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EEL PIE DHARMA - a memoir / haibun -  © 1990 Chris Faiers

Chapter 1 - A Psychedelic Basho

At community college I began writing bad poetry around 1967.  When I realized that I was not cut out to be a science student, I immersed myself in arts courses and declared myself a poet.  Some poems submitted to the student magazine reminded the editor of haiku.  Having never heard of haiku, I didn't know what to make of the comment, but browsing through a literary magazine I found a classified ad offering copies of Haiku magazine from a Toronto address.

Haiku duly arrived, and I fell in love with the haiku form.  The similarity between haiku and the brief poems I had been attampting was obvious, and soon I was submitting haiku to the editor of Haiku, Dr Eric Amann.

After initial rejections.  I was thrilled when Eric Amann accepted several haiku for his magazine.  Encouraged, I began to devote myself to writing haiku.  Basho, the wandering haiku poet/priest of medieval Japan, was added to my role models.  The lonely life of a commuting college student in Florida presented a few of my early poems:

Christmas vacation
    tame ducks starving
        by the campus lake

    gray doves
        strung on a wire

Light breeze
    striding across campus         
        a thin professor

Almost from the beginning of my student days I had been fighting an appeals battle with the draft board.  Unfortunately I had registered in Georgia, just before our family moved back to Florida.  In retrospect, and after corresponding with former classmates many years later, I believe that I was an easy target for the Atlanta draft board.  Living out of the state, drafting me wouldn't stir up any local antagonisms, and the fact that I was also a resident alien (as a Canadian citizen by birth) probably didn't help my cause.  Ongoing struggles to keep my student status caused me to intensely question the Vietnam War, and I was living day-to-day with the life-and-death questions of duty to country versus participation in an unethical war.  This personal turmoil provided a fertile ground for writing haiku poems.  Often I had insomnia, and I would think back over my life.  A family vacation in the Blue Ridge Mountains provided:

Cavern pool
    tourists watching                  
        blind fish

Memories of a far off Halloween in Canada when I was five years old inspired:

    a young boy
        in a skeleton suit              

Some days I would escape to the beach after class:

Lobster antennas
    waving from the twin caves  
        of a cement block

Blue sea
    bobbing red and white
        lobster trap buoy

Summer moonlight
    rotting on our roof
        a starfish

As I became more and more disillusioned with the Vietnam War, I began to hang around with the other radicals and longhairs on the campus.  Miami was, and is, a very reactionary city, and psychedelia, which had flowered in California in 1966, was just reaching Miami in 1968.  I was one of the first long hairs on campus, and the second guy on Key Biscayne to grow long hair.  The centre for the slowly evolving hippie community in Miami was Coconut Grove, an artistic haven located around the Dinner Key docks and the adjacent waterfront park:

Bay wind blowing
    Coconut Grove sailboats
        tinkling rigging

First green appearing
    buds on the new stake hedge
        and chameleons

The flower
    of this old tree
        a treehouse

At the peak of the Vietnam War, in June 1969, I received three draft notices in a week.  It was time to leave.  I flew from Miami to Nassau:

Mounted sailfish
    lining the walls
        of Nassau airport              

From Nassau I caught a flight to Luxemburg, and then I caught a train from Brussels to London:

    black paint on pink brick      
        U.U. swastika A. A.

I lived with my cousin and his wife on the outskirts of London for several months.  It wasn't a comfortable arrangement for any of us.  I continued writing my haiku, always carrying a notebook with me in a tote bag.  One of my first visits was to Piccadilly Circus, where the traffic island in the centre of the world's busiest intersection had become an international hippie rendezvous under the statue of Cupid.  The day I visited Piccadilly there was a bust for hash smoking.  A bobby was about to arrest me when he spied my London guide book, and he let me go:

Piccadilly Circus
    Cupid's fountain spraying     

By now I had a large collections of haiku, many of them published in Haiku and numerous other small haiku journals which had sprung up in the United States.  I spent many days visiting Kew Gardens, and after one afternoon of meditation, I explored a side road on my way back to Kew Station.  I found a little printing company, and somehow got the courage to go in.

I'd like to publish a collection of my poems, I shyly told the balding, potbellied printer.  Despite my hippie appearance, my American accent tipped him that I might have money, and he got me to show him what I wanted.

When he saw my Luxemburg poem with the swastika, he wanted to know if I was a fascist.  I convinced him that I wasn't a fascist, only a poet, and he agreed to print my poetry in little booklets for £50 for 500 copies.

A week later I went back and picked up the box of my first chapbook, Cricket Formations.  I lugged the booklets down the hill to the post office in the hamlet of Kew, and spent the afternoon mailing them all over the world.

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Eel Pie Dharma - contents   |   next chapter (2)
Eel Pie Island (words & pics)   |   history of haiku   |   Alan Watts - This Is It   |   draft resistance

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revised 8 March 2017