Sunday

things I have witnessed/ but failed to notice until/ this moment, here, now

This Single Thread
Paul Chambers

£10 available from the author and Alba Publishing 



I have seen them in the orchard’s long grass – contour, flight, down – from magpies or wood pigeons, and once, the tawny remains of a buzzard. I have slipped them in my pocket or frozen them in a photograph. But now I am watching them move in my memory as dusk begins to shift towards night:

evening wind
a feather trembles
in the grass 
(p.11)

And on those late train journeys home from London, lights from the back windows of terraced houses glittering past, wafers of smoky clouds shifting across the night sky: 

overnight train
a handprint
smears the moon
(p.68)

Paul Chambers talks about haiku as ‘the art of noticing’ and each haiku in this collection is a quiet and precise record of the small moments that are common to us all. Or, if not common, convincingly true:  

pylon hum
the twitch of fibres
in a horse’s shoulder
(p.27)

Our lives are, naturally, a tangle of threads. We are all pulled in multiple directions: work and family, obligations and responsibilities. It’s easy to be overwhelmed by complications, contradictions and challenges. Sometimes it’s difficult to find a level terrain, one that makes sense, provides a plateau of calm. But moments of smooth connection do exist; moments when we feel the beauty of travelling along a single harmonious thread. This collection reminds me of that. Reminds me too, to quote another poet:

A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

(William Wordsworth, from ‘Leisure’.)

My life is richer for Paul Chambers noticing:

white mist
the wing and the wave
almost touching
(p.90)

Friday

haiku commentary: Ajaya Mahala

mosquito wings —
the colour of evening 
so thin

          — Ajaya Mahala (First Place, Shiki Monthly Kukai, May 2014)

It’s probably a default approach to use visual images when writing poetry and I know I consciously nudge myself now and then to consider the senses of smell, sound, touch and taste too. And, sometimes taking it a step further, to consider if synaesthesia ~ when the sensory stimulus from one sense is mixed up with another sense ~ might also be effective with the material I’m working with.

The use of metaphor, in any form of poetry, needs a light touch, and even more so in haiku where the minimal form has no space for a grandstanding author to hide. I want my haiku to encourage a reader to reflect on their own experiences, through the filter of mine, and not reflect on how clever with language I might think I am!

‘mosquito wings’ is written with an incredibly light touch, subtly using synaesthesia to blend visual and textural qualities. We automatically associate mosquitoes with evening so the scene is set by the end of the first line. But ‘the colour of evening’ is something that’s likely to differ between readers. Darkness, sunset, dusk – they all have their own identities as well as our own interpretations. Yet when I read the third line ~ ‘so thin’ ~ any depth of colour falls away and I’m left with a feeling of fragility that evokes a paleness and translucence. A feeling that I might test the evening air between my fingers, like the finest sheet of rice paper. Which, of course, takes me back to the ‘wings’ in the first line.

For me, the best haiku make me think and feel. This one does. It enters my mind and my body and makes its mark.

Review: cylymau tywod ~ knots of sands

cylymau tywod ~ knots of sand
John Rowlands

£12 from Alba Publishing

This week a friend on Facebook shared an old photograph of us, standing together on the shore of the Atlantic on Florida's east coast, and I felt homesick for the sensation of damp sand under my feet, for the scent of salt on the breeze.  

I was born next to the sea in South Wales. The beach and sand dunes were our playground as children. The sound of breaking waves became so familiar I had to focus intently to hear them at night before I fell asleep.

roaring sea
tongues of foam
silenced in sand (p.32)

The knots of sand in the title of Rowlands' haiku collection are the ropey-looking burrowings that lugworm leave on the surface of the sand. My dad used to dig for lugworm, to use as fishing bait, on the beach at low-tide. 

cylymau tywod in Welsh, my mother's first language, the language we were not taught growing up in Port Talbot (for outdated reasons about learning) but one that still formed a natural part of my life: spoken during family visits in Llanelli, my parents' hometown, used in Welsh school plays on St David's Day, in the hymns and songs we learnt for assemblies and concerts, for the 'O' and then 'A' level I took at Sandfields Comprehensive School.  

cleber nefolaidd                    they talk of heaven
llenwaf fy llygaid                   I fill my eyes
â sylwedd y sêr                     with skies and stars (p.5) 

So many of the haiku in this book bring me back to myself through the sea and through language. Rowlands' experiences and responses are transposed through emotional engagement and acts of imagination into my own.

oedi                              stopping
i                                   to
wrando                         listen
ar                                to
dawelwch                     the silence
yr                                of
eira'n                           falling
disgyn                         snow (p.97)


... a memory from February 1963 of my four year old self leaning over the back of a deep red Rexine settee watching the streets and roads blanketed with heavy snow.  

I enter his house of words and find the gift of myself at home. 

trwy heddiw
i arogl doeau
llifio coed

through today
to the scent of yesterdays
sawing logs (p.42)

We are all connected through our common sensory experiences, by the way we see, hear, taste, smell and touch the world. And by what we feel for each other too.

you say yes
sleet softens
to snow (p.103) 


Wednesday

Haibun

When in doubt say ‘yes’ 

November: a month that begins with a syllable of prohibition then slowly denies us colour and warmth. My father's brother has died at 91. This morning’s frost refuses to melt. I watch a day moon swallowed by smoky clouds; leaves shroud the bare earth beneath the apple trees.

But tonight, as if his age and health are no more than a random number, a misconception, my father's voice on the phone so clear, so bright. And the sky beyond the orchard fired by sunset. Yes. Oh yes.

fall
I try
not to





First published in CHO July 2017