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THE HAIBUN GALLERY: 6thJune 2024. Tito (Stephen Gill), featured poet

Updated: Jun 6

hosts: Shalini Pattabiraman & Vidya Shankar

A Thursday Feature.

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

6 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)

Dimension Box

Late August 1978. On a long journey, driving through Waterton Lakes National Park in Alberta. The great upheavals of mountain formation; the vast, echoing symphony of glaciation. I saw and heard and felt these keenly. Over the surface of a deep blue lake, a steady breeze …

The dream of all this was soon locked up somewhere in the ether …

Until, one day, almost twenty years along the way, a friend showed me a ceramic casket. Its ‘stars were in their places’.

One of Takahiro Kondo’s dimension boxes has just now opened up …

Rock sky

earth music

and accordingly …

rhythm of the lake waves

(pub. in ‘Dimension Box’, Nennendo, Japan, 1997)

SP: Where and how did your writing journey start?

Tito: Dropping out of Oxford University in early 1972 saw me spend a week or so at Samye-Ling, a Tibetan monastery in Scotland, in whose library I found a copy of ‘The Narrow Road to the Deep North & Other Travel Sketches’ by Basho, translated by Nobuyuki Yuasa. As I had already done some hard overland travelling in the Middle East and Southern Asia and had written some poems as I had done so, I took readily to the travelogue format and to the way the haiku were used at intervals to sink more deeply into the poetic world. I was preparing at the time for another long journey and decided heretofore to try the new short four-line form Yuasa had used in that book. 

An example, ‘A Visit to Ghandrung’, of the haiku and haibun he began to write that year is given here. 

A VISIT TO GHANDRUNG (3 excerpts, September 1972)  

1. Phewa Tal

Inspired with the desire to see the rise of the September Moon over the Fish Tail Peaks of Machha Puchhare, grabbed my blanket, pen and paper, called my dog, Gabbitas, and set off a couple of hours before dawn. With my two companions, Jon and Mick, I boarded the long dugout canoe moored at the end of the lane from my house, and we were paddled, Red Indian-style, westwards down the lake. We sat with the chill of first light on the water.

As dawn touched the snowy Himalayas—and our wake—with violet, silver and orange, I brought out the rakshi, and we drank a toast to our journey as we approached the far shore.

Bidden farewell

by the morning star:

rice wine

amongst the ripples

But, just as we were leaving the open lake, the canoe came to a sudden halt. One of our two oarsmen sprang out and began … to walk upon the water! Having just finished our wine, it was some time before we understood that we had grounded on a sandbank. 

2. Ghandrung

We were greeted on awakening by long, curling fingers of cold white cloud creeping through the open door. Outside, it was still drizzling.

A pair of watery eyes

belonging to a buffalo

gaze calmly at …

an autumn morning

Woodsmoke lingers, blue

amongst the willows:

in a drift, pretending

not to notice

We took refuge from the falling dew and watched a team of Indian carpenters, up from the plains, at their work of making beds, chairs and tables. It seemed they were as irritated by the weather as we were, for they all wore long faces, which only broadened when we asked if they were all related. Of the eight, it seemed, six were brothers.

3. Birethanti

In Birethanti, I met an old man from Madras. A bright toothy smile, long snowy hair bound into a topknot; a kind and wrinkled face illumined by fiery eyes. He invited me to stay the day. He was returning from a pilgrimage to Muktinath, and there were many places I had previously been of which he had stories to tell. But the longest bridge was still to cross, followed immediately by the steepest climb, so bidding him safe journey, I hurried along after my friends.

Remembered how rotten was the wood of the suspension bridge, how it had leaned at a drunken angle, and how dubiously in the middle it had sagged. Finding it in even worse repair than expected, I was thus very surprised to see the young mastiff, Boromir, already quietly watching my friends sipping tea on the far side! When I got over, I was told that Jon had started to run with the dog on the rope before they had turned the corner onto the bridge, and that by the time the lurching wolf had realised where he was, he was already more than halfway over.

As if to remind me

of the leagues above the mist,

my friend now wears

a shirt of azure

(written Nepal, 9.72; published in ‘Genjuan Haibun Contest Decorated Works 2012-2014’, Hailstone Haiku Circle Publications, Japan, 2015)


   (1) ‘A Visit to Ghandrung’ was SHG’s first haibun, written as ‘Tito’ (his nickname, as well as haigō), in Nepal within a year of having read NY’s Penguin translations of Basho’s travel sketches! 

   (2) Gabbitas: the name of a small b/w Tibetan dog traded earlier that year for Tito’s rucksack.

   (3) Jon & Mick: two British teachers living, as Tito was, in Pokhara, beneath the Annapurna Range, of which twin-peaked Mt. Machha Puchhare (7,000m) is the nearest.

   (4) rakshi: Nepalese clear rice wine.

   (5) buffalo: a water buffalo—rather surprising to find one in this village at almost 2,000m altitude!

   (6) Muktinath: a remote Hindu pilgrims’ destination at 3,700 m, famed because both water and flame miraculously emerge from the ground at the same place.

   (7) Boromir: a huge black Tibetan mastiff puppy of almost one year, just purchased by Jon and Mick, but whose appearance was already quite fearsome!

SP: I am fascinated by the four-line haiku you have composed in these haibun. Could you share some more details about the four-line haiku, its prevalence and use, and its aesthetic form?

Tito: There have only been a handful of haiku poets in Japan who have intentionally lineated 

their Japanese haiku as four lines, rather than as one Takayanagi Shigenobu (1923-1983) and, more recently, Hayashi Kei (b. 1953) for example but I was influenced by neither of them, receiving the form without second thoughts back in the early 70s from Nobuyuki Yuasa's 'Narrow Road' (Basho) and 'Day of My Life' (Issa) English translations. 

I think both Yuasa and I felt that translating into four lines allowed more variety of break (1:3, 2:2, 3:1, as opposed to 2:1 or 1:2 for the three-line form); and also, that drawing out such a brief expression over four lines often allows for a one- or two-word line, which can heighten poetic effect and slow down the reader's experience. 

Today, Yuasa only translates into 5-7-5 three-line form, and I too have always thought that 17 syllables in English roughly corresponds to the amount of information to be gleaned by Japanese readers from their 17 moji (kana letters). Unlike Yuasa, however, today I still use the four-line form (I call it 'haiqua') almost as often as I use the three-line one. 

I sincerely believe the West has got it wrong to cut back English haiku poems to an average of only 10 syllables or so - too short! To be able to write well in ten syllables is extremely difficult and most do not need to aspire to do that. I also believe that cadence (the sound of the words) is important in haiku, and, in that respect, haiqua have the potential to be more musical.

Prompt: This week's prompt invites you to seek a box. Think of its shape, its texture, its weight in your hands and write about what it might reveal if it is opened. Take your mind to out of the box places! The box could be metaphorical too!

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!



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.


334 views112 comments




The Magic Box


from the void

my dreams spring…

a gift to myself


The box was very light. I turned it around and shook it to guess what could be inside. The design on the box was brilliant too, with pastel colours swirling into each other.


I could not wait anymore. I tore open the box and was blown away!!!


Flitting out of the box were colourful butterflies. 

“How did they survive in a closed box?” I checked the box with curiosity. There was a small garden with flowers in it. Nothing more. The butterflies were floating around me dizzily, as if drunk on the nectar of the flowers. 


I opened the window,…

Replying to

Thank you so much Alfred. Means a lot to me. I was slightly apprehensive when I posted it.


mona bedi
mona bedi
4 days ago

Post #2


Whatever happens…

Growing up I was sure I did not belong to the beautiful family I was born in. It was somewhere in medical college where I was studying, when a certain young teacher showed some interest in my looks. Conscious of my wheatish complexion and a slightly crooked nose, I was sure that it was a prank.

the desires I let go simpleton moon

Towards the end of the final year of college my parents received a marriage proposal for me from a well known family. The son was the first boy my parents introduced me to. He was a tall and good looking doctor . I did not say anything when asked whether I liked…

2 days ago
Replying to

After reading this, I think I have some idea at least of what a haibun is. Put somewhat poetically, it could be compared to a vocal song interspersed with instrumental music. Or the other way round. I am reading what the masters have to say on the subject. Long way to go. But I enjoyed your haibun from the working framework I presented above. There is a gentle rise from vilambit to drut. I hope I will know more as I read more.


Kala Ramesh
Kala Ramesh
4 days ago

Check out the selection list for haikuKATHA, Issue 32!



5 days ago


Memory Play

A nested set of three lacquer boxes. Golden Japanese art work on a polished red surface. They have adorned a corner of my living room for the last thirty five years. I dust the tower regularly, without caring to look inside.

Unmindfully today, I lifted the lid off the top and faced the shiny black inside. Yumiko jumped out and began to giggle uncontrollably. Her right hand hiding her lips. Then she drove me up Mt. Tengu in her small car. There in the forest, stood a public phone booth. Cell phones had not yet arrived. “Who needs a public phone in this wilderness?” I asked her. She started to laugh again. This time at my Japanese.

3 days ago
Replying to

Dear Mona,

I don't think my haibun can be taken seriously. I thought over the matter and concluded that I am not really ready to write haibun. I need to train myself up. Of course, writing here is a kind of training. That has helped me ever since I joined haikuKATHA. But whatever I have written so far is probaly kindergarten stuff. I need to keep writing, so that I don't forget what I learnt from all of you, but I need to introspect too. I miss the heart of the matter. Let's see. Thanks for your opinion of course.



5 days ago


Second Revision (Many thanks to Vidya)




It was late afternoon when the taxi dropped us at the base of the Kiyomizu-dera Temple, Kyoto, Japan. I stared up in awe, greed and dismay. My legs trembled and whined. With a bit of a push and pull, I traipsed past the grimacing dragons, roaring lions and rock inscriptions. Gazing at vermillion multi-storeyed pagodas, whilst dodging selfie-taking tourists, without twisting an ankle, was quite a feat.


We stopped at the Hondo, or the main hall. It is a massive structure built entirely of wood without a single nail. This houses a statue of the eleven-faced and thousand-armed Kannon Bodhisattva, goddess of mercy and compassion. The large veranda offers…

3 days ago
Replying to

Very tough. I agree wholeheartedly. I guess not giving up is the "mantra"! Thinking of Kipling's If. :)

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