Notebook Hokku


Low grey cloud. Against
the wind, the melancholy weight
of one last heron.


Invisible across the field
the echo of an axe
among the cricket willows.


Cold summer wind. And
unripe apples, tossed up, thump
the light green under foliage.


Immobile and clotted, black
fly submit to red ants’ traffic
on the runner bean stalk.


Inside the ruins of this fallen
willow: damp earth, fungus
and dry white fruit stones.


As the flycatcher
the globe revolves with it.


Silence huge. A solitude without limit.
What moves through these spaces?
Not I but a function.


Picking through a bowl of damsons.
Fame, success, enlightenment.
These are well-construed notions.


Damsons in handfuls echo
in the basin. Quiet between
mouth and a dark blue flavour.


Bird song was scrolled
tightly, as I walked beside
the elder, between umbels.

by Tom Lowenstein

© Tom Lowenstein, 2009

Author’s Note: These shorter forms were suggested and inspired by Japanese and Chinese poetry, but I have not attempted to write haiku. The title of this sequence is the nearest I’ve come to admitting that some of the poems, in this section particularly, represent haiku echoes. All of the above are to be read as separate individual poems, notwithstanding the common title.

These poems are drawn from Conversation with Murasaki by Tom Lowenstein (Shearsman Books, 2009).

Tom Lowenstein was born near London in 1941. After completing his education at Cambridge University, he taught for six years in English secondary schools. He has also taught English and creative writing at Northwestern University, worked for the Alaska State Museum and spent a year, in the mid-1970s, in an Alaskan Eskimo village, recording and translating its legends and histories. This work was later to bear fruit in a number of publications: Eskimo poems from Canada and GreenlandThe Things That Were Said of Them: Shaman Stories and Oral Histories of the Tikigaq People (University of California Press, 1992); Ancient Land: Sacred Whale (Bloomsbury, 1993; Harvill, 2000). He has also written on Buddhism.

Tom Lowenstein’s own poetry has been collected in The Death of Mrs Owl (Anvil, 1977), Filibustering in Samsara (Many Press, 1987), in the Ancient Land: Sacred Whale volume, and in the Shearsman Books publications Ancestors and Species: New & Selected Ethnographic Poetry (2005) and Conversation with Murasaki (2009). You can discover more about Tom Lowenstein and his poetry here.

Shearsman Books is a very active publisher of new poetry, mostly from Britain and the USA, but also with an active translation list. You can learn more about the publisher here.