An oasis in a world gone crazy

Autumn 15 WTC#4

Now we will count to twelve
and we will all keep still.

For once on the face of the earth,
let’s not speak in any language;
let’s stop for one second,
and not move our arms so much.

It would be an exotic moment
without rush, without engines;
we would all be together
in a sudden strangeness.

Fisherman in the cold sea
would not harm whales
and the man gathering salt
would look at his hurt hands.

Those who prepare green wars,
wars with gas, wars with fire,
victories with no survivors,
would put on clean clothes
and walk about with their brothers
in the shade, doing nothing.

What I want should not be confused
with total inactivity.
Life is what it is about;
I want no truck with death.

If we were not so single-minded
about keeping our lives moving,
and for once could do nothing,
perhaps a huge silence
might interrupt this sadness
of never understanding ourselves
and of threatening ourselves with death.
Perhaps the earth can teach us
as when everything seems dead
and later proves to be alive.

Now I’ll count up to twelve
and you keep quiet and I will go

—from Extravagaria (translated by Alastair Reid, pp. 27-29, 1974)


Today we will be considering places that provide a pause for quiet contemplation in amidst the frenetic city life.

In order to reflect this in language, you are invited to explore writing your own HAIBUN.

The haibun form is a mixture of prose and poetry:

Matsuo Basho’s The Narrow Road draws on traditions of diary and travel writing.

So The Narrow Road opens with Basho feeling a strong desire to wander like the sailors and horsemen of old, even like Time itself, but first he has to mend his trousers and tie a new strap on his hat before he can set off. He is constantly slipping on dangerous rocks or complaining about lice. The little poems where these everyday concerns appear feel like moments of stillness and observation in the forward rush of the journey, places you can take a breath, like the happy/sad moment when he leaves his home by the river:

Spring is leaving too!
birds cry     even the wet eyes
of fish fill with tears

In your haibun, describe a short journey to a local landmark or a spot that means something to you. Like Basho’s pilgrimages, it might have some connection with a poem or poet you like.

Mix practical details (like putting on your shoes, whether you walk or take the bus, something about the weather…) with a description of your feelings and expectations, as if you were writing a diary.

Try to show one or two people you meet and one or two places along the way, perhaps connected with an historical event.

Have your narrator stop from time to time, sit down or lean against a wall to look at something, then include, interspersed with the prose, the short poem he or she writes.

(from Young Poets Network)

After visiting a rooftop oasis in the middle of the City, we’ll continue up Cheapside, past the very spot that inspired Wordsworth –


   At the corner of Wood Street, when daylight appears,
   Hangs a Thrush that sings loud, it has sung for three years:
   Poor Susan has passed by the spot, and has heard
   In the silence of morning the song of the Bird.

      Tis a note of enchantment; what ails her? She sees
      A mountain ascending, a vision of trees;
      Bright volumes of vapour through Lothbury glide,
      And a river flows on through the vale of Cheapside.

      Green pastures she views in the midst of the dale,
      Down which she so often has tripped with her pail;
      And a single small cottage, a nest like a dove's,
      The one only dwelling on earth that she loves.

      She looks, and her heart is in heaven: but they fade,
      The mist and the river, the hill and the shade:
      The stream will not flow, and the hill will not rise,
      And the colours have all passed away from her eyes!
                                       William Wordsworth, 1797

…and on to the exhibition in the Guildhall Library.

Talbot House picPROMPT

Make notes en route, including the small everyday details and thoughts. At Guildhall, write about how the exhibition makes you feel, and what details you are struck by. Try using the haibun form, if you like.

(If you care to stay, there is a lunchtime recital nearby at St Lawrence Jewry at 1pm)


For writing from today, please go to the page: An oasis in a world gone crazy

About claire collison

Writer, photographer, creative facilitator, and breast cancer survivor, I am currently Artist in Residence at the Women's Art Library (WAL) My first novel was a finalist in the Dundee Book Prize, and my short stories and poetry have appeared in print and online. In 2015 I was awarded second place in the inaugural Resurgence Prize, the world's first eco poetry competition, judged by Sir Andrew Motion, Alice Oswald, and Jo Shapcott. This blog began as a space for words generated on my walking/writing workshops at the Mary Ward centre in Bloomsbury - Writing the City (WTC). WTC has since grown to include many other venues, including the Museum of Broken Relationships, the Barbican, the River Rom, Southwark Woods, Aylesbury Estate, and most recently, as part of Walking Women festival, An Intimate Tour of Breasts. I have worked with Kettle's Yard, Cambridge, as the recipient of the first Max Reinhardt Literacy Award, designing teaching resources; and for The Photographers' Gallery, helping school children develop visual literacy as part of 'Seeing More Things'. If you would like me to design a workshop or walk for you, please be in touch!
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