Friday, March 4, 2016

The Living Dead

Honouring our poetic ancestors

Coming to Grips
By Janice Bostock  (1942-2011)

Still half asleep I roll over, feel the bed beside me:

reaching out
brings warmth
this wakeful night

A cow roars urgently in the valley. Somewhere a bull hiccups a reply. The clock on the dressing table shows 2:30 a.m. Next time I wake the sun has been shining for hours, the bed beside me empty. I rise, go into the kitchen. My husband grunts his disapproval. I refuse food. I claim to be a country girl. We have lived on this banana plantation for many years. Years of struggle, heart break, budgeting bank loans, of baby nappies hanging limply in the January heat. When rain breaks through it produces a stinging sweaty heat. In a more humorous moment I wrote:

tropical rain
brings lush green grass --
and mould on my shoes

Today I don't feel funny. The wide kitchen window brings the valley close. Across the valley Mt. Warning, Wollumbin to indigenous people, rises into a seething patch of low cloud. The tourist brochure claims the rays of the sun touch Wollumbin first, before any other part of Australia. Not this morning. The sight is magnificent. Banana plantations drop away, huge patchwork quilts on the lesser hills. I slip out the back door, through the fence, into the valley. Giant paspalum reaches to my shoulders. I push my way through the overgrown pathway.

sun high --
beneath the giant fig tree
patches of dew

I am a dreamer. Not lazy as my husband thinks. Time simply gets away from me. The whine of a motor penetrates my thinking. I have to run to get back before my husband comes in for lunch. Noon and the humidity is high. Cicadas are deafening.

the cicada's shrill
close -- the heat
seems more intense

Day time cicadas, night time frogs, mosquitoes and flying ants -- ants which leave their wings in the house. The buzz of activity endless. Country folk look up thoughtfully and say: 'it must be going to rain', when flying ants appear. The fact that it does rain seems to make it an even less intelligent observation each time it happens! But what do I know? A quick salad takes care of lunch.

crisp lettuce
refrigerated -- outside
leaves hang limp

A short rest then work until it is dark. A man of the land my husband would not be happy anywhere else. On the other hand I'm not so sure that we made the right move. Until, out of boredom I began to write things down. Problems tumble into place, human qualities of country folk glow with warmth. Our tropical plantation is mysterious and glamorous. We have one of the most magnificent views on earth right in our own front yard. As usual the afternoon has slipped away, evening too. I am daydreaming.

midnight --
the grandchild sleeps
I sit to write

Janice Bostock, who died only a few years ago, lived in the same part of Australia as me. That's my landscape she describes in her haibun, above. I am in one of the small towns, not out on a property; but the town is surrounded by such rural properties, including banana plantations (as well as by Wollumbin and 'the lesser hills').

We were slightly acquainted, and tried to collaborate in haiku on MySpace for a while, but she had difficulty using MySpace, and was not a very well woman by the time I met her. We seldom encountered each other in person, and didn't become close. I was probably too much in awe of her for that, anyway. However she was always friendly, and was helpful to me and others re the writing of haiku – passing on the mentoring she received when she started.

When she began writing haiku, it seemed she was the only haikuist in Australia! So, as well as studying the form, she reached out and in due course became acclaimed internationally, even being honoured by Japanese haiku writers and her work promoted in that country. The famous William Higginson became a friend, as did others prominent in the English-language haiku community world-wide. You can read of her literary journey here.  Her own account, with a little more personal detail, is here.

She brought a modernity to her haiku without jeopardising the essence of the genre. Her website includes a wonderful article on haiku writing called Breaking the Mould, which seems to me definitive. 

Haiku of course led to the haibun form, at which she also excelled, as you can see, and to her beautiful tanka.

Janice Bostock was known in her local writing community as a very good poet in Western genres too – I was impressed by what little I saw – but it was in the Japanese forms that she made her name and achieved international recognition.  She writes of both her directions, including a beautiful example of her free verse, here.

She also experimented with sumi-e painting, with no mean skill. I believe the heron on her website is her own work.

She was a modest woman, who – while never selling herself short – remained down-to-earth despite her fame.

Writings and photos posted in The Living Dead for study and review remain the property of the copyright owners.


  1. Rosemary, how I drank in the beautiful description of this poet's life and the landscape she was fortunate to enjoy. Her writing is so beautiful and accessible, and she certainly excels in haiku and haibun. I love that she was a dreamer. And the first haiku poet in Australia! Wonderful that you knew her. You have presented her here to us so beautifully. A poet I would have loved to interview, but you have given us all the links, so we can investigate. Thank you!

    1. There were others attempting haiku at that time, but she was the one who focused on it as a serious commitment and major direction.

  2. Thanks for introducing me to this remarkable woman!

  3. A dreamer in a landscape with husband ... I LOVE THIS. She invites me in so I know the character and her land. Thank you for giving us this poet.

  4. I really love her haibun writing, Rosemary! (And each tanka could definitely stand alone!) I can tell how much she likes her environment. What a talented writer. You were indeed fortunate to know her! Thank you for this, Rosemary.

  5. Her tanka is very beautiful. I loved the description of the landscape she has painted which I can relate to so well especially Mt. Warning , the mould, the cows which cry for days when they take away their calves, and all the pot holes in those terrible roads:) Thank you for this very interesting article Rosemary.

    1. Yes (smile) you are another who knows the area well!

  6. thank you, Rosemary, for sharing with us this remarkable poet.
    janice's haibun have a down-to-earth, personal feel about it. this makes it very real for us, the reader, and we can really relate to some of the imagery in her haibun.

  7. it's so wonderful to get soaked in such shower of dreamy words...her love of life and words is so beautifully expressed in the're really fortunate to know her Rosemary...

  8. Her haibun took me right to that plantation. Truly a sensorial experience which is what we poets strive to bring to our readers. Thank you, Rosemary for sharing her work and how honored you were to have known her!


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