A Note from Japan by David Burleigh

Just to pause for a moment in the garden of the inn in Matsuyama. We didn’t stay there very long because it was swarming with mosquitos, but long enough to see there was another stone with a verse inscribed upon it. This was by the wandering poet Santoka, about soaking in the bath.
It is worth a pause to consider Santoka, who comes out of the more experimental haiku line that followed Shiki’s efforts at reform. The conservative line, led by Kyoshi, has been much more influential, producing most of the groups that exist in japan today. That led by the free-form poet Hekigodo had far fewer followers, but produced two of the best-known modern poets.
Both Ozaki Hosai (1885-1926) and Taneda Santoka (1882-1940) were misfits and heavy drinkers. Neither was capable of holding down a job, and both broke with their families and took refuge in Buddhist temples. They were nurtured under the same experimental haiku teacher. Hosai has higher critical regard, Santoka more popular appeal.
Santoka is one of those poets, like Keats or Rimbaud, whose life and work are hardly separable. His haiku and heavy drinking refract the torments of his early life. It was doubless to escape those that he bcame a mendicant Buddhist monk. The cast of his work is modern, but the greatest influence on it it thought to have been Basho. And like his master he has become an icon.
The commonest image of Santoka he supplied himself. He wrote it in a poem and drew a picture to illustrate it. I was sent a copy of this once on a postcard from Matsuyama. The poet is garbed in the black robe of a Buddhist priest, with a wide bason hat, and has his back to us, about to walk off down the road. Round this rough sketch he has scrawled:

Whose back is it
Going off into
The pouring rain?

This is the classic image of the poet, departing, disappearing. There is a hint of Basho, the travelling priest, in the figure that he cuts. But it is a lonely figure too, alone on its journey into the unknown. The poet himself becomes a metaphor for the spirit journeying through life. The poet and the poem become one.
Life as a journey, as wandering into the unknown, without possessions or attachments – this satisfies a certain longing in us. The poet endures the real poverty and hardship that we vicariously enjoy. There is something complete about this life, stripped to its essentials, appealing because so rarely possible.
I remember as I write this a paperback commentary on some of Santoka’s haiku by a living poet, that was pressed into my hand by a musician, a colleague at work who had heard that I was interested in haiku. I demurred at first, because the book was Japanese, and would be difficult to read, but he insisted. About a year later he died of cancer, and I wondered if Santoka had meant something special to him facing death.
Though Santoka was not from Matsuyama, he came there near the end of his life, and died there in a hermitage which is still preserved. I hoped to see this while I was in the city, but there wasn’t time. Instead I bought some postcards with poems by him at the inn. And yet, I thought, how unlikely it was that this posh establishment would have welcomed the penniless and scruffy poet.
The main English translations of Santoka are John Stevens’ Mountain Tasting: Zen Haiku by Santoka Taneda (Weatherhill 1980), though there are more recent versions by Cid Corman in a volume called Walking in the Wind , which I have not seen. Of considerable interest too is the novella by Saichi Maruya Rain in the Wind translated by Dennis Keane in a collection of that name published by Kodansha, 1990.

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Haiku by Arwyn Evans

Disused mine-shaft
I drop the stone hear echos
Of an empty church

Walking through Sitka woods
Dust hangs
Between each breath

Couched in mossed hills
A cool well
Flows into the wind

Locked gate in the woods
I know each knot and cranny

Through woods at dusk
The standing stone looms out
- I almost speak

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‘Poiana’ by Ion Codrescu

Poiana is a mountain hamlet where I stay at the grandparents of one of my students. It’s the New Year’s morning. The last year of the second millenium. So silent. You can hear the falling snow when birds touch the branches or boughs of the trees.
Usually, when I am at home on the Black Sea coast, I take a long walk during the first morning of the New Year. There is something special in the air that morning which is difficult to explain. No other morning of the whole year gives me the same impression. In the afternoon that something special vanishes. The silence of the first morning of January seems to envelop everything: buildings, squares, streets and parks. The advertisments – which are so stridently coloured – look useless and senseless on the empty streets. Almost all the people sleep till noon. Neither beggars nor stray dogs are in their known places. The shore is deserted. The grey sky juxtaposes the whiteness of the snow which covers all the city. From time to time one seagull flies diagonally through the cold air, unifying the space between houses and shore by an imaginary line. Year after year this landscape is almost the same, except a few details which change.

For today
nothing in my diary –
silent birds on the roof

Today, as a ritual, I begin my first walk of the year through the main street of the hamlet. From this place I can see all the houses at a glance. The acoustics of the hamlet are so good. Every sound can be heard through the whole valley. Even now, after the sounds of an ax cutting wood at the opposite end of the hamlet, I can clearly hear a lamb call to its mother. The, aftetr some moments of silence, a woman with a hourse voice calls to her fowls to feed them. Suddenly, over my head, a flock of pigeons accustomed to this voice ( as a conditioned reflex) fly towards the woman to get some leftovers. From another house, children’s voices are heard singing a carol. I would like to see them but a haystack prevents me.
When I come out of the hamlet, from the last house, a dog barks at me, just to tell me it noticed my presence near its territory. After a few minutes I turn to watch the hamlet. There is only the trembling smoke from the chimneys. I continue my walk, descending towards Magura, the next village.

Empty sky –
the sound of an icicle
falling on snow

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Haiku by Caroline Gourley

the whole hall
to the single

below the door
of the photo booth
unlaced shoes

a sudden glance –
words spoken only
in my head

spring torrents
a rush of bluebells
through the woods

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the babies monitors…
bird songs

Sharon Lee Shafii

Eight days of rain
the potted plant against the wall
dries out

Arwyn Evans

..The nets hauled in
for such a meagre catch.
Housewives drift away

Eric Speight

Sitting zazen
the pigeon’s note
inside my head

Helen Robinson

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Season Haiku

April morning –
magnolia petals
lying in the snow

Lloyd Gold

Oil on the hot road
the gorse
so bright this spring

Arwyn Evans

From somewhere a voice
unexpectedly calling
this evening in spring

David Burleigh

my potted strawberries
in the rain

Helen Robinson

Plum petals float
the schoolboys running
through red mud

Arwyn Evans

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Haiku by Ion Codrescu

rusted tracks –
in a remote house
notes of a flute

at the bottom
of the church wall
a lost chessgame

each drop of the icicle
takes with it
the moonlight

September morning
sharpening the pencil
the smell of wood

pink clouds –
a ladybug vanishes
on the lichened log

north wind –
the restless swallows
above my house

far from home –
in a clear light
that lone old oak

wild apple tree –
a falling leaf changes
its direction

raising the blinds
the late September light
on my hands

call of circling swallows –
the spider thread is moving I
inside the silent church

after the bath
turning off the bedside lamp
moonlight on the Bible

one after another
the mountain peaks
out of the fog

endless wind …
the birch trees uncover
their branches

unfolding a dry leaf
I find a few drops
hidden inside

autumn rain –
ending his drawing the child
caresses the paper

Written in a mountain village in Catalunya Spain, summer-autumn 1999.

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Haiku by Bill Wyatt - at The Throssels Nest

Bodhidharma Day –
jackdaws call & drift within
the boundless autumn

Nothing to avoid
as late sunset falls behind
the pines & vast sky

Broken pine branch moon –
a robin starts to sing about
the season’s first frost

Walking up the hill –
but no longer a burden
the clouds on my back

Afternoon zazen:
late autumn snow
turns to rain
this dream
within a dream

A face appears
through the zendo window –
full moon of autumn

Still feeling homeless
I let the winter wind blow
away this sadness

Winter persimmons –
how they bring to mind the blush
of that first kiss

With the winter rain
a robin hopping – hopping
into endless dusk

Wind brings lonesome thoughts –
in the middle of the night
a poem comes to mind

(on my 58th birthday)

At first light
out in the cold
the three of us –
autumn breeze, me
& the morning star

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The Tip, 1954

Slag mountain towering above the town. Hot spots on its side wisp sulphur-smoke. Men had been known to fall into the underlying roast. A way to die. This is The Tip. Bent on a touch of Etna, Brian and I set off one evening after school, on its forbidden slopes.
We move carefully, note the scattering of surface ironstones: ballmines. Lots of these lumps have clefts, and as I climb my eye draws level with one as the sun strikes in. Something gleams. A closer look shows diamonds.
With a smaller ballmine we take turns. Raise it. Bring it down on the larger piece which splits, the quartz unbroken.

Water crystal
warmth in my hand

There must be hundreds more, so with one eye peeled for hotspots, the other for red stones, we travel on.
With each find our fever grows. From one nodule to the next we wander, underneath the ‘alpine’ cable which carries buckets from the colliery to the bunker at the very top. And climbing all the while we stray onto the gentler back slope.
Tired, I straighten up and look around. The bunker! Not fifteen feet above us, less that sixty feet away. I shout to Brian and we race for it.
In silence we look down –

Lilliput: its terraced houses. Someone waves from a back yard

A long steel chute drops from the platform where we stand. I find a piece of slag. Watch it scurry down the metal like a rat. All day the buckets had been swinging up the cable; each had poured its load to scrape and rattle down. The chute is polished clean.
A slide, says Brian as he sits. Moves off in full control. I wathc his back get smaller. Then…he’s gone.

Through evening smoke
a dog barks distance
in empty streets

I sit. The slide looks very steep. When Brian reappears I’m still there. I hear him call, encouraging. Telling how thrilling. So I push. Gain speed. Too fast! About to grasp the metal I sense the racing edge. It would cut my fingers off. I press my rubber wellies to the sides. Smoke. Only one thing left to do. Let go! Resign!

Air beneath me
my fear in tune

by Arwyn Evans

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“Is not listening to the pulse of wonder
worth silence and abstinence from self assertion?”
- Abraham Joshua Herschel / Quest for God

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Haiku by George Marsh

eyes blown dry
ears in flames
the wind of Rohatsu

moving on
after twenty six years
I paint the skirtings

force five
all night long
fear and the flickering moon

in the dry smell of conifer
a million tons of water
above the sluice

tenthousand bright waves –
the anchorwarp squeaks
as we bow to each one

the dog’s eating wasps –
on the verandah
I read your haiku

squirming eddies
jostle the tide-suck;
spots of rain

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The Edge

geese overhead …
the sounds of gravel
hitting the casket

Sharon Lee Shafii

together we notice
two black mushrooms

Sean O’Connor (for David Walker)

bringing darkness
to the day
migrating geese

Lloyd Gold

birthday forgotten
until an old friend tells me
his mother is dying

Jim Norton

April once more
I watch my wife place flowers
on her mother’s grave

Arwyn Evans

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Haiku by David Steele

facing transportation
a bucketful of snails
…their tiny cries

on lupin leaves
and alchemilla
raindrops’ roundness

early sunset…
a red umbrella moving
through the snowy park

in the sand
a human footprint –

behind birdsong
a distant sound of mowing
comes and goes

magpie flies up –
lifting in the wind
a rabbit’s ear

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The Samurai Paper Knife by Ken Jones

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

In the little pile of mail it is the thick 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 comes back. That bold extravagent scrawl. I place the envelope in the midle of the blotter; get up and fix a drink; throw another log on the fire. The samurai paper knife is drawn from its wooden scabbard.

A hint of scent
this one
delicately slit

Two sheets of the same grey paper. That writing! The long descenders still swoop down through two lines. And the grand flourishes!
The swivel chair squeaks awkwardly. The Age of Art Nouveau, heavy in its slip case. 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 Epoque. Lying on the facing page is the only remaining photo. So full of ourselves; now a mere 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, curling and crinkling in the flames. And then it’s all over.

Out of the darkness
wind chimes
made of bones

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Haiku by Jean Rasey

a scattering
of white sasanqua petals

abandoned farm shed
the stillness
of rusting plough-shares

bend of the river
new-born damselflies

intensive care ward
mask-muffled voices
the eloquence of eyes

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It says “I” now,
my widowed dad’s
answer phone message

My two-year old son,
so much like me
woke me up snoring

Even white
than this summer cloud
a seagull’s belly

Careful, fat fly,
you’re entering a room
with carnivorous plants

With a man’s shirt
this old lady
washing her windows

- Gilles Fabre –

sound of the sea
a boat rests
in the cactus garden

almost dark
the mountains melt
into each other

- Alison Williams -

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Haiku by Pamela Miller Ness

winter night
the stranger in the laundromat
asks my name

sitting zazen
the hole
in Buddha’s heel

this endless heat
floating by the torn screen
a white butterfly

cool of the evening
a harvest moon
shows the way

cold night
curling deeper
into his heat

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One boat rowing out
the sea iridescent
as the sun rises

- Eric Speight

on the one and only path –
a copperhead

- Sharon Lee Shafii

Sound of the Liffey
shells from Chipiona strand
jangling in my bag

– Maeve O’Sullivan

I listen to owls
winding silences between
the motionless trees

- Jane Whittle

The coastal mountains
tear the clouds to shreds
as rain sweeps the beach

– Eric Speight

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Haiku by Helen Robinson

sitting in zazen
wrapped in
the sound of rain

this nameless torrent
how its water
flows through me!

May Day sunshine:
drum beats and blossom
filling the park

rough cinder path:
I hold onto
my mother’s hand

Spring trees greening:
she bursts into tears
at her shocking news

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Down Epiphany Way by David Cobb

The Epiphanienweg leads in Berlin sunshine to the autumn cemetery called Luisenfriedhof. I am coming to see you, Corporal Gabler, it’s my second coming. The German widows stare at me, some of the graves they are tending record as their loved ones’ years of birth the very year you died in. Almost old comrade in the enemy’s army, you were shot on the last day of the war, in the street outside your home, wearing your civvies. And me now, obliged to bring you the news of your widow, that she too lies at peace, though in a corner of a foreign field. Weren’t we all three confirmed Romantics? The triangle has to be closed.
The sun is very warm today and, traversing row after row of tombstones, I can’t find you anywhere. As I speak to you, Wo steckst du denn? , I wonder if it’s all right to call you ‘Du’. We were never properly introduced even. Just I stood beside her at the grave, holding a bent trowel, while she laid the flowers on you. That day.
Rest, we all wished you rest, thinking of peace for ever. But now, fifty years on, when I ask the gardener with a watering hose in his hand, he shakes his head, tell me to ask at the office. Likely your lease ran out so they used your plot again for someone else.

‘Ruhe in Frieden’ –
und ganz dicht nebenbei,
‘Nützungsrecht abgelaufen’.

I cannot face the office, go to the Lietzenseepark instead, where “users are requested to respect the local residents’ need of quietness”. A Turkish family are spreading out a picnic, a Chinese woman goes through unhurried motions of tai-chi, weeping willows droop to the surface of the lake. I think, By the waters of Babylon I sat down and wept, and in that moment a light shower begins.
Did I search for ghosts today and find only more of myself?

just no distinguishing
the rustle of the rain
from the sound of leaves

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Haiku by David Walker

handshake –
in the hollow
a mother & child

only the wind
between these stones
I do not know

blindman’s hands
in touch
with the sculptor

in both fields
the gleaners straighten –

wearing the suit
we shared
to your grave

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Book Review

‘Rediscovering Basho – a 300th Anniversary Celebtration’

This book consists of a series of papers given at a symposium in London to celebrate the life of Matsuo Basho (1644-1694), patron saint of haiku. An illustrated essay shows us the lasting influence of Basho on modern Japanese haiku poets.
An essay on RH Blyth reveals aspects of his personality not found elsewhere and includes two haiku in English written by Blyth. A haibun of a journey along Offa’s Dyke undertaken by members of the British Haiku Society in the spirit of Basho’s travels ensures that this book is not a dry collection of academic papers. Translations of Basho’s poems are accompanied by the romanji equivalent. An index of Basho’s haiku is provided. Recommended.

Joe McFadden

Rediscovering Basho – a 300th Anniversary Celebration, edited by Stephen Gill and Andrew Gerstle. ISBN 1-901903-15-X. 168pp Hardback. Available from Global Oriental, PO Box 219, Folkstone, Kent CT20 3LZ, GB>

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Also received for review: The Haijin’s Tweed Coat by Michael Dylan Welsh. Published by Press Here. ISBN 1-878798-02-2; budding sakura , haiku of Yoshiko Yoshino, published by Deep North Press. ISBN 1- 929116-04-7.

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Haiku by Martin Lucas

winter sun
a tiny mite and its shadow
creep across the page

the decorator
sanding down the paintwork –
bark of a dog

wintry gusts
a tuneless clatter
from the wind chimes

flaking paint
on the abandoned boat –
daytime moon

moss between the cobbles
children’s voices
echo in the alley

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Nothing Doing by Jonathan Buckley

I am here for sesshin, a Zen retreat that starts on Friday night and finishes early on Sunday afternoon. My room is small with its own washbasin. The meditation hall is a large wood-panelled room, precisely checked out in blach cushions with a simple altar and flower display at the far end.

A quiet cushion
midst the chitter chatter –
nothing doing

On the first evening and following morning, the zazen (sitting meditation) is comfortable but my mind keeps skipping from one thing to the next, like the automatic search function on a digital radio. Lunch, prepared by the nuns, is a clear vegetable soup followed by a plate of rice with fish and vegetables, carrots, coarse green cabbage and pureed beans. In the afternoon we break from sitting and I go for a walk in the grounds. On my way downstairs, I notice a picture of a kitten that has been put on the door leading to the first floor bedrooms. The caption reads: “If nobody is perfect, I must be nobody”. Outside, the rain isa constant, dripping on theleaves, leaves mulching on the paths. I note the freshly swept path at the side of the house. We all had our chores after breakfast.

in rain I bow
to the macadam’s contours –
peeling goldleaf

At the back of the large house, the garden slopes down to a small wood. In front of it is an unusual little burial ground for the sisterhood. Small silver plaques have been set in crescents on a rich green lawn; at the centre, a cross and wooden bench.

with passing clouds
the heavens reflect quietly
on an empty bench

Back inside, the sitting is physically hard but as time goes by, I settle into something very quiet and solid, and then a sense of ripening and softening. The blizzard in my mind is gone and the ‘snow’ has settled, crisp and deep and even. Supper is tomatoes, home-made bread and pizza, coleslaw and beetroot. Afterwards I retire upstairs and put my chilled and aching body into a hot bath. The pain melts in the hot water.

summer pulses
soaking in a pot –
soft and expanding

The final morning goes well. I am still uncomfortable but surrender myself and it seems that I become the breath and my cushion, an enormous diaphragm. And then it is all over. The sesshin finishes and we retire to the dining room for a celebration. The room is full of noise and laughter that sends ripples through the still pool created by our three days of silence and meditation. Outside, the mist and rain has evaporated, leaving a bright autumn day.

hidden by leaves
the bird scribbles his song
on the clear blue

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We would like to express our profound indebtedness and gratitude to every one of you who, over the past five years, subscribed and contributed to Haiku Spirit. Thank you!
Jim Norton and Sean O’Connor

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A Farewell Note from Japan

It was with sadness that I received the news that Haiku Spirit will soon cease publication. Yet I know, from the little of that kind of work that I have done myself, how arduous it can be. I think of Santoka taking his leave as he wanders off alone. I think too of Lafcadio Hearn (1850-1904), a great contributor to Western understanding of Japan, whose Irish childhood has been much referred to here this year, the 150th anniversary of his birth. The Irish Embassy in fact has used an old cartton of Hearn, walking off into the distance with a suitcase in one hand and a small bag in the other, on its recent printed matter. There is something about the back view of a person that is peculiarly expressive – vulnerable or determined as the case may be, but not dressed up to suit the viewer. In the summer heat here now I remember a verse from the anthology of haiku that I helped translate. It is by Hayashi Sho (b. 1914):

you human beings
clothes all wrinkled at the back
from perspiration

I remember too another anthology, edited by a collaborator, which I was given on a visit to Nagova a few years ago. It was an anthology of haiku composed by Japanese poets in different parts of Europe. There were verses from all over the continent, from Romania to Iceland. I was very disappointed, though, to discover that there were none from Ireland. Perhaps when the haiku spirit returns from its journey, it will be reborn in another form, and the connection between Ireland and Japan will deepen and grow stronger. Let us hope so. There is much to be done.

- David Burleigh, Tokyo

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