Old Oak Common

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Yes, Virginia, there is a hellmouth. Old Oak Common is where the planned (and entirely unnecessary) High Speed 2 line will link up with Crossrail and the Great Western mainline to form the busiest station in the UK, in the process building one of the largest underground structures in the world. Currently it’s a massive plot of destroyed earth adjacent to Wormwood Scrubs, a rather bucolic conservation area less than two miles from where I live in northwest London. For more on the deconstruction, see this article in the Londonist. Anyway, enjoy the nice haiku.

British Museum

In the British Museum, we dead have so many grave goods now! But even in the afterlife, there’s a closing time.

(Seriously, why is it so acceptable to desecrate graves in our culture? Older portions of British cemeteries are routinely dug up and the old burials disposed of to make way for new tenants. No wonder it’s considered acceptable to plunder graves for archaeological purposes and publicly display the finds in perpetuity.)

midnight snail

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The process for making this videohaiku was a bit more convoluted than most. It started with my shooting a pretty good video of a snail descending a dead vine in the garden and continued with several days of adequate but not amazing haiku drafts. Then a long and varied open-mike reading (36 readers!) at London’s Poetry Cafe last night kind of re-set my thinking on the train ride home, and the haiku had taken a dramatically different direction by the time I started the short walk home. Then I encountered the snail in the video above, crossing the sidewalk of our residential street. The iPhone isn’t brilliant at shooting video in low light, but when I looked at the footage on my laptop this morning, I really liked all the glisteny bits. A bit of web research and a short walk later, I had the haiku I ended up using.

I mention all this in part to make the point that haiku are rarely easy to write, despite—or because—they are so short. (And I’m grateful to the host of the open mike reading, Niall O’Sullivan, for making that point at last night’s reading as well, in response to my sharing a couple of haibun. He then launched into a mini rant against 5-7-5 folk haiku, which was quite amusing. I see from his website that this is a regular theme of his.)

The snail is Cornu aspersum, the garden snail or Mediterranean land snail—the same species prized for escargots. It’s considered native here, though I suspect the Romans introduced it for culinary purposes.

dog walking

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The first draft of this haiku was considerably cleverer, complete with a self-reflexive pun, but ultimately simpler was better, I thought. Especially if the video is black and white.

Flies on the table

Waked very betimes in the morning by extraordinary thunder and rain, which did keep me sleeping and waking till very late, and it being a holiday and my eye very sore, and myself having had very little sleep for a good while till nine o’clock, and so up, and so saw all my family up, and my father and sister, who is a pretty good-bodied woman, and not over thicke, as I thought she would have been, but full of freckles, and not handsome in face. And so I out by water among the ships, and to Deptford and Blackewall about business, and so home and to dinner with my father and sister and family, mighty pleasant all of us; and, among other things, with a sparrow that our Mercer hath brought up now for three weeks, which is so tame that it flies up and down, and upon the table, and eats and pecks, and do everything so pleasantly, that we are mightily pleased with it.
After dinner I to my papers and accounts of this month to sett all straight, it being a publique Fastday appointed to pray for the good successe of the fleete. But it is a pretty thing to consider how little a matter they make of this keeping of a Fast, that it was not so much as declared time enough to be read in the churches the last Sunday; but ordered by proclamation since: I suppose upon some sudden newes of the Dutch being come out.
To my accounts and settled them clear; but to my grief find myself poorer than I was the last by near 20l., by reason of my being forced to return 50l. to Downing, the smith, which he had presented me with. However, I am well contented, finding myself yet to be worth 5,200l..
Having done, to supper with my wife, and then to finish the writing fair of my accounts, and so to bed.
This day come to town Mr. Homewood, and I took him home in the evening to my chamber, and discoursed with him about my business of the Victualling, which I have a mind to employ him in, and he is desirous of also, but do very ingenuously declare he understands it not so well as other things, and desires to be informed in the nature of it before he attempts it, which I like well, and so I carried him to Mr. Gibson to discourse with him about it, and so home again to my accounts.
Thus ends this month, with my mind oppressed by my defect in my duty of the Victualling, which lies upon me as a burden, till I get myself into a better posture therein, and hinders me and casts down my courage in every thing else that belongs to me, and the jealousy I have of Sir W. Coventry’s being displeased with me about it; but I hope in a little time to remedy all.
As to publique business; by late tidings of the French fleete being come to Rochelle (how true, though, I know not) our fleete is divided; Prince Rupert being gone with about thirty ships to the Westward as is conceived to meet the French, to hinder their coming to join with the Dutch.
My Lord Duke of Albemarle lies in the Downes with the rest, and intends presently to sail to the Gunfleete.

flies on the table
this fast day
pray for us


Erasure haiku derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Thursday 31 May 1666.

Eid in the park

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Yesterday was Eid al-Fitr, the end of Ramadan, and I found myself in a north London park as public prayers were being offered. You can hear that faintly in the background. (This is shorter than my usual one-minute haiku videos because I decided to cut out much of an Islamophobic rant from a man behind me.)

summer sidewalk

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Shot along Notting Hill Gate (confusingly, the name of a street) in London, from a bench facing away from traffic… toward the Art. Unlike graffiti, official street art only looks good after it starts to get grubby, I think. Abandoned shopping carts/trolleys, on the other hand, have that haiku-ready wabi-sabi quality from the outset.

cows on the common

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The village of Brill in Buckinghamshire, where my father-in-law lives, has a unique program to maintain the common with a collectively owned herd of Dexter cattle. For this haiku video, I borrowed the idea of making a postcard come to life from the poetry filmmakers Pam Falkenberg and Jack Cochran, who used it to great effect in an adaptation of one of my haibun, In West Virginia (which isn’t yet available for streaming on the web).

I suppose it was precisely the pro-biodiversity, feel-good quality of Brill’s cattle herding program that brought the baseline misery of livestock into sharp relief for me.

commuter train

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A videohaiku shot on the London Overground, the tube’s less poetic, more sensible sibling.

I lived in Osaka for a year in the mid 80s, so that’s my other major experience with commuter trains. Back then, moving fingers belonged to businessmen taking advantage of the cramped conditions to feel up women. It was a huge problem. All my female acquaintances became adept at elbow jabs and insults in the local dialect. I don’t know how things are in Japan these days, but in the UK I’m glad that everyone just plays with their devices.