Category Archives: haiku

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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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.



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.


Iowa, January

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

Over and over, he enters the furrow.


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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

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.


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.


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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Cherry Blossom in Tokyo


Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden is a 15-minute walk away from Shinjuku Station, the busiest in the world.  I was staying halfway between the two.  The 144 acre green space belonged to a feudal lord of the Emperor in the Edo period (16th/17th centuries).  In 1879 it was officially named a Botanic Garden, primarily concerned with experiments in fruit, vegetable and orchid cultivation.  Even though it is now used more like a park (opened to the public on 21st May 1949, redeveloped after most of it was destroyed in a World War II air raid), there are still many different varieties of trees (20,000 specimens) and shrubs, a French formal garden and an English landscape garden, a traditional Japanese garden and several tea houses and pavilions, as well as a splendid greenhouse (just finished last year) with some wonderful tropical plants and its own rock-hewn waterfall.  It has been a favourite place for cherry blossom viewing parties (hanami) since 1917.  All these layers played a part in my choosing to make Shinjuku Gyoen my base while I was in Tokyo.


It was my friend Alec Finlay who suggested I make a renga while I was there.  I loosened the form to allow me to write it as more of a journal, a record of my impressions.  The sections (divided by asterisks) represent the passage of the days.  The final part was written more formally at three different locations over the course of my final afternoon.  Fortuitously, the whole thing fell naturally into 108 verses, auspicious in Buddhism – the number of beads on a mala, used to count the reciting of mantras, or prayers.

Sakura is what the Japanese call the cherry blossom and this covers all the varieties, flowering at intervals throughout Spring.  I arrived just past the peak – they opened unusually early this year – but there were still plenty in bloom and people out watching, and picnicking when the weather was fine.  Ordinarily there is much carousing at a hanami party but this being a State garden, bringing in alcohol is forbidden and bags are searched on entering.


Cherry blossom is associated with clouds – a teaching on impermanence.  Watching the petals fall – hanafubuki – is thought to be even more beautiful and special.  If a petal lands on you, it is supposed to bring good luck for the rest of the year.  As far as I could see, it was impossible not to be covered with petals when a breeze blew.

Sakura marks the beginning of Spring and a New Year in Japan: this is the start of the academic and financial years.  The shops are full of diaries that begin in April and there is a wonderful sense of freshness and excitement that winter is finally past.  The whole family goes to see the cherry blossom – walk, eat, drink and take photographs.  To me it seemed like some sort of natural phenomenon and I was very happy to be part of it.


My journey started in January with the Chinese New Year celebrations in Singapore, talk of Spring and images of cherry blossom everywhere.  It seems fitting that it ended in April with my getting to see the Real Thing.


Sakura Renga Journal

From the train
and wild cherry

the sight of a pagoda
announces my arrival

in back gardens
trees pruned

agricultural, rectilinear

already blossom
my heart open

an ‘accident’ creates delays
no mention of suicide

a deep bow
from the buffet guy
at the end of the carriage

spiked trees
pollarded, leafless

woken by rain
my first thought
cherry blossom!

even wet and jetlagged
my meridians lift

the umbrellas
of Tokyo
precision choreography

enormous black crows
raucous against pink

falling rain
makes the garden
more beautiful

lawns, ponds, stones
everything just so

for the first time
I see how dark
the bough is

the downpour easing
only the occasional petal

as many blossoms
as people
on these islands

paths dredged
with sugar pink

three, four or five flowers
on each stem

branches’ entrechats
a dancer’s grace

as soon as you walk in
voices call out
to greet you

the most photographed trees
in the world

in Restaurant Yurinoki
even the cake
is floral

soundtrack of cool jazz
unexpected, perfect

a man smuggles
whisky in
with his bento box

cherry blossom blizzard

because we can’t talk
I offer what I hope
are my best smiles

ancient trees
swaddled and propped

stems are shedding
their petals
I’m not wearing enough clothes

wrapped in plastic
guards patrol the avenues

daffodils dying
a different spring
closer to the bone

no sense of the city
briefly elsewhere

the pergola roof
a bird’s nest
of clipped vines

boulders strewn with petals
spring snow

puddles echo
the outline of the ponds
or vice versa

ginkgo majestic
in its original home

stepping stones
invite you
to approach the water

so much on the ground
still so much on the trees

branches bow low
they so want to touch
us, the earth

reflections in the ripples
pixelated pink and green

crows cawing
the park’s four corners

no fresh clever way
to talk about sakura

a gap in the rain
the space
between two trees

like the traveller
it comes and it goes

a bottle
of hot green tea
soothes my hands

the crackle of my poncho
the keening of sirens

in the minority
western faces
wear their own lostness

always another view
to be discovered

there are the trees
and what the trees
make possible

in the absence of rain
everything changes

a spring
like no season
I’ve ever seen before

speckled membrane
skimming the ground

because it’s new
no one knows
what’s about to begin

the rain stops
the people appear

why’s it easier
to love away
better than home?

below a certain temperature
the mind seizes

if I sat here
long enough
I’d start talking Japanese

wind picks up
blossom lets go

a discipline –
staying faithful
to the cherry blossom

everyone still
watching the storm of petals

what falls
is only what’s necessary
to fall

the luxury
of not belonging

this garden
owned by a government
given to the people

one encounter
one opportunity

bearing the cold
for the pleasure
of warmth later

the colour of trust

hooped railings
alongside the paths
are also clouds

dramatic and subtle

baby soft
just born

all the girls gorgeous
round-cheeked and straight-backed

4pm and a ringing of bells
a woman’s voice
the park is closing

the tannoy’s last tune
Auld Lang Syne!

the return
of the sun
an old friend

the garden alive
with voices, laughter

cherry blossom
in sunlight
universal happiness

the trees’ shadows
still in full bloom

that pink
darker, rosier
from a distance

a million moths
petals flying

and the people
are one society

my pages blessed
with the petals’ luck

stripped sepals
clustered tufts

the smallest children
already enchanted

two ants
among the scatterings

the only response
joy, rapture

turtles bask
on the margins
of stone and water

carved from granite
the sunlit lantern

throats warmed
high-pitched birds chatter
hidden in the maples

billows of box, yew
fringe the pond

paper boats drifting
petals float
under the bridge

a single pine
on the peninsula

the tiniest blue tits
on the tallest branches

grateful for the veil
of latticed shade

east meets west
the poet
is photographed

the pavilion roof
flows down, flicks up

out of nowhere
a white egret
alert, inquisitive

a shoal of fat carp
mouths agape

a pause between
two bridges –
where we live

old ladies painting
in sunhats and pinnies

sprays of yellow
compete with the pink –
pink wins

the heat summons
all of Tokyo’s insects

a fetid smell
the opposite
of sweet

a pale grey caterpillar
dangles from my hair

some trees
kept neat
a cherry hedge

her red kimono
embroidered with blossoms of gold

not a place
to be alone in
asking to be shared

meeting the sakura
a heart’s wedding

the leaves
will come later
irrepressible chlorophyll

clear-eyed this is
what hope looks like.

A 108 verse renga
from Tokyo,
Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden,
1 – 4 April 2013.


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Today the sun came out – and so did the people, catching the last few days of cherry blossom. I was able to do a proper Hanami Renga, which I will publish later…

…but now to the airport – the beginning of spring well and truly gloried in. I look forward to seeing what it looks like in my neck of the woods.

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Despite the rain, the cherry blossom in Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden here in Tokyo is very beautiful – all 1500 trees’ worth.

More hanafubuki than hanami today – watching the petals fall on the wet ground rather than picnicking beneath the boughs.

Part of the significance of the cherry blossom for the Japanese is the way it embodies transience, the ah-ness of things. There’s something melancholy about rain and it added to that sense of fragility and fleetingness.

Especially as I am nothing if not transitional just now. Dropping about ten degrees is one of the ways I’m feeling it. Moving from Autumn to Spring doesn’t sound as if it should involve getting colder, does it?

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200 Million Years Ago


time is a trick
of the light
in the fernery

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Friday 25th

At Singapore Botanic Gardens I’ve been reminded that the word Zing comes from the botanical name for the Ginger family – Zingiberaceae.  I’ve spent the past couple of afternoons trying to get my zing back in the Ginger Garden, drinking ice-cold ginger beer.

When I left England in the snow it was hard to imagine just how hot it would be out here and now that I’m here it’s impossible to remember feeling cold.  I think perhaps for the first time in my life I have understood how important trees are simply for shade, respite from the sun’s glare.

Tuesday 29th

I am just getting acclimatised now it’s nearly time to leave.  There’s so much to take in here – both in and out of the Gardens – almost overwhelming for a woman who lives in a field in Northumberland.  Today will be my last visit to the Botanic Gardens – 74 hectares landscaped around a central core of original rainforest.  I’ve been most days and still need longer to see everything.  Stunning flowers and trees, all beautifully arranged.

On Saturday I got a tour round the Herbarium from one of the researchers here.  Around 650,000 species, with space for a million.  Also an insight into the Orchid Propagation Laboratories.  More on this later…

Wednesday 30th

On the brink of my departure, much of my time in the Gardens here (the Gardens by the Bay as well as the Botanic Garden) has felt like a puzzle – as if the gardens themselves are translations of the natural world and I am trying to make translations of translations.  Singapore styles itself not so much as a Garden City than a ‘City in a Garden’ and this refraction creates a surreal quality.  Quite often I have felt as if I were in a dream, Alice in Wonderland.  Even more so when I hear of the 5 foot snow drifts back at home.

I’ll post some photos later when I’m back in more familiar apple territory.

there is garden

and there is the opposite

of garden

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