Bashō Has Left the Building
Colin Stewart Jones
Gean Tree Press. All Rights Reserved.
Copyright © Colin Stewart Jones 2019
Edited by: The author.
Front cover image Colin Stewart Jones.
Cover Design Colin Stewart Jones.
First published Gean Tree Press Aberdeen, 2012.
Okay, you know we can blame Basho for this book. He started it by creating a new poetry form called haibun. Hai, often translated as comic or funny, also relates to the first prefix of haiku and thus haikai – the links of a renga. Bun, is loosely translated as literature or prose. It was Basho’s idea to combine what he called haikai or hokku to prose and that is the beginning of this book.
Basho was leaning on the ancient Japanese tradition of keeping diaries or travel journals. Always before the poem added to each entry was a tanka, but since Basho did not write tanka (it is recorded he read them but was very strict in not messing around in another genre) he added the kind of poems he was writing for renga (he was a renga master and not really a haiku writer). The term “haiku” was invented two hundred years later.
Thank goodness for Basho! All we contemporary haiku writers have discovered what Basho found out in the 1600s – sometimes haiku is just not enough.
Sometimes Basho added a head note or prose piece to his hokku so it was only a small thrust of the slipper to enlarge upon this. Reading too many haiku is like eating too many chocolates, but if one can stretch the readers’ mind with some prose, the haiku tidbits are more savory.
With the addition of changes in prose writing in English in the past two hundred years, many more ways of using language are now possible. This may be why Basho has left the building.
All of the Japanese poetry forms have made drastic, spastic, caustic changes as they have evolved into English. The process is not over yet. This book is a fine example of how haiku, prose and haiga – pictures with poems – have grown up and away from the examples Basho gave us. As you read each work, you can see, and feel, how your mind is being stretched as the limitations of poem ideas are extended out even further.
For too long haibun has been too linear, too easy. Each thought in the phrase follows the next in perfect rationality. There was no room for accidents, for the mind to stray, to find glimpses of other realities. The prose parts of haibun need to have the leaps of a haiku. That is what differentiates it from ‘normal’ prose as written as literature.
We are not writing software manuals here, but art goosed by Asian poetry.
I admire Colin Stewart Jones’s work because 1. he has a quirky mind and 2. he lends it to haibun and 3. all of it influences his artwork. The man is not afraid to try something new. In doing so he exposes himself to the human he is. Haibun do that. Give a reader that many words about one’s life and suddenly there are eyes in your bathroom. So you can read these examples of symbiotic poetry as exploration of what the forms can do and be or as a spyglass into the life of a guy living in Scotland. Either way, you will be entertained and amazed.
Jane Reichhold - USA 2012
For Jane, who passed away in 2016
Colin Stewart Jones
Still waiting on the dance floor, Jane!
Do I hear a waltz?
Strauss. I think. Perhaps it’s not the done thing in Vienna but how about we make our own moves and see where the music leads.
If the world was flat we could go to the edge and jump off.
Before we leap into another reality, first dance me to the end of love.
Any love is another reality, isn’t it.
And yet even nothing always means something when said by a woman!
the steep hillside
wanting to give all
and let go
one foot follows the other
but I hear clouds beckon
I had to get out of bed early because the grass was talking to me.
Return O night and let your whispers take me softly into a dream.
Why do I feel you sleep with a Dylan Thomas book under your pillow?
Perhaps the bottle by the bed gave me away.
I’ve often wondered if alcohol makes a better writer.
Though the slur is hard to translate to the page it certainly makes for more interesting reading.
None intended. Now I am wondering why you see my comments as a ‘slur.’
And none taken. Yet see how we stagger when we involve the drink.
I often feel I would be nicer person if I occasionally loosened up.
Play it Sam!
but first you must
part your lips
vox Dei vivat
via, veritas, vita
verbum sat sapienti
word for word
the voice of God
lives an energy (living force)
the way, the truth, the life
a word is enough for a wise man
Years ago my Latin teacher told me that river and rival have the same root. Now as I look across the Euphrates I see my cousin and must hate him because he is descended from Ishmael and I don’t care for his religion. “At least we can worship any god we choose.” Mutatis mutandis.
They are Legion – for they are many.
Ah! But we have the Classical Tradition. Plato was an ideas man, true, but is that worth dying for? So we have landed classes and political oligarchies that will fight to maintain our liberty. “They’re all terrorists and treat their women like shit.” Ex uno disce omnes.
We are Idealists – not ideologues.
“You’ve never fought in a war.” Even so, many have won the freedom for me not to impose my will upon another. Nevertheless, the Lion still follows the Eagle into battle. Dum spiro, spero
I am Poet . . .
tonight the man
Mutatis mutandis : with the necessary changes
Ex uno disce omnes : from one judge of the rest
Dum spiro, spero : while I breathe, I hope
Bad is good. That’s News24 speak. But it’s the television’s unquestioning ambivalence that gets itself seen. Of course, there is The Open University and The Learning Zone but I’ve been none too discerning of late, Monsieur; and these phonelines are really spoiling us. Between the couch and the TV a round table squared by bills, wet Rizlas and two weeks of telly bits. Saved for a dry day, three ashtrays roll into one and my complimentary mug from an oil company which is rinsed but not washed provides a drink ring-record sponsored by Nescafe. Some people say doing the same thing over and over with the same result is insanity — kneading my temples, I say it’s scientific. Forget Edward de Bono my thinking is 360, Mate! Where is it then, this place we call peace
self analysis . . .
the night folds
Hank! People joke that if they play your songs backwards they’ll get everything back. Like you, I keep my pain selfish in pursuit of the lyric. I have tried the whole night through. Honest. But all I am is alone and tired as another night leeches into day.
unknown lanes —
somewhere over there
a cuckoo’s call
I try the ATM. The cheque from the Inland Revenue has taken four days to clear. A whole £11.40. I’d better to use my card in the minimarket rather than take out a tenner. That gives me another £1.40. Outside the shop a woman struggles to hold the leash as I like her dog.
My sister already has some fish and rice in the house. The selection at Tesco Express is limited but I buy peeled prawns, smoked salmon and a jar of horseradish—a good substitute for wasabi. At the checkout I remember I need leaves. I run down the vegetable aisle and grab some spinach and tomatoes. My basket comes to £11.60. “Cash or card, Sir?”
Shhht, I mutter under my breath. Why tomatoes? I don’t even need tomatoes. “Err, card.” “Sorry Sir, the transaction’s been declined.” “Oh.? Can you take the tomatoes back, they’re a Pound, aren’t they?” “Can you enter your PIN again, Sir. Yes, that’s it gone through this time.” “Thanks mate, sorry about the tomatoes.” “No problem, Sir. Come again!”
traffic noise . . .
the woodpecker beats
a quick march
“You’ll feel a slight prick, that’s all.” As the nurse spoke, he saw his dad walk past. Following his gaze, the nurse stopped her spiel. She shared a look with his mother and closed the door. “OK. I want you to hold your hand out like this – can you do that?” He nodded, the lollipop stick in his mouth exterminating imaginary Cybermen. Everything in the room seemed alien: the sickly-stale smell of disinfectant, the white walls, the bright fluorescent light. His sister screamed.
“Who’s a brave little boy”, the nurse said, touching his mother’s arm as she led out his sister, who was still bawling for her brother. “Now then, just once more and it’ll all be over.” The nurse stuck the needle in again – first sharp, then dull. Pressing his thumb against a swab, she ruffled his hair. “There we are now, that didn’t hurt too much, did it?” He shook his head no— he’d seen policemen on telly take fingerprints to find out who the bad guys were.
a bright red plastic cup
of father’s making
The minute hand waits patiently in the hour queue as I try to sleep off the poverty between disability benefit cheques. Ticktock-tick-tock longing for night into day into nights lost in another heartbeat ick-ock-ick-ick. Dammit, I must take out that dying battery from the clock.
...a form of insinuation, always yet never, humming not singing, no, hints of grey, ghosts, extensions, black, broken, as far as possible, hell, a relic, a ceremony, a cure, beaten, brought back, it’s happening, definitely coming, yes, dark nights, hidden days, vagaries, no one knows, armpits, a steaming vat, leading to this moment, contact, frustrated, no matter, the door, relationship, desire, distance maintained, much distance, rare these days, do you see, look don’t see, look for, look after, looking forward, yes, positive attitude, valuable contribution, discussion, a prayer, make voice heard, brass, cynical, a world of good, doubts tested, that’s the key, face it, face to face, fantastic, fascinating, conclusion, might be possible, don’t buy it, too late, none shall sleep, more than one, none, a voice, don’t think I heard, disappointed, catastrophic, practice, go ahead, wait, just like that, driven, give it a go, the lyrics, like that, sad, write them down, what’s it called, all night, keep out, forget about them, no help, passing, now, not the first time, I have the first, right, running, blowing, slower, I think, right, it is, not that bad, not too bad, the same, over and over, leave, not many have heard, where are they now, commemorate, celebrate memory, play it by ear, excited now, suppose, ping, pong...
...that’s the business, sound better, used to think, a partnership, grief, we’ve all got it wrong, inherent infallibility, system isn’t working, novelty, give up now, defeatist, sure it’s good, now live, exciting victory, eager to start, hands together, rugged, dream small first, young dreams, poet, fool, spin to light, lifted, do now, in time, do what, plan, hold on, get it, silence, celebration, the answer’s simple, costs too much, sound plausible, I feel it’s time, move up, experience the challenge, a potential story, hidden from the rest, walk in the sun, coming at me, no choice now, did you see, quick, you see it, nothing there, does it have a name, how about, no, wait got one, perfect, what, it’s not working, who’s this, it’s alright, shut up, make it quick, any reason why, doubts, a friendly ear, a strange story, it must have burrowed, connection, no others, wild, company, out of the way, seconds, give up on the idea, see it, before it moves, hairy, a plague resting, away, pursuing conventions, it gives off a smell, connected, somewhere safe, together, in chains, caring, mind at rest, easy, in the vice, won’t feel a thing, sure, a few minor modifications, rope, this is new, green, chew through it all, better, more appropriate, still fire, rocks, struggle, listen, icy wind, take in some air, breathe...
I see a fly on the wall
scratch its head
...question, leave it, just curiosity, spared the experience, that’s where it grows, somewhere safe, a place you‘d never think of, the last place you’d think, rocking, shaking, falling now, can’t move, rest, yes, fine now, tell you, not here, where, guess, far as possible, working controls, wires, doors, just a dream, crocheted blades, some man speaking, solemn time, an atmosphere of serenity, very special, no more, no sacrifice if easy, won’t be beaten, understood, oh yes, make a vow, deep, somewhere safe, this is easy, not even thinking, not thinking, rocking, do you think, I certainly do, circling Euclid, 3.14159265, doesn’t impress, hold it down, sleep, relent, give in, temptation, punish myself, used to be happy, it wasn’t enough, admit it, Ave, Ave Maria, relentless, holding, seeing things as they are, visions are back, normal, still here, all coming back, I remember, want fun, good miserable time, never think that, imagine that, to disintegrate, on fire, blue, ah yes, my particular vice, willpower, basic things, get rid of pride, obstacles, fulfilment, burn the bricks, red, tonight, I miss the rain, knocking loudly, sound and light, I’m back, didn’t think ahead, a whole head, old habits, day in, day out, oaths, I just wait, counting the days, stories, his not mine, told over, confessional, recounted in silence...
of my new label
thoughts of suicide
on any or another day
I find myself dwelling
on the worth
of a simple daisy
gathers her clothes
I trace the moon
on a windowpane
Can love and grief be one? Today, I embrace the rain only to feel it slip away.
Bright, big, blue: the sky opens for me. Words like ‘realization’ and ‘epiphany’ hold no meaning but consciousness, my psyche is born and I see beyond circumstance and fear.
The sky is still with me – sometimes it is even blue. I write haiku and this has taught me how to observe humanity and the physical environment. I look at things much more closely now.Yet, still the yearning for the four-year-old who saw further.
in a jam jar
A familiar blast would herald the laird’s return: a foul-humoured gatecrasher compelling heather and horse to yield—supine rain circumscribing his sway. In darkness, we took turns to carry winter months and pails that kindled ghosts but summer was a different story. Moor and sea once more defined; spending summers at the beach sunbathing or surfing tractor loads of peat—fun we were too young to cut. A narrow weave of grass and grain kept the sea at bay. In defiance, swords now drawn; epees against bulwarks of abandoned brick but resting in the hollow range, spent shells can still be found and a basking shark stranded on dunes we used for Dead Man’s Fall.
a corncrake calls
from the field
Twice daily the sea would wash clean a million walnuts of lugworm waste; new moons mapping out possibilities, inlets illuminated when the lagoon was full. Dreams we tried to reach capsized when oil drum, rope and bedspring came undone. Regardless of tides, we were always out in places inches deep, floundering footsteps side-winding around the point where we swam or smoked roll-ups, causing the point to scream with terns. Across the flats, quicksand once swallowed a horse: our parents told us often. On our side, a machair of long jumps and pools, these poured concrete stepping stones also laid out island fashion, the old school of both our mothers demolished, gesturing protection. Choices much simpler then—playthings—not stumbling blocks.
the yellow broom
casts a shadow
Other days we’d head upstream leaping our first fence at the bridge where we played Pooh sticks, though we’d no time for books. Over the road in your uncle’s scrap yard; we built our ships from brightly coloured plastic caps—wrenched-off tops of car batteries. As welders burnt by acid splashes and paid in glass beads: six funnelled Exides and Fords; better than any vessel launched on the Clyde. When bored, or if they’d sink, we’d zigzag the culvert’s length playing out our own Italian Job. Not with Mini Coopers but Monkey Boots and drainpipe jeans wet to the shin, using dock leafs for toilet paper, sometimes building dams until driven home by the threat of supper—passing places time has overtaken.
flock of sheep
a church elder’s look
that shoots dogs
A gull’s circular cries waken me. Must piss - first a smoke. I reach for my tobacco and roll a cigarette propped on one elbow. Three deep drags are enough to charge my nicotine levels. I draw it down to my stained fingers anyway. For a moment I peruse my stubble then look out a clean shirt. Yesterday’s socks will do. Only a twenty-minute walk to the clinic. Plenty of time.
After my second cuppa, I open the blinds and shoo away the pigeons. A diagonal of sunlight catches the dust I’ve dislodged from the silk orchids on my window sill. Time yet. I put the radio on and catch a Queen song – I sing along. All too soon the song finishes and the DJ starts pissing me off with his banter. Time to go.
Checking that I’ve got everything, I roll a smoke for the road and lock up my flat just before 10 past 10. In between thoughts of an old love the Queen song is still playing. ‘Don’t stop me now.’ At the main entrance to the tenement I realise I’ve forgotten my phone. I go back. ‘Don’t stop me.’ Damn it! I’m late. ‘Don’t stop me now.’ I phone and give some excuse for cancelling my first Cognitive Behavioural Therapy session. ‘Don’t stop me’ I put the kettle on and roll another smoke. ‘Cause I’m having a good time.’
a crane fly drags
It’s still light – must buy thicker blinds.
I pray for one solid hour, ten minutes will be a blessing.
Soon. O God soon. But How?
I’m so sick of the same over and over. Sleep.
Must sleep. I blame the meds. sleep!
Yes there is Tequila or diazepam
but that is no way to live either.
Can’t even conjure a pathetic fallacy, it’s a calm night.
They say face your demons
but mine hide at a discrete whispering distance.
“What do they say?” The doctor asks.
“Everything and nothing” I reply.
The first thing I notice is the Burberry tracksuit coming towards me, then the dog. I ask the young lad what’s the dog called. “Arnie.” he delights in telling me. “He’s a Pit-Bull and Staffie cross – nice isn’t he?”
I wonder if it’s the name that strikes fear.
I’ve heard there are other dogs on the street called Rocky and Tyson.
Furry baseball bats, my cousin calls ‘em.
A fly dizzies about my face as I drink on the front step. I sweep at it but it’s stubborn. Again and again and again! This time, I blow sharply and it flies off probably to annoy the crap out of some other “too early for me, never!” drinker.
So now I’m whistling no particular tune.
A bird starts singing. Somewhere over in the bushes. A chaffinch maybe. Ha! As if I could tell. But he is a chirpy chappy.
And now I’m still whistling no particular tune. Just louder.
through the haar
my sixth dram
my sexy dream girl
roughs my hair
I’m distracted by a scraping sound from outside. As I place the sound I also hear the laughter of a child. I wonder why some folk bother to rake-up leaves. One of my neighbours is out the back; don’t bother to look who—I can guess. Bloody pointless! Laissez Faire must be the best approach. My sunburst clock catches the light--it’s only twenty to nine in the morning and she is out there already. Thankfully we are not suburban enough to have leafblowers round here yet. Rain is forecast—all the leaves will be soggy by the end of today anyway.
The resilience of a tree to stand just about anything impresses me. Trees are stoical. I admire that but can anything or anyone remain ambivalent to these changing seasons. After last night’s gales it’s a wonder there are any leaves left on the trees, or the ground. Putting my thoughts aside I return to my reading. Paul writes to Timothy suggesting he take a little wine for the stomach. Nevertheless, the third bottle of Cabernet seems determined to go right through me. The label tells of Sauvignon grapes, a berry flavour and rich Australian soil. Yesterday it was the price per alcohol volume ratio that interested me.
a smidgen more set
in my ways
in the window
my light bulb’s reflection —
I face the day
There is an old boy—must be about seventy—who lives in the next block. No matter the weather he constantly works on his car; a Volkswagen. Today is dull and grey with a slight drizzle. We make our usual exchanges. I nod “Hello manny.” “Fit like, ma loon?” He says back, returning to fit his new rear passenger side wheel. I walk on towards the shop where I get a grunt of acknowledgement as I pay for my tobacco.
Jimmy collars me outside the shop, “Hey min, see those three lassies over there skipping school, one just asked me if Ah thought her mate’s arse was big. Ah said, aye it is and so is yours. Then the mate shouts, ye’re a peedo! Looking at ma arse?” I laugh, “kids nowadays, eh Jimmy, see ya later!” “Aye, s’later!” It is starting to rain full-on now. I decide to take a shortcut through the underpass between the flats. There are a group of lads sheltering from the rain. “Gotta light mate?” “Nah, sorry boys Ah dinna smoke.”
a rooks calls
from its bare nest . . .
Fit like? It means how are you
Menus aren’t so hard to follow—they’re all a matter of timing really. But do I want to go through all that rigmarole for one.
Seems pointless creating culinary delights when there is no one to praise the chef.
The grey squirrel doesn’t seem to mind the cold. It looks almost happy as it bounds across the lawn, only stopping to gather what it can. A man walking his dog tells me they are vermin. They kill the red ones, you know. I nod more out of convenience than agreement and keep on watching the squirrel go about its business. The short stocky body and long brush of a tail mesmerises as it undulates over the grass. It is soon out of sight though. Hopefully, I’ll be able to borrow some money to keep me going until next week. I wait a while before I continue walking to my friend’s house. The squirrel only does what it does from its innate instincts. But I have choices. Cursing short days and necessity, my breath stings my nostrils as I inhale too sharply before I knock on the door.
someone just stepped
in dog shit
Our night sky illuminates possibility, the stuff of magic and myth – an exploration of soul. You giggle as I wear the Pleiades on my finger and slowly pull the moon from the sea and place her in your palm. I draw laughter deep from your heart as I trace your own constellation with your smile.
How soon day returns and all I feel is the draught from an open window.
autumn sunset ...
counting your freckles
off by heart
I stare intermittently out of the bus window. Partly to keep track of where I am and partly to avoid changing the blank expressions of the other passengers. There is not a sound except for the engine and the nasal tones of the junkies at the back. Thank God. Four more stops and I’ll be home.
As we pass the school playing field I spy some cheerfully coloured flowers. Out of place for this time of year. My thoughts run wild—whose child? In the fading light this arrangement by random hands seems, somehow, laden with the relief of the fortunate. I wipe the condensation from the window and turn to look again. My wreaths and bouquets are simply wind-blown sweet wrappers and crisp packets caught in the weld-mesh fence.
For the rest of the journey I curse myself for always thinking the worst. I press the bell and pick up my shopping from the seat and start walking towards the doors. Lurching forward as the driver brakes too hard, somehow, I avoid the pram in the aisle. I exchange smiles with the baby boy and look up to his scowling mother who pulls the pram closer as I pass.
so many scenarios
yet to play
Four days of snow has thawed and frozen over and over again. The search for a safe path on fresh snow has resulted is a dimpled surface rather like a golf ball made of glass. It’s easier to walk in the troughs made by car tyres. At the local corner-shop an Irish man tells me he fell on his arse twice on his way there. I think the hangover that forced him out in this weather may have had something to do with it as I wish him a safe journey home with his bottle of Grouse Whisky.
There was a day when people would clear their own paths up to their neighbour’s boundary and they would do likewise. In such a way whole streets would be cleared. On the other side of the road a mother starts laughing exaggeratedly to stop her toddler, who has just fallen on the ice, from crying. Round here it is better to be tough. As my mate John says, “sympathy is somewhere between sex and syphilis.” I don’t think anyone round here will be dreaming of a White Christmas for years to come.
harsh night —
a beer-can nose
on the snowman
Most of the works in this book (or variations of them) have appeared in the following journals or anthologies.
Modern Haibun & Tanka Prose
Contemporary Haibun Online
Muse India (Mango Moons)
World Haiku Review
BACK PAGE REVIEWS
This is a strong collection of haibun, exhibiting gritty power as jones explores innovative formats, ranging from stream-of-consciousness to incorporating original art which often functinons as visual haiku to accompany his prose. His subjects include thought-provoking political and historical commentary; relived childhood memories; expressions of personal despair, frustration, and confusion; and even tender and sorrowful love poems. His prose descriptions often read like prose-poems, and the incoporated haiku startle with the absolute rightness. I highly recommend Basho Has Left the Building. In these haibun, Colin Stewart Jones has left Basho’s neighborhood as he takes us into the 21st century of haibun.
co-author (with William J. Higginson) ofThe Haiku Handbook, and of Recycling Starlight, The Night Marsh, of the forthcoming prizewinning e-book of haibun, One Bowl.
This is one of the best “new” collections I have ever read. The prose is beautiful: truly prose poetry. Each piece unfolds, layer by layer, rather an object falling or being knocked off the shelf and shattering into pieces. jones hasn’t cooked his rice before putting water into the pot.
Editor, The Tanka Anthology (Red Moon Press, 2003)