An independent small press poetry review

NHI independent review
Pilgrim Press
SY23 3NB
ISBN 0 9539901 4 1
£7.25 post free
[cheques payable to "K. Jones"]
[US$15; €10 cash]

NHI review home page
FAQ page
Notes for Publishers

book reviews
other media

Web design by Gerald England
This page last updated: 14th December 2007.

THE PARSLEY BED is Ken Jones' third haibun collection: earlier collections are ARROWS OF STONES (British Haiku Society, 2002) and STALLION'S CRAG (Iron Press, 2003). Containing a number of favourite poems already encountered in the journals Blithe Spirit, Haiku Presence, Simply Haiku, Modern Haiku and Contemporary Haibun Online, the volume is a welcome addition to his list of published works. The collection is divided into five sections of haibun interspersed with sections of haiku.

The title comes from Buson's haiku

	This is all there is
	the path dies out
	at the parsley bed
and the cover artwork is a detail of grasses and twigs. This interchange of nature and humanity incorporates the spirit of haibun; the combination of haiku and prose being a kind of circular process of creativity.

The first haibun, CLINKER, in Section 1 LIFE AND TIMES sets the tone of the collection. Here Jones reminisces about his childhood in a flashback but takes it into the present day with his first person voice:

There is nothing so dead, so ugly, so misshapen as clinker. Dad would shovel it into the battered zinc bucket and I'd lug the stuff into the yard. Out there, the acrid smell of coal fires on the damp air. "Swan Vestas — The Smoker's Match" and the fire lit. I'd make it roar into life by holding up a newspaper against the fireplace surround, daring it to catch light.
A haibun should lead us to some realisation, some resolution. Jones gives us the information and we, as readers, need to discover something personal or profound from the poem. Here we learn that the boy would really like his father
to be my very special friend and tell me all about Life. But I didn't know what to ask him. And he didn't want to say.
The final poem in this section THE LEOPOLD CANAL is a short story about a bike ride. We are taken immediately to the scene of the poem without any preamble:
The two lines of trees stretch to infinity. And also their reflection. Together we cycle through our dream. Behind the past vanishes in a distant haze. Ahead, the future likewise disappears. "Ghent: 48 km."
The poem is framed by a pair of haiku that powerfully make their point of being in a foreign country and companionship:
	Poplars in mist
	beneath our tyres
	the crisp dead leaves

		Leaning together
		the silver cycles
		the white swans
The haiku are fleshed out with images such as poplars, mist, crisp dead leaves in the first haiku and silver cycles chiming with white swans in the second.

In Section 2 PEOPLE AND PLACES the lengthy opening haibun PER ARDUA AD ASTRA celebrates Jones' Uncle Jack. The poem contains a vivid description of Jack:

Jack is a heavy, florid man, with bulging eyes. Unseen in the mirror, and Brylcream free, a cockatoo tuft of hair always sticks out at the back. I never tell him. He's all dressed up as usual. Reflections in his shoes, knife edged flannels, and the blue blazer with the brass buttons. The Royal Air Force wings are picked out in gold thread on the breast pocket, from which just enough white handkerchief is allowed to peep out.
We are invited to celebrate the mythical life of this retired mechanical engineer, a man fulfilled by the challenge of difficult but solvable problems and someone loved for his little rituals. While Jones' focus is on the indomitable will of this man of iron, it is underscored by his lack of being able to reach out and touch him.

In POSTS there is the suggestion that the old gate-posts, boundary posts and other posts, although falling into disrepair, have now become free to be just themselves — though there is the further implication that they will not continue forever, as Jones warns:

But beware of clapping one of these ancients too heartily upon the back. Many have been retired longer than their useful employment. And they rot from the bottom upwards.
In the third section, GRANDEUR, FOLLY AND FUN, Jones writes about the interconnectedness of all existence, as in one of his fine historical pieces, A DRIED DEER SKIN, where the persona of Mrs Huws invites the visitors to go and see the place where the Prince and his boys have camped before the battle. He reminds us of the importance of history, the struggle of men, not only against the steep tangled country, the vile weather, but against each other:
Their backs to Llechwedd Diflas — Hill of Despair — the Welsh fight like demons. Thrusting, hacking — men butcher men. Their foemen falter, fall back, turn, and flee. With the rout comes the greatest slaughter.
The outcome of such brutality is beautifully evoked in the final haiku:
	Red River —
	running headlong
	through bleached and broken pines
Another strand of Jones' writing is the humour he finds in people, places and situations. THE BIG 'OUSE records the story of a
	Ramshackle seat
	a vista
	of fresh molehills
where the dilapidated Victorian mansion is described in loving detail, down to the sensation of feeling very small in the great expanse:
In this Victorian stage-set everything is now twice the size it needs to be, reducing us to midgets. It was servant power that once filled and animated all this echoing space. Deadening the clank of skivvies' buckets the double green baize doors.
The poet puts his personal stamp on the poem by his last paragraph and brings us into the present with the final haiku:
Many years ago I met his late lordship strolling in his woods at dusk. A gentle, soft spoken man: "Can I help you?"
	Woodland silence
	a twirling leaf
	takes all its time
Section 4 DREAMS, MEMORIES & IMAGERY opens with a haibun called STONE FAIRIES in which the poet explores the lot of fairies in Highland Perthshire. Belief is tricky territory at the best of times, but it's meat and drink for Jones who seems drawn to write about what makes strange types tick — as seen in various of the haibun in this collection.

His take on folklore is to include himself in the analysis. This poem has various parts: a paragraph or two of Highland history; several paragraphs about his and his companion's own moments of confrontation with the adults who are some eighteen inches high and resemble stone dumbbells; and in the penultimate paragraph he mixes in the real-life stalker, John Cameron:

The stalker, John Cameron, keeps up the old custom. At Bealtaine (May Day), when the flocks were driven up to the high glens, he lifts the family out from their little hut of stones and sods. And at Samhain (Halloween), when everyone returned with their beasts down to the valley grazings, he puts the stone people back inside for the winter, on a freshly cut carpet of reeds.
Jones' thesis is that we're all capable of creating bubbles within which all kinds of thoughts, actions and strange events make perfect sense.

THE KNIFE GRINDER has to be one of my favourite of Jones' haibun. His leaning towards haywire unreality is captured so beautifully in this work where

The same old pig-tailed hippy, with his faded army surplus fatigues and shamanic accoutrements of bead and bone
comes to visit. Jones' self-deprecating style works best in this wonderfully executed poem.

It's in moments like these that Jones shines. The skill is in the writing — stealthy sifting of the apparently mundane to create a multi-layered montage while letting the material speak for itself. In PUTTING LEGS ON A SNAKE, the first haibun in THE GRAVE & CONSTANT, the last section of haibun, Jones takes us to the Zen Buddhist meditation centre. In the story, Jones highlights the role he plays in contemplation, in physical work and in his interview with the Master:

Inside the Master's room, incense and aftershave. Nothing to lose, I grow frisky and congratulate him on this seven day production of the Theatre of the Absurd. Each day waiting for Godot. He comes clean. "An idiot captain of a ship of fools".
One thing I enjoyed about this haibun is the way Jones captures the idiosyncrasies of the way people talk and interact with one another. You get the sense that he likes most of his characters, the good and the bad. He likes writing about them. They're not just ciphers on the page, but real people with all their differences, opinions, and peculiarities, as we see in this quote about the disciplinarian:
The jikijitsu prowls down the seated ranks. First the raised shadow of his wake up stick, then his pink feet. From time to time he stops to straighten backs, adjust hands. "Don't sniff!", he roars, "Just dribble!" "WAKE UP!" Thwack! Thwack!
Another amazing string to Jones' haibun bow is the way he writes about nature. Especially sharp and vivid is the landscape in TREKKING POLES. This is a poem about the writer trekking up a mountain where he plans to camp, chant his morning and evening office and tramp the mountain's trackless valley where no one comes. In unseasonable weather, the poet makes coffee, and crawls out of his tent to discover The cast iron Buddha who raises his hand in benediction, until he too will rust away.

Dividing the sections of haibun are passages of haiku, which are headed in the same manner as the haibun they follow. In his INTRODUCTION Jones stipulates that his haiku

rely on concrete imagery — simple, clear and direct — to show what they have to say, rather than spelling it out.
The brevity and simplicity of these small poems allows readers maximum space to link the writer's haiku moments to their own experiences and to become collaborators in the poem’s creation. I quote one haiku from each section:
	Since she left
	the whole clothes line
	to myself

	Life and Times  Haiku

		Long illness
		her parked car
		its tyres slowly sinking

		People and Places Haiku

	Summer grasses
	through cracks in tarmac
	planners' dreams

	Grandeur, Folly and Fun Haiku

		A snail
		in the stone lion's jaw
		endless rain

		Dreams, Memories & Imagery Haiku 

	Zen —
	in the raked gravel
	a paw mark

	Grave & Constant Haiku
Any numinous or symbolic value that we take from Jones' haiku is strengthened by the poet's freedom and openness of heart that give these small poems their strength. His voice sings and soars in the main body of the haibun and the haiku allow the energy that is concentrated in simple images to be released.

The immense success of Ken Jones' poetry is his ability to have his cake and eat it — to be conceptually intricate, skipping through the minefields of thought and word, but at the same time to keep his feet on plain, simple, indeed beautiful ground. His mind is rich, subtle, spiritual, certainly an infinitely self-questioning hall of mirrors. He's evolved into one of the finest haibun poets, who is richest where he's simplest.

reviewer: Patricia Prime.