Now and then

Here’s a response to my “On the Road” prompt.  It breaks all the rules and is not so much a haibun as a hyphen – a pause between one state and another.

The prompt:

“Our battered suitcases were piled on the sidewalk again; we had longer ways to go. But no matter, the road is life” ― Jack Kerouac, On the Road


“I set out on a journey of a thousand leagues, packing no provisions. I leaned on the staff of an ancient who, it is said, entered into nothingness under the midnight moon.” -Matsuo Basho, The Record of a Weather-exposed Skeleton – his first travel travel journal.


Jack was standing beside a pile of battered suitcases on the pavement when an old Japanese man wandered up.   They got chatting.   The older man introduced himself as Mat.

“I had a feeling I’d catch up with you along the road,” Jack said.  “It’s that kind of road.”

“Do you know where we are exactly?”   Mat asked.  “I seem to have lost my bearings.”

“I think we’re on the astral planes,” Jack said.  “I’m pretty sure we’re dead,”

“I thought that might be the case,” Mat mumbled.  “We must be wandering the bardos.   Some call it the 4th dimension – the realm of thought forms, conditioned responses and old cultural ideas.”

“That makes sense,” Jack mused.   “I’ve been stuck in an idea for a while now.  I’m waiting for Godot but I don’t think he’s going to show up.”

“He always did have his own agenda,” Mat said dismissively.   “Do you want to wander on with me for a bit.  I could do with some company.”

Jack agreed and they set off together.   Around a bend in the road they came across an old Japanese style inn.  “I remember that inn,” said Mat.    “I wrote a haiku about it after a bad night there on my journey  to the Deep North.”
Fleas, lice,
a horse pissing
by my bed
– Matsuo Basho

Jack laughed.  “That’s a good one,” he said.  “I wrote something similar myself once”.
I went in the woods
to meditate –
It was too cold
– Jack Kerouac

Mat smiled and the pair wandered on reminiscing about their journeys and sharing haiku.  As they passed through a particularly scenic valley Jack asked, “Do you ever wish you could go back to the physical?   Sometimes I’d really like a drink.   The thought form of  bourbon ain’t the same as the real thing.”

“I’m always travelling,” Mat reflected as he quoted his last haiku.
Travelling, sick
My dreams roam
On a withered moor.
 – Matsuo Basho

“Sometimes I still feel the pull of the physical,” he said, “but these days I’m striving to get to the next level.   The 5th dimension.”

“Yes, it’s calling me too,” said Jack.  “I’m just not sure of the way.”

Mat straightened up and the years fell away.   “You open your heart and follow your joy,” he said with authority.

2017-05-18 14.33.11-01











All week long I have been reading about Basho and the concepts behind his haiku.  I learn that, rather than seeking the seclusion of the monastery, Basho chose the path of the yugyô hijiri, the wandering holy man or wayfarer.  “traveling the countryside was a form of ascetic practice that sharpened both his poetic creativity and his religious vision.”


“Despite the variety of occupations and lifestyles, Bashō sees all people as wayfarers.  Whether or not the boatman and horseman realize it, their life is a journey that ends only in death.  But it is not enough for Bashō just to recognize this fact, he feels compelled to embody it directly and concretely in the way he lives.  By living as a wayfarer, he “real-izes” the inherent structure of reality.  In doing so he “moves with the deepest grain of reality.”

I have long thought of myself as a spiritual nomad – a wayfarer on the road of life.

Wayfaring haiku
written on the journey
from then and now

Elsewhere I read – “Through invoking powerfully juxtaposed images of nature, Basho strove to achieve amari-no-kokoro, the state a poem reaches when the heart and soul of a poem leaps at us from a place beyond the words themselves to leave an ‘aftertaste’ in the center of the reader that is haunting.

DSCF1101 (3) - Copy

The Narrow Road Within

With strange synchronicity I see that today’s prompt word on WordPress is ‘panicked’.  A feeling of panic was precisely what came over me when I attempted to write a blog post this morning.  I have been reading about Basho, haiku and haibun.   These are all complex subjects and I am still decoding what I’ve read.  I want to write a series of blog posts about it all but when I try to do so I am engulfed in panic.   How can I do the subjects justice?   Will I get it right?   How can I dare to offer an opinion when there are so many experts out there?


Writing helps me clarify my thoughts.   Blogging gives me a way of communicating with others and, hopefully, opening up a dialogue.  I’ll let my fear of getting it wrong take a back seat and plunge in.  I’ll begin with some thoughts on haibun writing.   (Haibun is a Japanese form of travelogue that was developed by the poet Basho (1644-1694).    Basho’s classic haibun is titled “Oku no hosomichi” –  (translation) The Narrow Road to the Deep Northor The Narrow Road to the Interior. )

In an article by Sam Hamill*  – – I read an explanation of ‘Oku no hosomichi’ –

“Oku means “within” and “farthest” or “dead-end” place; hosomichi means “path” or “narrow road.” The no indicates a possessive. Oku no hosomichi: the narrow road within; the narrow way through the interior.”

Hamill says of The Narrow Road –  “Basho … is not looking outside himself; rather he is seeking that which is most clearly meaningful within, and locating the “meaning” within the context of juxtaposed images, images which are interpenetrating and interdependent. The images arise naturally out of the kokoro or shin — the heart/soul/mind.”


“his journey is a pilgrimage;   it is a journey into the interior of the self as much as a travelogue; it is a vision quest which concludes insight.  The means is the end, just as it is the beginning.   Each step is the first step, each step the last.”

The Buddhist concept of the interconnection of all things resonates in Basho’s haibun and haiku.    It is in nature that Basho experiences the intense interpenetration of heart, mind and soul.   While the obvious place to take this blog post now is into a complex dissertation on the ways and means Basho employed in writing both haiku and haibun  I seem to have gone so deeply interior words are eluding me.


Hopefully I will find the words to express my thoughts in further blog posts but for now I shall ponder the complexities of kokoro in silence.  Each step is the first, each step is last…


*Sam Hamil is an American writer, peace activist and  Zen Buddhist.

Self doubt

Searching through old blog posts I wade through layers of crap to find posts I don’t remember writing that actually say something interesting.

self doubt

While reading a book on Basho  –     Basho – The Complete Haiku by Jane Reichhold –   this paragraph jumped out at me:_

‘Often, as a haiku writer’s understanding and experience with the form grows and changes, he will return to previously written poems and revise them – as did Basho.   It is vital to remember that a poet writes a poem with all the knowledge and skills available to him at that moment.   With more study, wider reading, and deeper understanding, the poem would evolve, but we can still value the inspiration and capabilities under which it was written.’


What makes a good haiga?

I’ve been thinking about what makes a good haiga.

collage_20150629173226267_20150629173310322 (2)

“Haiga, like haiku itself, became a major form of artistic expression with Matsuo Basho (1644–1694). His modest paintings do not seek to impress viewers with technical prowess, bright colors, or bold brushwork, but they set the tone for most haiga that was to follow. The most important later poet-artist was Yosa Buson (1716–1784) who was a master painter. Some of his scrolls go beyond the simplicity and modesty established by Basho, turning haiga into a more purely painterly medium.”


Haiga by Basho – calligraphy reads –

                                     Yellow rose petals


                                         a waterfall

  image source –

“While the haiku and the painting in a haiga share the same space, they are meant to complement, and not explain, one another.  In fact, in some cases the haiku and the painting have nothing to do with one another, because, explains Takiguchi, “if the painting and haiku are [similar], it would mean that one has been added because the other is not adequate.”

Haiga by Buson – calligraphy reads

             willow leaves fallen
in the stream-bed dry rocks
helter skelter

Haiku and Nature

‘Basho’s style of haiku was formulated by others over the years. His fundamentals  include: sabi (detached loneliness), wabi (poverty of spirit), hosomi (slenderness, sparseness), shiori (tenderness), sokkyo (spontaneity), makoto (sincerity), fuga (elegance), karumi (simplicity), kyakkan byosha (objectivity), and shiZen to hitotsu ni naru (oneness with nature).

The female poet Chiyo-ni wrote in Basho’s style.

a single spider’s thread
ties the duckweed
to the shore

Oneness with nature  resonates in Chiyo-ni’s haiku. Basho’s theory of oneness with nature was that the poet should make a faithful or honest sketch of nature. In the Sanzohi (1702), Basho’s disciple, Doho, explains his teacher’s theory: “Learn about the pine from the pine and the bamboo from the bamboo–the poet should detach his mind from self . . . and enter into the object . . . so the poem forms itself when poet and object become one.” This experience is analogous to the Buddhist idea of satori, or enlightenment, what Kenneth Yasuda called the “haiku moment.”

My attempt –   spider thread

Inspired by Basho

washing my feet
I fall asleep for the short night
with my clothes on


Basho wrote this haiku about the short night of the summer solstice.   Chevrefeuille of Carpe Diem Haiku Kai ( writes of this haiku- “This haiku has Zen in it, it has humor and it has a season word ‘the short night’. Basho was very tired while he crafted this one, he even don’t had the strength to wash his feet and put off his clothes. While washing his feet he falls asleep and misses the shortest night of the year, the summer solstice. In that part is the Zen. The shortest night missing because you’re too tired, it feels like emptiness and also brings enlightenment.”


Down here in Oz the June solstice  is our winter solstice.  We have the shortest day, not night.

For the ancients the winter solstice was a time of renewal and they celebrated the eventual returning of light and warmth.  The solstice itself was regarded as a threshold – a portal into the new. That idea has a metaphoric resonance for me at present.  So many things in my life have ended over this past year.   Much that I identified with and defined myself by has reached its natural conclusion.   These things have fallen away but, as yet, nothing has come forward to fill the void.  There’s an emptiness in that but also an expansive and exhilarating feeling that within the void there are great creative possibilities.

Today I was sitting my car at a lookout  trying to figure out how to put all that into a haiku when suddenly an eagle appeared in my line of vision.   It flew towards my car, looked in the window then veered off and quickly flew out of sight.


Up at the lookout
even on the shortest days
the eagle flies

originally posted on my old blog Art and Life in June 2014