homeeditorsreviewsessaysmhbooks issues

Volume 35.2
Summer 2004


book review:

Stallion’s Crag: Haiku and Haibun
by Ken Jones


reviewed by John Stevenson

Stallion’s Crag: Haiku and Haibun, by Ken Jones (North Shields, England: Iron Press, 2003). 104 pages; 14.7 cm x 10.6 cm; paperback; ISBN 0-906228-84-0; $15.00 (cash) from Iron Press, 5 Marden Terrace, Cullercoats, North Shields, NE30 4PD, U.K.


Ken 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 Stallion’s 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 Stallion’s 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 Offa’s Dyke, to try their hands at haiku and haibun.”

While 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 settings—the desire to know more deeply one’s 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 places—all 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 Jones’s work is so deeply, and nearly inextricably, rooted in his actual settings.

The 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 more removed.

Further 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.

There is no doubting Jones’s sincerity, intensity and, within severely prescribed intellectual parameters, his passion for the material contained in Stallion’s 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.



©2004 Modern Haiku • PO Box 68 • Lincoln, IL 62656