The Book of Ways by Colin Will

The Book of Ways by Colin WillSpirit Words

In his new collection, The Book of Ways, Colin Will defines the Japanese form of haibun as ‘sketching in words’, and as ‘prose written in the spirit of haiku’; which usually contains a haiku as a conclusion. It is also a journey, whether literal, metaphorical or both.

The book, at first glance, looks more like prose, being novel length at more than 200 pages; and the haibun itself seems too prosey. But after a few pages, one soon eases into the meditative pace, and the poetry quickly emerges. Highlights include some of Will’s travels through Europe, North America and Japan; his fear of heights; a fear of dying (but not of death); and memories of his childhood in Edinburgh:

One of my teachers, and I forget how old I was when I met him, was Mr MacCaig. That’s how we knew him. Norman came much later.

 The writing is richly textured and deeply personal, without being banal. It celebrates the extraordinary in the ordinary, honing in on key moments – often using sensory detail – that colour a place or experience with its own particular mood. The reader delights in the simple joy Will recounts upon harvesting vegetables from his allotment; and there are well-wrought details of food from around the world, which often transcend their physical locations. He recounts a restaurant in Hungary, for example:

 Czardaš with your goulash, sir?

the old Red poet
spoke up for old tyrannies
from his Brownsbank home

What makes the haiku seem stronger is the immediacy of understanding when reading; whereas the haibun comprise more of a meandering journey, which the haiku encapsulates at the end of each passage. It is impressive that he wrote the entire book during a four-week Hawthornden residency (with or without notes or a plan, it is not known). This is a book to savour slowly, like

a glass of whisky
with a wee drop of water
at the day’s ending.

The Waxwing Slain

The Book of Ways, Colin Will
Red Squirrel Press, RRP £8.99, 240pp