Skip to content

Montage #33



Montage #33,
presented by Allan Burns,
is now up
on The Haiku Foundation website.



Montage #33 (“Three Poets of the UK”) features haiku by John Crook, Caroline Gourlay, and John Barlow.

ancient stone circle
the flow
of a robin’s song
— John Crook
                                                                                bark of a pheasant
                                                                                sinking into silence
                                                                                winter afternoon
                                                                                — Caroline Gourlay
something startles
the rabbit field…
mackerel sky
— John Barlow

This Post Has 14 Comments

  1. “Were it a book, this body of haiku is already right up there with any single-volume collection. It is one editor’s selection of poets and poems, and a personal, reasoned arrangement, to boot.” Paul MacNeil

    Yes, I agree entirely. I came to the ‘montages’ comparatively recently, and am still reading them and thoroughly enjoying. It’s interesting to me that Allan selects and places side by side haiku that have something in common, sometimes an image, sometimes a mood, but are quite different. There is no other way to do this than a ‘personal’ way, however reasoned.

    Just to mention two from here, John Crook’s:

    ebb tide
    the shell I keep reaching for
    carried further away

    and Caroline Gourley’s:

    turning for home
    in the lull before dusk

    Both have great appeal for me. On a literal level, I’ve experienced both, so they have the strong visceral pull of memories of childhood. (my childhood was divided between a beachfront home and one in a bush town where blackberries grew rampantly and untouched along some parts of the river)

    The mood of ‘ebb-tide’ , with the shell that escapes one’s grasp and the sense of a strong undertow gains a haunting kind of unresolved immediacy. There is the will to get the shell, and a pull that is stronger than the will taking it further and further out of reach.

    ‘blackberries’ ;-) to me is sheer temptation. That warm, Autumn lull before dusk, luscious ripe blackberries. .. who could resist lingering there in the sensual, delaying going home, even if one was supposed to be home by dark and there might be ‘consequences’?

    Both haiku show the effects of nature’s ‘pull’… in my reading, the first experience has tones of strong anxiety, of effort against a strong force of nature, in the second, the sensual allure predominates.


  2. ancient stone circle
    the flow
    of a robin’s song
    – John Crook

    There’s something about the idea of the stone circle and a robin’s egg that seems to bring to mind some essence of eternity in it… the flow…and the song… Any comments?

  3. Louis, I was not referring to you, although your comments did bring to my mind some situations where there seemed to me to be (in some instances mind you) such a rush to invention that the very foundations had been lost somewhere. It may just be my own peculiar way of appreciating haiku but when a haiku attracts me there seem to be so many depths to explore. Just the other night I was thinking about John Crook’s

    high tide
    oystercatchers follow
    the curve of the bay

    Knowing that he had been battling cancer for longer than is easy it seemed to me a good idea to really think about what he was saying here. Seeing the oystercatchers follow the curve…seemed to me to be a lesson in dealing with profound difficulty..follow the curve. I sort of dwell in a good haiku. I’m not against the things Scott does…I love it. He is able to use the words that bring you to something that really grips the mind and demands you try to plumb the depths of the words. Chris Gordon does the same thing. I don’t usually write in their forms (although I have tried it a time or two with a certain enjoyment when I find that the words demand it to arrive at what is necessary.) These haijin have perfected something they felt a great need for. That is not what I mean about running after something new…
    Forgive me if it felt as if I was talking about you…I haven’t really had the pleasure of reading your work so I certainly would not comment on your work at all.

  4. I am finding that blogs and email and electronic communications can be clumsy. Often something is missing, or maybe people do not read such things or write such things as carefully as maybe they could with pen and paper. I am sure, based on his response, that Allan Burns did not take my suggestion about “unusual” work as coming from negativity. And yet I am not certain what Merrill Ann Gonzales was referring to when she writes about “new for new sake” but I am afraid she believes this is what I am promoting when I ask for something “unusual”. I am talking about writing which is related in some way to writing which Scott Metz refers to in the latest Modern Haiku, and which I have found in a couple of places. (I do not want to name other names of publications because it will be seen maybe as promotion). I think it would be interesting to have a Montage which shows the best or most interesting of this work. It sounds like Allan is considering this, and I wish to say thank you for pointing me to other Montages which show work which might be considered a little off the “center”, which I believe would make it eccentric. Maybe my own being eccentric leads me to want to see more, and to see comments about it. I am wondering though if I am alone about this, or if others agree.

  5. During the night “bark of a pheasant” stayed in my mind and as I lived with it I felt the natural way nature accepts change…I felt the pheasant’s “sinking into silence” acceptance of winter…and it’s just one more example where nature teaches me…helps me to accept my own nature.

  6. Montage sometimes speaks to me not by what work is included but by what work is left out. This entirely subjective experience had me searching bookcases high and low to find one particular haiku by Caroline Gourlay. I had the pleasure of meeting and talking with Caroline Gourlay some years ago at a Haiku North America conference. Here is her poem, which has been a part of me ever since I discovered it in Global Haiku (Brooks Books, 2000):

    Without full stop
    you run. Childhood, a country
    with no paragraphs

  7. As far as I’m concerned, a good haiku does not have to be always “new” or earth shattering. To me a good haiku reaches something true at your core. There is a richness and a resonance in being brought back to a place you thought you had lost forever by the words – simple words – that bring it all back to life for you again. I find this Montage collection to be extremely rich in these human qualities…where the human being is no longer isolated from his world. Sometimes the maddening pace for newness can just isolate even further.

    A thought that came to me about Joh Barlow’s “something startles” is that there isn’t really any rabbit in it! It’s a rabbit field….a field where you know rabbits dwell. The something that startles me is the amazing way he has created the whole thing out of nothing. You think you see a rabbit. But do you?

    There’s one of Caroline Gourlay’s that is interesting to me.
    (Actually they are all interesting and will have to come back to them little by little.)

    bark of a pheasant
    sinking into silence
    winter afternoon

    We had pheasants at the last place we lived. They are elusive birds and this haiku brings so keenly to me what is lost. That place was so richly inhabited with birds that I was in heaven for me and it was gone in a matter of days for us.

    And John Crook’s

    ebb tide
    the shell I keep reaching for
    carried further away

    I know that John was very ill and wonder if this was his loss haiku. Anyone who has experienced deep loss…values these haiku as the human soul reaching out…reaching out to each other.

    No, I’m not too anxious to go running after new for new sake. I love haiku that touch us and bring us to the richer human aspects of understanding our condition. I am very thankful for what Allan has given us.

  8. I very much appreciate the comments so far on this gallery. I hope it provides at least a few indications (perhaps 21 :-)) about the very high level of quality achieved by some British haikuists in recent years, particularly in the realm of nature-oriented haiku.

    Bill Cullen focuses on one of my own favorites by John Barlow. I’ve always imagined the poet/observer looking up to ascertain the cause of the startling he has witnessed, thinking it must probably be some raptor, and seeing instead something he had not noticed until that instant, the mackerel sky. The “something” of the first line itself, though, remains a mystery; the cut functions as an unexpected redirection, perhaps simply because the observer’s hypothesis about the startling was faulty. This haiku conveys to me a powerful sense of the poet being suddenly pulled out of self-absorbed contemplation and into an appreciation of his surroundings, specifically a sudden vision of the sublime. (Click on my name for a photo ex. of a mackerel sky.)

    “something startles” is also an excellent haiku to look at from the standpoint of sound, a subject explored in the latest installment of Peter Yovu’s “Sails”.

    I must say special thanks to Carole, Paul, and Louis for their remarks on Montage in general, and in response to the latter’s suggestions, I’d like to say just a few words. First, “unusual” is a somewhat subjective category, but I personally would consider the work of all the following poets, featured so far in Montage, to be, in varying degrees, “unusual” and/or “experimental” in terms of content and/or form:

    #4 Frontiers (Fay Aoyagi; Peter Yovu; Scott Metz)
    #13 Forms (Marlene Mountain; John Martone)
    #17 Birthdays (Martin Shea)
    #20 Moonstruck (Santoka)
    #23 The Haiku Capital of the Midwest (Bill Pauly; Raymond Roseliep)
    #26 One-Liners (Matsuo Allard; Stuart Quine; Jeff Stillman)
    #29 Autumn Colors (vincent tripi)

    How many of those fit what you are looking for, specifically, Louis, I don’t know. In next week’s gallery, the work of Tomas Tranströmer will definitely be quite “different” by elh standards. See what you think of it. And there will be a few others in coming weeks.

    It is true, though, that the principal focus of Montage has been on high-quality “mainstream” elh and its antecedents in classic J haiku. I do hope that the work has been “unusual” simply in term of its quality. And certainly, percentage-wise, there has been a good bit more of a focus on nature-oriented haiku than one finds in virtually any of the contemporary journals, so in that respect Montage is at least atypical in the context of contemporary elh. In large part, that’s simply the way my own tastes and interests (and practice) incline. In part, too, I have been striving, through my focus on “the mainstream”, to maintain some “balance” on THF since other features such as Envoys and Periplum have focused mostly on experimental, avant-garde work. If you haven’t already looked into those features, Louis, I highly recommend doing so, as I think you’ll find a good bit of genuinely unusual work there.

    Also–as I was lining up poets for Montage galleries, I did not anticipate that Scott Metz’s contributions to the blog would slow down because of his new position. That has probably led to an apparent but unintended shift toward the “center” in terms of the haiku being presented on this website. I’ll have a chance to reassess the direction of the material I’m presenting eventually; just keep in mind that galleries are planned out months in advance, so that permissions and so forth can be secured, and that means I cannot respond quickly to changes of direction outside of my control, even if I decided I wanted to do that.

    Thanks again to all who have commented.

  9. I also commend Allan Burns for his contributions to this blog. Very impressive. I wonder too if he will sometime show us some work by writers who might be considered unusual? I saw the last Modern Haiku and it features articles and work that relate to what some writers in Japan have been up to and even Frogpond shows some work which I am guessing is inspired by that. It is pretty new to me and I bet many others (or just a few?) would be curious to see what writers in English are doing. I found one Montage which went in this direction, but now and then maybe we could see more of this and discuss it? I will confess that I have tried some of this writing and would like to see some more.

  10. I like the use of ambiguity in John Barlow’s poem: how does something startle a “rabbit field?” I can see in my mind a sudden breeze sweeping across the field grass, and/or, maybe rabbits suddenly bolting out of the undercover. The poet startles the reader by panning upward towards the “mackerel sky” where I imagine rows of small cumulus-like clouds scudding across the heavens, also running away like the rabbits on the ground. In my first reading of the poem, I thought the mackerel in the sky were the causative factor in the startling of the rabbit field; now I believe the juxtaposition of the two images effectively refocuses the final resolution inside the reader. I sense a windy spring day near Easter time with the rabbit and fish imagery.

    Bill Cullen

  11. Allan has already selected and arranged for us just over 700 haiku by my rough count. These are mostly English Language Haiku by writers living and dead, and, just a guess, about 10% translations from Japanese Masters. Were it a book, this body of haiku is already right up there with any single-volume collection. It is one editor’s selection of poets and poems, and a personal, reasoned arrangement, to boot. I’ve kidded Allan that this is a pace of 1,092 per year, plus the mid-week group he shared once with us all. In a few more years?

    The archive of this “Montage” idea is to be cherished.

  12. The curlew’s call, the small gap revealing a rabbit’s eye, the lingering bark of a pheasant, white water bursting through a hillside, and the sudden appearance of blackberries in the dusk. Caroline’s haiku are so very sharply focused with a
    lovely surprise in each. I felt as if I were looking through a zoom lens.

    I liked the flow of the arrangement too. John’s haiku were about movement; dangling, sliding, following, reaching and John Barlow’s haiku frequently had two images to dwell on. I really enjoyed Caroline’s sharply focused haiku bracketed between the two.

    Another great trio of poets, Allan. I am appreciating and recognizing your creativity more and more in these montage postings.


  13. I remember when John (Crook) read this poem out:

    ancient stone circle
    the flow
    of a robin’s song

    — John Crook

    It was at a British Haiku Society meeting outside Bristol (U.K.) and part of a musical workshop. I’ve always had mixed feelings about music with haiku, preferring contemporary sounds, but when John was playing acoustic guitar I was completely won over.

    John was an exceptional person as well as a writer of haiku. I can heartily recommend the posthumous Snapshot Press collection Ebb Tide:

    My favourite haiku from John is on this page:

    summer solstice—
    the sun reaches a new place
    on the fridge

    If you want another book of finely crafted haiku that can lift a mood you needn’t go further than John’s collected haiku.


  14. This collection is so complex – delicious – like a box of chocolates. It seems good to me to select one a day as a treat to wander through. The first one that caught my eye was by John Barlow:

    early June –
    the chack of a ring ouzel
    and tormentil everywhere

    There is so very much in this haiku: First, my name Merrill was originally Welch, then English/Welch, then it went to France for awhile where it became deMerle…(the blackbird). So there’s a personal connection here for me since “ouzel” is an old English word for blackbird. And the word “tormentil” is a small yellow flower like a potentilla…a whole field of these would be quite a sight…(think clouds of daffodils) – but with an even more profound implication as its root is a tonic for many things like pain relief and an antitoxin.

    When I was very young I had a pen pal in Scotland who sent me some Scottish comic books. When I got them I was astounded to realize I didn’t know what anyone was talking about! It came as quite a shock to me that there were many
    English languages…and it was one of the things that really impressed me when I was young that words had many meanings. Knowing a bit about their history makes haiku like this one so much more revealing.

    Many thanks, John Barlow for this one.

Comments are closed.

Back To Top