On Simon Chard

I’ve written about the clarity and excellence of Simon Chard’s haiku before, here, and I make no apology for doing so again. Over the last few years, his haiku have been as consistently good as those of any English-language haiku poet and it’s no wonder that he’s won several competitions, including the Haiku Presence Award for 2014 and the BHS’s David Cobb Award for 2021, here.

Snapshot Press published an ebook – A Fence Without Wire, available here –  of 20 of Chard’s haiku in 2017. Many of his poems reflect the flora and fauna of Dumfries and Galloway where he lives. Since then, Chard has continued to develop his craft and take more risks.

In the latest issue of Presence, #73, one of his three haiku takes what many readers and, I suspect, most editors would deem to be a highly fanciful turn:

bracket fungus
we take the same path
as the goblins

One could criticise the first line for using the generic ‘bracket fungus’ rather than a specific identification, but many bracket fungi look similar to one another so, unless the reader is a mycologist, the wording is totally understandable. One sees the tree or stump to which the fungus is clinging, and senses that the setting is fairly deep inside a wood or forest. The word ‘goblin’, deriving from Norman, came into English in the 13th Century it seems, so one can conclude that belief in goblins is ancient, as ancient as the woodland into which Chard’s haiku leads us. The surprise of the line is softened sonically by ending, like the first line, in an ‘s’. More power to Ian Storr’s elbow for publishing this poem, and good on Simon for writing it.

I was also intrigued by another of Chard’s trio, mainly, but not only, because he includes a place-name and does so prominently:

tinged with pink
first snow

Burnswark was new to me, and a quick search said that it’s a hill near Lockerbie with a rich and fascinating history: evidence of Bronze Age occupation; an Iron Age hillfort; and site of a battle between the Romans and locals in the 2nd Century. To my mind, not enough English-language writers are willing to use the power and associations of place-names in their poems. Does it matter if the reader is initially unfamiliar with the reference? Well, the answer is surely that if they are interested, they will look it up. In this haiku, Chard has the confidence to let the hill’s name stand alone as the first line. Its first syllable has an assonance with ‘first’ in the third line and a pararhyme with the ‘n’ of ‘tinged’. Its second syllable has a near-rhyme with ‘pink’. The three ‘w’s in the haiku, happily positioned on a diagonal add a visual rhyme. The picture painted is of a hill towering over a broad landscape at a crepuscular hour – I see a spectacular sunset rather than dawn, but either is possible – as late-autumn gives way to the harshness of winter. With a syllable count of 2-3-2, it’s a short haiku by any standard. The passive adjectival verb, ‘tinged’, is inspired; it suggests the sunset is either working up to a full multi-red glow or is fading from one towards darkness. However one reads it, the elemental sense is intensely vivid.

3 thoughts on “On Simon Chard

  1. Place names in poetry? I am still smarting from the rebuke given to me by an American editor for being obscure after using the word Adelstrop. Of course, several other people have rejected it, so it may simply be bad. 🙂

  2. Hi Matthew,
    I totally agree with you about the consistently high quality of Simon Chard’s haiku, and his inventiveness.
    Love the comment on place names above – really made me smile!
    Julie x

  3. Thank you both very much for your comments. Many place-names have an innate and powerful musicality, and an editor who isn’t open to the possibility of their inclusion in haiku or longer poems is being unnecessarily proscriptive, I think.

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