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


Crossing the Shades


Für Elise…
each star takes its place
in the twilight

To sit and watch, pinpoint the exact moment the iris is lost to blue. Perhaps Vincent himself has a hand in it. Cobalt, thalo, indigo, wash by wash, the coming of night. This hour the moon and stars have made for quiet reflection. All streams and rivers, all roads now lead to darkness, if we will let them.

It could be that it’s the breeze that unlatches the gate, but the dead tread softly, like the scent of lilacs through an open door, but softer still. Grandad, coming slowly up the path, pinches mint between his fingers. Grandma, making something of the leftovers, the cat on her shoulder in its third or fourth life. Dad, sitting on the step, rolls another cigarette. It’ll be the death of him. The one who died before she was born.

On a clear night many a flower is touched by moonlight; the one whose name is forgotten; the one which has no scent.

once more
into the shadows…
dewfall hawk


note: *The title is taken from “Afterwards” by Thomas Hardy

Contemporary Haibun Online
8:2, July 2012

Samhain Blessings to all in the Northern Hemisphere!

Dirty Old Town


Somewhere Up North, sitting on the bones of its backside with a mangy dog for warmth.

white-knuckle sky
the homeless man’s
broken teeth

By the railway station, baring its forearms, silver-white scars and raw ones too.

“Look what I’ve done to m’self … can you lend me the money for me fare?”

Talks to itself like a madman, white-collar, bluetooth and handsfree .Or lumbers around in hi-vis, grumbling at broom and litter-picker, cursing into bins. Kicks an empty can of Special Brew just for the hell of it. One more thing to rattle away like tinnitus in the gritty cochlear of the universe.

spit and polish
sun on the veteran’s medals
and his shoes

Forms an orderly queue, stops for a natter, chats about the weather and the price of fish, marvels at the busker on the corner.

“He has a look of my son.”

“He could be on the telly…”

“I remember me Dad used to play a whatsitsname”.

ahead of the rain
A Whiter Shade of Pale

Struts in short skirt and high heels even when it’s brass monkey weather. Designer label sticking out and a baby to match. No better than she should be, but a canny lass.

“He’s banged up again, but he’s good with the bairn…”

Asked what she wants most for her daughter:

“A footballer… in the Premier League”.

sound of water…
by the broken fountain
a girl reads Basho

Appears out of nowhere with eyes that could fetch ducks off water, a gypsy smile.

“Can I read your palm?”

“I’m sorry, I’ve no spare change –“

“Just give me what you can…”

Can’t say no. Neither could Mam, nor her Dad before her.

“Do you take credit cards?”

a sprig of heather…
you’ll never have much but you’ll
want for nothing

Gathers at dusk in The Pig and Whistle. Jockeys for position at the bar.

“What’re you having, the usual?”

“Aye, a pint of mild”.

“Make mine a bitter”.

Digs deep to buy a round.

“Here, love, have one yourself…”

“Cheers, I don’t mind if I do”.

Imagines saying, “Tell you what, how about a chaser?” The clink of coins, then of glasses. Salt of the earth, a shot of tequila, a slice of lime.

another dream
floats in the gutter…
scratchcard moon

Note: ‘scratchcards’ in the UK are ‘instant win’ lottery tickets.

Contemporary Haibun Online, 8:2, July 2012


Words are inadequate and I have little to add to the tributes that have flooded in for Hortensia Anderson. I offer two haiga in her memory and in gratitude for the beauty of her life and her poetry. The first is a collaboration between myself and my artist son, Owen. It’s a few months old, but it pretty much describes how I feel now that we have lost another fine poet. The second was my response to three consecutive prompts by Sheila Windsor, the current NaHaiWriMo prompter: ‘open’, ‘ink’ and ‘Hortensia’. I thank my daughter Amy for drawing the swift for me.




and in Hortensia’s own words:

I hold a slice
of freshly cut maple,
whether to lacquer the wood
or burn it to tracelessness

hortensia anderson
(Ribbons Tanka Cafe Winter 2011)


She will be greatly missed, but she has left us much to cherish.

A small sample of her work:

Contemporary Haibun Online

Haibun Today

The Plenitude of Emptiness

 The Plenitude of Emptiness (Hortensia Anderson blogspot)


May eternal peace be yours, Hortensia…

Earth Day


turning inwards
how the daisy’s petals

Somewhere to lick my wounds with enough space between us but not so far that I can’t hear my mother calling me. Rust on my fingers, I clutch at a world beyond the chain link fence, then inchworm through the gap where brambles scratch the surface of the great unknown. Suddenly aware of my breath and my heart beating fast against the moss, I close my eyes and enter a rosy glow of flickering light and shade, the feather-edge and throaty calls of things I cannot name.

cumulus rising . . . 
the trill and coo
of pear blossom

“Where are you?” Again, my mother’s voice. The earth holds me in its scent. Ear to the ground, I laugh quietly at the tickle of eyelashes and grass. An ant scurries over the back of my hand and before long, I have lost myself in the beaten tracks of time kept by creatures that can curl up in a ball, or else have enough legs to keep on running . . .

My pulse and breath trickle into the sound of water. It will be a few years before I learn about the larvae of the sedge and caddisfly that construct a case of silk and gravel, sand, leaf confetti and bark to protect themselves from predators. It is said, that if you pluck one from a mountain stream, you will hold in the palm of your hand a miniature jewel case, fashioned from rock fragments mixed with garnet, quartz and fool’s gold.

beneath the river stones . . . 
caddisfly dreams


Contemporary Haibun Online 8:1, April 2012


Earth Day dusk —
falling all around me
blackbird song

Amy Claire Rose Smith

Kids Count for Earth Day
Grand Prize winner 2011

Today is the final day for children and young people to get their entries in for the 2012 competition, details here

Tuning Out

Tuning Out  

in a lifetime
four round-trips to the moon . . . 
ah, these wings!

Brushstrokes. These breaths of blue. Everywhere, the faint crackle of insects and dawn to dusk the sound of swifts screaming and chittering as they tune in to summer. Mating, even sleeping on the wing; only stopping to rear young. Life in the fast lane. What need is there to pause, with a maw full of flies and a raindrop here and there to quench your thirst? Called ‘footless’ by the Romans, a grounded swift is a pitiful sight.

cut the engine
over enemy lines
and drift back down

World War I. A French airman thinks his eyes are deceiving him. At 10,000 feet, he sails through a colony of dozing swifts. What it is to ascend through twilight and glide through a gnat’s eye of slumber, to find yourself, moments later, miles from where your dreams began.

finding stillness
in a mind that’s never still . . . 
swift on the wing



Contemporary Haibun Online  8:1, April 2012

Captured / Be Still and Know



turning to face me
in the mirror of time
this younger self
how the camera captured
my daughter, my breath

We have driven through sunlight and rain, from valley to valley, at the mercy of Lakeland’s spectacularly changing moods. From Borrowdale to Buttermere, this land has walled our journey. Our daughter, here for the first time, gazed in wonder at turret and steeple forged by lava that spewed from the volcanic mouths above the Skiddaw Slates 400 million years ago. Now she stands as breathless as the waterfall that spills from a distant crag to chime in the lush green foothills on its path to the pebbled tarn. How small and insignificant we are amidst these moraines sculpted and polished by ice floes in the workshop of time.

My husband speaks in terms of composition and exposure, depth of field and saturation. There are photographs I treasure, but the older I get, the less I want to see life through a view-finder, passing me by.

it has come to this –
from mountains hewed by glaciers
a valley of sound
in the lull of clear water
runes of slate in my palm

“I’ve taken so many photo’s, it’s saying the memory is full. I’ll have to delete some to make space for this!”

Her exclamation slices through my daydream. Good memory permitting, there is no limit to the number of snapshots I can take. My thoughts wade deeper into the stream. I inhale pure air, close my eyes and enter the dark room.

this long exposure…
we cross the bridge in darkness
painting with light1
and afterwards, it seems
we were never here at all


1. Light painting is a photographic technique in which exposures are made usually at night, or in a darkened room, by moving a hand-held light source or by moving the camera. In most cases the light source itself does not appear in the image


Contemporary Haibun Online, January 1st, 2012



Ted Van Zutphen has published online a book of poetry by the late Svetlana Marisova and himself. You will find it here: Be Still and Know. This represents the realisation of a dream shared by two poets, who at times, seem to sing with one voice. To read more about the project, plans for a hard copy of the book and the publisher Karakia Press, visit  t’heart of haiku. Readers might like to know, also, that Svetlana’s blog (see the link in the sidebar opposite) is being updated regularly, keeping the flame alive.

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