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Bill Wyatt

Bill Wyatt

February 6, 1942 - May 23, 2016

Bill was born February 6, 1942 in Croydon, UK and died May 23, 2016 in Bexhill-on-Sea, UK.

The following tribute was written by Fred Schofield.

Bill picked up on Chinese poetry and haiku through reading Kerouac’s The Dharma Bums in the early 1960s. He always read, especially in the root tradition, as much as he wrote, or even more, and his poetry was deeply rooted in Eastern culture. His lifelong Buddhist practice was interwoven with his interest in haiku. With this background, reference to art or religion is sometimes paired with images from everyday life:

     Downloading han shan –
a seagull opts for breadcrumbs
           outside my window

Breaking the autumn
        silence – a JCB digging out
   the temple cesspit

Bill continued reading throughout his life and would often be the first to discover a new book and recommend it to others. In latter years he developed the progressive eye condition macula degeneration and would peer through a giant magnifying glass in a frame above the text. But he was no academic. He read out of passion and absorbed the books over long periods so that they influenced him unconsciously, adding layers to his instinctive poetic gift.

Having been the first monk to be ordained at Throssel Hole Abbey, UK, in 1972, Bill then spent a year at Shasta Abbey in California. On returning to England, he moved to the south coast, worked as a gardener and continued writing. In 1980 he spent 6 months in Hawaii studying Zen with Robert Aitken Roshi in 1980 – at this time Aitken was writing his commentaries on Bashō’s haiku, which was to become the book A Zen Wave.

Back home again, he stayed in touch with Throssel Hole (now as a lay Buddhist), going on retreats, and sometimes staying for long periods. His collection, Gleanings from the Throssel’s Nest is the outcome of such a period. It contains haiku, tanka and a renku which was written in collaboration with Canadian haiku poet Tim Sampson among others. The book includes some footnotes for Zen terms. This is Soto Zen which, unlike Rinzai Zen, doesn’t use koans. The practice is essentially simple. Sitting meditation (zazen) is the most important aspect, just letting thoughts come and letting them go. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy, or without humour:

    When asked what is zen –
I reply, a blind donkey caught
          in the same old rut

           Cutting through it all –
there’s no me & no person –
                   just this itchy nose!

Having started to write before the BHS and the HSA were formed, Bill’s style predates any Western assumptions and misconceptions about haiku; so for some of us it takes some getting used to. But the more we begin to see where the Japanese haiku masters are coming from the more we get out of Bill’s verses. This influence can be direct (as with the Han Shan reference above), but it’s also often just beneath the surface:

     Mother blackbird
you look so exhausted
        the longest day

     Draining my wine cup –
the season’s first giddy wasp
       leaves me just a drop

Another point of interest is that he took his cue from the old Chinese poets who drank just enough wine to relax them into spontaneity but not enough to lose control – well that’s the general idea . . .

Bill wasn’t a self publicist and most of his work appeared in small pamphlets which received favourable reviews in the UK haiku magazines to which he contributed. He also published some work on the Haiku Foundation and Haibun on Line. His haibun have an earnest tone, though often with a wry take on serious subjects. In A Fistful of Frost he refers to his prostate cancer as “my Guest”. And the title poem of this haibun reveals something of his surreal and visionary qualities.

A fistful of frost –
glowing in the dark, my bones
light up the heavens

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