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The book in question is Bogcotton: Haiku Stories & Haiku (Alba Publishing, 2012). Much the same story could be told of my previous five collections of haibun and haiku.
Each piece could not have come forth were it not for the Muse, who tends to make her presence felt at awkward times, like in the middle of the night, or when I’d planned to do something else. A rough draft is sufficient to satisfy her, allowing me to get back to sleep or to get on with what I’d originally intended to do. But she often nags me later if I put the draft aside. If I haven’t done any creative and imaginative writing for a month or so I tend to feel dried out and no longer the Real Me . . .
After every three or four years my mind turns to making a selection for a BOOK. The same applies to Bogcotton, except this time I had in mind a book of more elegant and professional design than my previous self-published efforts (with the striking exception of Stallion’s Crag from Iron Press, 2003). At about this time my friend Kim Richardson established his Alba Press. I liked the clean lines of his first titles.
I’ve always felt that my writing should above all else communicate, and particularly within our international haiku and haibun community, to which I owe a debt of gratitude in my life. I want to share my vision of the human condition with friends most of whom I would never meet. For a start, every haibun draft is shared with my wife, Noragh, who’s been with me long enough to be able to spot my ingrained literary vices straightaway. Next the draft is offered to our little Haikuprose Group for scrutiny. Thus the version submitted for journal publication is usually much improved from the original text. Finally, when I get to choosing pieces for the next book there will be some declined by two or three journal editors which I shall omit, however personally fond of them I may be.
I soon learnt that “reviews don’t sell books,” neither do bookshops or publishers or the social media. For most of us fish in the little haiku pool it is the author who sells the books, if they are not to languish in the attic. My optimistic publisher produced a 300 print run for Bog Cotton; miraculously almost all have been sold in a couple of years and all costs covered.
Sheepishly I must confess to the immortality motive—to have left my modest mark on the world of over two hundred published haibun. At least I’d like to be remembered among my surviving friends (all younger than me) before they too disappear. Alongside this is just a passionate love affair with haibun as haiku prose founded on the work of the classical Japanese masters, and shot through with my Zen Buddhism.
It was The Haiku Hundred that first got me going. I was already 63, and a seasoned Zen Buddhist practitioner, writer and teacher. The discovery of haiku as a do or Way of Zen practice was one of my life’s greatest delights. My inspiration remains the “classic” haiku of Basho, Buson and others in that tradition (especially in the Lucien Stryk translations), and likewise “early moderns” with them, like Saito Sanki, Hiroaki Sato, and Santoka Taneda. In the West there were many in that first Cor van den Heuvel collection. Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, with the celebration of the existential suchness of our experience, to ease the heart and free us, even in small ways, from our futile, lifelong lawsuit with reality to have it always as we want it
A passion for haibun followed, and I struggled with friend and collaborator David Cobb, and allies across the Atlantic like Bill Ramsey and Michael McClintock, as we strove to make the haibun an authentic member of the haiku family. This implies a prose marked by economy, simplicity, imagery, open metaphor and music, with haiku providing a variety of counter-point possibilities. For twelve years as a joint editor of Contemporary Haibun Online I attempted to encourage these standards in the submissions we received, but to little avail (see my “Guidelines”, in Contemporary Haibun Online Jan. 2014; 9(4). Pedestrian prose is still widespread, commonly a single paragraph with a haiku precariously attached often as a seeming afterthought. In addition there have been infiltrations of cleverness and extravagance from the poetic mainstream which are alien to the haiku tradition . . .
Overall I have written some two hundred and fifty haibun, almost all of them published, in Blithe Spirit, Presence, Contemporary Haibun Online, and Haibun Today for the most part. Every few years they have been gathered together (with one-off haiku) in a succession of collections: Bog Cotton (Alba Publishing, 2012); Stone Leeks (Pilgrim Press, 2009), The Parsley Bed (Pilgrim Press, 2006); Stallion’s Crag (Iron Press, 2003); Arrow of Stones (with Japanese translation, British Haiku Society, 2002); and Pilgrim Foxes (co-authored with James Norton and Sean O’Connor; Pilgrim Press, 2001). My writing since Bogcotton has been marked by the decrepitude of old age and the shadow of death, with the spread of my prostate cancer. The whole series offers a kind of poetic autobiography and kind reviewers have detected a continuous evolution in the work. I believe the playfulness of Zen has become increasingly evident, with paradox, dark humor, irony, ambiguity and space for the reader. The Welsh dimension has always been evident, and in 2001 I worked with the late lamented Nigel Jenkins and Lynne Rees to edit Another Country: Haiku Poetry from Wales (Gomer Press). More of my writing about haiku and haibun can be found on my website.
All of my work has been the better for the critical scrutiny of my wife, Noragh, and the members of the online HaikuProse Group. And my confidence in ploughing my lonely furrow over the years owes much to Jim Norton and George Marsh, to my publisher Kim Richardson, to my friends Jim Kacian and Colin Blundell, and the editors and reviewers at Haibun Today, notably Jeffrey Woodward, Ray Rasmussen and Pat Prime.
How lonely it is
cultivating the stone leeks
in this world of dreams (Nagata Koi)