“A haiku . . . is a hand beckoning, a door half-opened, a mirror wiped clean. It is a way of returning to nature, to our moon nature, our cherry blossom nature, our falling leaf nature…’

What is the allure of the Japanese aesthetic in art and literature? On the cusp between the brazier season and the sunken hearth season, we were excited and delighted to welcome novelist and haiku poet Alan Spence and Japanese storyteller Mio Shapley to the library on a chilly October evening to open a window onto Japanese culture, to share some haiku and to sample the enticing pleasures of chanoyu (茶の湯), ‘the Way of Tea’, one of three events we’re hosting as part of the part of the Scottish International Storytelling Festival.

Robyn Marsack, director of the Scottish Poetry Library, was on hand to question Alan about his own fascination with Japan; Alan is no stranger to the library, having curated our Best Scottish Poems selection in 2007 and he was engaging on the Zen influence Japanese art forms bring to his own work. He read some of his own haiku – his latest collection of haiku and tanka, Morning glory, illustrated by Elizabeth Blackadder, is a firm favourite on our shelves and in our shop – including his translations of Japanese Haiku poet Issa into Glaswegian dialect from his book Glasgow Zen. He illuminated many surprising affinities between Glasgow, Scottish poets and Zen.

Mio was joined by Rumi and Aki, all in kimonos, to conduct the tea ceremony. They served powdered green tea and sweets while Mio opened and closed with a sung poem, and told a story of the clumsy tea-server and the Master’s judgement, of how the clumsy student sneezed powdered green tea everywhere! Thankfully there were no sneezes at last night’s ceremony! Both the haiku and the tea ceremony depend on focus and concentration: the white space of the page around 3 lines of poetry, the silence surrounding the tea ceremony. One attendee remarked upon the ‘Gracefulness, humanity, humility and humour’ of the evening, and another especially enjoyed the ‘marvellous combination of two performers nourishing body, mind and spirit’… The audience, and Scottish Poetry Library staff, went off into the evening with refreshed palates, occasioned by the poetry and the tea both!

If you couldn’t make it, don’t forget about our other festival events, happening on Thursday and Saturday:

The Road North: Ken Cockburn & Alec Finlay | Thursday 28 October, 7.30pm | £7/5

‘Ten years ago, living by The Meadows with their gean blossom walks, I dreamt up a project, to take Bashō’s Oku-no-Hosomichi as a routemaster for Scotland, traveling as he and Sora had, from the capital, Edina for Edo, on the road north to the Western Isles. And now it’s begun.’ Join us for more insight into Alec and Ken’s Bashō-inspired adventures. Tea & whisky served.

W N Herbert: Chinese Wayfaring | Saturday 30 October, 3pm | £7/5

Poet and indefatigable traveller W N Herbert has walked the Wall and followed the Silk Road and is currently working with eminent Chinese poet, Yang Lian, on a book of translations from contemporary Chinese poetry. An illuminating hour in the company of a consummate storyteller and inventive poet.

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