Online internet courses by Call of the Page

Are you interested in a Call of the Page course? We run courses on haiku; tanka; tanka stories/prose; haibun; shahai; and other genres.

Please email Karen or Alan at our joint email address:
We will let you know more about these courses.

Call of the Page (Alan & Karen)

Tuesday, August 02, 2016

The Beat Is Back haibun (prose and haiku) inspired by Jack Kerouac and On The Road, Old Angel Midnight, and Dharma Bums, and history of haibun

Jack Kerouac poses on Sheridan Square in New York's Greenwich Village on Oct. 15, 1958, after a publisher's party for his book "The Dharma Bums." (JERRY YULSMAN/AP Photo/Jerry Yulsman)

The Beat Is Back

A man sits in an IRT Subway train reading a newspaper with a hole in it. He has hours to kill. Only a four year old looks back, and into, the newspaper hole. 

rain clouds
the train stations
come and go

It’s now night outside so he folds the newspaper, sticks it into a voluminous raincoat pocket, and decides to step off the train and leave the station. He hasn’t seen Times Square for many years, it hasn’t really changed. This is the hub of New York City where the Beat Odyssey began. 

we aren't the people 
you think 

He hunches his neck into his coat, and starts to stroll, eyeballing from side to side as he does so. The man moves past all-nite movie houses, cafeterias, and Pokerino arcades, stepping around a puddle that reflects back a giant coke bottle from an overhead sign. Neon mashes up other pools and signs.

the threatening clouds
an imaginary dog
takes a walk again

He nods reflectively to the quick-change artists, the conmen, and hustlers of every kind. This man is a broad-shouldered ex-footballer, with just a hint of a broken nose, and a scar, from a small knife, that cuts diagonally across his left cheekbone less than an inch before looping into itself. He walks the in- betweeness of virga and luminosity of front shop signs; passing soldiers; sailors; panhandlers; drifters; thieves; junkies; sportsmen; gamblers; racing touts; zoot-suiters; and the local hoods. 

threading clouds
another time
in another place

Across the way is Chase’s Cafeteria at 210 West 42nd Street, to the left of the New Amsterdam Theatre marquee, but it’s the cafeteria he enters. 

passing cars
the gleam off bare wood
on Good Friday

More hoods mill around as he shoulders the door quietly open: there’s no girls in sight, just men with red shirts or zoot-suits. 

Escher's apple escapes the mercury

There was one who stood out, selling syrettes of morphine, but was this the Virgil of The Beat Movement? He didn’t buy. 

He mooched into a booth, and nursed a coffee and whiskey for half an hour, head down. No one came over, except the waitress, to heat up the coffee with a short refill. 

different uniforms
the condensation
of all things

The place was buzzing, but not to his own particular satisfaction. He left to walk over to Bickford’s Cafeteria, on the middle block of West 42nd Street; this is where Kerouac believes the greatest stage on Times Square resides, he thought. In the window seat is a man bent around a chipped mug containing thick dark syrup, he has typical eighteen hour shadow, around his eyes, that matches the tone of his unshaven jaw line. 

someone kicks
a fridge full of things
shut again

“Mind if I join yer?” 

The window man looks up, nods, sinks back into his syrup drink, but also starts scratching his insect T-shirt. 

“You Angel, coming for me?”

“No, just a once damp hitchhiker trying to be a pocketbook poet, is that okay?” 

The bulge under his jacket was three finished notebooks, but it was good that the other cafeteria clientele of pimps, thieves, numbers men, all left him alone. It looked like a gun that could blow holes all the way through the building and hit the highway out of town. 

a time between
day, and night just left
easing tiny spaces

In the submarine light the hydrogen jukebox played across cigarette smoke and burnt coffee, and the man took out a greasy cover notebook to scratch more words inside. 

lost childhood cars moonlight a rookery

The window bum looks out of the corner of his left eye: 

Jack’s out in circular jazz time, side-stepping the Shrouded Traveller, looking for new places. Not all white doves in Chinese windows are groceries. It’s all five six seven to me. 

rainy season
one of the paper towns
gains a wrinkle

Haibun©Alan Summers
First published in the British Haiku Society's literary journal: 
Blithe Spirit 25.4 (November 2015)

Also published:
Drifting Sands—A Journal of Haibun and Tanka Prose
Issue 1 April 2020


Haibun - the practise of interspersing prose writing with haiku.  Prose pieces can be in numerous styles from journalistic writing, diary entries, prose poetry, long fiction through to flash fiction, that usually include one or more haiku within the body of prose, or starting or concluding a body of prose.

The Beat is Back haibun is part inspired by Old Angel Midnight, a long narrative poem by Jack Kerouac:

And inspired by this On The Road quote:
“Last night I walked clear down to Times Square & just as I arrived I suddenly realized I was a ghost - it was my ghost walking on the sidewalk.”
(Part.Chapter.Paragraph: II.5.4)

Jack Kerouac Reads from "On The Road"

Search results for Old Angel Midnight:

The Interborough Rapid Transit Subway, or IRT, was the first subway company in New York City. Even with elevated train lines springing up around the city, the need for an underground rapid transit railroad was obvious as a solution to street congestion and to assist development in outlying areas. On October 27, 1904, the first IRT subway line opened, and the city would never be the same.

Theme: Playing Cards - Poker

Journeys 2015 haibun anthology gives important background to haibun and examples:

Kindle version: 

Alan's bio:

Alan Summers regularly teaches online haiku group courses, and also haibun online group courses.

As Call of the Page Alan can offer haiku and tanka one-to-one sessions:

For further information email Karen:


In 1689, the famous poet Matsuo Bashō (known to some as the "Shakespeare of Japan") travelled to the northern provinces of Honshu (Japan's largest island, home to Tokyo and Kyoto and other major cities).

He wrote a travel diary, called Oko No Hosomichi (The Narrow Road to the Deep North) in which he wrote haikai verses (the precursors to haiku) as well as prose text.

Here is an extract, in fact it's the opening pages:

The days and months are travelers of eternity, just like the years that come and go. For those who pass their lives afloat on boats, or face old age leading horses tight by the bridle, their journeying is life, their journeying is home. And many are the men of old who met their end upon the road.

How long ago, I wonder, did I see a drift of cloud borne away upon the wind, and ceaseless dreams of wandering become aroused? Only last year, I had been wandering along the coasts and bays; and in the autumn, I swept away the cobwebs from my tumbledown hut on the banks of the Sumida and soon afterwards saw the old year out. But when the spring mists rose up into the sky, the gods of desire possessed me, and burned my mind with the longing to go beyond the barrier at Shirakawa. 

The spirits of the road beckoned me, and I could not concentrate on anything. So I patched up my trousers, put new cords in my straw hat, and strengthened my knees with moxa. A vision of the moon at Matsushima was already in my mind. I sold my hut and wrote this just before moving to a cottage owned by Sampū:

even this grass hut
could for the new owner be
a festive house of dolls

This was the first of an eight verse sequence, which I left hanging on a post inside the hut.

It was the twenty-seventh day of the Third Month [16 May]. There was a wan, thinning moon, and in the first pale light of dawn, the summit of Mount Fuji could be dimly seen. I wondered if I should ever see the cherry trees of Ueno and Yanaka again. My closest friends, who had gathered together the night before, got on the boat to see me off. We disembarked at Senju, and my heart was overwhelmed by the prospect of the vast journey ahead. Ephemeral though I know the world to be, when I stood at the crossroads of parting, I wept goodbye.

the spring is passing –
the birds all mourn and fishes'
eyes are wet with tears

I wrote this verse to begin my travel diary, and then we started off, though it was hard to proceed. Behind, my friends were standing in a row, as if to watch till we were lost to sight.

So that year – the second year of Genroku [1689] – I had suddenly taken it into my head to make the long journey into the deep north, to see with my own eyes places that I had only heard about, despite hardships enough to turn my hair white. I should be lucky to come back alive, but I staked my fortune on that uncertain hope.

With The Narrow Road to the Deep North, the haibun form reached an early pinnacle, and this work is acknowledged as important world literature today.


J E Jeanie said...

Your haibun is wonderful Alan - such evocative detail with physical and interior landscapes so densely embroidered into a gripping narrative. Just love it. Jeanie

Area 17 said...

Dear J E Jeanie,

Many thanks for your comment, deeply appreciated.

warmest regards,