Spring is here, bright and biting. I’m writing this on a painful, much delayed train journey to Shropshire, where I’ll be mentoring for Arvon this week. I have just bought a truly vile chai latte (they seem to have accidentally given me a microwaved ice-cream), but luckily have my Kindle with me, and the brilliant essay ‘The Heart of Haiku’ by Jane Hirshfield, an introduction to Basho. It’s fascinating about his life in 17th century Japan, as a traveller, teacher and follower of Zen; living hand-to-mouth, subsisting on the gifts of students – a thatched hut, a banana tree, a gourd of rice. And his work seems a lesson in how to live in time instead of killing it, even on difficult journeys:
The roadside blooming
eaten by my horse
too ill to eat
even a rice cake –
peach trees in flower.
For many years I didn’t really like haiku – didn’t get them, they seemed like so many damp squibs or half-thoughts. But I realise now I was just reading bad English ones, too concerned about squeezing a slightly pleased-with-itself image into a 5/7/5 syllable scheme. The best are luminous (and impossibly difficult to write – don’t expect any from me any time soon.)
Anyway, lots of reasons to enjoy the season this week – some close friends have just had babies, lambs are dotting the fields, and I’m looking forward to getting to know my mentees for the year in the new upgraded Hurst, as well as twitching in the hills around Clun where the hedgerows hop with small birds. And then at the weekend I’ll be in Grasmere, taking part in this free reading with winners of the Northern Writer’s Awards who I’ve been working with this year (rising stars Amy Ekins, Andrew Fentham, Kate Davis, Jenny Hockey and David Keyworth). Do come along if you’re local. I’ll be spending my first mother’s day as a mum away from Gruff, which is a bit weird – he is changing so quickly at the moment, learning to stand and point and trilling like a tiny bird himself. But his lovely granny is currently looking after him (thanks mum!) – here they are in the spring blossom.