Haiku Out November

haiku walk

Yesterday, despite gloomy weather forecasts, I led the final Creative Ireland Haiku Mindfulness workshop. Rain held off and we even saw a splash of sun and fluffy cloud. This workshop included the entire student body of Curravagh National School, Glangevlin, Co. Cavan. So, with two teachers, my beloved husband bringing up the rear herding stragglers, the seventeen pupils took a nature walk up Claddagh Glen in Florencecourt, Fermanagh.

Yes, that’s right! Seventeen bright sparks make up a school in the upland reaches of Co. Cavan. It is a two room, two teacher school and just pure pleasure to visit and work in. While the youngest pupils were not haiku writers, they were taking pleasure in the nature walk, learning names of tree species, and ferns, mosses and lichen. As I have heard others say, “Nature teaches stillness.” And stillness is key to mindfulness. We paused for some moments to listen to the river flow over its rocky bed and enjoyed that quality of silence when twenty pairs of ears listen to it. Or the roar of the Cascade Waterfall.

Footage of the Cascade Waterfall in Claddagh Glen, part of Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark.

Haiku is often one of the first poetry forms introduced to school children, along with acrostics and list poems. Yet, it is a real challenge for children who are just learning to form sentences to start chucking out the definate and indefinate articles. However, what they have no problem with is letting their ‘imagination eye’ rove and see wonders.  One lad regaled me with how a bush could be a castle and a palisade of straight young ash trees became sentries. No goats or herons appeared but they were mesmerised by a spider’s web on a tree.

Back in the classroom, with a cup of hot chocolate in hand they told everyone what images had really impressed them – the hollowed holes at the base of a tree trunk, that spider’s web, tree rings on felled trunks, the big waterfall, and the much smaller one running down the rock face with the many kinds of fern.

I now have a wealth of haiku written from four differant groups – the general public, some residents of Loughan House,  and the children of St. Hugh’s National School, Dowra and Curravagh, National School in Glangevlin. Now I will sit down with artist Tamaris Taylor and we will select some for illustration that can be on permanent display in Dowra Courthouse Creative Space.

Not to forget my own poetry practice for today. Or my ‘poetry daily’ as one friend has styled it. (I like it. It’ll stick!)  Two haiku, one inspired by yesterday’s outing. And one about this morning. I really am getting up early. I replied to a friend’s message who found it patently weird to hear from me at dawn’s break. This morning lark turnabout is freaking my friend’s out!

Small cascade flowing
over rock face baby's tears
Water's power
The year winds down
Wind me up clockwork style
To power through December

Have a great weekend as we begin the final month of 2018.


Dawn to Dusk Haiku

May not have mentioned it, and you wouldn’t need to otherwise know unless you stayed with us,  that I am not a morning person. I need to have a gentle run at the day- say two hours- before I fully have the power of speech. So if I am facilitating a morning workshop I need to get up way earlier because I am definitely not a hit the ground running sort of person. I also reserve that gentle ingress into the day for poetry practice. Given that I was due at the local primary school for 9:30AM, I felt I should spend some quality time with pen and paper beforehand. Because I have been doing this poem a day for over two months now, I was worried I might get ratty with the wee darlings (who are only nine to twelve years old after all) unless I did some poem creating.

Now here it is coming up to sunset before I am anywhere near able to post. Since the workshop was on haiku writing and mindfulness, I limbered up this morning with some.

Dawn Crack

Phone alarm goes off

It’s dark. And chilly

Pull the duvet up!

Pinky mauve fingers

Stroke dawn’s azure sky

Wooly weather. Wrap up!

And, just to round out my day after workshop and life laundry…

Dusk Chorus

Wind down the day

A pink in the west

Last chance for grub at Bird Café

Copyright Bee Smith 2018

Haiku Walking

An early start for the second of my Creative Ireland mindfulness haiku walks on the Cavan Burren. This particular group came from the Education Centre at the local low security prison.  I love working with these guys and it is always a privilege. The Cavan Burren offers megaliths, upland landscape and woodland where rock art and remains of neolithic living can be seen. It has a very special presence. And while it is a specially earned opportunity, it also challenges guys who are used to a foreshortened viewpoint. Up by the Tullygubban Wedge Tomb they could look out and count six counties. They could look down on their own residence over looking Lough MacNean where ancient people left remains of shellfish feasts. Some city dwellers have only ever experienced concrete. This was wilderness to some Dubs amongst us.

And then how do you handle presence and silence when you have been living in a perpetually noisy environment? That, too, is a challenge. For then the chatter in the mind gets louder sometimes. Which is where mindfulness meditation can come in handy.

Haiku can help focus on a moment – a pause, a revelation – and then share that connection. So many offenders in prison have some element of addiction that contributed to their landing there. Studies in Portugal have posited that the opposite of addiction is connection. Connection is the business of poetry. Which is why I am in there pitching poetry writing  for the past four years. I hope the lads have got as much out of it as I have received.

Two haiku from today’s foray:

In the woods – the wind

Ruffling spruce needles whoosh.

And. What’s that? Silence

Coming down Mollie’s Brae

A rainbow: my wish

A way to be free

Haiku to a Quieter Mind

I am prepping for a workshop later this week which combines a walk in a Geopark forest with mindfulness and haiku writing. Synchronously, a friend pointed me to a website that is  running online haiku courses to override negative thinking. While I am not sure that haiku writing can achieve that, what I do know is that because it is grounded in the present moment it is similar to mindfulness meditation. While it may not completely quiet a mind, I do think a regular practice of writing haiku or senryu may help the mental chatter and static recede. Nor am I persuaded that it is constructive to label any of our thoughts as ‘bad.’ It is what we do with our thoughts – whether they harm ourselves or others – when put into action that is more to the point. Mindfulness meditation helps us enter into a space where we witness our thoughts and let them go. Or,alternatively, they can be put to paper.

Haiku is traditionally nature based and is no more than seventeen syllables long. Senryu is also seventeen syllables long, but takes human behaviour, often human foibles, as its inspiration. Either, being grounded in a moment of perception and realisation, ground our witness consciousness using this abbreviated format. It may not calm you, but I do believe it helps centre even the most restless and anxious mind.

Today’s poetry practice is neither haiku or senryu, but a tanka. A tanka is a five line poem made up of a haiku with a capping two liner made up of fourteen syllables. Traditionally, the Japanese use a format of 5-7-5-7-7 syllables. I have kept the syllabic count, but arranged it to make sense as an English language speaker.

Leaf frost

Golden sun crowning Paddy’s hill

The day is in right order

Light spreads over our townland

The world is in right order

Poetry, PoeTree & Culture Night

A busy couple of days without the leisure to polish a lengthy poem for poetry practice. Tonight is Ireland’s Culture Night and up and down the country there will be events celebrating every kind of art form. Tonight I will perform some poems at Dowra Courthouse Creative Space, a repurposed redundant rural courthouse that is now an exhibition, performance and meeting space. It kicks off at 4:30pm with a pottery class by local ceramics teacher Jim Fee. (The courthouse even has a kiln to finish off the production!). From 7:30pm there will be a procession of performers starting with estimable Mike Absolem and his harp. My husband, Tony Cuckson and I share a storytelling and poetry slot at 8pm. Musicians and singer/songwriters will entertain until 10:30pm.

From poetry to PoeTree on Saturday with another of my outdoor writing workshops. This one is free courtesy of funding from Create Ireland and Cavan County Council. The walk and workshop will concentrate on haiku as both poetry form and a mindfulness practice. Cavan Burren Park, Blacklion is my favourite venue and never fails to offer fresh inspiration on every visit. Meet me at the Visitor Centre at 2pm for a stroll with a pen and notebook. Be prepared for some stop and stare time. If you want more information ring me on ++353-71-964-3936.

So writing practice for today demands exercising the haiku muscle. Also, it is brief. So it. An ideal form for the time famished writer. Okay, breathe in. Breathe out…and

It can be done in seventeen syllables. Or less. It can be less.

The storm stripped the willows

The gaps between trees

Lets new light in

News from My Townland

Day 12 of NaPoWriMo/GloPoWriMo and it really does feel like running a marathon. I do not have a conventional work schedule. My husband is retired and I am self-employed. How do people with a 9-5 life manage this? Draft on lunch hour? Steal some online posting time on break? I am managing to do something everyday, but I cannot guarantee quality. Maybe some people only post the really polished stuff?

Anyway, today’s prompt should have been easy, but it hasn’t and I am not sure that I have fulfilled all the qualifications for a haibun. If you want to check, read the article here. I have more tasks to confront, so I have to settle with having tried.

Here is the prompt.

We’ve challenged you to tackle the haibun in past years, but it’s such a fun one, we couldn’t resist again. Today, we’d like to challenge you specifically to write a haibun that takes in the natural landscape of the place you live. It may be the high sierra, dusty plains, lush rainforest, or a suburbia of tiny, identical houses – but wherever you live, here’s your chance to bring it to life through the charming mix-and-match methodology of haibun.

I am, at least, very fortunate to live in a landscape lush in detail.  I have to call it News from Our Townland because everytime we meet our neighbour Winnie down the lane she sticks her head into the car and says. “Any news?” And for non-Irish readers a townland is basically an outlying rural district. Our townland translates, I am told, as ‘the place of the briars.’

News From Our Townland

At noon, in fields stretching south, dye daubed sheep, lowing cattle mourning calves gone to Mart, bog cotton in springtime, the cuckoo flowers blooming just before the cuckoo arrives from Africa

wind turbines on Arigna, gorse acid splash in the mist on hummocks of hills, the gap to the southwest where the Atlantic gales blow in on us, rattling the glass

the sun slips behind that bump running along John’s and Paddy’s property line, that tangled hedge, dipping into Lough Moneen, at dusk dripping magenta, violet and ink

Place of briars. Thorn trees twined and bound in ivy and lichen year round after ditching their spring prom blossom dresses into the shuck. Or jewelling naked limbs with sloe and haw, brazen rowan for wild bird fodder.

The song sung at the holy well to a plaster Mary. Blackbird and thrush trill to trickle of stream tune. The offerings tied to the bare hawthorn – coins from around the world, a teddy, a shoelace, rosary beads in loving memory – oh Holy Mother, hear our prayers

Taming daffodils

Herds huddled in haggards

Briars still flourish

© 2018 Bee Smith


And where words fail…

I am a most fortunate woman to live where I live.

Better Haiku?

Old Dog

Day 5 of NaPoWriMo has more of a GloPoWriMo theme. The prompt is all about translation and I very nearly wimped out on this prompt. You are  meant to take a poem in a language you don’t know,  and add in a photograph.  And then write about the photo modeling your language on the original un-translated version. My head exploded!

Just to clarify, this is the exact wording of today’s prompt.

Today, we’d like to challenge you to write a poem that, like the work in Translucence, reacts both to photography and to words in a language not your own. Begin with a photograph. Now find a poem in a language you don’t know (here’s a good place to look!) Ignore any accompanying English translation (maybe cover it up, or cut-and-paste the original into a new document). Now start translating the poem into English, with the idea that the poem is actually “about” your photograph. Use the look and feel of the words in the original to guide you along as you write, while trying to describe your photograph. It will be a bit of a balancing act, but hopefully it will lead to new and beautiful (and possibly very weird) places.

Ideally, we are supposed to choose a poem from an unfamiliar language. Here I cheated some, eventually going for a short German poem.  I have forgotten more German than I ever knew, since I last haunted a beginners class in 1975. I looked at other Germanic languages, but the translations were side by side the original in the online examples I checked out, which felt like a bigger cheat temptation. So I decided to grab a bi-lingual Rilke from my bookshelf. I also have some Nuala ni Dhomhnaill, but Irish sounds nothing like it looks and my head had another melt down. So Rilke it had to be.

And since I was getting a headache I decided to cut myself some slack and ‘put a dog in it’ as suggested on Day 4’s NaPoWriMo prompt. I had a perfect moody black and white of Ellie at Corry Strand last autumn.

Die Bettler


Du wusstst nicht, was den Haufen

ausmacht.  Ein Freunder fand

Bettler darin. Sie verkaufen

das Hohle aus ihrer Hand.


Sie zeigen dem Hergereisten

ihren Mund voll Mist

und er darf (er kann es sich leisten)

sehn, wie ihr Aussatz frisst.


Es zehrgeht in ihren zerruhten

augen sin fremdes Gesicht;

und sie freuen sich des Verfuehren

und speien, wenn er spricht


Rainer Maria Rilke

“New Gedichte/New Poems”, Fyfield Books, 1992




You watch harbour side

open , alert. A friendly find

better  than  kitschy tat

a log rather than hollow hand.


You zig zag, hurrying, then resting

in mud and  cloudy mist

and you bark (I listen out)

for what you see, your flotsam gift.


We go, making a groove in sand

Eyes  framing the click

and free from vilification

for spying , your ear flicks.


© 2018 Bee Smith


But I cannot say that I am proud of this effort. I can only say that I did not opt out, which I frequently did last year. And sometimes you just have to push yourself out of the comfort zone. This was distinctly uncomfortable.

But to get to a point where I could even try today’s assignment, I had to haiku . I wrote one to another photo, which was taken from a bridge not far from the source of the River Shannon. It was glorious springtime and I was with Cavan BirdWatchers.

Bee Smith River Shannon

Avian chorus

Pollen dancing on air

Clouds slip downstream

© 2018 Bee Smith


Bee Smith facilitates creative writing workshops, with experience with all age groups and in men-only and women-only groups. She lead haiku walks in Northwest Ireland. If you would like to information about workshops and events and would like to be added to the mailing list please fill in the contact form.