Jones presents himself as a hermit, austere and solitary.
Although he is married, his wife makes little or no appearance
in his haibun or haiku. The significant figures throughout
Stallions Crag are the author, people of the
recent or ancient past, and strangers encountered in the
course of solitary treks through the bleak beauty of the
central Welsh highlands. I suspect that Stallions
Crag will be difficult reading for most North Americans.
It is manifestly not directed to us. In his preface Jones
expresses the hope that his work will encourage others,
on both sides of Offas Dyke, to try their hands at
haiku and haibun.
this demarcation is not one most people would use in orienting
themselves, its aptness is intensely felt by Ken Jones,
and his best readers must be those who can share his passionate
sense of its significance. His basic themes might be transferred
to other, equally valid settingsthe desire to know
more deeply ones heritage, culture, and language,
even as one feels them suppressed and slipping away, the
need to confront the self, the search for shelter in wild
placesall of these could touch kindred experience
in readers anywhere in the world. Most readers, however,
will make these their own only with the greatest effort
because Joness work is so deeply, and nearly inextricably,
rooted in his actual settings.
writing both offers and resists opportunities for empathy
between author and readers. A challenge is offered and a
tension created when Jones shares intimate moments of solitude
but severely limits the areas in which this intimacy is
allowed to take place. The emphasis is rigorously intellectual
and metaphysical. In a haibun of some thirty-nine pages
(the title piece), this approach has the scope to develop
dimensions of subtlety and nuance. In the shorter pieces
it can seem merely cold. Knowledge of the esteem in which
Jones is held by those who share more of his cultural outlook
suggests that this is not an accurate reading, but it seems,
nonetheless, to be one he is doomed to suffer from those
complicating the process of appreciating his work is the
fact that Jones takes an unusual approach to the relative
qualities of the prose and poetry in his haibun. The poetry
is often quite plain, to the point of being like prose,
while some of the prose needs only to be arranged differently
on the page to be recognized as poetry. This is not accidental.
As the selection of haiku in the book illustrates, he knows
how to write poems that stand independently and successfully
assert themselves as poetry. His choice to shift, almost
reverse, the roles of prose and poetry within his haibun
is interesting but disorienting. Taken with other obstacles,
it makes for hard reading.
is no doubting Joness sincerity, intensity and, within
severely prescribed intellectual parameters, his passion
for the material contained in Stallions Crag.
If you have fond memories of a particularly harsh professor,
whose course left you feeling lost most of the time but
which you are now glad to have taken, you may want to give
this book a try.