H  A  I  K  U     S  P  I  R  I  T
Pilgrim Foxes

pilgrimfoxes



I

EXTRACTS

 

KEN JONES

Flintstone Millenium

 

JAMES NORTON

Out of the Blue

 

SEAN O'CONNOR

A Huge Firework

 

 

II

INTRODUCTION BY GEORGE MARSH


This book will be a collectors' special: it contains the first mature masterpieces in a new Western literary genre, the haibun, or haiku prose piece. The haibun has a history, and American and British writers have experimented with it before, but these three writers have developed it in a new direction which reveals for the first time the immense potential of the form as a dense, thematically complex complement to the longer poem or the short story, with a startling leap from prose to poetry which represents not just a change of rhythm but something more like a shift of dimensions, of vision. Ken Jones calls the haibun project, "the poetic expression of The Heart Sutra's paradoxes concerning form and emptiness, restoring the "empty" part of the equation."

Each haiku is set in a prose context of mythic and social forces which gives it a spin.
It shines, innocent and direct, but surrounded by a comet's tail of ambiguities and poignancy reflected from the prose. One of the form's further ironies is that the prose has the more "poetic" properties, and the change to poetry is often a switch into plainness, a shedding of sophistication.

The three poets collected here all attribute the source of their creative energies to meditation practice. Their work will speak to those who have intimations of the Ground of Being, the Essence, Mind, the Real, the Buddha Dharma, the Tao, or whatever your phrase for it is.
 
Ken Jones periodically turns into a hermit, retiring for solitary retreats in the mountains of Mid-Wales. Round his isolated house are little meditation spots. Across a meadow and into the woods by the Rheidol river he points out his sitting stone, and the hole in the bank where he has tucked a Kwan Yin statuette, the Goddess of Compassion. He will take her out and set her on a stump for an altar and burn incense as the river sweeps by and the forest leaves rustle.
 
James Norton is able to write like a Chinese sage in the tradition of Cold Mountain and wandering mendicant monks, yet draws as much from rich native sources. And his voice is authentic; it is distinctively, recognisably his own, not an imitation.
 
Seán O'Connor confesses that his life "has been dominated by sadness and loneliness", yet nevertheless he has "always been a happy person." But he feels that this contentment does not come though in his writing. "It is a contentment that carried me through the immense suffering of others which I had to deal with during my six years of psychiatric nursing."
 
"Silence is the motherlode, a field of plenitude, and I have to keep in contact with that," says Norton. "An impulse arises out of it and I have to be receptive. The test is to compare the poem to the experience of enlivened silence. If it has gone too far, into discursiveness, the energy level drops." For him, the original perception is non-dual, and his task is to find a form for it in language, though language separates and distinguishes. The silence is demanding, the spark that arises is urgent: "I have to write something."
 
Ken Jones also feels the imperative. "I open to haiku as a positive response to suffering. And I do so out of an urgent need," he says. "I feel I have to write, to bear witness – though it's never enough." Through the happy chance of these two men coming together the present experiments have been born.

James Norton organised a poetry and meditation retreat at Glendalough in the Wicklow Hills, and in the process instituted what he called the haiku sangha, a group of writers whose inspiration was Buddhist practice. Ken Jones, one of the original members of the group, stumbled upon the haibun form as a way of solving a problem with haiku sequences that seemed to require prefaces and footnotes. He quickly realised that haibun prose could be much more than ramblers' reports, headnotes to poems, or a string of informative links, and saw what a wonderfully flexible instrument he had discovered for expressing the purposes of the haiku sangha. The new kind of haibun developed from exchanging correspondence and conversation with Norton, O'Connor and several other haiku poets, including David Cobb, who was already ploughing his own eccentric haibun furrow in Essex (see his extraordinary Spring Journey to the Saxon Shore, Equinox, 1997). The new haibun, as I shall call it for the moment, is a prose-poem organised
around thematic issues, sending roots into history and myth, and flowering wryly in the glitzy precincts and the sump estates of our times.

There is a naming problem. Haibun is the Japanese name for the poetic-prose travel journals of Basho, studded with haiku, the best known of which is The Narrow Road to the Deep North (in Penguin Classics, and in other editions under variant translations of the title). But it appears that the Japanese hardly use the form any more and the term is relatively unknown in the English speaking world. Ken Jones prefers to call his pieces haiku prose. His guiding principle is that the prose should be written with haiku-like qualities. R.H. Blyth memorably summarised, "These are some of the characteristics of the state of mind which the creation and appreciation of haiku demand," and listed thirteen: selflessness; loneliness; grateful acceptance; wordlessness; non-intellectuality; contradictoriness; humour; freedom; non-morality; simplicity; materiality; love; and courage. Following this agenda certainly gives the prose a bracing Buddhist flavour, but to call the form haiku prose does not do justice to its special feature, the contrast between the haiku and the prose.
 
Illustrators define the relationship between their drawings and the texts that they illustrate, deprecating the mere "illustration," which repeats what the story has already given the reader. They use terms like "interpretation" and "complement" to indicate that in translating the themes into another artistic medium they have to re-imagine them and offer something new, a different kind of vision. The relationship between the prose and the haiku in haibun is like this. It may be tangential, implicit. The prose deals with complexity and the haiku reveals the thing in itself, stripped of complexity, palpable in its suchness, like an epiphany in Joyce's sense of the word and with a comparable function in the haibun form, which is so close to the short story. The problem, as David Cobb has pointed out, is finding the haiku that will be good enough to transform the theme.

`A new haibun cannot afford any sentence that does not contribute to the effect at the ending, and builds to its last words, as a short story does, but not quite in the same way. A modern literary story has single focus and everything contributes to the organic unity of structure condensed into the final image.

So why is the haibun not a short story? Ken Jones believes you could write haibun without haiku in them, because the key to a haibun is its haiku-like prose principles. And why is it not a poem? Certainly Ken Jones' The Last Move, for example, and Jim Norton's Out of the Blue are very close to being longer poems. It would not take many changes to present them as conventional poems.

A short story of Out of the Blue would not have an ending that comes out of the blue. The image would have been a development of all that had gone before, not a new character. You cannot introduce a new character in the last line of a short story. But in the haibun we have two parallel realities, related, but with different rhythms. Every so often there is a Narnia wardrobe or loose manhole cover and one falls from the quotidian domestic business into a place where the reference points are eternal and death highlights the profiles of all things. These two places run in parallel and there is no contradiction between them. The ending can be from the one where the social themes were not developing. It will have a rightness all its own, not dependant on build-up, but not independent of it.

This could be a pretentious trick, of course, and in bad haibun it is: the writer suddenly goes profound on you. If you live, however, drawing continually on the sense that everyday reality is the arising of life from the silence, the ground of being, and the continual recreation and annihilation of that life and return to silence, then the form that represents a parallel world of poetry under a parallel world of prose is the perfect instrument for your expression. The haiku in a haibun are more than a typographical intensification device, like a sinister chord under a line of film dialogue. They are the manifestation of a particular view of reality, a view that uses a vocabulary with terms like delusion, vast emptiness, no-self, the ceasing of notions, interdependence, and mindfulness.
 
This book is a record of the movement of three haiku poets from haiku-writing to experiments with the new prose-and-haiku vehicle. As you read you see all three of them making discoveries which will become important to all of us in the literature of the unfolding century.
 
George Marsh is the author of Teaching through Poetry
(Hodder & Stoughton, 1988), and is publisher of a small poetry press – Waning Moon.

 

III

REVIEW BY DAVID COBB

 

These three writers are on a spiritual quest. They are foxy pilgrims. But fox is a trickster, a shape-shifter. And this quest about how to make sense – or nonsense – of our lives is far from straightforward. So the three pilgrims tell their stories in haiku and in haiku-like prose (called haibun). This is a form of writing which is both very down-to-earth and yet gives off an elusive
whiff of mystery – especially if you take it in slowly. Life is never quite what it seems… Come with them and see!

"If finding the way is the first test, the second lies just around the corner" says Ken Jones. How many ways are there round one corner? The pilgrims offer you three. All are unmissable.
 
David Cobb, President, British Haiku Society

 

IV

BACK COVER AND ORDER INFO

 

In this innovative collection, HAIKU SPIRIT editors James Norton and Sean O'Connor have joined forces with leading Welsh haiku poet Ken Jones to offer haiku of depth and impact together with a rich display of what is being called 'the new haibun' -

"This book is a collectors' special: it contains the first mature masterpieces in a new Western literary genre…which reveals for the first time the immense potential of the haibun form" – George Marsh

"How many ways are there around one corner? These pilgrims offer you three. All are unmissable" - David Cobb, President, British Haiku Society


Mail-order now from Pilgrim Press, Troed Rhiw Sebon, Cwmrheidol,
Aberysywyth SY23-3NB, Wales. Price Sterling £6 / US$11




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