Bridge to the past

One of the things I have loved about living in and visiting Britain over the past 40 years has been the many, many layers of man-made history that are still part of the fabric of everyday life. Standing with my hand on the outside wall of Shakespeare’s Birthplace in Stratford-upon-Avon was a total buzz for a young woman from the other side of the world.

I’ve been fascinated by the ancient Romans since childhood, hooked by reading Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliff, so being able to walk where the legions did through England, visit the cities and towns they founded and even, on my last visit to London in 2018, explore the Mithraeum have been extraordinary opportunities.

But being able to turn these experiences into haiku that evoke either the ancient world or have a timeless air, now that’s a different – and more difficult – enterprise. Here are some poets who have done it well (with one of mine thrown in).

old Roman bridge
we stand mid-span
and listen

Scott Mason
Highly Commended, Martin Lucas Haiku Award 2019

year’s end
crossing the stone bridge
into shadow

Andrew Tracy
Creatrix 28, 2015

stacking a dry stone wall the curve of tomorrow

Ron C Moss
Presence 52, 2015

prolonged heat …
a clapper bridge sinks
into the pasture

Sandra Simpson
 Presence 68, 2020

The clapper bridge I walked across on a summer’s afternoon was in Gloucestershire, not far from the border with Oxfordshire. One of the earliest form of bridges, the name ‘clapper’ comes from the Latin claperius (pile of stones) – and that’s exactly they are, with the deck made from long, thin slabs of stone with large rocks or piles of stone for the supports.

river bridge the distance of my prayer

Paul Chambers
Frogpond 39.2, 2016

Tools of the Trade

Several New Zealand haiku poets (and one Australian) have been involved with the PoARTry Exhibition Tools of the Trade, which is running at Mercy Hospital in Dunedin for the month of March 2021.

Hospital staff provided words around their work that had meaning for them, poets created works inspired by these words, and artists created works inspired by the poems! Another amazing event from the brain of Ruth Arnison, co-ordinator of the Poems in the Waiting Room project. All artworks are for sale with poets, artists and PitWR sharing the proceeds.

Uber-talented Tasmanian poet and artist Ron Moss has created a lovely video to help promote Tools of the Trade.

You can see one of my haiku in the video, a poem which has inspired a beautiful cushion cover by fabric artist Imogen Berwick.

The other haiku of mine that was chosen appears in the hand-made concertina book by craftsman printer John Holmes.

spring morning –
an aura of light pulses  
around the heart monitor

Sandra Simpson

Local & General

From the Wanganui Chronicle, August 2, 1889 – a column of what today would be called ‘briefs’. None carried a headline and the local and overseas snippets were jumbled in one after the other. Some more relevant to readers than others; hopefully contemporary readers knew that Duleep Singh was the last Maharajah of the Sikh Empire, exiled to Britain at age 15 and dying there in 1893. The following appear in the order in which they were printed.

Edward McGlashan, one of the pioneer settlers of Otago, died on Wednesday night, aged 72.

The baby King of Spain is going to the Paris Exposition. He will be the youngest monarch who ever visited that city.

Sarah Bernhardt, who has always smoked cigarettes, has now taken to mild cigars. She remains, as usual, fond of newspaper puffs. [No idea.]

The Queen of England seldom drinks more than one small glass of wine at dinner, and afterwards takes a few drops of good Scotch whisky.

A fatal accident when bushfalling is reported from Inglewood, Henry Marsh being killed by the falling of a tree. No particulars to are hand as yet. [sic]

[A little further down] The salary of Inspector Lee, of the Wellington Education Board, has been altered to £475 a year, with a guinea a day for travelling expenses.

Duleep Singh is a man of medium size, thick set, with a good-humoured, open countenance and courteous manners. His wife is a pretty brunette. [And that’s it, no news about Sir Duleep Singh, just a description in case anyone from the Colony might run into him!]

On the grounds that …

I’ve been spending a lot of time in Papers Past (an amazing online archive) over the summer, generally concentrating my research on one small town in New Zealand. This item from ‘Newsy Notes’ published in the Feilding Star on October 16, 1911, did, however, catch my eye … and tickle my fancy!

On the grounds that it was stupid, a novel has been excluded from the public library in New York.

Dry summer

Not just the heat that settles on us daily and is parching gardens and lawns, or the kind of dry that makes people feel noble because they give up alcohol for a month, but the kind that results in blank pages, unused pens and a creeping feeling of terror.

What if it never comes back again? What if the last haiku I wrote (not very good) is the last haiku I’ll ever write?

Reading my work in two recent publications hasn’t stimulated me much, nor has participating in two kukai. I can only admire the wonderful efforts of others, and wonder what’s happened to my ‘haiku muscle’. Too long unused and it may wither and die.

Meantime the deadlines of two journals I submit to regularly are fast approaching and I haven’t anything new to send. In the past, I’ve been happy enough to go back through my files and see if there’s anything that can be reworked or used as a springboard for a new poem.

Instead, I’m trying to sort out cupboards and store rooms, keep up with the emails that flow in, write some context for a family history project, drinking copious amounts of chilled water, and reading (light fiction) late into the night – and in the shadows are all the things I should have done but haven’t got round to yet.

There doesn’t seem to be any room for haiku, and I’m sorry about that. This should be a season of bush walks, swimming, hammock in the garden … soaking up nature and storing it for sessions with a pen and paper.

Here are three haiku by three New Zealand women – who all live reasonably close to one another – from the latest issue of Presence journal (UK). We all clearly also like the drama of an ellipsis …

the way a storm wave
flings it up …
milky way

Jenny Fraser, Presence 68

spa pool …
soaking in the light
of countless stars

Elaine Riddell, Presence 68

prolonged heat …
a clapper bridge sinks
into the pasture

Sandra Simpson, Presence 68

Some summer haiku from the online Australian journal Echidna Tracks 6, with the theme ‘shelter’.

young pine cone
the tiny hatches
I keep shut

Mira Walker

santa cave . . .
the mechanical monkey band
of my childhood

Sandra Simpson

wedding marquee
the tickle of an ant
over my ankle

Vanessa Proctor

Fingers crossed, the dam will burst – maybe when the rain comes!

Bookshop surprises

On my recent tour of the top of the South Island I discovered some fun little bookshops – with the funnest having to be The Custard Square Bookshop, a decent collection of second-hand books housed in a little yellow caravan parked in front of The Arts Centre in Christchurch.

Owner Cathleen Murphy, who bears more than a passing resemblance to author Fiona Farrell (at least, I think so and had the day before spent some time studying Fiona’s face), was having a cuppa with The Wizard of Christchurch round the side of the caravan when I visited, talking about the Word Festival that was taking place.

The Custard Square is a bookshop on wheels. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Inside the Custard Square is a notice that says something like, ‘tall or short, fat or thin, everything $5’. Cathleen commented positively on my picks – Margery Allingham, Edmund Crispin and a thoroughly enjoyable oddity, Who is Sylvia? The Diary of a Biography by Lynley Hood (John McIndoe, 1990), the companion volume to her acclaimed biography of Sylvia Ashton-Warner (published 1988), and which turned out to be a great read.

25 July, Wellington: Aunt Maude greeted me in Wellington by criticising the content and punctuation of my Listener obituary [Sylvia had died on April 27].
When I showed her the programme for the biography conference she said, ‘I think I should go to help you.’
‘I don’t need your help, thanks all the same.’
‘Oh, you do need help. You need a great deal of help and counselling and guidance. Who’s going to read through your draft, chapter by chapter?’
Not you Aunt Maude, that’s for sure.

Sylvia Ashton-Warner (1908-1984) and her husband, Keith Henderson (1908-1969) had taught at Bethlehem Maori School (Bethlehem is now part of Tauranga) and in 1965 built a home they named ‘Whenua’ (land). Adding another layer of interest for me was the fact that in the early 1990s I discovered I was working with their daughter and granddaughter.

Back to the bookshop! You can read more here about the morphing of a caravan into a bookstore. The day I visited a small yellow van was parked alongside, a shopfront for Canterbury Cheesemongers. I have no idea if the two arrived/left together.

The other secondhand book recommendation is Somebody’s Treasure, a general secondhand shop in Murchison, which has an excellent collection of non-fiction books about New Zealand. I picked up the original edition of Katherine Mansfield’s New Zealand by Vincent O’Sullivan (Golden Press, 1974) and The Suffrage Trail by Jill Pierce (National Council of Women, 1995), ‘a guide to places, memorials and the arts commemorating New Zealand women’ and could have bought more and, yes, I came home with more books than I left with!

My final surprise was walking down the main street of Kaipoi to find on a stand outside an otherwise unremarkable Paper Plus, I’d Die for You & Other Lost Stories, a collection of previously unpublished work by F Scott Fitzgerald edited by Anne Margaret Daniel (Scribner, 2017). And at a knockdown price!

Kanikakuni ceremony

In the Gion area of Kyoto on November 8, a tanka poem is celebrated in the Kanikakuni ceremony when geiko and maiko (geisha and apprentice geisha) gather at 11am at a poem boulder to offer white chrysanthemums. Later there is a reception where matcha (green tea) and soba noodles are served. Read more about the geiko tradition in Kyoto.

The poem boulder in Gion, a translation may be seen further down the page. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The poet being honoured is Yoshii Isamu (1886-1960), who was also a well-known novelist and playwright – and a bit of a lad who enjoyed all that the entertainment area of Gion had to offer!

Born in Tokyo, Yoshii dropped out of university in 1908 to join the Tokyo Shin-shi Sha (Tokyo New Poetry Society), and began contributing tanka to the society’s literary magazine, Myōjō (Bright Star). He then formed a new group, Pan no Kai, and in 1909 helped edit a new literary magazine, Subaru.

In 1910, Yoshii published his first tanka anthology, Sakehogai (Revelry), describing the joys and sorrows experienced by a young poet given to wine and women. Later collections included Sakujitsu made (Until Yesterday), Gion kashu (Gion Verses, 1915), and Tokyo kōtō shū (Collection from the Tokyo Red-Light District, 1916). Read more about his life here.

The poem boulder in Kyoto can be found near the Tatsumi Bridge that crosses the Shirokawa River. It was installed to celebrate the poet’s 70th birthday on November 8, 1955. The name of the ceremony, Kanikakuni. translates as “no matter what happens” and comes from the first line of the poem carved into the rock:

Kani kaku ni
Gion wa koishi
neru toki mo
makura no shita o
mizu no nagaruru

No matter what happens
I yearn for Gion
even when I sleep
the sound of water
flows beneath my pillow

Yoshii’s tanka was written in 1910.

The boulder stands where the poet’s favourite tea house, Daitomo, used to stand, a meeting place for writers which was built out over the river. In the early 20th century, the proprietress was Taka Isoda (1879-1945), a retired ‘literary geiko’ who cultivated friendships with writers and who is described by John Nathan, the biographer of the novelist and haiku poet Nasume Soseki (1867-1916), as having ‘seductive charm’.


Taka Isoda, the famous mistress of Daitomo teahouse. Image: Wikimedia Commons

Soseki has his own poem boulder in Kyoto, unveiled in 1966 to mark 100 years since his birth. His poem is about Taka Isoda (this is about the only readable translation I can find and comes from the Kyoto Soseki Society):

A man and a woman separated by a river in spring 

Soseki visited Kyoto four times, with his final visit in the spring of 1915. At the time, he was pursuing a friendship with Taka Isoda. One day, the two had a slight falling out and Soseki wrote his poem while thinking about Taka, who was in Gion, across the Kamogawa River from his lodgings.

Daitomo was among the buildings demolished at the start of World War 2 to create a fire break. Tea houses, by the way – and if you hadn’t guessed – were about much more than just tea!

It’s still possible, just, to imagine what the pre-war teahouse area was like, even though buildings on the northern bank were cleared in World War 2. This photo was taken near Yoshii’s poem boulder. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Haiku of the moment, Part 2

American poet and editor Scott Mason has produced, in The Haiku Hecameron, another outstanding hard-cover collection to follow his delightful The Wonder Code (2017).

Inspired by the 14th century book The Decameron, a collection of stories told over 10 days by 10 young people who were isolating to escape an outbreak of plague in Florence, Mason offers 100 days’ worth of reading (each day a double-page spread) of work by 100 poets with the subtitle, Gratitude in the time of Covid-19.

full moon
my daughter reads me
a bedtime story

Vanessa Proctor, Australia

While the majority of the collected works are haiku, the book, which is dedicated to English poet Stuart Quine, who died of Covid-19, also contains haibun, linked verse and haiga.

“Attending closely to what is (and who are) immediately around us constitutes our most basic act of respect,” Mason writes in his Introduction. “Gratitude naturally follows.”

even this spring
embracing the drain-spout
a burst of daffodils

Penny Harter, USA

early days –
a lone goose picked up
by the skein

Sandra Simpson, New Zealand

Later, Mason writes: “Ultimately this collection could be read as a time capsule from a highly unusual chapter of our very recent past … For months now we’ve been at sea – all of us in the same boat. These works welcome us home.”

closer & closer
the mountain’s silence coming
into view

Gary Hotham, USA

attic sunshine
there is nothing
we want to get rid of

Marcus Larsson, Sweden

Mason’s Introduction is dated “June 2020” but waymarking emails to contributors shared the rigors of trying to print and dispatch pre-orders around the world with all human endeavour slowed down, if not stopped. However, the post finally came through and my copy arrived in mid-October.

The vast majority of the haiku are about personal experiences that coincided with or were created by the time lockdown offered and although a few overtly mention coronavirus and its associated vocabulary, Mason has, I think, got the ratio nigh on perfect.

do-it-yourself masks
complete strangers sharing
a secret smile

Michele Root-Bernstein, USA

time for a walk
I explain coronavirus
to my dogs

Rosa Clement, Brazil

Until the end of November, Mason is offering a generous deal – buy two copies and receive a third free (all must be shipped to the same address). To place an order visit the website and scroll to the bottom.

Haiku of the moment, Part 1

Two great new collections of haiku have managed to wend their way across the world to my letterbox, both apposite for differing reasons.

For The Signature Haiku Anthology (Middle Island Press, 2020), editor Robert Epstein invited submitters to send the one haiku, senryu or tanka, published or unpublished, that they would like to be remembered by, and any comments they would like to share about the poem (although this remained optional). The only criterion Robert insisted on was that each submitter should have had at least one poem previously published.

The resulting 251 pages of poems and commentaries is a great read – there were many well-known names included, but also many that were new to me. Sometimes the commentary, if there was one, made me re-read the poem and helped deepen the experience of the haiku. Most of the poets are from North America, but there’s a good sprinkling of those from other countries too.

As if to emphasise his “democratic view of haiku poetry”, Robert, who has now edited many themed anthologies of haiku, does not include an index or list of poet names in the volume. Instead, he lets the poems speak for themselves. See what you think …

so much to do
my son points out
the lightning

Alice Frampton (US). She writes: I wrote this poem in a hurry, composing it actually as the events were happening. It always reminds me of how, in a crazy-busy life, we can miss, or almost miss, the most important moments.

our garden gate
once it gets cold

Igor Damnjanovic (Serbia)

Crescent Lake in Washington State. Photo: Sandra Simpson

the depth of the lake
still in question –
autumn chill

Angela Terry (US). She writes: When I was growing up we spent a few weeks every summer at a cabin on the shore of Lake Crescent in Washington’s Olympic National Park. The lake was icy cold even in midsummer and the rumour spread that the lake was bottomless. Fast forward 50 years, and I chanced to read a newspaper article stating that the lake’s depth was still not agreed upon. And with that, the haiku pretty much wrote itself.

snowy owl
I’ll leave this world

Gregory Piko (Australia)

gathering light
at the tip of an acorn
yesterday’s rain

Yu Chang (US). He writes: A poem of self examination and awakening, a delicate dance of light and shadow, ying and yang, for a better self in harmony with nature.

I turn my back
an instant –
blossom everywhere

Elise Mei (New Zealand)

I have a haiku included, although my country of residence is printed as ‘Australia’!, and am pleased to see a smattering of other New Zealand writers there, as well as Elise (who also suffers from a proofing error) – including Barbara Strang, Elaine Riddell, Patsy Turner, Keith Nunes and Ann Curran.

The book may be purchased via Amazon for $US20.

Recent publications

Kokako 33 landed in my letterbox yesterday – 76 pages of good reading. The editors have recently changed to PayPal to receive overseas payments for journal subscriptions so a year’s sub (2 copies) now costs $NZ36 for Australia and $NZ40 for the rest of the world, airmail post included. Contact Margaret for details.

winter the snow white sheets in the ambulance

Catherine Mair

laundry day
pairing the matching socks
wondering why


Embed from Getty Images

shearing day –
the men take turns
with the moccasin needle

Sandra Simpson

flu jab wind whirls the pine needles

Nola Borrell

As well as haiku, there are tanka, linked verse, haibun and book reviews.

Presence 67 is another recent arrival, this time from the other side of the world so the image of a frigate bird on the cover – the photo by managing editor Ian Storr – seems entirely appropriate. This is another journal that contains a wide variety – haiku, tanka, linked verse, haibun and book reviews, plus a featured poet in each issue and short articles.

This issue of Presence also includes a tribute to Stuart Quine, the English poet who died of Covid-19, with underlying health complications, in March.He was 57. Kokako notes his passing as well, in the context of Stuart having a boulder poem on the Katikati Haiku Pathway.

always alone
the white-faced heron
in the river

Elaine Riddell

overcast sky
a goldfinch leaves behind
her song

Claire Everett

a jumble of books
outside the old police station
the odd summer cloud

John Barlow

mango season
licking the juice
to my elbow

Adjei Agyei-Baah