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THE HAIBUN GALLERY: 13thJune 2024. Tito (Stephen Gill), featured poet

hosts: Shalini Pattabiraman & Vidya Shankar

A Thursday Feature.

poet of the month: Stephen Henry Gill (haigō: Tito)

13 June 2024


This month we have the pleasure of featuring Tito (Stephen Gill).


Stephen was born in Yorkshire in the United Kingdom. He began writing haiku and haibun in 1972. He studied in Kyoto between 1974-75 and graduated from London University in Japanese Language & Literature in 1979. 


Stephen spent much of the early 80s in Tokyo; in the late 80s, he worked as a radio script writer for BBC and thereafter created 21 programmes mostly about Japan, all featuring haiku/haibun. His ‘Insect Musicians’ won the Sony Prize for Best Documentary in 1989. In the 1990s he edited ‘Rediscovering Basho’ (Global Oriental) and served on the British Haiku Society Committee as national events officer. In 1995, he moved to Kyoto, working at Ritsumeikan and later Ryukoku Universities. 


Most recently, Stephen has been lecturing on Haiku in English Literature and other topics at Kyoto University and lives in the now-rural ancient capital, Asuka, in Nara prefecture. He founded the Hailstone Haiku Circle, Kansai, in 2000 and launched the Circle’s website, Icebox, in 2008. With Nobuyuki Yuasa in 2012, he founded the Genjuan International Haibun Contest. 


His books include ‘1 Poet on Mt. Ogura, 100 Poems in a Day’ (haiku & tanka collection) and ‘100 Poets on Mt. Ogura, 1 Poem Each’ (bilingual haiku & tanka anthology, HSA Kanterman Prize for Best Anthology, 2011). The list also includes ‘Stone Birthdays’ (in Japanese, illus. for children), ‘Enhaiklopedia’, ‘Meltdown’, ‘Persimmon’ (Eng. haiku anthologies), ‘From the Cottage of Visions’ (Eng. haibun anthologies).   



Tito (Stephen Gill)

The Premier’s Hand


A curious day, it began with Kazue and me getting up early to cycle before breakfast to the hill of cherry blossoms closest to us: rain, forecast for that night, meant it would probably be our last chance. There, we learned—from a temporary road sign and a friendly constable— that Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao was due to visit Kyoto for a few brief hours later in the day.


As luck would have it, I was returning home in the afternoon through rice fields in another part of Sagano when I noticed a large number of men in black suits standing around in the paddies. Curiosity aroused, and using my intimate knowledge of the network of narrow agricultural tracks, I managed to avoid all the policemen and probable plainclothes heavies and get myself into position right beside a lonely farm near the back of Hirosawa Pond, where I soon learned the Premier was to arrive in just a few minutes.


The motorcade; the disembarkation; the swarming; the farmer's greeting; the stroll past the world's media, all herded into a neatly improvised triple-decker stand. I was with a group of local farmers and their wives, only about eleven or twelve of us in all. Suddenly one of the women shouted, “Ni hau!” Wen stopped in his tracks and waved at us.


For fifteen minutes, then, he disappeared into the bowels of the farm, where, we later learned from the TV news, he sat on a tractor and delicately planted a tomato seedling in the soil. The fences and bushes fairly bristled with those dark-suited men with wires running into their ears (many no doubt with hidden guns and kung-fu black belts as well). A helicopter hovered high over the pond.


His arm around the old farmer, eventually the Premier reemerged, and the entourage streamed down towards the waiting motorcade. Wen again looked over to the motley assortment of token locals just out of reach, and trouble, across a couple of small fields and … instead of getting back into his car he turned sharp right towards us. It was as if he was making a bid for freedom. He was suddenly upon us. The first farmer, caught unawares, had his back turned, but when the Premier thrust out his hand, the farmer whooped aloud and, looking straight at Wen, screamed the not-entirely appropriate salutation, "Banzai!" The next moment, Wen came to me and offered his hand. It was small, warm, rather soft, but full of  how shall I put it?  well, a sort of grace. He smiled, said something in Chinese I took to mean “Nice to meet you!” and strode on to a grassy paddy-edge just behind me, where some rustiques veritables were gaffing, their faces so obviously not suntanned just by the few good days of spring so far … 


And then he was gone, and all eighteen cars with him, and the helicopter receded. There was just an excited murmuring of people moving back through the fields as the policemen relaxed their stiff walkie-talkie poses.


To spring earth

and speedwell,

a tiny orange butterfly and ...

the Head of the Chinese State


(written Sagano, Kyoto, 13.4.07; pub. in ‘Forty Stories of Japan’, FineLine Press, New Zealand, 2010) 




SP: Why haibun? What does haibun as a specific form offer you? 


Tito: The haiku set in a narrative have the effect of interrupting the flow of linear time (as the journey progresses through different places) and allowing the reader to drift for a while in a different zone - that of the always-present. Haiku do that, as in English they are commonly phrased in the present tense and demand circular reading (over and over again). I love the way each haiku also offers the opportunity to change gear as the narrative picks up again. Of course, haibun may have many other forms besides that of travelogue, but travelogue was how I first encountered and practised it. 


SP: How do you view the relationship between title, prose and haiku? 


Tito: The prose is the style-conscious clothing; the haiku are the visible parts of the head and body; the title is an appropriate hat.

 

SP: Do you believe haibun has any specific boundaries that one must follow?


Tito: Yes. Firstly, it cannot waffle. Secondly, it should wear a wry smile and not take itself too seriously. Thirdly, it should have some literary merit and not only personal value.


SP: What role does haiku writing play in developing the craft of writing a haibun? 


Tito: Once you have the haiku, then you can begin to write the haibun. In my experience only very seldom do you write a haibun, then make or find a haiku or two to go into it. Writing haiku teaches one to be succinct, and to imply things so that the reader may discover their impact on a story by themselves without too much explanation.   


Prompt: The animal and the human are often connected in ways that can surprise us. This week, I invite you to dwell on the nether world of insects and creatures living below the surface of the earth. Dig deep underneath this darkness and find what connects you with a creature you have never known before.


Haibun outside this prompt is welcome too.


Important: Since we're swamped with submissions, and our editors are only human, mistakes can happen. Please, please, remember to put your name, followed by your country, below each poem, even after revisions. It helps our editors; they won't have to type it in, saving them from potential typos. Thanks a ton!


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PLEASE NOTE:

1. Only two haibun per poet per prompt. Please put your name and country of residence under your poem, it makes the editors' work easier. Thanks.

2. Share your best-polished pieces.

3. Please do not post something in a hurry or something you have just written.

Let it simmer for a while.

4. When poets give suggestions and if you agree to them - post your final edited version on top of your original version.

5. Don't forget to give feedback on others' poems.


We are delighted to open the comment thread for you to share your unpublished haibun (within 300 words) to be considered for inclusion in the haikuKATHA monthly journal.

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126 Comments


#2

**


To feel grounded


I often feel spindly and wobbly.  I envy trees for their deep entwined root system that protects them for as long as mankind allows them to survive.  Even then, a stump not unearthed will continue to sprout new branches.


Flower beds flourish from year to year. Why pick out the weeds? They too will flower, often with surprising beauty. Underground there is plenty of space for every plant to root together. In Eden, there was harmony. 


Were I a living statue, with my feet soaking in the ground every night to infuse themselves with these life forces, would I feel more human, more humane, more connected to every other life form, capable, like weeds and…


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This is beautiful written Alfred. I love the richness of your prose and such a lovely haiku to end with.

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Try as I may, I’ve not been able to compose a haibun starting from the haiku.

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I never start out to write a haibun poem first, Alfred. But sometimes when I’m writing a haiku, I can’t seem to get everything I want into the poem. that’s my signal that it may want to be a haibun, and I write the spill-over into the prose.

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mona bedi
mona bedi
Jun 18

Post#2

18.6.24


Kindred spirits


It’s Eid and I am in Kashmir. I was a bit sceptical about this trip. There always have been reports that the local there do not welcome tourists for obvious reasons.

As we land at the airport we are greeted by a warm friendly taxi driver who is going to be our guide for the next five days. At our hotel we are greeted by young handsome Kashmiri interns who are there for their training. After a sumptuous lunch we proceed for sightseeing. Snowy mountain peaks travel with us to Gulmarg. Lupin clad slopes and yellow wildflowers sway in the wind . We run after butterflies and play with foals.


mountain trek

the pines let me…


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Hi Mona


I hope you had an enjoyable time. :) I wondered about your title, 'Kindred spirits'. So who is the kindered spirit? You start the prose establishing an invitation for the reader to discover the answer, however once you set it up, the narrative moves into another direction with the interns and heading home. You didn't quite show what changed.


There always have been reports that the local people do not welcome tourists for obvious reasons.(Might not be obvious or understood by everyone)


As we land at the airport we are greeted by a warm friendly taxi driver who is going to be our guide for the next five days. ( I want to know what happens during these…

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Revised:


Przewalski’s horse


So the news is that they have just released a small herd onto a wildlife preserve in Kazakhstan, a return to the Golden Steppes after 200 years. Seven dun-colored creatures with short, bristly manes and black leggings bolt from a van into wide fields of tall, windy grass. Thrilling to be sure, though given our unabated burning of fossil fuels and climate change across vast swaths of the planet I can only wonder what the future really holds for them …or indeed us.


flicker

of a painter’s oil lamp—

Lascaux


Linda Papanicolaou, US


Original:


Przewalski’s horse


So the news is that they have just released a small herd of seven on a wildlife preserve in Kazakhstan, a…


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Usually things sit in my sock drawer forca year or more, Stepgen, but this is “the poem as it was given,” as a friend used to say. I wonder if it needs a bit more figurative language. Thank you for your thoughts.

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I’m interested in how the haiku ties up the story at the end. I recall a Ken Jones essay in one of the early issues of Contemporary Haibun Online in which he stated that if the haiku can be folded into the prose, it should be. That effectively led to a “rule” that in haibun the haiku must be about something different, which to me is very limited and dissatisfying given the wide range of linking possibilities there are in renku. So whenever I see a haiku that continues rather than tries to scent link to the prose, I pause to think about how it works and why.


In this case, the haiku restates the important occasion that has just…


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