In praise of haiku – and silence

Poetic responses to the silent skies – and an election aside.

Eyjafjallajokull volcano plume 18 April 2010
Cloud of unknowing: Eyjafjallajokull volcano plume on 18 April 2010 (Wikimedia Commons)
Chris Warren, currently stranded in Japan by the volcanic ash you can see here spewing from Eyjafjallajokull, has sent another contribution to his haiku collection:

Raked temple garden
Perfect but for a dead twig
Fallen across folds

Outwardly, then, all is calm, even if his situation, trapped far from home, is less than ideal. Haiku, it seems, are of the moment, for Herman van Rompuy, the new President of the European Council, has just published his own volume. The Guardian comments that ‘his passion is for a form of Japanese verse that is the bureaucratic equivalent of the limerick’. The poet himself prefers to describe the form as ‘fun and frolicsome’. As I hope the examples here show, haiku can achieve far more.

Chris inspired a response of my own, after a visit to the Long Gallery at Montacute House last week. It contains Tudor and Elizabethan portraits from the National Portrait Gallery, including figures such as Essex and Francis Bacon, posing in their finery and haughty demeanour, whilst the roads outside are peppered with election posters – including many for Annunziata Rees-Mogg, who must surely also be from a family of ancient entitlement. She is (her father edited the Times) and just to make the point, her brother Jacob (‘the headline-prone 37-year-old banker’, says the Independent) is standing in the next constituency. ‘Economies of scale ought to be possible when it comes to printing the ‘Vote Rees-Mogg’ posters,’ quipped the editor’s daughter. She was right – the landscape was peppered with blue signs, with only a solitary yellow ‘Vote Tessa’ poster stuck, incongruously, at the edge of the beach at Burnham-on-Sea.

Outside in Spring sun
Annunziata seeks my vote;
Here cool statesmen stare.

[Update, 24 April: lovely article by Ian Jack on the Rees-Mogg candidacies in The Guardian: ‘In pursuit of Somerset royalty in the hyper-marginal hinterland: It’s hard enough for the Tories to demonstrate social inclusivity with one highly privileged candidate. But two?’]

Today’s Guardian carries a haiku from Patrick Curry on the silent skies themselves (I hope, Chris, it’s some consolation):

Glorious, the spring
skies thrumming with silence – and
no one had to die

The Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, was also struck by the quiet. She apologises to those stranded (including, implicitly, our friends in Japan) then relishes the kinds of sounds ‘that Shakespeare heard and Edward Thomas and, briefly, us’ – for every cloud has a ‘Silver Lining’. Hear Carol Ann Duffy read it the poem on the BBC site or read the full text on the Guardian site. It’s not a haiku, though….

Photograph by Boaworm from Wikimeida Commons, published under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported licence.

Japanese whispers: in Basho mood

Japanese temple garden
Zen stone garden at the Komyozenji temple in Dazaifu by Chris 73: see below.
Poetic inspiration takes unpredictable, amazing shapes. In response to a recent post about poetry and sport, there was a question about how many feet would be required for poems about three-legged racers. Chris Warren, already on a trip to Japan, needed no incentive to write haiku but took this as a prompt to share some three-liners with me. Here are some tasters – though none are about sport. This was written ‘after a visit to a specially beautiful Zen temple stone garden’:

Raked gravel ripples
Spread out from the grey stone:
Wave-forms of silence

And these show Chris, as he says, ‘in full Basho mood’:

New-leaf-green maple
Backlit by sunlight … and one
tiny bird on the branch

A black crow cries ‘Wha?’
Outside my window. Without
Heeding my reply.

The last one was written ‘after an exotic trip with some Japanese Buddhist friends to a temple in the mountains’

Mountain temple bell
Hollow sound through green pine woods
The whisper of streams

Look out for more, either here or on our English and ICT site!

All poems here by and © Chris Warren. The photograph is a Wikipedia and Wikimedia Commons image from Chris 73 (not Chris Warren!) and is freely available here under the Creative Commons cc-by-sa 2.5 licence.

Anthem for rugby’s doomed youth

Keating on the death of poet Mick Imlah and the rugby internationals from the British Isles who were among the millions slaughtered during the Great War

Today’s cricket post reminded me of the only other time in recent memory that I’d been enticed to read the Guardian’s sports pages. I’d parked the item in my draft posts over a year ago and then forgotten about it. Again, it was Frank Keating’s literary allusions that drew my eye to the page, along with the First World War reference. His Anthem for rugby’s doomed youth mourns both the death last year of the poet Mick Imlah and the rugby internationals from the British Isles who were among the millions slaughtered during the war. He quotes Imlah’s ’15-line sonnet London Scottish 1914, a panegyric to the three-score brothers in arms who volunteered to swap their Richmond turf for Belgian ditches – for three-quarters of them to die’:

Of that ill-balanced and fatigued fifteen
The ass selectors favoured to survive,
Just one, Brodie the prop, resumed his post.
The others sometimes drank to ‘The Forty-Five’:
Neither a humorous nor an idle toast.

The full text of poem can be found here. The claim that this fifteen-line poem is a sonnet provoked a challenge from Chris Warren – are there any other examples of this special kind of ‘sonnet’?