Margaret Chula’s Grinding My Ink (1993) is a collection of haiku mostly written while living in Kyoto in the 1980s and 1990s.  It won the Haiku Society of America Book Award.  ‘Nearly all my memories of Japan center around a ramshackle wooden house on the northern edge of Kyoto,’ she writes.  She lived in the house for twelve years, attempting the necessary upkeep and repairs with her husband.  It was in Matsugasaki, in a dirt lane of ten traditional houses mainly occupied by foreigners and known as ‘Gaijin Mura’.

Like other old traditional houses, Chula’s was home to a variety of animal life. ‘Every winter we heard the sounds of mice nesting in the closet,’ she writes, ‘and for a few weeks a weasel made his nightly visit to the garbage can in the back hallway…  On summer evenings, baby tanuki (racoon dogs) frolicked in the garden and fearlessly tried to leap up onto the tatami through the open shoji. During the rainy season, six-inch centipedes scuttled across the damp walls and moths did their frantic dance inside paper lanterns.’  The closeness to nature provided the perfect background in which to produce seasonally-attuned haiku, which range across the life cycle from the birth of a cat to the death of a neighbour.

(See here for more about Margaret Chula and the Katsura Press.)

grinding my ink –
a black cat
howls in childbirth


making it harder
to trim the tree
a perfect web


cicadas –
the tree root


stillness of water
in a stone basin


sudden shower
in the empty park
a swing still swinging


after her funeral
a spring ikebana
in the tokonoma