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A Quarterly Journal
Jeffrey Woodward, Founder & General Editor
Volume 6, Number 3, September 2012


Jeffrey Harpeng
Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

On Stanley Pelter’s About Time

About Time, Stanley Pelter UK, George Mann Publications 2012 176 pp. ISBN 9781907640100 . The seventh collection of illustrated haibun by Stanley Pelter is available from 5 School Lane, Claypole, Newark, Lincolnshire NG23 5BQ, United Kingdom; email address: The cost (which just covers postage) is £10 UK; $AU15.50; $US15.50.

About Time is the seventh and final collection of a sequence of haibun volumes written over nine years, in all including 500 haibun and 200 illustrations. The seven books constitute, in Pelter's words, “an almost haibun novel” beginning with “birth” in the first volume past imperfect, and concluding with “zapped sounds of death's unholy silence” in About Time. This journey from birth to death is ambitious in scale, and stylistically unique in the haibun world.

There's a haiku in About Time which offers an imprecise précis of his book.

full of unfunny jokes
impatient patient
inhales sounds

The words “inhales sounds” brings to mind Kodo, the Japanese art of incense appreciation. In a Kodo ceremony, participants listen to incense, that is, they inhale the meaning of it. For example, it is said of one wood: “Its smell is generally bitter, and reminds one of a warrior,” and another may be “so light and faint that one may think the smell has disappeared. It reminds one of a monk.” Pelter in this haiku, impatient with illness (Humours tang evaporates so quickly), finds the slow pleasure of thoughtful breathing. There is a fine heady eroticism in the act.

Perfume-wise, the base note of this book, its musk, is the grand strange joy of suffering. Oh the joy is in simply being alive. By certain fine or coarse tortures of thought, suffering can make the world exquisite. What the exquisite is, is being bared to the grand scope of small things and the intimacies of grand things. In the following haiku, the grandly pervasive wind gets intimate.

light push of warm wind
inside drug fed up gardens
this moth fest

Fine haiku give out and give up their perfume with base note, heart note and top note rising from and sinking back in to each other. In this haiku the wind, plays the top note, its grand scale has become the intimacy of a small push. The top note beckons the poet away from the “drug fed up” musk of dying, the base note of the text. It draws our attention to the heart note, the shivery experience of “this moth fest,” moths flowering in the garden.

Pelter's haiku are counter to the simplistic notion of being experienced in a breath. It takes several deep inhalations to allow the different aromas to get to the brain. His prose works likewise.

The scent of the top note in many of Pelter's haiku, and in much of his prose, is “so light and faint that one may think the smell has disappeared. It reminds one of a monk.” It reminds me of a secular monk, that is someone with their eroticism retuned, someone who finds the ineffable in the conjunction of objects or events far apart. Someone, somewhere wrote: Theory of Relativity? “Action at a distance happens in time.” To time stamp his haiku with the deformed notion of a haiku moment is to find a moment that is, as in “full on cremation,” a lifetime long.

The haibun “that moment” touches on a hopeless hope for a glimmer of continuity after all the organs close shop.

pagan jerusalem psalm creases with laughter. put aside pound after pound to pay for a humanist funeral. i am i am going to enjoy it. but how? don’t know but will find a way. first must tell her what she needs to know.

full on cremation
long changed foetus
about to change again

yours like mine is beyond that slime-covered scrawny blood-rivulet birth. yes it is trite but that now is of little consequence. Anything but anything is better than being inside a stuck down envelope of darkness earth like him across our shared road.

singular language
under gothic clouds
flames dance

between that start this finish small bits large bits. For me for you there is little more than variegated traces. Perhaps it hides in a mix that reconstitutes new forms from old. Perhaps like a dead branch it still belongs—not able to ground due to support from deep green neighbours. Perhaps.

full-on cremation
strangest party ever
misses a great joke

“that moment” reaches for the untouchable, the unanswerable, and leaves off with “perhaps” and a “great joke,” the scent of hope, the heart note rises, and sinks back to the musk of death. Without deity, there remains the ineffable mysticism of flames, the mesmerising speculations of language: “anything but anything is better than being inside a stuck down envelope of darkness . . .”

Pelter memorialises and sums up himself, and glimpses himself being summed up.

Our group of five comprise Jill (sculpture school), who died too young, Ben (painting school) of Unilever fame and fortune, David and Ron (both to be great 20th century painters), and myself (tiny school of stained glass and the better Coventry Cathedral windows).

He worries along with the ramshackle sprawl of our language and “the interpretive collisions that give nothing away.” At times with tongue-tripping technique, he travels/explores his subject with the linguistic abandon young children delight in. With adult vocabulary of course.

Heehaw, he must again gain rererepeat prescriptions into a winwinwin winter that whitens breast whiteness as his wordlings wedwedwed sharp colours to her paucity. Dripping wet clothes sag and lag as his memories into her unguent fluids run out and about any solid hint of him. His air hair maybe returns to a kinda translucent blackness, not that so solid raven black her sinsensensual fingers used to forage minutes at a time.

He addresses an existence empty of metaphysics, a destiny in which even forgetting will be forgotten.

“I broke with some inherited ways of understanding, especially that of progress. Went for a pile-up of themes. Know now there is nothing. Not lines of flight into a non-existent horizon. Not even lines of vertical black. Perhaps death is not desire, not any experience other than its absence.”

“I’ve lost you. Don’t know anything. Who in this emptiness does—or can? Perhaps no answer is the answer.”

thick slab of black notes
interpretive collisions
give nothing away

There are things to hold dear, to prize, after all the grim reductions. Secular moments of awe, the dizzy deeply breathed occasions when the world, in scents/sensations rising and falling away, is glimpsed as exquisite, intimate.

infinite garden
sudden ascent
of a spider

over a cliff edge
in all directions
dizzy seas



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