Skip to main content

Remembering Ken Jones 1930 - 2015



Startling and pleasing to come across the blessed genre so unexpectedly in Planet! 

They were the first words Ken Jones said to me, by email in 2007, after he'd read two of my early haibun in Planet, the Welsh based journal of literature, history and contemporary journalism. I was writing haibun in a vacuum at that time, unaware of the network of other haibun writers in the UK in general, and in Wales in particular, but I'd already taken Ken's advice, from one of his articles published in CHO, about writing the haiku before writing the prose part of the haibun. This approach was working well for me so I was glad to have the opportunity to thank him personally.

Startling, pleasing, blessed. Those words conjure him for me now he's no longer at the other end of an email, or at a reading we've both been invited to or at a workshop we've been asked to lead. He was always, in different degrees, enthusiastic, confrontational, mischievous even. We didn't always agree about haiku writing but always found a middle ground of compromise born out of respect: a ground that enabled us to edit another country, haiku poetry from Wales (Gomer 2011) together.

I last spoke with him at a haibun evening at the Poetry Society Café, London in March this year. I really didn't expect him to be there: his health was frail and he'd moved, with his wife Noragh, from their mountain home in North West Wales to more suitable accommodation in nearby Aberystwyth. But there he was, thinner than I remembered, but still, and this was the only way I felt I could describe him, full of light. His voice trailed away when he stood to read his haibun about terminal cancer and his impending death but that really didn't matter. It was the closest I've ever come to witnessing, and feeling, what the Zen Buddhist idea of acceptance really means: he was a man living and enjoying the moment, acknowledging the reality of his life without fighting it or trying to change it. He was a receptacle of peace.

Because of our shared Welshness Ken used to close his emails with Pob hwyl or Hwyl fawr. Pob means 'every' in Welsh. Fawr means 'big'. Hwyl is trickier. It can mean 'the sail of a ship' and also 'fun'. But it also refers to how people are, their 'feeling' or 'mood'. You can sing with hwyl, with emotional fervour. And you can ask people how they're feeling: Sut hwyl sydd arnat ti? Literally, 'what feeling is on you?'

I like Hwyl fawr. Big feeling. What Ken sent to me. What he embodied in his life and his writing. What I will always remember about him. In the way he both lived and died.

This fine evening
stacking firewood
how simple death feels
logo
From The Parsley Bed: Haiku Stories, Ken Jones, Pilgrim Press 2006

First published in Contemporary Haibun Online, September 2015, vol 11 no 3

Popular posts from this blog

haiku: a poetry of absence or an absence of poetry?

The following paper was presented at the PALA (Poetics and Linguistics Association) 2015 Conference at Canterbury University, Kent, UK on 16th July 2015. 
Abstract: HAIKU: A POETRY OF ABSENCE OR AN ABSENCE OF POETRY? Minimalism in Contemporary English Language Haiku
The popular perception of haiku as three lines of 5, 7 and 5 syllables persists in the mainstream poetry world and beyond as if nothing has changed since the first Western translators counted the onji, or sounds, in traditional Japanese haiku and created that misconstrued but enduring template fleshy enough to support a traditional English syntax.
And while putting flesh on bones might be a useful metaphor for the construction of formal and free verse, contemporary English language haiku practice is often more akin to the trimming and polishing of bones to create a form where point of view, adjectives and even verbs may be dispensed with entirely. 
This 30 minute presentation will analyse examples of minimal, micro and monostich…

haiku commentary ~ Annette Makino

Sometimes life and poetry intersect naturally. I had a brutal wardrobe clear-out yesterday, as witnessed by the pile of clothes hangers in the centre of the bed and a bulging large carrier bag destined for the charity shop.  And then, through one of those random extended internet excavations, I came across this haiku by Annette Makino, published by tinywords a few years ago which I'd commented on briefly. 

hanging in my closet the person I used to be

Reading it again still elicited a similar variety of responses: laughter, recognition, resignation and sadness. And this time part of ‘the person I used to be’ was neatly folded at my feet! 
Most of us keep clothes that no longer fit us, or suit us. I still have an ostentatious, ostrich feather bolero that I bought in the early 1980s and will never wear again but hold onto from a sense of nostalgia. But the haiku also propels me towards imagining clothes that belonged to someone else, a husband, wife or partner who may have left, or died…

haiku commentary ~ Paul Miller

spring foghorn . . . 
cormorants spilling 
from an over-crowded ledge  

Paul Miller, Called Home (2006)


Sound, sight and movement, and texture. These are the explicit physical senses through which the haiku speaks to me. But there must be more haunting the images and the spaces between the lines to produce an element of unease in me.
There’s warning in the sound of the foghorn. Spring tides (despite the natural response of ‘joy’ that we have to the idea of Spring) can be dangerous and have stronger than usual rip currents. The company of black birds spills into the air like a ragged cloak of wing and cry. There’s a sense of danger, or risk, implicit in an overcrowded ledge. 
The ellipsis at the end of line 1 indicates hesitation and uncertainty. spilling/ at the end of line 2 also allows the reader to experience that sense of falling into the white space on the page. Line 3 ends gruffly with the definite thump of a single syllable: ledge,
Twice in the last two days I have read the closin…