Masters of Sabi


autumn’s return
spirals of old gold
in dad’s whiskey

 John Hawkhead

lighting a torch
at the longbarrow entrance
a flame’s echo

John Hawkhead

  John Hawkhead is a writer from the South West of England who has published over 1600 haiku and senryu all over the world and has won many international contests. His book ‘Bone Moon’ placed third in the 2023 Haiku Society of America Merit Book Awards and follows his 2016 publication ‘Small Shadows’ – both from Alba Publishing.


 We’re overjoyed and elated that the inimitable John Hawkhead was able to share his singular, trademark blend of sabi, prized and esteemed the world over, in our showcase here today.  Occupying an often eerie liminal space between the distant past and our contentious present, radiating mystique and pulsing with stirring feeling, these are poems which encompass both the highly private and the unanimously identifiable, revealing astounding technique and dexterous range. Few practitioners possess such a perceptive eye, track record and propensity for discovering the magical in everyday places, portraying the otherworldly features both in arcane minutia and sprinkled across otherwise ordinary backdrops. In the pieces above Hawkhead creates stunning contrasts with a color scheme of yellows, oranges and gloomy gradations of black, achieving multiple hues of melancholy for the reader to infer sabi both in the territory of nature (leaves’ shifting, fire catching and waning) and civil (sediment swirling, ourselves and elders aging in succession). The very notion of precious metals, hard currency in this period of fiat and electronic variations, ever fluctuating understandings of value and worth to economic systems and the modern citizen, present interesting opportunities for consideration and pontificating. The haijin’s invoking of the long barrow, most aged timber or stone constructions to be discovered on the planet, tracing back as far as the neolithic, makes for a compelling metaphoric panorama, which conjures to mind everything from Dante to Orpheus, Hercules to the Athanasian Creed – descendit ad inferos. John’s magnificent wabi and sabi, with its numinous English character, reminds of the exciting overlaps between Eastern traditions and pagan animism, Arthurian and Roman visions of creation and destruction, the supernatural and divine and their byzantine and unpredictable relationships with your run-of-the-mill person. Similarly, there is certainly a perceptible element of sabi to be grasped in the idea of generational transition, whether in the more adversarial Greek and Freudian understandings (of Zeus and Cronus, Oedipus and Electra) or the more benign and uplifting conceptions summarized by the wisdom in well-known Chinese maxim, “One Generation Plants the Trees, and Another Gets the Shade”. 

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