Dave Sheehan (31-Dec-1970 – 19-Apr-2020)

My cousin Dave died while Australia was in lockdown due to COVID-19. Only ten people were allowed to go to the funeral. Here are a few words I put together about Dave. 

“Oh, wow … you’re Dave Sheehan’s cousin … !” Those are words I’ve heard a fair few times in my life. 

Dave was a couple of years older than me and he was a big part of my life growing up. Dave, and his younger brother Amos, and their mum Marnie, were a big part of the lives of my family, my brothers, Theo and Austin, and our mum and dad, Sheila and Russell. 

Dave was a partner and father, a blues guitar player, a cricketer, and an accomplished student of ancient history. I’ve been reading some of the things that have been posted about Dave on-line on social media over the past few days. The words humble, gentle, and talented come up again and again. Dave was all these things and a lot of other things too. 

He was also tough, enthusiastic and wholehearted (maybe more wholehearted than anyone else I think I’ve known), curious, fearless, challenging, and he had an incredibly mischievous sense of humour. I’d like to tell you a few stories that remind me of these qualities. 

We spent a lot of holiday time together though our childhoods and teenage years: sleepovers, camping holidays, trips to the boxing day test match, and cricket matches played between ourselves that would literally last for days on end.

When Dave was interested in something he would be “into it” to a degree that I don’t think I’ve known in anyone else, be it cricket, music, history. He could be absolutely unrelenting and though his persistence and enthusiasm would become an absolute master in the skills and topics he was interested in. Anyone who knows my dad Russell will tell you that Russ knows a phenomenal amount about cricket, and I’ve known quite a few people to be a bit intimidated when Russ is talking cricket, but not Dave. I remember Dave at age ten or 12 coming with us to the Boxing day test and going toe-to-toe with Russ all day on all sorts of obscure points of cricket history and tactics. I was in awe of Dave’s knowledge, and his confidence.

As a junior cricketer Dave was a truely terrifying fast bowler and an incredibly tough competitor. He would just never take it easy on you. You might bowl at him for a couple of hours, and then when you finally got him out it might only take him two or three balls to get you out. Then you’d have to bowl at him again for most of the rest of the afternoon. At the time I can remember thinking of him as a bit of a tyrant. But I grew in time to admire this quality of his, and it was from Dave that I learned to fight, with every ounce of myself, for the things I want, and not to expect things to be handed to me.

Dave also approached his cricket, and everything else we did together, with humour and imagination. It wouldn’t just be Dave versus Clem in a game of cricket. It might be be Australia versus Pakistan, and you would have to get the other person out ten times before you could have a bat. The games might go on all day, or more than a day. And somehow Dave would be able to imitate the distinctive batting and bowling styles of all the Australian, and Pakistan (and English, and West Indian) cricketers. 

I have lots of non-cricketing memories of Dave as well. 

I remember visiting Uncle Pete, and Marnie, and Dave in Toolangi (I think Amos and Theo might have been little babies then). Dave had a box of treasure in the bedroom, and in it was the most amazing and exciting thing I’d ever seen: the skin of a snake. Dave told me a terrifying story about the snake coming out of the woodpile and Pete killing it. In my mind I can still see the way Dave would smile as he started to tell you about something unbelievable or horrifying. 

Another memory is Dave and Amos coming on a holiday with us to a caravan park in Somers. There was a deep rock-pool at the beach and in it Dave and I found a smallish cream-coloured octopus swimming. Somehow Dave knew what it was: a blue ringed octopus. Dave said that the Commonwealth Serum Laboratory needed blue ringed octopus because they were working on developing a anti-venom, and they would pay some extraordinary amount of money to anyone who could catch a blue ring, and bring it to them alive. So, Dave got a plastic beach bucket, the kind kids have to build sand castles, and started working out how to catch it. I can remember being completely terrified, and trying to get him to drop the idea, but Dave was utterly fearless. Our first efforts to scoop up the octopus were unsuccessful, but they seemed to make the octopus angry, because it started to glow with its electric blue rings, and swim faster, and faster, around the rock pool. The octopus glowing, and swimming around and around in the rock pool is the last thing I can remember about that day, but Mum and Dad tell me that the octopus was eventually caught in the bucket, and taken to the serum laboratory, who declined to buy it saying that they preferred to catch their own.

Dave and Amos came with us on trips down to Wilson’s Prom. I remember Theo and Amos going to films at the open air cinema, and then driving Dave and I crazy by quoting lines from some film that Dave and I hadn’t seen (it might have been Ferris Bueller’s Day Off). It was on these trips to the Prom that I first remember Dave’s dedication to learning to play the guitar. There were always lots of good things to do at The Prom but whatever the rest of us were up to: going for a swim, having mud fights in Tidal River, playing beach cricket, Dave would take himself off by himself for two hours each day to practice the guitar. I can remember looking at his fingers with the skin on the tips worn through.

So many other stories: going on a trip to Werribee Mansion and hunting for mushrooms;  sneaking into the cattle-yards near our house in Kensington to explore them; playing cricket in the park near Marnie’s house in Bastings Street Northcote every Christmas afternoon. 

I remember when I was in year seven, and I think Dave was in year eight, we were catching a bus together home from school and there was a group of middle-aged women who would always sort of push all of the kids out of the way so they could get on the bus first. I can remember Dave standing on the steps of a bus and proceeding to give these women a lecture about feminism. The shear outrageousness and audacity of Dave. I was in awe of him.

As and adult I remember going to see Dave play guitar at the Evelyn Hotel. All of Dave’s music friends seemed impossibly cool to me at the time. I was probably dressed in tracksuit pants and a red Japara rain coat. But after the gig Dave introduced me to his friends and took me back to an after party at a house he was staying at and included me in all their conversations. 

When I saw Dave a few weeks ago a Peter Mac he did not look much like his normal self. We talked a bit about his treatment, and how he was feeling, but the conversation kept on slipping into cricketing matters: things he’d only recently got the hang of about how to play off spin bowlers; anecdotes about games he’d played recently with his team. And when he smiled as he talked about cricket he looked exactly like himself.

Dave, I’m going to try my best to live up to your example: tough but full of good humour; full of enthusiasm, and humble, and friendly. 

Dave, dear boy, I’m going to miss you. I love you Dave.

The Drunken Master

The Haiku of Taneda Santōka (1882 – 1940)

Rules, rules, rules.

Of all the forms of poetry in the world are there any with more rules than haiku?

  • exactly 17 syllables!
  • include a season word (a kigo)!
  • no metaphors!
  • remove all unnecessary words!
  • no rhymes!
  • describe a single moment, in the present tense!
  • etc. etc. etc. 

Maybe this is why I love haiku so much? Because it has so many rules to break? Of course different authorities on haiku have different ideas of what the essential rules of haiku are, and many of the rules which you read seem to contradict rules that you have read elsewhere: “exactly 17 syllables”, “remove all unnecessary words”.

So what would happen if a haiku poet threw out, pretty much, all the rules? We know one possible result from the life and work of Taneda Santōka (1882 – 1940).

The short biographies I have read of Santōka tell of: an unhappy childhood with his mother committing suicide when he was ten years old; failed careers and a failed marriage; alcoholism; a suicide attempt of his own in his forties; and spending most of the the rest of his life homeless as a wandering beggar.

Like his life, his haiku were unconventional:

Wet with morning dew,

I go in the direction I want.

Santōka (trans. John Stevens)

He had little regard for the normal 17 sound symbol pattern of traditional Japanese haiku. One of the translations of Santōka that I own, For All My Walking translated by Burton Watson, refers to his haiku as “free-verse haiku”:


and fell down

mountains are silent.

Santōka (trans. Burton Watson)

Both the translations of Santōka that I own (the other is Mountain Tasting translated by John Stevens) often render his haiku in two lines, as opposed to three, or in three lines of very uneven length, giving a feel for Santōka’s unconventionality: 

The few flies that remain

Seem to remember me.

Santōka (trans. John Stevens)

There are differences between the way the two books render Santōka’s haiku. It feels like Stevens tends to give the words “as written” leaving the reader a little more work to do in finding the meaning:

From the back,

Walking away soaking wet?

Santōka (trans. John Stevens)

Where as Watson maybe adds a little more interpretation into his translation to help the reader. Watson renders the same haiku from Santōka as:

how must I look

from behind

going off in the drizzling rain

Santōka (trans. Burton Watson)

Many of Santōka’s haiku are child-like, almost comical, in their simplicity:

The rain from that cloud

Made me wet.

Santōka (trans. John Stevens)

The mundane details of everyday existence, including the scatalogical, have long been considered acceptable topics for haiku, but it is hard to imagine any of the other famous haiku writers being quite as blunt as this:

Making my way through the fallen leaves,

I have a good shit in the fields.

Santōka (trans. John Stevens)

And this, decades before Piero Manzoni or Gilbert and George. Well played Santōka, well played.

Some of Santōka’s haiku could be seen as quite political, taking up anti-war themes:

The moon’s brightness –

     Does it know

Where the bombing will be?

Santōka (trans. John Stevens)

Other are almost cynical:

nice road

going to a nice building


Santōka (trans. Burton Watson)

The short biographies I have read of Santōka do not gloss over his heavy drinking and many of his haiku deal with drinking in one way or another. This one I particularly like: 

Slightly tipsy;

     The leaves fall

One by one.

Santōka (trans. John Stevens)

Well, I like a teacup full of saki myself, from time to time. 

Now, everybody knows that there are four famous haiku masters: Basho, Buson, Issa, and Shiki … but every time I try to count them up  …  every time I try to count them up (maybe I am tipsy?) it always comes to five.  


For All My Walking, Free-Verse Haiku of Taneda Santōka, Burton Watson (Trans.), Columbia University Press, 2003.

Mountain Tasting, Zen Haiku by Santōka Taneda, John Stevens (Trans.), John Weatherhill Inc., 1980.

Cassie, Sandy, Sandra

I’ve heard it said that Naarm (Melbourne) is the third largest Greek city in the world, and the largest outside Greece.

Maybe that’s true – I don’t think that there is a standard, accepted, measure of Greek-ness when it comes to cities – but many Australian’s do seem to have inherited a Greco-Trojan contempt for prophets and truth-tellers (Cassandra was the Trojan prophetess, doomed to always tell the truth but never be believed).

The past few months of drought, followed by catastrophic bushfires, followed by floods, have brought to my mind a poem my father used to quote from time to time. Here it is in full:

“We’ll all be rooned,” said Hanrahan
In accents most forlorn
Outside the church ere Mass began
One frosty Sunday morn.

The congregation stood about,
Coat-collars to the ears,
And talked of stock and crops and drought
As it had done for years.

“It’s lookin’ crook,” said Daniel Croke;
“Bedad, it’s cruke, me lad
For never since the banks went broke
Has seasons been so bad.”

“It’s dry, all right,” said young O’Neil
With which astute remark
He squatted down upon his heel
And chewed a piece of bark.

And so around the chorus ran
“It’s keepin’ dry, no doubt.”
“We’ll all be rooned,” said Hanrahan,
“Before the year is out.

“The crops are done; ye’ll have your work
To save one bag of grain;
From here way out to Back-o’-Bourke
They’re singin’ out for rain.

“They’re singin’ out for rain,” he said,
“And all the tanks are dry.”
The congregation scratched its head,
And gazed around the sky.

“There won’t be grass, in any case,
Enough to feed an ass;
There’s not a blade on Casey’s place
As I came down to Mass.”

“If rain don’t come this month,” said Dan,
And cleared his throat to speak –
“We’ll all be rooned,” said Hanrahan,
“If rain don’t come this week.”

A heavy silence seemed to steal
On all at this remark;
And each man squatted on his heel,
And chewed a piece of bark.

“We want an inch of rain, we do,”
O’Neil observed at last;
But Croke “maintained” we wanted two
To put the danger past.

“If we don’t get three inches, man,
Or four to break this drought,
We’ll all be rooned,” said Hanrahan,
“Before the year is out.”

In God’s good time down came the rain;
And all the afternoon
On iron roof and window-pane
It drummed a homely tune.

And through the night it pattered still,
And lightsome, gladsome elves
On dripping spout and window-sill
Kept talking to themselves.

It pelted, pelted all day long,
A-singing at its work,
Till every heart took up the song
Way out to Back-o’-Bourke.

And every creek a banker ran,
And dams filled overtop;
“We’ll all be rooned,” said Hanrahan,
“If this rain doesn’t stop.”

And stop it did, in God’s good time:
And spring came in the fold
A mantle o’re the hills sublime
Of green and pink and gold.

And days went by on dancing feet,
With harvest-hopes immense,
And laughing eyes behold the wheat
Nod-Nodding o’er the fence.

And, oh, the smiles on every face,
As happy lad and lass
Throught grass knee-deep on Casey’s place
Went riding down to Mass.

While round the church in clothes genteel
Discoursed the men of mark,
And each man squatted on his heel,
And chewed a piece of bark.

“There’ll be bush fires for sure, me man,
There will, without a doubt;
We’ll all be rooned,” said Hanrahan,
“Before the year is out.”

John O’Brien (P. J. Hartigan)

According to Australian Poetry Since 1788 P. J. Hartigan was a Catholic priest who, as well as writing the above poem, was said to have delivered the last rites to a man called Jack Riley, who was said to have been the inspiration for Banjo Patterson’s The Man from Snowey River.

The poem’s joke seems somewhat less funny in this age of “climate denialism”. Hanrahan’s predictions come true all around us – but prophets and truth-tellers still get short shrift.


Australian Poetry Since 1788, Geoffrey Lehmann & Robert Gray (Eds.), University of New South Wales Press, 2011.

Review: Masaoka Shiki – Selected Poems

Matsuō Bashō? What a hack.

… said, pretty much no-one, ever. In fact, Masaoka Shiki (1967 -1902) is the only person I can think of, who is known for having criticised Bashō’s haiku.

Maybe this is one of the reasons I’m keen on Shiki? It’s not that I’m anti-Bashō (I’m not!) but I do have a pretty strong anti-authoritarian streak in me and I’ve always been interested in writers and thinkers who go against the consensus.

Masaoka Shiki – Selected Poems translated by Burton Watson is a beautiful book containing 144 of Shiki’s haiku translated into plain, economical English.

Slipping out

the back way,

cooling off by the river

Shiki (Trans. Burton Watson)

Cool summer darkness –

laughing voices

on the far side of the river

Shiki (Trans. Burton Watson)

I don’t think there’s a single word in all of the translations that feels unnecessary, or a single phrase that draws undue attention to itself.

For me, who go,

for you who stay behind –

two autumns

Shiki (Trans. Burton Watson)

Another reason that Shiki is interesting is that he was writing at a time when there was a large amount of cross-pollination between Western culture and the art and poetry of Japan. In the introduction to Masaoka Shiki – Selected Poems Watson writes:

Borrowing from the vocabulary of Western painting, he (Shiki) adopted the term shasei, or “sketch from life,” to describe the technique that underlies much of his own poetry and prose. The writer was to carry out minute observation of the scenes around him and to compose works based on what he saw there, conjuring up the mood or emotional tenor he desired through apt manipulation of the images found in real life.

Lonely sound –

simmering in the firepit,

wood chips with snow on them

Shiki (Trans. Burton Watson)

From the rear window

in the falling snow

a woman’s face looks out

Shiki (Trans. Burton Watson)

Shiki was diagnosed with tuberculosis at a very young age and spent the last few years of his short life bedridden. In life, Shiki was said to be irascible, at least once his illness really took hold, but his haiku are a model of restraint and objectivity.

Through the glass door

the winter sun shines in –


Shiki (Trans. Burton Watson)


Masaoka Shiki – Selected Poems, Burton Watson (Trans.), Columbia University Press, 1997.

The Heap

The Settlement. Bearbrass. Bareport. Bareheap. Dutigalla. Glenelg. Narrm.

Recently I’ve been noticing that a lot of people on Twitter, who live in Melbourne, have been listing their location as “Naarm” or “Naarm / Melbourne”. Intrigued, I borrowed the Dictionary of Aboriginal Placenames of Victoria from the Flemington Library, and the words listed above are a few of the alternate names (indigenous and colonial) for Melbourne.

The dictionary spells the word as “Narrm” with a double “r” rather than “Naarm” with a double “a” but it is not unusual to find alternate spellings for Aboriginal words and names as Aboriginal languages in Victoria had sounds not used in English which made them difficult for English speakers to transcribe. In the future I’d love to see “Naarm” not just on Twitter but on our street signs, maps and government websites as well as, or in place of, “Melbourne”.

The Dictionary of Aboriginal Placenames of Victoria also includes entries for “Barebeerip”, “Bareberp” and “Bikjomangy” but these terms may have referred to the area of Batman’s Hill in specific rather than the area where the Melbourne city centre is. “Naloke” is recorded as referring to “parliament” and “Bourke and Spring Streets”. A Narloke Train Station on the city loop, anyone?

One other item on the list of alternate Melbourne names caught my eye – “Dutigalla”. The Flemington Library is just a few doors from the Doutta Galla Hotel in Racecourse Road, Newmarket. I think most residents of Kensington and Flemington assume that “Doutta Galla” is an Aboriginal term without ever knowing specifically what it means. I scouted the internet for a bit more information on the history of the term “Dutigalla” or “Doutta Galla” and found the following information on the website of the Doutta Galla Lion’s Club in Essendon:

The Parish of Doutta Galla … was reportedly named after the wife of Jika Jika, who was John Batman’s native servant. Jika Jika parish was on the east bank of the Moonee Ponds Creek and Doutta Galla on the west bank.  This is recorded in the March 1837 field book of surveyor Robert Hoddle.

Another source says that the name Doutta Galla (or Dutigalla) was the name of the tribe of aborigines on the original Batman treaty deed, signed on the banks of the Merri Creek, at Northcote. (“The Stop-Over That Stayed A History of Essendon” by Grant Aldous) 

History of Doutta Galla, Doutta Galla Lion’s Club

There was a link on the Lion’s Club website to a 1892 Map of the Parish of Doutta Galla which shows the Parish of Doutta Galla covering all of the land between the Moonee Ponds Creek and the Maribynong River, from Kensington and Flemington, though Essendon and out as far as Keilor and Broadmeadows.

And “Jika Jika”? I remember the name Jika Jika terrifying me when I was a child because it was the name given to the infamous maximum security unit at Pentridge Prison.

According to the Victorian Aboriginal Corporation for Languages (VACL) Dictionary of Aboriginal Placenames of Victoria is available to order, but the order form on their website is currently disabled.


Dictionary of Aboriginal Placenames of Victoria, Ian D. Clark & Tony Heydon, Victorian Aboriginal Corporation for Languages, 2002.

The forgotten Aboriginal names for 10 of Melbourne’s suburbs, Jason Gibson, Helen Gardner and Stephen Morey, The Conversation, 10-Jul-2018.

History of Doutta Galla, Doutta Galla Lion’s Club, https://douttagalla.vic.lions.org.au/History-of-Doutta-Galla

Parish of Doutta Galla, Victoria Shire Map Company, 1892, National Library of Australia call number MAP RM 2741/90, https://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-232022724/view

Such is Life

Another day, another exhibition.

This week we drove up the Calder Highway to land of the Dja Dja Wurrung. The town of Castlemaine, an hour and a half’s drive north west of Melbourne, always brings the folk song The Wild Colonial Boy into my mind:

There was a wild colonial boy, Jack Doolan was his name

Of poor but honest parents he was born in Castlemaine


He comes to a very sticky end. When I was young my parents used to sing folk songs like this on long car drives. I must have been a very tender-hearted child – I used to forbid my parents from singing The Wild Colonial Boy because it upset me so much (history repeats, my children forbid me from playing Carrie & Lowell by Sufjan Stevens, because I once made the mistake of explaining to them what the song Fourth of July was about).

I guess the Castlemaine referred to in the song was probably intended to be Castlemaine in County Kerry in Ireland, but in my mind and in the mind of most Australians he was born in Castlemaine, Victoria. The Wild Colonial Boy may have been originally based on a historical figure but it has undergone so many revisions over the years that it is now more mythic than historic.

Castlemaine in Victoria is a very beautiful gold-rush era town, with large beautiful churches, town hall and post office. The art gallery is art deco and also very impressive for a town of this size. We had gone to the Castlemaine Art Museum to see the exhibition Janina Green in conversation with the collection. Her hand-coloured photographs hold significant interest for those interested in haiku and related art forms.

First, there are her photographs of domestic interiors named after the Melbourne suburbs where the photos were taken. These recall haiku in their interest in specific localities and their focus on the seemingly mundane details of everyday life. Also in common with haiku each of these pictures seems to give a fragment of a larger story and leaves the viewer (or reader in the case of haiku) to fill in the rest of the story. We are drawn into the artwork and become active participants rather than passive viewers.

Another picture by Janina Green that caught my eye was the photo titled Still Life series (Klytie Pate), 1988 which is shown on the exhibition page of the gallery website. An ornate teal lamp-base with a beige lamp-shade is contrasted against a spray of yellow wattle in a vase. This contrast, of an artefact made by human hands, with the beauty of nature, recalls many famous haiku. The light catches just a few of the florets of the wattle making them shine.

One other work on display at the Castlemaine Gallery Art Gallery, not part of the Janina Green exhibition, stood out to me. Cook’s Landing (after Macleod) by Robert Hague. Whereas in haiku symbols often work best when they are subtle, when they feel like they evoke a half-remembered associations, the symbols in Cook’s Landing (after Macleod) are “writ large”. The work is a blue-printed china plate. The central image shows Ned Kelly anachronistically shooting at Captain Cook’s long boat, approaching the shore to make first landfall in Australia. The plate has been broken into pieces and then repaired in the Japanese Kintsugi style with golden fault lines. The plate with its clashing symbols and styles is a fair analogy for modern-day Australia, formed of disparate influences, and in the grip of the so called “history wars”.

And as for people who will try to tell you that Ned Kelly’s last words weren’t “such is life“, what can we say? Maybe just that they place too much emphasis on historic detail, and have not enough appreciation of the mythic.


Janina Green in conversation with the collection, Castlemaine Art Gallery, 2019-20.

Paper says Ned Kelly’s final words were not Such is Life, Alison Jess, ABC Goulburn Murray, 17 November, 2014.

Still Life series (Klytie Pate), 1988, Janina Green, hand-coloured photograph.

Cook’s Landing (after Maccleod), Robert Hague, 2019, porcelain, gold, brass staples, copper hanger.

Review: On Love and Barley – Haiku of Bashō

Just a few weeks after I’d bought my first book of haiku translated by Lucien Stryk, his obituary appeared in The Age.

No … wait … that can’t be right … the internet tells me that Stryk died in January 2013 and I didn’t pay any attention to haiku until the last few weeks of 2014 …

… well, anyway, let’s not let facts stand in the way of my story. I bought a book of Stryk’s translations, and loved them, and then almost immediately read that he had died, and I was thwarted in my intention to write him a fan letter.

It is certainly true I felt an instant affinity with the way Stryk translates haiku. In On Love and Barley Stryk translates the haiku of Matsuo Bashō, the best known of all Japanese haiku poets. No one else that I am aware of makes haiku translations as terse as Stryk does – sometimes he only uses five or six words to render a whole haiku:

Where cuckoo

vanishes –

an island.

Bashō (trans. Lucien Stryk)

This brevity is in keeping with my own feelings of what works best when writing a haiku in English – using simple language and omitting any words that seem unnecessary.

In his introduction Stryk explains some key terms related to haiku such as wabi and sabi. These terms are difficult to translate and different translators give somewhat different explanations of them. Stryk was a noted scholar of Zen Buddhism and he gives quite ‘zen’ interpretations of these terms. With sabi Stryk puts the emphasis on solitariness and detachment.

Not one traveller

braves this road –

autumn night.

Bashō (trans. Lucien Stryk)

Wabi Stryk explains as an appreciation of the commonplace.

Search carefully –

In the hedge,

A shepherd’s purse.

Bashō (trans. Lucien Stryk)

Note: Shepherd’s purse is small weed.

As the introduction goes on Stryk starts to dive very deep into zen theory and I must confess I lost the thread of what he was talking about. Still, this does nothing to detract from the key strength of On Love and Barley – Stryk’s tough, economical translations:

Darkening waves –

cry of wild ducks,

faintly white.

Bashō (trans. Lucien Stryk)

There is one other curious aspect to On Love and Barley. The shepherd’s purse haiku quoted above is listed in the book as haiku 48. When I got to haiku 72, I read:

When I bend low

enough, purseweed

beneath my fence.

Bashō (trans. Lucien Stryk)

It is so similar that they could both be translations of the same haiku. Then I came across haiku 55:

Yellow rose petals

thunder –

a waterfall.

Bashō (trans. Lucien Stryk)

And haiku 186:

Sound of rapids –

silent yellow petals

of the mountain rose.

Bashō (trans. Lucien Stryk)

Now compare haiku 61:

Faceless – bones

scattered in the field,

wind cuts my flesh.

Bashō (trans. Lucien Stryk)

With haiku 202:

A weathered

skeleton –

how cold the wind.

Bashō (trans. Lucien Stryk)

There are other examples. Was Stryk inserting a little test into his book to see how carefully it was being read? Or could he not make up his mind which of his own translations he preferred?

Now its too late to write and ask.


On Love and Barley, Lucien Stryk (Trans.), Penguin Books, 1985.

Review: The Classic Tradition of Haiku


The Classic Tradition of Haiku edited by Faubion Bowers is the cheapest and most widely available haiku book that is currently in print. It was the first book of haiku I ever owned and when I first read it I had no idea what to make of it.  

The Classic Tradition of Haiku is unique among the books of Japanese haiku translated into English that I own because the haiku are not translated by a single translator in a consistent style. Instead The Classic Tradition of Haiku gives us the work of 42 different translators, in a range of different styles. Anyone buying this book and expecting to read haiku in the standard three lines of 5-7-5 syllables is in for a shock …

Some haiku are rendered in three lines without concern for the number of syllables in each line:

A fallen blossom

returning to the bough, I though – 

But no, a butterfly. 

Moritake (trans. Steven D. Carter)

Others as a couplet:

“Oh my thinness is caused by the summer heat”

I answered and burst into tears. 

Kigin (trans. Asatarō Miyamori)

Some with staggered indentation (note WordPress does not currently render the indentation of this haiku – in the book it has the first line justified to the left margin, the second line indented by one “tab” and the third line indented by two “tabs” – I will amend this post when WordPress update their software):

On the plum tree

one blossom, one blossomworth

of warmth.

Ransetsu (trans. Harold Gould Henderson) 

Others with no indentation:

Saying nothing:

Guest and host

and white chrysanthemum

Ryōta (trans. Faubion Bowers)

Still other haiku are rendered in a single line:

Bush warbler: I rest my hands in the kitchen sink.          

Chigetsu (trans. Hiroaki Sato)

There are even a few older examples of haiku being turned into English rhyming verse, which … does not work well, to put it kindly.

The Classic Tradition of Haiku has extensive footnotes that explain much of the context and nuance of the haiku. It also gives the Japanese versions of the haiku so English readers can get some sense of what the haiku may sound like in the original. Someone new to haiku may find all of this overwhelming. But for a reader who is already familiar with haiku there is depth of detail here that make The Classic Tradition of Haiku worth returning to again and again. 

Few other books, and none that are as short as this one, present as many possible models for English language haiku. 


The Classic Tradition of Haiku, Bowers, F. (Ed.), Dover Publications, 1996. 

A Town That Doesn’t Exist

This week I visited the exhibition ‘Velvet, Iron, Ashes’ at the State Library of Victoria.

The ‘velvet’ part of the title refers to an extraordinary gown worn by Jesse Clarke at the Pageant of Nations to celebrate Victoria’s centenary in 1934. The silver head-dress is modelled on seven electricity pylons; the cloak is green with the waterways of the Murray-Darling Irrigation Scheme depicted in silver glitter; and the dress is hand painted showing several prominent Victorian buildings.

The ‘iron’ part of the title refers to Ned Kelly’s armour and the ‘ashes’ to the Ashes urn that is the trophy when England and Australia play test cricket. Both are among the most well-known and iconic objects from Australian history. Would it be possible to successfully use symbols as well-known and impersonal as the Kelly’s armour or the Ashes in a poem as delicate as a haiku? I’m not sure …

Other elements of the exhibition include:

  • White City, the MacRobertson’s Chocolate Factory and home of the ‘Freddo’ Chocolate Frog
  • The 1934 London to Melbourne Air Race
  • The Coranderrk Aboriginal reserve
  • Portraits of Ukrainian immigrants to Gippsland

The part of the exhibition which resonated the most with me was the photos and objects from Yallourn. Yallourn was a “company town” for the State Electricity Commission (S.E.C.) in Gippsland. It was demolished in the early 1980s to make way for an open cut coal mine. My Grandfather worked for the S.E.C. and my mother’s high school years were spent in Yallourn, a town that no longer exists.  


The Australian Women’s Register, https://www.womenaustralia.info/biogs /AWE0623b.htm

‘I was the State of Victoria’ Jessie Clarke’s 1934 Pageant of Nations costume, Annette Soumilas, The La Trobe Journal 102, 2018.

Lords, https://www.lords.org/lords/our-history/the-ashes

Public Record Office Victoria, https://prov.vic.gov.au/about-us/our-blog/town-was-yallourn

State Library Victoria, https://www.slv.vic.gov.au/search-discover/explore-collections-theme/australian-history/ned-kelly

Velvet, Iron, Ashes at the State Library Victoria, 24 Oct 2019 – 12 Jul 2020.

Symbols of Australia in Haiku Poetry

Haiku …

… are observed details from nature or everyday life. They strive to be specific, individual, unique.

Also haiku …

… include a kigo. Kigo are ‘season words’. They are a form of symbolic communication.

Kigo in Japanese haiku

Many kigo in Japanese haiku are words for plants and animals, or natural phenomena like kinds of weather. Kigo contain shared cultural associations that Japanese haiku readers understand.

A translator’s notes can help English speaking readers understand the meaning of the kigo intellectually, but it is unlikely that casual readers of haiku in translation feel the full cultural significance of Japanese kigo.

Australian kigo?

It is probably not technically correct to use the words kigo in relation to English language haiku.

In Japanese haiku kigo are codified in quite a formal way with each kigo being related to a specific season of the year. Australian haiku writers do not have an equivalent system.

Australian haiku writers do often include a symbolic keyword, frequently an allusion to nature or the time of year, in the place of a kigo.

In the context of Australian haiku we may refer to these keywords as kigo.

‘Haiku Dreaming Australia’

As far as I am aware there has only been one serious attempt to make a list of Australian kigo, Haiku Dreaming Australia. The editor of the website John Bird writes with the Cloudcatchers haiku group in Northern New South Wales.

Symbolic meaning in modern Australia

The Japanese system of kigo evolved in a preindustrial country. At the time Japan had a strong “monoculture” due to more than 200 years of enforced isolationism.

Symbolic meanings in modern day Australia are much more complex and difficult to catalogue:

  • Australia is incredibly diverse and multicultural
  • Digital technology and streaming gives us access to a deluge of overseas cultural influences
  • Australia is a highly urbanised society and most people are less familiar with nature and the seasons now than they were in past centuries
  • Many words and phrases that are distinctly Australian now seem old fashioned and are falling out of use
  • Mainstream Australia barely acknowledges, much less understands or respects, the culture of the traditional owners of Australia
  • Climate change threatens to radically alter the weather and seasons in Australia and many animals and plants that we might use as kigo in Australian haiku face potential extinction.

My aim

Over the next year I will explore the use of symbolic keywords in Australia and make brief notes on this blog where I find examples of symbolic keywords being used, not just in haiku, but in poetry and other kinds of Australian writing, film, song, and other art-forms. 

I will also post brief reviews of haiku books that I read during the year.

Haiku Dreaming Australia, http://users.mullum.com.au/jbird/dreaming/ozku.html



I would like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which I live, and where I write, the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin nation, and pay my respects to their elders past and present.