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Book of the Week: The Fragrance of Dust



Our Book of the Week is The Fragrance of Dust by Irish poet Jim Norton, published by Alba Press in 2011, with an Introduction by the poet and this Foreword by Ken Jones:

“For many years I have appreciated Jim Norton’s haiku, poems and haibun. As I learned how sustaining they could be in difficult times, I have been careful to keep them close at hand. I turn to them in moments of quiet reflection, and so often life feels that little bit easier.

Quiet now
the street of angry voices
where we dream

Now all are gathered together here for others to share—browsing, exploring, enjoying, and, yes, finding inspiration. They do their work subtly and lightly, and typically with a certain lean austerity. But about most of them there is a delicate, understated tenderness. I am reminded of what Goethe said about the gift that such poets have to offer to us: “When man in his agony is dumb, we have God’s gift to utter what we suffer”. Sometimes this compassion is explicit: here the poet finds himself in yet another cramped room in some lodging house near the Guinness brewery in Dublin:

and the stranger upstairs
coughs too

At other times it is just the expression of our common humanity that says enough—a poignancy deeply felt when our minds are still:

between tenements
red ball of sun:
she hobbles on home

It is said that some live to write poetry, whilst others write poetry to live. Jim Norton undoubtedly is one of the latter. As a distinctively haiku poet he always leaves enough space for our own imagination, as readers, to flower and to move us.

Notice to quit:
the musician’s violin
snug in its case

There, too, are the moments of breathtaking beauty—

In the cries of swans
the winter lake finds voice
reeds white-feathered

And then we may turn the page to be pulled up short by some sudden moment of ecstasy, even in the humble kitchen garden:-

Oh quick, the sun
the fiery sun
sets beneath the bean-rows

This collection is exceptional in offering, as well as haiku, such a rich variety of other writing: linked sequences of haiku, poems in western forms, and a fascinating new genre called haibun—a blend of haiku and story at which Norton excels. Here we find outer and inner journeying mirroring each other across a wide canvas, from his native Ireland to Wales, Spain, Poland.

A seasoned Buddhist practitioner, he finds inspiration by travelling the way, and equally in Christian and secular settings. His is a spirituality never explicitly stated yet always subtly informing the work, springing up where least expected—

Sound of a spoon
striking an empty bowl:
that’s it!

Ken Jones, Cwm Rheidol, December 2011
[Ken Jones was a senior teacher with the Western Chan Fellowship, published several volumes of haiku and haibun, and was co-editor of Contempemporary Haibun Onlne until his death in 2016.]”


You can read the entire book in the THF Digital Library.

Do you have a chapbook published 2010 or earlier you would like featured as a Book of the Week? Contact us for details.

Haiku featured in the Book of the Week Archive are selected by THF Digital Librarian Garry Eaton, and are used with permission


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