Redthread offers the perfectly balanced retreat for haijin who are meditators: a weekend of conviviality in a lovely farmhouse, with meditations in the mornings, good food and wine in the evenings, and, for the rest of the time, poetry talk based on the assumption that imagism is not enough, driven by the question, “What more?”
The talk this year was fascinating. Noragh Jones quoted ninth century Irish hermit monks who meditated on ‘the music of the world’ in order to celebrate ‘what is.’

the wind’s voice in the branchy wood
under grey cloud
white water river – swan song –
the sound of wonder

She pointed out that the form was often like a haiku with an additional line that sums up – the sort of line modern haijin would cut – and that the themes were similar to the spiritual ones of Basho: impermanence, enduring the natural cycles, the simplicity and poverty of the life of a renunciant, the cultivation of a mature ascetic love, and human frailty:

gloomy is this life
wanting a soft bed
my frosty hovel
a biting snow borne wind

Helen Robinson quoted Heian waka poets, who will be more familiar to readers of Presence, comparing and contrasting them with the different kind of emphasis that haiku style placed upon the observation of nature and the Buddhist theme of impermanence:

How invisibly
it changes colour
in this world,
the flower
of the human heart
Ono no Komachi

Michael Gunton gave a reading of his recent haiku:

so lonely
that bonfire
across the valley
in the sharp sunlight
I spot my father
waving from a turret

Jim Norton sent a recording of work in progress, a sequence called Under the Tree, a dense and moving work about undertaking a retreat of 100,000 prostrations. Two of its luminous haiku:

a solitary retreatant
the harvest moon
Treading on apples
I look up – the bearded tree
sways in the moonlight

George Marsh quoted William Blake to show that his insight into the ‘mind-forg’d manacles’ from which people need liberating, his perception that, ‘All deities reside in the human breast,’ his self-proclaimed purpose of ‘melting apparent surfaces away, and displaying the infinite which was hid,’ correspond to features of Eastern meditative mysticism. He showed slides of the designs from Blake’s Book of Job, which reverse the values of the Bible story, turning it into a parable of spiritual growth. In Plate 11 Job recognises that his own idea of God is a projection of his Selfhood which must be annihilated to free him:
Noragh quoted Samuel Beckett, comparing his dry comedy of the irreducible minimum to Santoka Taneda’s spare poems of lonely poverty: “All my lousy life I’ve crawled about in the mud and you talk to me about scenery.” “There is no lack of void, but it doesn’t help much.” “What about a little deep breathing? I’m tired of breathing.” “To have lived is not enough for them. They have to talk about it.”
Bill Wyatt sent a test: could we distinguish poems by Basho from poems of his own? He defeated us all.
And we wrote. The following haiku were composed on retreat, inspired by our walks and by Jane’s two kittens.

across the bay
just darker than the clouds
the mountains
Michael Gunton
stormy morning –
in the quiet room
a kitten chases shadows
Michael Gunton
how the hills
carry the clouds
Helen Robinson
a still morning
rose petals
on the lawn
Helen Robinson
this year
red apples bend the branch
and break it
Jane Whittle
hills again –
my past flat lands
I left this morning
Jane Whittle
wheeling over the dead
the red kite
mobbed by crows
Noragh Jones
morning meditation –
in cupped hands
Noragh Jones
she speaks of an ascetic love
her locket
dancing on her breastKen Jones
see! –
this very morning
so bright and brittleKen Jones
on the rim of the hill
black beasts
plod the western sky
Ken Jones
in the lee of the church
a sudden calm
and the smell of grass
George Marsh
the kitten
in my stiff fingers –
its eager heartbeat
George Marsh

We jointly composed a sequence called Stone Story:

eye in the stone
holding water
for a day
above the dry stream bed
gathering clouds

listen for the echo
of the ammonites’
ossified dreams
blackness of raindrops
the smooth stone
ebb tide
the rake and rattle
of the falling shore
crag at the sanctuary
polished by human hands

The Redthread Haiku Sangha will meet again next year from October 1st to the 4th and anyone who would be interested in joining us should call Ken Jones on 01970 880603.


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