Category Archives: haiku

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

 

steepness

a water world

wagtail

 

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

 

flowers

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

return

 

 

 

*

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.

 

Participants:

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

mooncatchers

 

mirrored swans

harmony

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

flightless

 

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.

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A genius loci renga

at Harnham Buddhist Monastery

on 28th December 2016.

 

Participants:

Ajahn Abhinando

John Bower

Linda France

Geoff Jackson

Eileen Ridley

Christine Taylor

Celebrating Capability Brown

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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

white-blue-white

 

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.

  

Participants:

 

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

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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.

 

Participants:

Boris Deliradev

Linda France

Yana Genova

Stefan Ivanov

Zdravka Mihaylova

Margarita Peeva

Yana Punkina

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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)…

NASTURTIUM LATINKA

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.

 

Participants:

Birtley Aris

Jo Aris

Matilda Bevan

Linda France

Patricia Gillespie

Simone Silver Path

Margot Waters

IMG_0235

 

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Your Origami Life

IMG_0151

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.

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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.

Participants:
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

photo

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

flycatchers

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 

 Participants:

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.

L

x

photo

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

*

wait!

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

success

*

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

 

 

Participants:

 

Ajahn Abhinando

John Bower

Linda France

Geoff Jackson

photo 2

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DISENCHANTMENT

New Year’s morning –

everything is in blossom!

    I feel about average

From After the Gentle Poet Kobayashi Issa

By Robert Hass

IMG_7191The poet I’ve started the year with is Robert Hass, my interest piqued by an essay on him in Tony Hoagland’s fascinating Real Sofistikashun (Graywolf Press, 2006).

…Hass might be described as a speculative describer who has made a tender tentativeness part of his style.  Even moving through his own mind, it seems, he has the delicacy of an ecologist who wants to record an environment without disturbing a leaf.  At the same time that Hass is tonally tentative, he is also resourcefully inquisitive, ever probing into other sources and pockets of consideration.  It is the paradoxical blend of these qualities – gentility combined with a probing persistence – that best describes his poetics.  His ability to register and collate the subtleties of subjective and objective is exceptional.

That overlapping of subjective and objective is a tricky thing to pull off – anchoring the imagination in the real without getting its feet wet – but it lies at the heart of everything we perceive and might write about.

All knowledge rests on the coincidence of an object with a subject.

Coleridge

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I was immediately drawn to one of Hass’s poems called ‘The Problem of Describing Trees’:

The Problem of Describing Trees

The aspen glitters in the wind

And that delights us.

 

The leaf flutters, turning, because that motion in the heat of August

Protects its cells from drying out.  Likewise the leaf

Of the cottonwood.

 

The gene pool threw up a wobbly stem

And the tree danced.  No.

The tree capitalized.

No.  There are limits to saying,

In language, what the tree did.

 

It is good sometimes for poetry to disenchant us.

 

Dance with me, dancer.  Oh, I will.

 

Mountains, sky,

The aspen doing something in the wind.

 

I recognize that struggle of saying ‘what is’ without adding or subtracting anything, while still holding true to the I/eye’s response.  I particularly like the line:

It’s good sometimes for poetry to disenchant us.

I seem to keep coming across talk about the need for ‘re-enchantment’, based on the idea that we have lost our sense of the mystery of things.  While that may be true, it is also possible to look at our current situation another way:  that we are burdened by too much enchantment, bewitched by the media and the material world so utterly we have lost any sense of what’s underneath all the glitter and hunger.  Despite its capacity for truth-telling and clarity, poetry (as an expression of our cluttered, foggy, polluted minds) can also tell it so slant that it tells it wrong.  Just so much more smoke and mirrors.

Coleridge again, in 1796:

Poetry – excites us to artificial feelings – makes us callous to real ones.

IMG_7362We mistake words for the things themselves and hold onto them only inasmuch as they serve our particular view of things.  The words don’t care – they’re only words.  Aren’t language, views, poems all just our own open questions?  On a good day we hear them singing and can dance.

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Iowa, January

In the long winter nights, a farmer’s dreams are narrow.

Over and over, he enters the furrow.

RH

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Chokushi-Mon

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freed from all fear of man

You are lost
until the gate
is found

under the Chinese Nettle tree
spangled shade

gravel
raked
just so

island of white
a single stone

king of the garden
a peacock
cloaked in terrible eyes

shining paths
lead up and down

on a gentle rise
shades of pewter
and lichen

grandfather pine
the tallest tree

all of us wishing
for the same thing
I toss in my silver

the only colour
five-petalled mauve

are they flowers
or seeds dusting
the master’s haiku?

cast in bronze
letters I can’t read

the carved bird
forever on the brink
of flight

sprinkled awake
by the circling spray

facts speak
for themselves
no one listens

always stone
that takes us home

pruning the yew
a line of string
precisely level

enough work
today dreaming

may we all live
in houses stronger
than earthquakes

on the Atlas Cedar
new cones ooze resin.

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A nijuuin renga at Chokushi-Mon,
Kew Gardens
on 18th July 2013.

The title is a line from Kyoshi Takahama’s haiku set in the Japanese Landscape at Kew. He composed it there on May 2nd 1936 and it was installed as a feature, in English and Japanese, by his daughter 43 years later.

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There are actually two peacocks although I couldn’t tell the difference between them.  One is called George – presumably after George III, in whose reign so much of Kew as we know it now was established.IMG_5931

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