I was intrigued this morning when a parcel addressed to me arrived from Japan, postmarked Kyotonishi. Inside was a copy of the Genjuan Haibun Contest Decorated Works 2012-2014, complied by Nobuyuki Yuasa and Stephen Henry Gill, published by Hailstone Haiku Circle March 2015.
And then all became clear. I’d won the Genjuan Haibun Contest Grand Prix in 2013 with Towards Burry Holms and I hadn’t realised it was to be published so I was delighted to see my entry inside the covers in English and in Japanese. How I wish I could decipher the kanji and kana characters, but all I can do is delight at the sheer beauty of the arrangement on the page.
I thought how unsettling it is to see your own work in print (along with the judge’s comments made available to the world.) I thought of a comment I’d heard recently about writers wanting their work to be read, but not wanting to show it to anyone. There’s something in that.
The book is going to be a catalyst to get me writing haibun again. I’ll never be a poet but I do love the opportunities the haibun form offers to meld prose with haiku – nuggets of observations that though short on the page, linger long in the mind. The form is open to possibilities and so far I’ve tried short story haibun, memoir haibun, travel haibun, and psychogeography haibun. So I need to get my pen out again and get thinking – and looking. As my dear much-missed PhD tutor, Nigel Jenkins used to say, “Avoid at all cost, desk-top haiku.”
I thought you might like to read:
Towards Burry Holms
The boardwalk ends at Diles Lake and we take the sandy path through the burrows that leads to the beach. You lag behind, me dragging you, your dimpled hand clutching mine, as once your mother did, as my mother did mine. It’s a hard grind, tiring on legs, young and old. Our flip-flops squeak on the fine dry sand, leaving the slightest impressions of our mark. Even in June, the south-westerly breeze erases our presence in a puff, our footprints sprinkled-over by the shifting grains.
among the dunes
marram grasses sway
embracing the future
We linger just before the stream reaches the sea. The shallow water here entices still, its banks held back with pebbles and nets of wire. In you go, wading knee-deep, into the clear water that’s rushing on its way. But you have all day. A life-time even to paddle and dabble in its mystery. I sit and watch you play. “Let’s do pouring, you say.” “OK, I’ll fill, you pour.” So with your red plastic bucket I labour away, as you empty the fill away, watching it drain into the stream and out to sea. And so it goes on. At the edge of the stream, I look back and see my home now, through the gap in the dunes. I look forward, and see me reflected in your eyes.
nose pressed to a jam-jar
where tadpoles thrash
Time to move on. We have a lot of ground to cover you and me. Leaving the shelter of the dunes, we pick our way together across the pebbles and on to the expanse of hard, damp sand. “That’s better,” you sigh. Limbs feel easier now. We are walking towards the Holms, two little pilgrims, pulled by this lump of holy land that when the tide if full, rises like a turtle out of the sea.
The sun is in our faces; the wind at our backs. You scuttle like a crab with the force of it. If I don’t take care of you, anchor you with the weight of my hand, you could sail away.
stripped bare of flesh,
bleached timbers of a wreck
nudge through the sand
Along the strand line, you scrunch and scour through shells; cockles, mussels, razors, clams. You pick up a mermaid’s purse; crack black pods of bladder-wrack between your tiny finger-tips; discard a desiccated crab-back. We laugh but decide not to sit in the empty armchair that’s just there, somehow, facing out to sea. We’ll wait.
At Spaniard Rocks, we reach journey’s end, bed-down in the soft sand, our backs against the flat slabs of limestone worn by the years: warmed by the sun. You are the fourth generation to sit in this spot. “It’s hot,” you say, “toasty.” And then we’re silent, you and I, looking back at how far we’ve come, wondering perhaps how much further we have to go.
conch clamped to your ear
will you hear me calling you
across the sea’s divide?