turning the compost heap
the shovel strikes
my favourite teaspoon

Jane Gibian


I love the immediacy of this haiku, how rich it is in both the sensory and symbolic. And what a perfect topic for connecting us to nature  … all that lovely humus!

This has long been a favourite haiku of mine, rewarding me over several readings as new small revelations unveil themselves.

Rather than using a kigo to indicate a particular season, the whole opening line ‘turning the compost heap’ encompasses all the seasons at once, signifying life’s larger cyclic nature as simultaneously transient and transforming. It also places the human being as part of, not apart from, the natural world. The poet/gardener is feeding perhaps both a family and the earth, while attentive to maintaining a deeper connection to nature.

Turning compost by hand with a shovel can be slow work, perhaps even meditative. When ‘the shovel strikes’ we are brought to a new kind of attention and curiosity. What has been struck? That it is a favourite ‘thing’ at once creates a juxtaposition between the decay of the compost heap and the sentimental value we place on material things. Who hasn’t experienced the joy and enriched appreciation that a lost and found precious thing brings? In this regard I find the closing line ‘my favourite teaspoon’ inclusive and expansive, immersing me fully into ‘haiku world’ as it does into the world of tea.

In Australia we may not enact the detailed tea ceremonies of countries like Japan and Korea but tea making and drinking has been an indelible part of our social culture from the bushy’s billy to putting on the kettle for a calming, restorative ‘cuppa’. The partaking of tea and of haiku each create a particular kind of space and time in which we are gifted with the opportunity to reflect and commune in gratitude for the blessing that is life.

Published: Long Shadows, Vagabond Press Rare Objects Series 2005

Selection and comments by Jane Williams

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