen, great Buddhist thinkers, as anticipating this current trend in philosophical and linguistic circles. Can you enlarge, at all, upon what Nagarjuna and Dogen say in this regard?

KJ: I was rather rash to introduce Nagarjuna and Dogen! I don’t want to expound the relationship of Mahayana Buddhism to haibun here, and would refer readers to the pioneering enquiry of Jeff Humphries in his Reading Emptiness: Buddhism and Literature (State University of New York Press, 1999). The Japanese scholar-monk Eihei Dogen (1200-53) – “the Thomas Aquinas of Buddhism” – has, however, been a particular inspiration. Dogen maintained that our characteristic struggle to sustain a secure sense of identity dulls and deadens our experience of what’s out there. To the extent that we are able to drop our self concern and open ourselves to the world, to that extent sticks and stones, posts and poetry, appear to spring into a life of their own. My haibun “Posts” is thus an illustration of Dogen’s dictum “When the self advances, the ten thousand things retire; but when the self withdraws, the ten thousand things advance.”

JW: One other point drawn from “Writing Reality,” if you do not mind. You state there that the plot, characters and other conventions of the short story adhere to the “customary mode of experience” whereas the conventions of haibun – understatement, ambiguity, suggestion, paradox, silence – allow for liberty to vary from normative experience. You refer to this “new reality” of haibun as being derived from these factors that lie outside of narrative convention – the unsaid, that is – and you posit some masters of the short story, such as Chekhov, Joyce and Beckett, who achieve similar results. You ascribe the effect such writings have to the “anti-story” elements, that is, to what “lies beyond the externalities of the story.” Is it only through the absence of haiku, in your opinion, that a Chekhov or Beckett falls short of writing haibun? Or are other elements involved?

KJ: I don’t doubt that at least some stories by the likes of Chekhov and Beckett could be turned into haibun either by the insertion of haiku or maybe even by folding out key phrases into three liners. However, I would resist the acceptance for Contemporary Haibun of would-be haibun written in “haibun prose” and with all the other attributes of literary haibun, yet without haiku. If it were outside the haiku family the genre would not only be lacking in distinctiveness; more important, it would lose that “haiku spirit” which amounts to very much more than simply including haiku in prose. For the same reason I am unhappy with lengthy haibun which have only a single capping haiku.

Writing “in the spirit of haiku” requires observance of the haiku dictum “SHOW, don’t TELL!” So in place of explicit and explicatory narrative the haibunist (where dialogue is not appropriate) must resort to open metaphor and (very light) symbolism to assist the reader’s imagination as to what the characters are feeling. An early haibun of mine, “The Samurai Paper Knife” illustrates this.

JW: With your permission, I would like to discuss one of your haibun in greater detail. I’ve singled out “Marsh’s Pool” for two reasons: first, and foremost, it is at once an exceptional haibun and one you’ve cited as illustrative of the haibun story; second, this particular work is easily available on the internet for our readers’ reference. Your narrator’s obsession with the wood engraving in his possession inspires dreams that eventually grant him “peace of mind” and sufficient detachment to “give the picture away to a deeply disturbed person” in the hope that she, too, will find peace. With the narrator’s return to his home in Wales, however, the scene of the engraving proper is found and, of course, our narrator situates himself within it. This is neatly circular upon first glance, and yet, studying the matter closely, the resolution is enigmatic, is it not?

KJ: In “Marsh’s Pool” the actual narrative rests precariously upon an elusive “reality” and is quite overshadowed by it. The engraving pictures a reality which can (until the end) be entered only in dreams, when the dreamer himself or herself becomes the healing “dream that place dreams”. As you observe, the ending appears to effect a closure as the narrator becomes the figure in the engraving. The enigma is ultimately that of any graphic illustration of some object “out there”. The illustration has a power and life of its own (and very much so in “Marsh’s Pool”) and yet it also attempts to portray and “bring to life” something outside itself. The capping haiku attempts to distil that paradox – “printed on water”. Earlier I had played less ambitiously with this paradox in a short haibun entitled “Moonrise by the Sea”.

JW: You have been very generous with your time. I would like to close the interview, if possible, with two brief but related questions. Neither an ability to write a good story nor to write a good haiku in-and-of-itself is sufficient to master haibun. What, in your view, distinguishes the author of haibun from the haiku poet? Given the degree of specialization in every arena of modern endeavor, do you foresee the possibility or likelihood of haibun and haiku developing into distinct disciplines?

KJ: The writer of haibun must not only be a master of publishable haiku, but also of a lively prose style of the kind discussed earlier, which maintains its distinctiveness from the haiku with which it dances. I recall Bill Ramsey lamenting in an e-mail to me that so very many would-be haibun writers needed to take themselves off to a course in creative writing at their local university. The four parts of “Ken’s Corner” in Contemporary Haibun Online were written as an attempt to coach writers contemplating submissions into producing more acceptable work.

As to your final question, I believe it essential that haibun remain within the haiku community. It is the many manifestations of “the spirit of haiku” which I have discussed here which animate haibun as an authentic literary genre. The literary haibun is now supplanting the literal haibun. But to achieve its full potential, my hope is now for haibun writers to free up their creative imagination.


A winding street near the harbour, its broken gutters splash water on the passers by. In the damp westerlies the door sticks. Push hard. The old shop bell gives a cheerful tinkle. Scents and lotions waft on the warm air.

“Bore da, cariad ! Nadolig llawen !"

It is Buddug, with her bouffant display of henna’d hair. Like everyone else here she is a woman of strongly voiced opinions.

Gossip of scissors
the combs parting
sheep from goats

As I settle myself on the end of the bench Modlen appears from behind a mysterious curtained recess like some houri, bearing a tiny tin tray.

Shortest day balancing
a sherry
on a cinnamon cake

Buddug and Modlen combine repartee, mime and therapy – and you get a haircut. A racy mix of Wenglish and kitchen Welsh crackles round the little salon. Under the dryers ancient ladies sip tea. They are the kind you see on Sunday mornings, in their court shoes, clutching their prayer books as they hasten to chapel, all twt a thaclws. Yet the bawdy banter here would make a strong man blush. The few men who do venture into this lair exchange their knowing nods and winks.

Modlen beckons me to her chair and swathes me in the National Flag. Some skilful flirting goes with the haircut. “Now how would you like it this time, dahlin’, with that designer stubble of yours ?”

Recalling the beards
she has known
her fingers

I tell them about how my old professor of ethnology would spend his summers in Fenland barbers’ shops. Measuring the customers’ heads, he was. To see if there were any Cymry Cymraeg heads still there after all that time.

Buddug responds with a play on my name – Ken, the Gaelic for a head, and hence Cen in the Welsh form. Not for the first time, they get into phrenology. Modlen feels my shorn cranium and speculates as to which bumps where might give some clue to the size and potency of the natural member.

Plaster head of painted numbers.
its face
.............. gives nothing away

I entice them away with a titbit about the bend sinister in my Anglesey pedigree.

Modlen whisks away the flag and holds up the mirror for my approval. From Budddug a farewell Christmas kiss – full on the lips. “And another on St David’s day. Twice a year is enough for a married man, cariad !”.

Worn linoleum
she sweeps away my hair
across the cracks and continents

by Ken Jones
Aberystwyth, Wales
December 2004

“Bore da, cariad ! Nadolig llawen !" -- Good morning, darling ! Merry Christmas !
Buddug – Boadicia (still in use)
Modlen - Magdalene
“Twt a thaclws” -- Neat and tidy; prim and proper
Cymry Cymraeg – pure Welsh


Lying in wait
the morning of a day
waiting to happen

Down a broad, bracken-filled valley the elderly couple over from England. Immaculate ramblers. He, map case dangling from his neck, so sure of where he’s going. She, a little nervous, lags behind.

Treacherously the red pecked line of the Ordnance Survey Right of Way snakes off into the bracken. Unaware, they push on through a broken gate, DIM SAESON in a shaky hand.

In the bleached silence
of a dried up stream
bones picked clean

Past a shabby little farm, scabby corrugated iron and knots of orange bailer twine, the track beckons them on. Arms crossed, he is ready for them.

Smug, is it ? Think with their bloody map they know everything there is to know.

“A very good day to you !”

“You’re trespassing, man ! Go back the way you came !”

“Now let’s be reasonable According to the map, we’re on a right of way, you know.” Red faced, he fumbles with his map.

Knight of the shire
his iron visor
clamped shut

“Don’t you go telling me about my land. The path’s over there, under the bracken.” Eyes bulging, he waves his stick

Taut for war
his white knuckles
on the strung bow

Down the raod. “The Old Chapel” now, but “Capel Seion” it was when father had raised the hwyl. And the school is somebody’s holiday home. The shop bought by a couple from the English Midlands. Nice enough they are, but, well… Tea towels and stuffed red dragons. In there, you feel awkward speaking your own language.

She plucks at his sleeve, a careworn woman in a print apron.

“Chware teg, Glyn. Digon yw digon.”

“George, please don’t ! That’s enough,” pleads the other woman.

The women exchange glances. George shrugs his shoulders, straightens his back, and brushes past. Glyn, hands on hips, “sees him off”.

Bony rocks
thrust through thin pasture
the valley reappears

by Ken Jones
Aberystwyth, Wales
October 2005

The title is the last line of a poem by R.S. Thomas .”Welsh Landscape”.
Dim Saeson; No English.
religious fervour.
Capel Seion;
Zion, the Promised Land.
Chware teg, Glyn. Digon yw digon.
Fair play, Glyn. Enough is enough.


Rooted out in autumn
livid again in spring
the weed in the chimney stack

In the mail it is the elegant grey envelope that stands out. Expensive textured paper. I feel the weight of it and hold it up to the desk lamp. First class English stamp, still with a fresh faced queen. Home Counties post mark. Suddenly it all floods back. That bold extravagant scrawl. I place the envelope in the middle of the blotter, get up, and fix a drink; throw another log on the fire. The samurai paper knife is drawn fro its little wooden scabbard.

A hint of scent
this one
delicately slit

Two sheets of the same grey paper. That writing ! The long ascenders still sweep up through two lines. And those grand flourishes !

The swivel chair squeaks awkwardly. The Age of Art Nouveau, still in its slipcase. Plate 509 was a favourite of hers. “We can well imagine this dark green velvet gown in the setting of a Van de Velde drawing room”, says the caption. We can, my dear, we can. La Belle Époque. Lying on the facing page is the only remaining photo. So full of ourselves then; now only a shiny card. Yes, I remember that couple.

I place the photo inside the unread letter and look about my well lived study.

Field glasses case
in battered leather
its lid hangs open

I get up from my desk and go over to the fire. Suddenly the room feels chill… The smiles, the flourishes – now curling and crinkling in the flames. And then it’s all over.

Out of the darkness
wind chimes
made of bones

by Ken Jones
Aberystwyth, Wales


Glazed picture
gathering the reflections
of my study

I found the wood engraving in a charity shop.. Early nineteenth century and reminiscent of Samuel Palmer, but the craftsmanship much inferior and the artist’s name indecipherable. “Marsh’s Pool”, wherever that may be. The Taoist atmosphere attracted me ─ a cabin or cottage, with a veranda, looking out on a small lake surrounded by pines,
Deeply etched
a tiny figure
beneath a lightly graven moon

No sooner was the picture hung on my study wall than, on moonlit nights, I am transported off to dream on that veranda. In the early dreams it felt that I was taken there because of something unresolved or to answer some unknown question. The dreams were as disturbed as my waking life.

My soft moon shadow
by scudding clouds

Next morning I’d anxiously examine my rustic doppel-gänger through a magnifying glass, but the engraving is rough and unclear and he gives nothing away. Neither are any clues to be found elsewhere in the print. A vacant T, the wooden jetty thrusts out in moonshine

However, with successive dreaming I have begun to settle more peacefully into the picture, and to become as much one with it as the little figure appears to be. In deep contentment I have become the dream that place dreams.

Inside this lacquer frame
wandering pine needle paths
I warm to other dreams

Eventually, moved by gratitude, I give the picture away to a deeply disturbed person, that she, too, may dream herself back into some peace of mind.

Years later, now settled back in Wales, I have lost track of both the print and the person to whom I gave it. But I have found Marsh’s Pool, standing out incongruously on the map among the Welsh place names. It lies in Montgomeryshire, some two miles north-east of the village of Llangurig. You can reach it only by rough paths. Everything is indeed as in the print, except that there’s no one there on the veranda. Except, of course, me.

Printed on water
the shadow
of a summer’s day

by Ken Jones
Aberystwyth, Wales
February 2006


Full sail two boats
make for the moonlit shore
two men, two women

Out there, on the edge of the sea, the two men stand together, tall and close. A little behind them, the two women sit on a rock. The one in the black gown has her hand on the shoulder of the one in red.

Moon shadowed among the dark rocks, I watch them. In front, almost close enough for me to touch, stands a great anchor. Symbol of hope, it rests upright against another.

The watchers face in. Together, and calmly, they gaze out to sea. And I with them.

Here on a moonlit night in 1821, Caspar David Friedrich painted this in oils.

Moonlight spills beneath the clouds
soft light
on the gallery floor

by Ken Jones
Aberystwyth, Wales
June 2002

Wednesday, February 6, 2008


It’s almost midnight—tomorrow’s Christmas. As I turn the pages of the Tosa Diary I smell the sea and feel my cold soles’ impress on the shingle; I hear those ancient pines whose roots are ‘splashed by waves’. The rowers pull hard as a woman intones verses for the dead amid the long, elegant robes…I peek in on my sleeping daughter, and then shut the door.

Like the long sloping lines
in Hiroshige’s woodcuts, the rain glistens
under streetlights—
what strange coasts
our bows have touched.

by Gary LeBel
Cumming, Georgia


Horses have an internal rhythm all their own. One can learn the art of relaxation by doubling their slow heartbeats and noble turns. Everything about them exudes grace and strength.

The language of directness they speak we’ve long forgotten, but some of its words return now and then to the palms gliding over the smooth, dense contours of their bodies, those syllables of an ageless glossolalia the fingers still hear and translate for the mind to apprehend.

In the horse’s deep eye there burns a twin that prances outside a palace’s gates, wild and complete, unbridled by any prince. While the young Arabian grazes in the pasture across the road, there’s an uncanny feeling of a mane riffling down to a field in Macedonia that is quilted as far as the eye can see with red poppies.

We feed the lone mare
handfuls of sweet clover,
her dark eyes giving thanks
for strokes in places only another horse
could touch.

by Gary LeBel
Cumming, Georgia

Tuesday, February 5, 2008


We end our trip with a walk at sunrise up to a peak. By the time we near our destination the sun makes the rocky trails easier to see. Farmers and women with bundles of firewood appear from nowhere, warning us of hazards ahead.

We come to visit the remnants of the Bo culture. While the Bo flourished, tens of thousands of their caskets were here, suspended in mid-air. Now, along the mountain cliffs, only a few hundred remain in clusters above Crab Stream. Cut from a single piece of hardwood, each weighs several hundred kilograms. While some are found in natural caves on rock crevices, others hang mid-way between heaven and earth by wooden stakes fastened in holes bored into the cliff face, 20 to 100 metres above the ground.

We ask our guide: Why are the coffins hung from high cliffs? Does some part of the Bo people still exist? Where might they be? His answer is a mere shrug of his shoulders.

Bo coffins
like nests in a tree
scarlet bamboo poles
anchor them in place

green strands
of the spring trees
do not remain
on the mountain's rocky face
but wither

looking to
the guide's voice
for direction
though we cannot see him
he is still here

by Patricia Prime
Auckland, New Zealand

Monday, February 4, 2008


It has been almost two years since we have heard from our old friend, Lemuel. At one time, he was Los Angeles' undisputed master of blues guitar, able to coax a myriad of emotions from the old Gibson he treasured more than life itself. Watching him play was like living in a kaleidoscope; notes becoming colors, blazing runs careening off the walls and landing in the heart of hearts, leaving the audience exhausted, and fulfilled. He would have been the king, but for chronic depression hanging around his shoulders like an old black coat.

his gibson SG —
soul rocket to the moon

We are screaming across the Painted Desert in a van packed solid with musicians and instruments headed for Tuba City, on the western edge of Navajo Country. The Dine knew it as Tó Naneesdizí, or "Tangled Waters" for the many underground springs that had attracted the desert dwellers of a time long gone. This is the place Lemuel had escaped to when the old black coat became too heavy for him. He made his run for solitude, and hopefully, a little peace.

We have two travel days between the Flagstaff and Vegas gigs, so by unanimous decision, a visit with Lemuel is our agenda. The washed out dirt road tends to appear and disappear, leaving the driver no choice but to utilize psychic navigation until he spots a weathered adobe shack on the horizon. As we approach, Lem's elderly Dodge comes into view, a reassuring sight until, on closer inspection, it seems to be gradually crumbling into the desert floor. We knock on the door, answered only by the wind moaning in the rotted rafters. Scraping dirt from a window, The bass player says: Hey! There? Someone in there? But no amount of pounding and yelling has any effect.

We force the door. There, in a straight backed rocker, is our old friend, Lemuel. The low humidity and nearly constant wind has mummified him; the Gibson still perched on his knee.
unplayed guitar
symphony of silence
written in dust

by John Stone
Northern California
first published in Contemporary Haibun Online, V3, N1, March 2007


I picked him up in a very bad part of town. No one would share the bus bench with one so massive, bloodshot and disheveled. I pulled up and yelled a terse "Get in".

My brother...

the mirror reflects
what exists in all of us:
a can of worms

Nine months of sobriety had come to an abrupt end with a walk from San Pedro to South Central; a stop at every liquor store passed, each one an inviting oasis of oblivion.

I came to pick up the remains.

illusion –
settled in the last half inch
of the last half pint

by John Stone
Northern California

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Richard Straw: BLESSING

"Son, I'm taking the last apple."

"Can we share it?"

After washing my hands, then the Granny Smith, I cut the apple and slice away its seed-filled core. He takes the piece closest to him from my hand as he types up his school assignment, a paragraph on "My Dream House":

My Dream House

Here are some of my favorite things in my dream house. One of my favorite places in my dream house is the family room. In the family room, I have a big-screen TV. Also, I have a huge couch that has a canopy. Another favorite place in the house is the game room has almost all the games in the world. My most favorite room is the candy room because it has all types of candy from around the world. The last thing I am going to tell you about is the indoor pool. The indoor pool has a slide that is 50 feet high. I would never want to leave my dream house.

Now, this Sunday morning, my son practices his Torah portion with a Hebrew tutor for his upcoming Bar Mitzvah. I listen without understanding because I never learned Hebrew. Nor can I describe my dad's grave as nearly as well as my son described his dream house. I've not visited the grave in the 5 years since dad was buried, about the same time my son was dreaming of his perfect future home. The ground's probably frosted over dad. Will I make the trip again? I think instead of dad's empty work shirts piled on the basement steps, or hanging from a kitchen doorknob, and the dark welding burns on the spot of skin over his heart.

frost on the grass
of my father's grave
a Hebrew chant

by Richard Straw
Cary, North Carolina

Friday, February 1, 2008


The Colorado Plateau, that vast uplift eroded to cliff and canyon, is honeycombed with ruins. The people who left them are called Anasazi – a Navajo word meaning “ancestor of the enemy,” that is, the Pueblo people. They are also called, more accurately, ancient Puebloan. Some of the sites are major cities – Chaco, Mesa Verde. Some are local, the equivalent of suburbs or villages. It’s beautiful in southern Utah in June, green in the valleys.

Two white horses –
Field of purple iris

Hovenweep is an unusual site around a small canyon. It is composed mostly of masonry towers – use unknown. Some suggestions include signal towers, watch towers, astronomical observation sites, or simply “sacred” ones.

Square tower of stones
Round tower
Morning star

Hovenweep is majestic, but what surprised me more was a little ruin just off the highway – an apartment building for about six families that had not just a round ceremonial kiva dug in the earth but its own tower.

Pueblo mound –
Red grass
The wind blows through

Now empty rooms
Full or orange

Woven yucca sandals
Meant for whose feet?

Red rock. Monolithic. Huge folds, drapes, cliffs...natural amphetheater, panoramic view falling away below us at Bryce Canyon.
In the canyon updraft
Beneath our feet.

In the motel room
Dreaming of an old love
Waking and finding you.

Red rock cliff
Purple thistle

A river running through this red rock country changes everything with green all along it.

Petroglyphs –
Masked dancers –
Faint shadows on rock

The dancers might be katchinas – a later religion than the images of a water serpent at Chaco. The katchinas still dance in Hopi today. Along the San Juan River, the bluffs are sometimes pink, sometimes salmon, apricot, peach. Above the current town is a small excavation. It is 125 miles from Chaco. Off to one side, you can see the remains of the ancient road that connected this remote place.

Mourning doves cooing
Ruined pueblo
Above the bluffs
by Miriam Sagan
Santa Fe, New Mexico