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)

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Presence: A core part of haiku poetry – Article in progress for Writing Poetry: the haiku way by Alan Summers

A core part of haiku poetry

An article in progress for Writing Poetry: the haiku way 

“There is no good singing, there is only present and absent.” 
― Jeff Buckley

“The thing is that I also like to have lyrics that are inclusive, that give you space to be inside them, to put your experience on to them, so that they can move through other moments.”
― Jeff Buckley

Presence and Absence in Modern Poetry
Hans, James S. (1980) 

"Presence and Absence in Modern Poetry," Criticism: Vol. 22: Iss. 4 , Article 2. 
Available at:

‘Modern Poetry’… [is] “something” [that] has been called everything from a return to “reality” to an emphasis on self-reflexive poetry, but the reality these poets see is so various and the reflexivity of their poetry so different that another approach to their work seems necessary. 

"One could say that presence and absence ultimately come to be defined in terms of the relationship between language and reality, but for both TS Eliot and William Carlos Williams the problem was more profound than that."

Hans, James S. (1980) 
"Presence and Absence in Modern Poetry," Criticism: Vol. 22: Iss. 4 , Article 2. 
Available at:

James S. Hans says that although he's not in total agreement that he is still indebted to the following works:
J. Hillis Miller, Poets of Reality (Cambridge: Belknap Press, 1965)
Joseph Riddel, The Inverted Bell (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press 1974)

In "Of Modern Poetry" Wallace Stevens says

"It has to be living, to learn the speech of the place."

In the Analyzing the poem section of Wikipedia, it says:

"the act of the mind is not past, present, or future. It is ongoing."
I feel that haiku have to do this, and in so doing it has its own presence (and absence) at the same time.

Presence definitions:

noun: presence
The state or fact of existing, occurring, or being present.
attendance, attending, appearance, residence, occupancy
antonym: absence
A person or thing that exists or is present in a place but is not seen
ghost, spirit, spectre, phantom, vision, wraith, shadow, poltergeist, manifestation, apparition etc…

Ezra Pound’s Metro poem, considered to be an early hokku
or haiku includes the word apparition:

In a Station of the Metro

The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.

Ezra Pound
Lustra, 1916

And William Carlos Williams brings the presence of a simple
red wheelbarrow and white chickens into "a precision of

so much depends

a red wheel

glazed with rain

beside the white

Williams, William Carlos
"XXII", Spring and All (New York: Contact Editions / Dijon: Maurice Darantière, 1923).

Origin of the word presence:

Middle English: via Old French from Latin praesentia ‘being at hand’, from the verb praeesse (being present

French: présence d'esprit, Latin præsentia animi.

Definition of presence for English Language Learners: 
the fact of being in a particular place : the state of being present. The area that is close to someone: someone or something that is seen or noticed in a particular place, area, etc.

noun  ab·sence  \ˈab-sən(t)s\

Definition of absence

  1. 1:  a state or condition in which something expected, wanted, or looked for is not present or does not exist :  a state or condition in which something is absent an absence [=lack] of detail In the absence of reform [=without reform], progress will be slow.
  2. 2a :  a failure to be present at a usual or expected place :  the state of being absent

    absence noun (NOT EXISTING)

“Haiku play in this way with presence and absence, and also with the present as “ever-now,” presence as an un-fleeting eternal. The very brief non-narrative poem lives and dies, brightens and fades in the way we attend through presence, in reading and contemplation. Such “edgy” aspects of context, background and backstory promise haiku romance.”
From the opening section called As fireflies from The Romance of Endings in Haiku by Professor Richard Gilbert

I would like to put forward that haiku operates as both a poem of presence as it does with an absence of something, and that the absence of that something is as vital as placing a presence of a something or somethings. 

In the final version of Writing Poetry: the haiku way there will be haiku by various poets. For now I will show examples of my own haiku, and as the main title is called Presence, these will be examples from the highly regarded haikai magazine Presence:

hot sandwiches
the railing spikes collect
children's gloves

Of course we don’t need to see the actual children who have dropped a glove or two over time, but think of all the children who have, as they are lost in the moment perhaps. Then of course we could also remember news stories of displaced children due to war and famine.

On another serious note:

   In the UK, a child is reported missing every 3 minutes

We cannot imagine what the effect is on a parent and a sibling when a child is unexpectedly 'absent' perhaps for ever.

down side streets -
gulls turning the sky
in and out

A biographical haiku again (experiential). The sky is not really visible to the naked eye, nor do birds really ‘turn’ the sky, but themselves. There are absences that form major parts of a presence, such as 'sky', the air that we breathe, the moon that effects our large and small bodies of water, and other liquids such as our own human bodies. We are constantly 'turning' in one form or another.

the grimace
of the roadside cat
its last

You could say this is almost like Alice when she is only seeing the Cheshire cat’s grin. Cats are often famous for their fastidiousness. This could be seen as the last act of fastidiousness.

The Cheshire Cat is a fictional cat popularised by Lewis Carroll in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland where one of its distinguishing features is that from time to time its body disappears, the last thing visible being its iconic grin: 

crowded street
the space
a dog’s deposit

I was amazed that people on a very busy and bustling street crossing were unaware or disregardful of people’s personal space, yet somehow the “low on the ground” dog faeces was somehow visible amongst hundreds of feet, and respected in its way, moreso than our fellow humans. 

train whistle
a blackbird hops
along its notes

Do we see the train? Do we need to see the train?  Does the bird need to "see" the train for what it is in order to sing? Singing is a form of vibrating and reacting to other vibrations. We don't often 'see' vibrations, but they are not really absent.

deep into winter 
the sun measured 
in kettle clicks 

Perhaps we don’t need to see the kettle, and perhaps the kitchen itself where someone is alone and regularly makes hot beverages by boiling water. Its absence except for the sound of being clicked on, and later automatically clicked off is perhaps enough, and a symbol of the passage of time. The click of a kettle both on and off is unconsciously soothing for something we know, or no longer recognise, as absent. Yet that iabsentia is a tangible presence.

my father's war 
a story of the dark 
collecting its own

My father did not suffer the horrors of war as much as his brothers and fellow participants within the arena of World War Two. He mostly told of the great experiences of Africa and India, but once, only once, did he tell me the horrible experience of picking up some blown up body parts of fellow soldiers for identification purposes in the deepest night, with no light allowed, after strafing by enemy aircraft.

the buddleia
and the butterfly...
vanishing stars

It’s always a wonder to see the multitude of stars during the dark hours of the night and very early morning, only to witness them disappear. Of course they are always there.

The other side of the mirror is often not seen but its presence is very much there via the front facing actions of the reflective surface we see. There is not always a need to see the smoke to 'see' the mirror.

Childhood is absent in us as we grow as adults, isn't it? It's absent from our lives as adults. But can we truly operate as adults if we make our 'once-childhood' really absent in our lives?

dry stone wall
Paddington Bear
out in the rain

Do we see ‘Paddington Bear’? Do we just think of him at Paddington Train Station arriving from Peru all alone and initially friendless? Is Paddington Bear, the fictional creation of Michael Bond, a symbol of loneliness, or of adventure? Is this the first great adventure of a child finding their independence? I can let the reader decide.

Paddington Bear:

Photos by myself yesterday at London's Paddington train station.

Michael Bond (13 January 1926 – 27 June 2017)

For anyone interested in becoming part of Call of the Page online courses in haiku and related genres please do drop Karen a line at our email address:

Call of the Page
(Alan Summers & Karen Hoy)

Sunday, July 02, 2017

The Cattails journal of The United Haiku and Tanka Society is open for submissions!

Submissions for Autumn/ October 2017 issue open:

1st July (midnight) GMT 
and closes 15th August (midnight) GMT

See details for haiku; tanka; senryu; and haibun

We look forward to even more submissions for this ever popular publication!

warm regards, 

Alan Summers
President, United Haiku and Tanka Society