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
Breaking the autumn
silence – a JCB digging
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
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:
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