The Golden Muse

The September issue of Haibun Today has now been published. As always, there are many fine examples of haibun and tanka prose, as well as excellent reviews and articles, including Melissa Allen’s review of Jeffrey Woodward’s recently published Evening in the Plaza: Haibun and Haiku and David Cobb’s article, “Transmissions of Haibun”.

Here is my tanka prose from the June issue (7:2):

The Golden Muse

“O for a Muse of fire, that would ascend the brightest heaven of invention.”

—Shakespeare, Henry V

Seated by the window, you stare into that space where all times are now. There you are, little more than a child, at the Galeries Lafayette, just about to catch Picasso’s eye. You’re buying a col claudine when he stops to tell you that you have an interesting face. He drops his name like a calling card. You’ve never heard of him— but he’d love to paint you! There you are again, brazen and bright as a beach ball, bouncing along the Plage de l’Ecluse with the key to his cabana. Did you ever walk as tall as he portrayed you: a giantess born of love’s palette, your head lost to the endless sky? And there you are, as the self-made noose tightens around your throat. Only you know the truth: are you slipping loose from your shackles, or tethering yourself to him in the hereafter? Oh, to wave my hand across your vacant expression! In another time, another place, who might you have been?


paying no heed to
the gently proffered bouquet
Manet’s Victorine
glassy-eyed queen
of the unmade bed

He said you saved his life, Marie-Thérèse. You, the unseen shadow, the secret code. Every curve, every saturated hue betrayed him. Brushstroke by brushstroke, his mouth was on your graceful neck, his arm was encircling your waist and you were the guitar waiting to be played; you were pitcher and fruit bowl, your very initials bifurcated by his. Fecund and sinuous, you were the black line that defined him, the sun through stained glass. Until, at last, he captured you while you slept naked in your armchair, head tilted toward the light, an open book in your lap. The truth now undeniable as the lyrical colours, the odour of the oils. But in another life, who might you have been?


the perfumes
of golden Byzantium
the mosaics
of Venice and Ravenna . . .
all eyes on Klimt’s Adele

Cast your mind back and find yourself returned to that hall of mirrors; in each glass, adjusted to his vision, do you see yourself as Picasso saw you, at one time or another? Which—if any—pleases you? The moon-white nude, bathing in her own light beneath the luxuriant foliage of the philodendron? or by the sea, that other nude, a strange coalescence of monster and seductress, all at once statuesque and vulnerable, sensual, yet clinically cold? . . . Perhaps it’s the tide that whispers, poor, poor Olga . . . Linger in reflection amid the still lifes; there is something of your smile in those red tulips. And there you are, wrought from wire and welded iron, his Daphne among the leaves in the chateau glade. Go deeper. Look closer. The hall has become a mirrorball and memory has set it spinning. In a blur of colour the Marne swirls you in its water-glass, spits you out in grisaille in Guernica, as the girl frantically running from left to right; the girl with a lamp at an upstairs window; the mother wailing for her dead child. So many lives that might have been yours. Canvas might liberate you, Marie-Thérèse, but flesh? Never. At least, not until—don’t think of that now . . . think of the dove, breasting her eggs. Were you not glad that was you? Your fellow captive, black as night, clawing and squawking inside the cage might have been you, in another life. Dora? War? Who might you have been, otherwise?


“Gala, it is
your blood with which I paint . . .
you are my bread”—
the woven arms and bared breast
of Dali’s la fornarina


brushed into her braids
the soft spill of her hair
in darkness
the almost parted lips
of Wyeth’s Helga

And if Time, the greatest artist of all, could take one moment of your life and sculpt it from marble, or bronze, render it in oils or gouache, frame it with gold, or place it under glass, which would you choose? When were you happiest? Would you sit for him at Le Tremblay, with Maya on your lap, sometime during that sweet hour of eternity amidst the candles, the cut flowers, the fruit bowls, when Pic was the attentive lover, the devoted father? Or would you be on your bicycle, flashing through sunlight and shadow on your way to Boisgeloup to be mistress for the week while Olga was in Paris? Perhaps you’d wish to remain forever on the brink of womanhood, shopping at the Galeries Lafayette, your fingers about to brush that col claudine, the Master’s sleeve, the hem of immortality . . .


from that Minoan shore
to the whetstone
of Phidias’ dream
and the fire of his blade

a patina
of coiled, breathing bangles
scale by scale
the snake goddess stripped
of her livery

and re-cast
from the patriarchal mould
the sloughed-off layers
of her sensual skin
trimmings for her aegis

a She-tower
of chryselephantine
swift allegiance
of the brave, the bold

graven image
robed in motionless gold
and deathly cold as
the Gorgon at her breast

the glistening spear
and Winged Victory . . .
clandestine, at her feet
the limping smith-god’s child

a pedestal fit
for the Brightly-Crowned
Bringer of Strife:
the birth of Pandora
carved ivory relief

Golden Ages . . .
flowers from the garden
in a cobalt vase . . .
from the ray of a petal
pollen in the press of time

Author’s Notes

Images of Paintings cited in Tanka:

Dali’s la fornarina
Klimt’s Adele
Manet’s Victorine
Wyeth’s Helga


Femme Assiss Pres D’une Fenetre (Woman Sitting Near A Window, 1932) by Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) is a portrait of Marie-Thérèse Walter, the artist’s “golden muse.” It sold at auction in February 2013 for £28,601,250. Marie-Thérèse (1909-1977) was Picasso’s French mistress and model from 1927 to around 1935. She was mother to his daughter, Maya. The affair began when Marie-Thérèse was 17 and Picasso was 45. He was still married to Olga (see below). Four years after Picasso’s death, 50 years after the couple first met, Marie-Thérèse committed suicide by hanging herself.

1) Olga Khokhlova (1891-1955), Picasso’s first wife.

2) Dora Maar (1907-1977), said to be Picasso’s “dark muse.” A skilled photographer, she recorded every stage in the development of Guernica (1937), arguably Picasso’s greatest masterpiece. Dora and Marie-Thérèse, rivals for the artist’s affections, are reputed to have wrestled each other, allegedly in front of Guernica, after Picasso told them to fight it out for themselves. In his painting Birds in a Cage (1937), Marie-Thérèse is depicted as the gentle, white dove, so Picasso’s preference appears to be clear.

3) Château de Boisgeloup: the country estate of which Olga was mistress at weekends while Marie-Thérèse resided there during the week.

4) col claudine, a Peter Pan collar.


(I) Victorine Meurent (1844-1927),the favourite model of Edouard Manet(1832-1883), inspiration for such works as Olympia (1863) and Le Déjeuner sur l’Herbe (1862-3).

(II) Adele Bloch-Bauer, painted by Gustav Klimt(1862-1918)in 1907.

(III) Gala Dalí, wife of Salvador Dalí(1904-1989). The Portrait of Galerina (1940-45) is a tribute to La Fornarina by Renaissance painter Raphael (1483-1520).

(IV) The Helga Pictures, a series of more than 240 paintings and drawings of German model Helga Testorf, (born c.1939), created by Andrew Wyeth (1917-2009) over the course of 15 years. The sittings were a secret even to the artist and model’s spouses. Braids was painted in 1979.

(V) Mycenaean culture flourished between 1600 BC when Helladic culture in mainland Greece was transformed under the influence of Minoan Crete, until around 1100 BC and the collapse of Bronze Age civilization. Long before the heyday of Athens, the northern patriarchal Hellenic tribes subverted the feminine, matriarchal Cretan goddesses (such as the Minoan snake goddess, protectress of hearth and home) whom they gave a new, masculine origin, making her acceptable to their patriarchal culture by clothing her in armour and making her subsidiary to an exalted Zeus (formerly a minor ‘year spirit,’ or consort to the goddess in Minoan culture). Athena Parthenos(Athena the Virgin), sculpted by Phidias (c.480-430 BC) and his assistants, and housed in the Parthenon. A massive gold and ivory sculpture of the city’s patron goddess, deemed the most renowned cult image of Athens.


Poet and Tanka

David Rice, the current Editor of Ribbons (journal of the Tanka Society of America) invited me to write an essay on the “Poet and Tanka” theme that has been featured in the journal for some time, I was honoured to be asked and the following appeared in the most recent issue (summer 2013):

Poet and Tanka

I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free

                                                 —Michelangelo (1475-1564)

Michelangelo spoke of being able to see, in a block of marble, a statue, perfect in shape and form as clearly as if it stood before him and by chipping away at the stone that held the “lovely apparition” captive, he could not only unlock it, but reveal it to others as it appeared through his eyes. For me, this is very similar to the art of writing tanka. As poets, we are presented with the soapstone, the heartwood, of a particular moment, emotion or experience and by taking up the tools of our trade we endeavour to chisel away at that raw material in order to create something that will resonate with others. And yet, a tanka is capable of shape-shifting; that liberated life-form, sculpted into being, can be viewed from many angles; very much depends on the way the light falls. A good tanka, set on a dais in the Dreaming Room*, might remain obscure until that a-ha!moment when the dust sheet slips away.

I began writing poetry as a young child. William Blake, W. B. Yeats and Dylan Thomas helped me to make sense of the world. I favoured rhyming Western poetry, but my head was later turned by Ted Hughes and Seamus Heaney. I was familiar with haiku and tanka, but these were not forms I pursued. For a decade or so, during a traumatic period of my life, I didn’t write at all. Shortly before I was wooed by my second husband— and Asian short-form poetry —I took my children to The Lowry at Salford Quays in Greater Manchester. I was astonished by L. S. Lowry’s brooding seascapes and tortured self-portraits. Of course, I was familiar with the artist’s grim industrial landscapes, the scenes of matchstick men that portray a stereotypical view of industrial, working-class life in Northern England, but I was completely ignorant of Lowry’s artistic genius and talent for draughtmanship. I was never a great fan of those crowd scenes and their abstracted, stylized figures, but in retrospect, I have come to see these paintings as Lowry’s tanka; in departing from photo-realistic compositions, Lowry discovered a way of capturing the essence of a scene with a few simple brushstrokes. Not only did he evoke the smell and the din of a particular moment in time, he also highlighted the loneliness inherent to the human condition. He said that all his people were lonely; all were wrapped up in their own private sorrows; “crowds”, he said, “are the most lonely thing of all”.

and so to this

seemingly unpeopled sea:

coral factories

and the industry of gulls . . .

the whale’s spume and siren-song


Many of my tanka have their roots in nature. This makes sense to me as I believe that we are not merely a part of nature, weare nature. One of the first tanka I wrote was awarded second place in the Lyrical Passion Poetry “Think Tanka” contest, 2010:

unshackled from myself

I am just

a passing thought

in the mind

of the forest

I often find that tanka written “in the field” retain the numinosity of the original experience, months, years later. I am immediately transported to a certain glade, the edge of a stream. In this way, tanka are a means of bookmarking a moment of my life. Shortly after I received the above award, I discovered Michael McClintock’s tanka and was instantly captivated. This one has remained a firm favourite:

one at a time,

I step on stones

and cross the stream—

when I’m across, the stones

go back to what they were doing

—from Meals at Midnight, MET Press, 2008

Therein lies some of the magic of tanka: the fantastic in the seemingly ordinary; the interconnectedness of all that exists. And it is my belief that all that exists lives. In the words of Dr Graham Harvey, Professor of Religious Studies at the Open University and author of Animism: Respecting the Living World (Wakefield Press, 2005):

“. . . many of our closest kin are human, while the closest kin of oaks are oaks, so we talk most easily with humans while rocks talk most easily with other rocks . . .”

—from “The Animist Manifesto”, first published in The Strange Attractor.

But the rocks and the trees, the hills and streams, will speak to us, if we care to listen. Don’t all children like to imagine that the toys in the nursery come to life when no one is looking? Tanka is the keyhole through which I peep. Blow the dust away and a moment, a memory, an emotion, is thrown into relief:

I rest my mind

with the world


in the stillness

of the heron’s raised foot

Notes from the Gean, September 2011

Moreover, I want to know what makes a tanka step out to drink across sun-silvered distance. Who pilots the biplane through the mists of dawn, flushing those elusive words, of softest tread, out into the open?

a flash of white—

wishing I, too

could make

spring’s heart leap,

roe deer in the thicket

Presence, 46, 2012

Writing tanka is meditation; it has become something akin to spiritual practice. It is transformative and many of the tanka I write are about transformation.

by what alchemy

is a memory made?

sunlit dust motes . . .

the cat climbs into the warmth

you left in the chair

red lights, 9:1, January 2013

It is also cathartic. Sometimes a tanka arises from a long-buried hurt, from a watershed moment, or a glint of recollection that I barely knew existed,

wishing I’d savoured

that last mouthful of childhood . . .

moments before

laughing at my reflection

in the bowl of the spoon

A Hundred Gourds, 2:1, 2012

In the sculptor’s hands, hammer and chisel may excise pain. I find few tanka as moving as this by David Terelinck:

I trace the outline

of your mastectomy scar

the raw edge

of making love again

for the first time

—from Casting Shadows, Alexandria, Cedar Press, 2011

Often, a tanka, whether it is destined to be read or not, is my only confidante:


to whisper it in your ear


in the depths of night

a tanka hears my sadness

Simply Haiku, Autumn 2011

But tanka is also celebration. It is the summer breeze that awakens the dancer in the Standing Stone. It is the lover’s kiss:

from another world

a hint of patchouli . . .

you’re back

from your dawn meditation

warming your hands in my dream

Gusts, Spring/Summer 2012

I have come a long way since writing my first tanka in 2010. I was fortunate to serve on the editorial team for Take Five: Best Contemporary Tanka, (Volume 4, 2011), and in December of the same year I was invited by Jeffrey Woodward to become Tanka Prose editor for Haibun Today. On January 1st 2013, I founded Skylarka UK tanka journal for English-language tanka in all its forms.

And so, the day begins with a fresh block of marble. Whether it is an angel, a demon, or a ghost I see, I will begin to carve in the hope I might set him free.


* “Dreaming Room” an essay by Denis M. Garrison first published in Modern English Tanka (Spring 2007), and available to read online at:

Laurence Stephen Lowry (1887-1976)

twelve moons reviewed by Amelia Fielden

twelve moons

by Claire Everett (2012)


Reviewed by Amelia Fielden.

Atlas Poetica 14, Spring 2013


Here is a collection for the romantics amongst us! The tanka in Claire Everett’s twelve moons collection are beautiful, twenty-first century echoes of the classical Japanese waka of love, longing and loss.


My heart and mind are taken back to the world of the Heian era women poets by its very title twelve moons, and then the division of Claire’s book into these chapters: spring; awakening moon; egg moon; lilac moon; summer; corn-tassels moon; mead moon; barley moon; autumn; harvest moon; leafdance moon; whitefrost moon; winter; long nights moon; wolf moon; hunger moon.


The world of tenth century waka/tanka was opened to English readers in 1990 with the publication of The Ink Dark Moon, Love Poems by Ono no Komachi and Izumi Shikibu, translated by Jane Hirshfield with Mariko Otani.


Indeed, one of Claire’s harvest moon tanka directly relates to that wonderful book of translations:


cloth-soft edges . . .

whose hands held you before mine?

my heart

a rice-paper sky

for The Ink Dark Moon


In twelve moons, we find four pieces which include the word ‘tanka’, another three which sing of poems and the writing of poetry in general, and this one in the autumn moon chapter which references the first great collection of waka/tanka, the eighth century Man’yōshū, the Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves:


until, my love

our days have the ink

of autumn

drying in their veins . . .

ten thousand leaves in the sun


A characteristic of Japanese collections, also, — even in the modern era — is to include a number of poems about the creative process, and the comfort to be found specifically in reading and composing tanka. It is clearly a comfort which Claire, too, enjoys, in addition to the delights in contemplating the natural world around her. One of my favourite tanka in twelve moons is this:


spring’s first iris

I watch her unfold

her blue kimono . . .

the comfort of rituals

in this shaken world


There is strong resonance in some of Claire’s tanka with japanese imagery: here we have the unfolding of a kimono; in another poem her heart is likened to a koto (Japanese harp); while the night as a black flower is an enduring makurakotoba (fixed epithet) in traditional Japanese tanka. This is Claire’s ‘black flower’ love poem:


scent of breaking light

the shortest day

this night

a black flower

we have pressed between us


And, in the long nights moon chapter, decorated with Japanese terms is this charming shasei tanka:


from the tip

of the breeze-brushed fir

red sumi-e

a robin’s calligraphy

this roll of kinwashi sky


Yes, there are many Japanese connections in twelve moons; but there are also poems which sing of the English countryside and many original metaphors, such as this whole tanka, another of my favourites:


miles away

a piece of the stream

is still singing

of the loss

of the heron’s reflection


Outstandingly, this is a collection throbbing with universal emotions, expressed in the fresh voice of Claire Everett.


It is a life-loving voice, frequently wistful — proportionately there are more which could be classified as ‘poems of longing’ than any other type of tanka in this collection — yet it is a voice which reflects the joys as well as the griefs of ‘everywoman’.


Delicate black and white ink nature drawings by Claire’s daughter, Amy, enhance the pages of twelve moons. The lovely fox in the snow cover is also the work of this talented young artist.


An introduction by David Terelinck gives an excellent analysis and summation of this book, which I recommend wholeheartedly.

The Reviewer:

Amelia Fielden is an award-winning, internationally published poet and a professional translator. A graduate of the Australian National University, she holds a Master’s degree in Japanese Literature. Amelia has had 6 volumes of original English tanka published, the most recent being Light on Water (2010). In addition, she has collaborated with fellow Australian poet Kathy Kituai, and with Japanese poet Saeko Ogi, to produce 4 collections of responsive tanka, including the bilingual Word Flowers (2011). Amelia has also published 17 books of Japanese poetry in translation.

twelve moons: a review

I have been a little busy of late, but wanted to share the following review of twelve moons by Barry George. It first appeared in the Spring issue of Gusts 2013, but has also appeared online here.

Claire Everett’s New Tanka Collection, reviewed by Barry George

twelve moons by Claire Everett. Introduction by David Terelinck. Perfect bound; 76 pages. ISBN: 978-1-4781539-5-5. $14.75 US. Available at

What is distinctive about Claire Everett’s twelve moons is that her tanka do not merely juxtapose the natural and personal worlds; they interfuse the two.

passing sun
what of me is flame
taking hold
and what of me is timeless
like this rock, briefly warm?

The poet compares herself directly to the images of nature; she is the sun’s flame and the rock. The metaphor is woven into all five lines of the tanka. Indeed, a transmutation is at work, as the following makes explicit:

by the breath of your love
I am no longer sand
scattered to the wind
but the beauty of blown glass

In other cases, the interconnection between the poet and nature involves several images.

and when my thoughts
have followed the rosewood grain
of sunset
swirling dark from the eaves

Thoughts that become one with the texture of the fading sky, and then begin to focus on a darker motion around the eves, suddenly take shape – as bats.

Or, in the poet’s contemplation, prompted by a similarity in shape, one image might morph into an entirely different one.

by candlelight
watching incense twist and curl
as shadow
the double helix uncoils,
the illness passed down the line

Closely allied with this interfusion of thought and images is the the intermingling of senses, or synesthesia, which Everett sometimes employs.

in silence
deeper than the scent
of pine
we listen
for the eyes of the deer

Here sound, smell, and silence work both as separate senses and as aspects of one combined perception.

As the title suggests, twelve moons, is organized seasonally. Each individual tanka takes on added resonance as it is grouped under one of the traditional names for the twelve full moons. The range of subjects includes motherhood, marriage, love, discord, disappointment, injury, illness, and mourning. Time is a persistent theme.

son of mine
what’s done is done…
seed by seed, I’d breathe
back the dandelion clock,
place its stem in your hand

The foregoing poem also exemplifies the tension Everett achieves with the sounds, rhythms, and pacing of words. So too does this one:

no greater peace
than the deep green
silence of the trees
when the breeze
has moved on

Note the long “e” sounds in every line but the last one­­­ – when the (long-e) breeze has moved on – as well as the way changes of pace and even syncopation are used to advantage.

This is a collection to be savored as much for the richness of its imagery as for its finely crafted form. For all the intricacy implicit in their design, the tanka in twelve moons remind us that the best poetry often seems disarmingly and marvelously simple.

after our walk
with such tenderness
you brushed
the clouds
out of my hair

The Reviewer:
Barry George’s haiku and tanka have been published in leading journals and anthologies. His essay, “Shiki the Tanka Poet,” appeared in The Writer’s Chronicle, and poems from Wrecking Ball and Other Urban Haiku, were nominated for a Pushcart Prize. He lives and teaches in Philadelphia.

The Best of May


the small brown birds
wisely reiterating endlessly
what no man learnt yet, in or out of school

          ~ Edward Thomas

chalk’s cursive
loop, line and curlicue
whiter than the moon
more black than the earth
the peewit and its cry

It would be too much to bear without my window to the sky and the morning sun to blot my copybook.

“Price, why aren’t you writing”?

“I can’t find my pen, Miss”.

Before I can blink she’s at my desk, conjures my pen from the disorder, slams down the lid.

“You don’t look farther than your nose”!

I’m grateful that my pen is full and that there is some freedom in monotony. Swoop and glide, wing-tip and tail-streamers, briefly in formation – break! You might look, Miss, but do you see? I walk the same paths each day, but it takes autumn, with the wind in her fingers, to uncover the industry of spring. The birds’ nests (some torn, others dislodged, all dark) are suddenly plain to see, high or low in tree or hedgerow. Do you feel some shame, Miss, like me, that you passed most by even at eye’s level till the leaves blew off and made the seeing no game?

drilled to chant
to learn by rote and rhyme
nine times nine times nine,
not for the joy of singing
like the dunnock in the hedge

Hours and lessons blend one into the other. Yet I could stand at the end of the lane and hear all day long the thrush repeat his song. What does he have to say with such diligent abandon, and always from the tallest pine — can you answer me that?

History next. Many an age, unforgotten and lost – the men that were, the things done long ago. The Battle of Hastings, 1066. “One in the eye for Harold”, quips Stanley, the class clown. What matters is that I can think of nothing but summer’s end and the swift’s black bow stretched in the harvest blue.

was the arrow fletched
by Matilda’s fair hand?
stitches in time…
the starlings parleying
then as now

Was the tapestry the handiwork of the French queen and her gentlewomen, or was it the pride and joy of the Canterbury guild? I sit with my own swatch of Bayeux, think of my grandfather’s war and the still, green pond, the tall reeds like criss-cross bayonets, where a bird once called.

Miss commends
my satin stitch,
my French knots,
my too-long thread
my slapdash finishing

Over-sewing. The pattern of my thoughts. Maths, History, Science. Enough hills and sheep-tracks for my mind to wander.

The bend in the river, my favourite place of all, where the children have flattened the bank…silvered it between the moss with the current of their feet.

shadows of minnows
weightless as words and dreams
sun on the water
I stepped in, a child,
but wade with adult feet

The last hour in this fusty room. Each tick of the clock takes me half a breath closer. Poetry, at least, is a better way to bide my time. Will you choose me, you English words?

how shrill, how pure,
the one sound under the sky
three notes, clear by heart
my day begins
with the final bell

what did you learn
in school today?
after the rain
the chittering of warblers,
how green the reeds!

Author’s note: italics indicate lines excerpted from the Collected Poems of Edward Thomas (1878-1917).

Contemporary Haibun Online, 8:3, October 2012

The Diviner


light on the water
before the minnow
its shadow

He knows me this man. He doesn’t claim to, but he does. Not that I’m going to
alert him to that fact, despite the uncanny knack he has of being able to read me long before I’ve taken up my pen. Let him continue to believe I am the insoluble conundrum, an uncrackable code.

I’ve lost count of the times I’ve been met with a flash-bulb grin and a nudge-nudgewink-wink proclamation along the lines of: “I know what makes you tick . . .” (I’m not a clock); “I know what pulls your string . . .” (I’m not a kite); “I know what floats your boat . . .” (I’m not a marina) & &

one kiss
and you think you know me . . .
peony buds

Where is it located, this Me, this I? Can it be pinpointed on a map; is there a
symbol in the key that denotes me? Perhaps I’m the human equivalent of a little known tumulus, or a spring, long dried up, still whispering its secrets to a 1970s tower block. Could it be that my mystery remains intact, but I’m uniquely traceable, situated on some well-documented maternal leyline? No matter. This me, whatever it is, wherever it resides, is known, somehow, by this man.

scent of rain . . .
the winter hazel

NOTES FROM THE GEAN 14, December 2012




Drawing Hands

Drawing Hands

For Owen

When we are deeply in touch with the present moment, we can see that all our ancestors and all future generations are present in us. Seeing this, we will know what to do and what not to do – for ourselves, our ancestors, our children, and their children.

                                                                                   — Thich Nhat Hanh


Come upstairs, down to great Grandma Boyle’s room. She got her smile from you and she’s always making something out of nothing – usually mischief.  Across the landing, in the room next door, great Grandad Price is teaching you five-point perspective, just as you showed him. He takes your pencil from behind his ear where you left it before you were born.

sleight of hand

and rule of thumb

in that armchair

depth is not

the only illusion


There I am, at the boarded-up window, watching the birds that I’m still too young to name. “Swifts!” I cry, just as I always did.



without making

a mark . . .

yesterday screams by

on tomorrow’s wings


Dad, four years old – see how he has your brother’s ears? Why not sit Dad on your knee while you draw Popeye and Mickey Mouse for him, just like he used to do for me and my sisters? Tell him how he’s going to love to go to the Saturday morning picture show.



of mercury . . .

the slightest touch

and the drawing

comes alive


Do you feel that figure brushing by? One of your favourite artists hangs a print in this distant room . . .


drawing each other

on the blank page

of the finished work

we are what we are

yet to be and always were


Author’s Note
: The title is taken from the lithograph by M. C. Escher (1898-1972)

Haibun Today 6:3, September 2012

The River Between

Proudly presenting mine and my youngest daughter’s first publication, a tan renga:  Blithe Spirit 22:4, November 2012.

~ ~ ~

The River Between

Claire Everett and Amy Claire Rose Smith (15) 

black spot on the sun
the shadow of a minnow
steels the heron’s eye
   how does it feel to spend life
   cowering in weeds and ignorance?

the plumes of a rain cloud
   stirring summer stillness
   a wing blue as ice
   grey as slate
every mood
of the river
is yours
   an impenetrable haze
  where bird ends and water begins
the clink of the brush
in the water-glass
   still blinking
   the reptilian eye
   of the long-dead
in a dream
I wade against the current
flint knife at my hip
   sifting fish through silt
   two scaly feet
fishtail and underbelly
   neck curved
  to meet the breast
  morning flight
nag champa
a Chinese brush makes water
of the air
   gentle as washing a newborn
  preening each soft feather
ashes of roses
the heronry fills with wings
   from the dagger-bill
   the last croaks
   before going to roost


Amy and I would like to thank Alan Summers, former Linked Forms editor for Notes from the Gean who initially accepted this piece before the journal went on hiatus. Special thanks to Colin Blundell who then accepted it for Blithe Spirit.


Small Comforts


Small Comforts


the embrace that begins
and ends our day

Always rising at the same time. The cup of coffee you bring me before you leave for work. The favourite shirt you keep for Wednesday (the mid-week ‘morale booster’).The expressions known only to us, spoken like charms. This, the comfort of rituals, the invisible cord that binds our loose-leaf days. If there is a god of small things, I imagine this is how he is appeased. They will surely come, those other days, the ones that knock us sideways. But let’s not think of them now.

the book falls open
at your favourite poem…

Blackbird song ripples the twilight. A snowdrop pushes through frozen ground. In two shakes of a lamb’s tail it’s spring in the catkinned lanes, then summer is rusting on the vine. White rabbits! Pinch, punch, the first of the month! Over and again, until the leaves are gold and the stoat is in its ermine. Because they will come, those other days, days of pestilence and war, hurricane and tsunami. But let’s not think of them now.

and still
the certainty of sunrise…
winter aconite


A Hundred Gourds 1:4, September 2012


a selection of Tanka Poets on Site prompts:


leaf by yellow leaf

the squirrel lines its drey …

she has gone

to gather kindling,

the child I used to be


a sycamore seed

in the wings of autumn

waiting for the breath

that is my cue

to dance



is the scent of summer. . .

not yet five

the pod in my hand

plump with peas


I plot a course

between the brightest stars,

a Viking maid

sailing the simmer dim . . .

this first breath of salt-air



flurries of starlings

with winter on their wings

the poetry

of homemade seedcake

in my daughter’s hands


through rust-stained dreams

rain’s syncopated rhythm

since your words

made a tin roof

of my heart


they call him a weed

and suddenly he sees

only dandelions

sun-rayed, or drifting by

their heads in the clouds


rock to rin gong

how far from there to here?

copper is my hair

in the morning light

and your touch is my song



a loop-the-loop of stars

one last barrel roll

before the dream has me

wing walking on a new day


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