Spitting Pips by David Cobb. Braintree, Essex, England: Equinox Press, 2009. 6” x 8 ½,” perfect bound, 64pp. ISBN 978-0-951703-6-4. £7.95 UK.
Spitting Pips is the latest collection of haibun from this much admired exponent of haibun in the English language. David Cobb has been writing haiku for over 30 years. A founder member of the British Haiku Society, he has been a significant presence for other writers of haiku and haibun both in Britain and internationally ever since.
Cobb’s first major endeavour in the field of haibun was his award winning Spring Journey to the Saxon Shore (Equinox 1997). In this work Cobb engages with Bashō head-on by undertaking a real journey to discover his own cultural, spiritual and geographical roots by means of a haibun of epic proportions that is directly experiential and, like Bashō’s writings, is in the nature of a poetic journal and travelogue. Spitting Pips is a more reflective, wide-ranging and varied collection. Whilst still building on real experience the book delves into memories of the writer’s past and takes as its subject a range of recollections of travels and dramas, both immediate and distant, which reflect the events and changes that have determined Cobb’s eventful life.
Cobb applies his humorous but penetrating vision to both the quotidian and the exotic and treats both with equal warmth and wisdom. He is able to evoke the contrasting beauty and poverty of Thailand with as much ease and wry humanity as he is able to conjure up the hazards of ‘Googling’, Test Cricket or to give his unexpected takes on the more familiar terrain of East Anglia.
Like Palm, an earlier collection from 2002, the haibun of Spitting Pips are inter-shuffled with groups of linked stand-alone haiku. This contrasts with his 2006 collection Business in Eden, which has only haibun. I imagine that the thinking behind this is that, since haibun is still in its infancy and is likely to be read mainly by those who come to the form through their love of haiku, the addition of pages of haiku would have a grounding effect and would serve to strengthen the poetry component of the volume. For me, the addition of stand-alone haiku, though they are all individually easily up to Cobb’s usual high standard and distinctive flavour, rather has the reverse effect, as if the haiku pages are ‘fillers’ of more easily assimilated material. In fact, the haibun themselves are all so strong and interesting that the change of emphasis and pace introduced by the pages of haiku seems unnecessary and even a distraction.
Cobb brings together East and West though his haibun as he has done in his own life and in his studies. Cross-cultural influences and references make for a broad and interesting series of insights, integrated in a very individualistic way that is recognisably ‘Cobb’ with all his skills of expression and lightness of touch, love of incongruity, profundity and humanity. Spitting Pips is rooted in Cobb’s British, specifically Anglo-Saxon, context but at the same time displays how international Cobb is in his influence and influences. Spitting Pips is an important contribution to haibun literature and should, in my view, be required reading for anyone interested in haibun in English and what its potentials are.