This is my tribute to Stuart Quine, the haiku poet, who died, aged 57, this week, from coronavirus. Others who knew Stuart better than me are far more qualified to write a full appreciation of Stuart’s qualities, so this is necessarily only a heartfelt, brief tribute, rather than a thorough obituary, of a lovely bloke who also happened to be a fine poet.
I can’t quite remember when I first met Stuart, though I’m fairly sure that it was at a British Haiku Society meeting at Daiwa House, Regent’s Park, in the late 1990s. I was, though, aware of the limpidity and excellence of Stuart’s haiku well before then. As I’ve previously noted, Stuart’s first published haiku appeared in Blithe Spirit in April 1993 alongside another debutant, Martin Lucas, and selections of his work were included in the two major British haiku anthologies of those times: The Iron Book of British Haiku (1998) and The New Haiku (2002).
Stuart was born on 3 November 1962, just five days after Martin, but that coincidence wasn’t all they shared: both were from the North of England – Martin originally from Middlesbrough and Stuart from the Wirral – and had moved around England, Stuart to Liverpool then Sheffield; and they also had a very similar outlook and sense of humour. Both, too, were attracted to Buddhism, though for Stuart, an adherent of Sōtō Zen, it was far more of a way of life, a dao, than it was for Martin. For Stuart, it led, among other things, to his involvement with the Red Thread Haiku Sangha, whose members have included George Marsh, Sean O’Connor, Kim Richardson, Jane Whittle and the late Ken and Noragh Jones. Stuart was also a keen member of the Yorks./Lancs. Haiku Group, which Martin founded. Stuart was a key contributor to, and occasional guest editor of, Presence, the journal which Martin founded and edited with such gusto.
Medical conditions, though, afflicted them both: for Stuart it was myotonic dystrophy, an inherited condition which causes muscle loss to the point of immobility. It’s reasonable to conjecture that that inheritance made Stuart more aware than most of mortality, and engendered, as his friend and fellow haiku poet Lorin Ford noted in an email to me, “something earthy and wise but unassuming about him”. It certainly resulted in a body of haiku which is darker and more honestly reflective of mood than most people’s. Stuart was clever and well-read, and liked a good intellectual argument, particularly one in which he could play devil’s advocate. He was a nurse by profession, in the especially challenging A&E department, until his dystrophy meant he couldn’t carry on.
Martin’s tragic death in spring 2014 was a huge shock for all of us who knew him. At the funeral on a cold but sunny, early-May day in Preston, Ian Storr, Stuart and I decided that we would keep Presence going as a triumvirate, with website and other assistance from Chris Boultwood. Presence had always had a remarkable community spirit to it, in Martin’s image, and I like to think that the outpouring of grief and love which followed Martin’s passing found an expression in the great quantity of high-quality haiku, tanka, haibun and linked forms which the three of us accepted for issue 50 and subsequently. Our annual editorial meeting at Ian’s house in Sheffield was a treat to be looked forward to it, because Chris, Ian, Stuart and I would not only plan future issues as much as we could, but we’d laugh a lot in so doing. Stuart always had an opinion, and almost always a very inventive and helpful one. Sadly, though, Stuart’s editorial involvement was curtailed by IT problems after issue #54, so Ian assumed the ‘editor-in-chief’ role which he has carried out so capably for the last five years.
I last saw Stuart on 1 September 2018, at his sheltered accommodation in south-east Sheffield. He was physically reduced by then, but he was as intellectually alert and funny as ever. The belated publication, by Kim Richardson’s Alba Publishing, of many of his one-line haiku in two collections, Sour Pickle and then Wild Rhubarb, gave Stuart much pleasure.
Stuart was largely known for his inventiveness with the one-line haiku form, though his haiku career is book-ended by his use of the more traditional three-line form. He was also a fine tanka and haibun poet, and a perceptive reviewer.
Here are some of Stuart’s lesser-known poems which I’ve liked over the years:
outside the nightclub
shudders a puddle
(Presence 7 and The New Haiku)
as real as any dream cherry blossom
Such is life . . .
a pachinko ball
the implausibility of it all
yet here I am stumbling home
through the rain
Stuart’s poems rarely needed any explication and these four all speak eloquently for themselves. Of them, I like the pell-mell tanka most of all, not least because it resonates so strongly now. A large proportion of Stuart’s poems contained his essence, his humility and often black humour, rather than simply being objective observations. Therein lies their power and the reason why his writing will still be read with admiration and fondness for many years to come.