Category Archives: haiku

Happy New Year!


Paul Nash, Flight of the Magnolia, 1944


New Year’s Day—
everything is in blossom!
I feel about average.


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At Allen Banks


I’m spending a lot of time at Allen Banks these days – stepping out of the garden into the wild.  It’s the site for my current PhD research at Newcastle University and I’m looking at its history as well as its ecology towards writing a book-length sequence of poems.

As part of my endeavour to consider it as a collective site, it seemed natural to invite a group of folk to participate in a walking renga at the end of the summer, on the brink of my starting my second year of study.  We walked on the East side of the river, up through Moralee Woods to the tarn, stopping along the way to write and share our verses.


Here is the renga we made together:

The Landscape, Ourselves


Today’s truth –

the seventh month is our ninth

white river brown


a startled heron

wingbeat of silence


what is that sumptuous smell?

she only knows it

as ‘country’


a choice is made

to keep to the middle way



tripping on roots

my breathing quickens


through the ghost of a window

we gaze over the valley


mirror tarnished

by pondweed



layer upon layer

memories settle


my companions are painting light

collecting earth

gathering pollen


by the water

a stack of wooden bones


and so we lean

into the landscape



picture the moonlight

shadowing these branches


in a wild grove

between two fields

with all that’s unspoken



muttering, meandering.


A 14-verse Renga at Allen Banks,

Morralee Wood,

on 6th September 2017.



Jo Aris

Matilda Bevan

Holly Clay

Martin Eccles

Linda France

Malcolm Green

Sharon Higginson

Alex Reed

Eileen Ridley

Christine Taylor



Sound artist and fellow PhD student, Martin Eccles recorded the day and you can read his own renga here.  As well as writing our collaborative version, this time I encouraged everyone to keep all their verses and make their own individual renga, imagining them all as parallel shadows of our shared experience.


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Borderlands Renga

IMG_3645What the land says


Morning sun

warms crumbled earth

relief from frost heave


I hold it in my hands

it holds me


hills made overground

by velvet tunnellers

dark soil workers


home to the unseen

and the spectacular


a rusty horse-shoe, half-buried


O larch, cone

and whisker of you

nubs of dusted red


ash trees do it for me

sometimes, especially


fluid hardness of wood


leaning into, leaning on

a steady place to start

bones and barks both bend


hollowed, clothed

folding rock and living humus


the burn’s law carves a groove

divides a field

opens up earth’s skin




sunlit current between the banks

silent cross-currents within me


aching for the river’s touch

to be closer

to my open hand


telegraph pole floating down in the flood


the stream tumbling into my right ear

drifting from my left


glistening water

passes under the high bridge

carries thoughts downstream


shadow of a fish

playing with light



a water world



too thirsty to write a verse

above the river, I drink


above is below, flickering

skittish dipper flashes

stone to stone


today’s green umbrella

sheltering last week’s rain


earth route, sea bound


the water continues

sure in its course

holding to uncertainty





around the shadow of my hat

grass glows


in an auditorium of green fire

burning off

winter’s residue


furious and ferocious me

I lie down and rest


bliss – a line

scorched between

need and no-need


sun-grown leaf, grain, fruit


this stone below me, slow

this light on my face


a constellation of solar systems

scattered over

the dandelion meadow


red absorbed

sleepy cushion after lunch


furnace of microbial life



photosynthetic factories

forging the sward




feathers in my pocket

song in the air


crows – two in the uplift

corks on an unseen river

your wings, my home


take me up, thermals

so that I may see


the nothingness of being

that lives by breath


ripple in the pool, rustle in the tree


tickling my cheekbones

songs of blackcap, chiff chaff, jackdaw


drowsy afternoon

a chance to listen to air

sifting memories


my mother’s bloodroot


a wave of tiny combustions

the wave arranged in patterns, rhythm


cow-breath gorse-breath

blowing the flute

of the secret valley





where the skylark is –

even to the ten thousand galaxies


this pen settled in the saddle

of thumb and forefinger

widening to describe all this


space curves

there is a tree, a wall, a house


a network of human habitation


soft sow shape of Cheviot

stretches out asleep

over all those centuries


distant granite whaleback


in the distance

between thoughts – a space to fade to


sky full of bird paths

each flown invisibly

opened and closed


bear’s garlic, shepherd’s purse,

Persian speedwell


blue harvest


slip through

follow the fold of sky






the me that has no thoughts

the other quietly watching


a way to be back

along the boughs

a root home


with all the twists and turns

still there is the green


can we meet the tree?

sometimes I sense it

and so must she


tell me what I am

and through me sing


a group reflects

a hawthorn dances

I listen


preoccupied by the thinking

we forget the knowing


delusions like crows on a fence


arthritic old thorn

teaches silence

to sapling ash, oak, gean


ten thousand green eyes

turned skywards


what a day of embrace!

tree of heart’s desire

hold our grief, our trust, our uncertainty


alive to this place


tangled in and out of shadow

risk yes risk joy.



A walking renga

from Borderlands 3 at Burnlaw,

Whitfield, Northumberland,

on 23rd April, 2017.



Jo Aris, Melanie Ashby, Michael Van Beinum, Matilda Bevan, Neil Diment, John Fanshawe, Jane Field, Linda France, Kate Foster, Malcolm Green, Sharon Higginson, Geoff Jackson, Martha Jackson, Georgiana Keable, Virginia Kennedy, Linda Kent, Martin Lee Muller, Karen Melvin, Tim Rubidge, Geoff Sample, Torgeir Vassvik, Gary Villers-Stuart, Rosie Villiers-Stuart, Nigel Wild, Richard Young.


Borderlands 3 was a gathering of Northern Networks for Nature.  On Saturday we were mostly indoors, listening to excellent speakers, sharing thoughts (and fantastic food – thanks Martha!) and watching and listening to a ‘salmon fairytale’ from Norway.  On Sunday we went outside and walked down the valley as far as Bridge Eal, stopping along the way to consider the elements and write renga verses.  This renga is the fruit of that walk in that place on that day with those people.



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Winter Renga

img_2959Feathers in the Basket


Through my sunglasses

the world’s turned copper and blue

a wild year’s last roar


flotsam of ice washed up

in the ash trees’ shadow


dotted along the verges

domes of fine earth

lifting my mood


shredded honesty



mirrored swans


on surface tension


make time for what matters

the cover of John’s notebook


amid the canter of horses

I see my father again

blurred by years of warm sunshine


when your mind goes blank

enjoy the silence


Hotbank, Harnham, Holy Island

Whin Sill outcropping

still resonant volcanic flow


her cello

stays at home


at the Blacksmith’s

ordering tea in Italian

swearing in English


the rabbit managed ten holes

during my absence


so much of our days

is this – hands opening

and closing


grey meets white

a line carefully not drawn


would you cut the wood?

would you chop the wood?

would you burn the wood?


feathers in the basket



a mouthful of mint

like swallowing

the moon


imagine Kusala conservatory

full of scented hyacinths


Nanna always said

the days get longer

by the stride of the cock


two months’ news fast

relief for the heart.


A genius loci renga

at Harnham Buddhist Monastery

on 28th December 2016.



Ajahn Abhinando

John Bower

Linda France

Geoff Jackson

Eileen Ridley

Christine Taylor

Celebrating Capability Brown

IMG_1866 (1)

John Cobb as Capability Brown in ‘The Eye Catcher’ at Kirkharle Courtyard


Making the Lake


This far north

dips and hills

unpredictable as summer


outside the tent

tall grass waves westwards


making the lake

a long lead time

different machinery


capability shifts landscape

in the mind


chittering swallows

twist in flight



on the ridge of his horizon

a skeleton tree


pegs show contour

banks woodbound

piles driven level


bring me a basket of bread

for the road to Cambo


moon in his eyes

will he be hunter

gardener or poet?


wheelbarrow stands in sunlight

casting a dark green shadow


these rattling meadows

our ancestors

our hope


a spider runs between cracks

in the dried earth


for this place, this day

a necklace of beads

of heat, mud, honey


where is the boundary to be drawn –

planned and unplanned?


begin with an outline

a structure, a framework

anchor it then overlay


Kirkharle – eight hours from Newcastle

on dirt roads


harsh edge of roofs

gives way to

serrated larch against the sky


the price of a line of beauty –

twanging muscles, calloused hands


looking north, new energy

beyond the oil route

wind turbines, wood


when the wheel stops

it starts all over again.



A renga in celebration of Capability Brown

on 17th August 2016

at Kirkharle, his birthplace three hundred years ago.




Birtley Aris

Jo Aris

Michelle Caulkett

Linda France

Patricia Gillespie

Rosie Hudson

Lesley Mountain

Diana Smith

Tony Smith

Clara May Warden

Liz Wilkinson

Margaret Williams

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On Nasturtium Street


On Nasturtium Street


July, behind the school

no one enjoys

the shade of the chestnuts


white house

conversations in the garden ­–

the past is inside


a wall of crooked stones

supports a line of box

my aching back


no cry of cicadas

just the sound of a baby

falling asleep


the only bloom

on next door’s patch –

an abandoned parasol


concrete tiles, concrete bricks

a shoot of ivy on a trunk –

is it strong enough?


Linda tells us

about 24 hour poetry

the plot of the clouds thickens


new grass comes in squares

slugs and ladybirds

not included


trees in the yard

nature constrained –

a human soul in the world.



A 9-verse ‘simultaneous renga’

in the Literature & Translation House,

Latinka Street, Sofia,

on 27th July 2016.



Boris Deliradev

Linda France

Yana Genova

Stefan Ivanov

Zdravka Mihaylova

Margarita Peeva

Yana Punkina


Unusual to work with a group of folk for whom English isn’t their first language writing in English in their own country – hence the impromptu/simultaneous nature of this renga and the three-line verses throughout.  Everyone responded to the space and wrote their own verse and then we worked on the editing of the whole piece together.  It was a great chance to share the renga form in a country where it is unknown and a lovely way to get to know more people there interested in writing and poetry.

Also, a sort of blessing for the Literature House, which is in the middle of renovation and expanding into its wonderful role as a sanctuary and resource for writers and translators from all over the world.  It’s on Latinka Street, which means Nasturtium in English!  We also had in our midst a Geranium (Zdravka) and a Marguerite (Margarita)…


Photo by Zdravka Mihaylova



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New Moon Renga

IMG_0233Today, as part of the Northern Poetry Library Project, a small group of us gathered in Hexham Library to make a 12-verse renga sparked by our ‘food’ theme – which even after six months seems inexhaustible.

The first verse, or ‘hokku’, is a version of one by the Japanese master, Basho.  It seemed like a good place to start – him knocking back the saké on the day of the new moon (and an auspicious Spring eclipse).

Fennel, Saffron, Silver


No blossoms, no moon,

the Master’s drinking saké,

see, all on his own


dried fruit sweetens the mouth

picked on a sunlit day from the slopes


autumn unfolding

chewing the passing year

bitterness of loss


ginger wine, ginger biscuits

home-made, Gran’s spice against cold


quickly the mushroom

strives for light under the door

a hint of decay


looking down on Crag Lough

we stop to munch dark chocolate


who knew such longing

could be poured into a bowl

of apple crumble?


my love and [garlic]

a conflict of interest


red seeds on your tongue

fennel, saffron, silver

perfumed breath – mukhwas


leek, onion, potato, simmered

into soup that opens each cell


Café de l’Opéra

coffee and croissant

splash of traffic


table, the first noun learnt

in a new language – we eat around it.




A junicho renga

at lunch time

in Hexham Library

on 9th March 2016.



Birtley Aris

Jo Aris

Matilda Bevan

Linda France

Patricia Gillespie

Simone Silver Path

Margot Waters



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Your Origami Life


Last year ended with my travels in Turkey, where one of the many highlights was a hot air balloon ride as the sun rose above the astonishingly beautiful valleys of Cappadocia.


Back in the North, the new year began as usual for me at Harnham Buddhist Monastery.  Yesterday a group of us gathered there for one of our occasional renga sessions.  In the chilly winter conservatory we saw the light fade as we worked our way through a new schema, with the additional rigour of conforming to the traditional 5-7-5 and 7-7 syllable count throughout.  After five hours of finger-tapping and head-scratching, the odd spat of wrangling, we’d created this seasonal renga catching the year as it turns.

IMG_0195May 2016 be peaceful and fruitful for us all.


Your Origami Life

Hungry now, the jaws
of winter are snap-snapping –
the upstart year prey

a row of unruly ash
gesture to the rain-washed sky

jackdaws crowd the field
sodden silent monitors
a message in black

as if the moon were patched silk
shredded honesty, falling

across Bolam Lake
a raft of male goosander
white bodies, hooked beaks

you didn’t need to say it
but what a difference it made

will this be the year
she sorts through those old boxes
clears her path of dust?

we are all responsible
and me more than anyone

pruned raspberry canes
twigs, bits, dry in the greenhouse
ready for burning

so how many paper folds
in your origami life?

telephone cable
insulated conductor
sways to wild weather

bullfinches chase their redness
through my thicket of slow thought

sweet, sharp, dangerous
licking honey off the knife –
well, that’s how it looked

the lilt of a saxophone
curling towards the ceiling

in the quiet morning
we pass windblown oak and pine
part sawn, cleared quickly

Forties, Tyne, Dogger, Fisher
storm force 12 rarely forecast

here in old tough grass
waiting for the miracle
of winter snowdrops

every day the sun climbing
higher above layered cloud.



A han-kasen renga
at Harnham Buddhist Monastery
on 2nd January 2016.

Ajahn Abhinando
John Bower
Holly Clay
Linda France
Geoff Jackson
Linda Kent
Eileen Ridley
Tim Rubidge
Christine Taylor

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The Edge of Summer


The Edge of Summer

Housed in the heart

of the sycamore

we’re recycling its green


loosening ties

to the ground below


a power tool

not a woodpecker

drills unseen


axis and rotation

halfway to full


all that buried life

bramble and dock

swelling spores


but how to write good verses

without a pot of oolong?


in the still air


dance their frenetic jizz


through the canopy

greying clouds and a chill


when this ash grows

past that sycamore

would you speak of win and lose?


fistfuls of Burnlaw berries

that never reach the bowl


our perimeter

protected with flames

and burnt sandalwood


oh to be a jaguar

slumbering in these boughs!


bark as skin

and like all skin

its own fragrance


on a cooler evening

easier to dream of woodsmoke


worry – a temptress

worry – a truthteller

impossible to say in the dark


caught in the lake

the bounce of borrowed light


to grow roots

or go and reinvent yourself –

the weight of choice


the spread of heather – August

woven purple into the hills


while there’s still light

we move inside

for warmth


the edge of summer

in reddening rowan.


Treehouse Renga

at Burnlaw,

22nd August 2015.


photo 2 


Ajahn Abhinando

John Bower

Holly Clay

Linda France

Geoff Jackson

Linda Kent

Anne Marron

Tim Rubidge

photo 3

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Winter Renga

photo 4Yesterday we had one of our winter rengas up at Harnham Buddhist Monastery.  Just a small group this time, but the renga unfolded over the course of the afternoon as usual.  We decided to ring the changes by creating the schema with verses inspired by the Seven Factors of Enlightenment, another one of the lists Buddhism is fond of, interspersed between the traditional season, moon and love verses, with some left open.

The Seven Factors of Enlightenment are Mindfulness (sati), Investigation (dhamma vicaya), Energy (viriya), Joy or Rapture (pti), Tranquillity (passadhi), Concentration (samadhi) and Equanimity (upekkha).  You may or may not spot these verses but it was interesting to notice this renga naturally seemed to lean towards the light, suitable for our theme and for the season.

Warm wishes for a light-filled and kind 2015.




Half Moon Plantation


Facing north

frost on the roof tiles

another short day


the flock’s breath

rises beyond the hedge


all our words

flow past

riverine, brackish, Anglo-Saxon


we walk in the dark

to the Half Moon Plantation



there are more of us

than I counted


Bulgarian Daniel asks

of Pali in English


even though the details

don’t matter

all there are are details


chisel marks in stone

how much arch is air?


startled grey heron

struggling upward

such awkward beauty


the last miles in mist and then

to climb out of them


he gave up

deciphering nature

orchid, begonia, geranium


the gift of green tea

much more than its flavor


a hut under attack

splinters, blood and excrement

left by an obstinate crow


no words come



after breakfast

they discuss

fire extinguishers and assembly points


food for the lion

longevity for the gazelle


borrowed light

does not warm you

but shows the way home


on the shore of the lake, gorse

bright yellow in December


to hold on like Philae

saving energy

getting closer to the sun


close your eyes

collect the sparks.


A ‘Seven Factors of Enlightenment Renga’

at Harnham Buddhist Monastery

on Saturday 27th December 2014.


for Peter Angelucci and Melanie Cook





Ajahn Abhinando

John Bower

Linda France

Geoff Jackson

photo 2

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