Matrix NI’s ‘sci-ku’ challenge

For the last couple of weeks I have been researching science topics and counting on my fingers for a science haiku competition. The brief for this event the Northern Ireland Science Industry Panel, Matrix, was to Tweet science-inspired haiku in three lines of 5-7-5 syllables.

I write a lot of short form poetry, so you’d think this would be fairly straightforward. However, since Japanese syllables are shorter than their English counterparts, contemporary haiku no longer adheres to this count, so the 5-7-5 stipulation took a bit more effort. As I said to one of the organisers afterwards, I felt I had to ‘pad out’ some haiku in order to reach seventeen syllables. However, as I enjoy a challenge I merrily Tweeted sci-ku on all sorts of topics from black holes and de-extinction, to the dwindling population of bees.

Well, I’m sorry to say I didn’t win, although four of my entries made the shortlist and were displayed at the awards ceremony in Belfast’s Black Box. I also managed to miss this event by being in the wrong place – though at the right time! There were two events organised by Matrix NI that evening in adjacent rooms in the same venue, both starting at 18:30. When I entered the main theatre, I read the words, ‘Tako Tsubo’ (a Japanese term) on a large screen along with the question ‘Can you die from a broken heart?’ Not for a moment did I think I was in the wrong place for a poetry event, so I ordered a drink and sat down for the evening.

Anyway, it turned out that I was attending a presentation by the University of Aberdeen on results of research into a debilitating heart condition. I had been aware from the Matrix Twitter feed that there was to be a further prize for the best science haiku written during the evening and naively thought that the presentation was to provide inspiration. I felt so silly on discovering my error, especially since the haiku event had finished by the time I realised. However, my daughter who had accompanied me said that she had learned more about the heart in two hours than she had over the last two years in biology class. Ah well, as they say, you live and learn. 🙂

So, here are my ‘heart haiku’ and I am itching to remove a few words, but will resist. They are all based on the paper presented by Dr Dana Dawson on the heart condition Tako-Tsubo Cardiomyopathy (also know as Broken Heart Syndrome) which mimicks a heart attack. It can be brought on by emotional stress, such as news of the death of a loved one, due to a sudden increase in adrenaline.

Tako-tsubo heart…
the devastating effect
on survivors too

adrenaline storm …
too much of a good thing
can be a bad thing too

matters of the heart…
wondering if we can die
from a broken one

And here are the shortlisted general haiku with images kindly supplied by Matrix NI. I took the stills from the video of all shortlisted entries.


The above haiku refers to this project and of course to Basho’s ‘old pond’, the most famous haiku in the world.


One for St Valentine’s Day! 🙂


I found this arachnid intriguing, it is also known as the ‘signature spider’ because it writes a zig-zag line in its web.


My husband gave me the bones of this haiku inspired by Seamus Heaney’s poem ‘Digging’ and I worked through several versions before arriving at this one.

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Of ‘hyggekrog’ dreams…

Angela Topping’s highly enjoyable hygge series focusses on the many aspects of this Danish word that loosely describes how simple pleasures in life can make us feel good.
The writer explained in one post that the associated noun hyggekrog defines a place that embodies cosiness. She said it was like a small nook where one can feel safe. Maybe a window seat or a cosy reading corner, an inglenook fireplace or a small room. It’s a burrow for humans, and may go back as an instinct to our cave-dwelling days where ancient humans were safe from wild beasts.

My haiga is featured today in Angela’s series with poetry from Johanna Boal and Brian Johnstone.  The haiga, or more specifically photo haiku, was inspired by such a place , having been composed while curled up in an armchair contemplating a crackling fire. To use the adjective associated with hygge – it could be described as a hyggelig haiga!

Now, why don’t you pull up a chair and join me by the fire. 🙂

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Hygge Feature #17 Coming in from the cold and dark

How to intensify that ‘hygge’ feeling – go outside and come back in again. 🙂

A haiga featured with poems by Bethany Rivers and Rona Fitzgerald on Angela Topping’s blog.

Angela Topping

Being outdoors in the cold and coming home makes hygge more intense. A bowl of soup, a warm fire and the tingle of warmth returning to frozen hands and feet – it’s almost worth going outside for! Marion Clarke, from Northern Ireland, sent me this beautiful poem/photo, which inspired today’s post.


white fire

the silence of me looking out
at the world from the doorway
and you looking at me looking out
letting in the cold and not minding for once

the icing sugar coating over so many
houses, sheds and cars, quilting
the fields, the snow still falling
softly now, lazily, every flake

taking its time, enjoying the last
freshets of air whilst deciding
where and how to kiss the ground
or the fence post or the branch or

another snowflake – the silence beckons –
but slowly, I balance on the threshold
unsure whether to go walk in…

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First publication of the year on tinywords


This is a monostich (one line haiku) that is very close to my heart. It refers to my youngest sister Niamh’s two-year battle with cancer, which she lost in September.

Even though it is just seven words long, the word ‘prognosis’ caused some debate.

Best wishes for a happy, healthy 2017.


final prognosis different clouds on the horizon



carlingford lough 002


Detail from my painting of Carlingford Lough from Seaview, Warrenpoint (oil and acrylic)

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The role of ‘fusoku-furi’ in the art of photo haiku

FURTHER UPDATE: I was excited to learn over the Christmas holidays that my entry in the January episode of the award-winning Japanese TV programme HAIKU MASTERS won Haiku Master of the Month.

Haiku master and judge Michio Nakahara said, “The three line haiku does not mention the bee or the flower. In terms of fusoku-furi it has a perfect distance from the photograph. This photo haiku would be inanimate if it were just the flower but the bee adds movement and the earnestness of the bee is something that we can all relate to.”

Needless to say, I was over the proverbial moon. 🙂

The TV programme in which my photohaiku is discussed at the Memorial Museum of Fine Art, Tokyo, will be on air during the month of January 2017.

UPDATE: Episode 7 of HAIKU MASTERS in which my photo haiku was featured was aired on Japan’s

“All works of art are more beautiful when they suggest something beyond themselves than when they end up being merely what they are.”- Soetsu Yanagi, The Unknown Craftsman

One of the objectives of a photo haiku or haiga (haiku combined with traditional Japanese brushwork, a piece of art or a photograph) is to achieve fusoku-furi, which roughly translates as ‘unattached and undetached’ or ‘not too far, not too close.’

Fusoku-furi helps ensure that the haiku is not simply a description of the photo or artwork, and vice versa. The poet should strive to add something that is not already included the image, for example a reference to use of one of the senses, or an emotion that is stirred by looking at the photo. In this way, another layer of meaning is achieved by adding to the visual element.

Haiku Master, Michio Nakahara explains, “A photo always lacks something, for example sounds – a photo cannot express sound … or smell. By adding an element that you don’t see in the photo, you add a different dimension.”

I discovered very recently that my photo haiku below has been selected to feature in Episode 7 of the Japanese TV programme HAIKU MASTERS. This episode is filmed in Rikujien Gardens, Tokyo, and will go live on 31st October. My photo haiku is currently on view in the HAIKU MASTERS photo gallery.

I submitted this photograph I took of a derelict house, focusing on the front door with its boarded up letterbox. I combined it with a haiku describing an elderly person sifting through bundles of junk mail. I hoped the combination of image and words would add an atmosphere of sadness and abandonment – perhaps this person regularly goes through their junk mail, carefully check each item in the hope of finding a letter from a loved one?

I feel very honoured that my haiga has been selected as, to date, almost 4000 submissions have been received from 89 countries.


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The Swansong of Leatherhead KT22, poem by Marion Clarke (WHEN I MOVED Poetry and Prose Series)

Ah, the memories

Silver Birch Press

The Running HorseThe Swansong of Leatherhead KT22
by Marion Clarke

As if by magic,
next door’s ginger cat appears,
muzzles its way along
the newly washed panes.

“Bye, bye, puthy tat!”
my toddler exclaims,
flattening his palms against glass.
A faint trace remains . . .
then evaporates.

A few minutes later,
I close the front door
of our family home.

My husband, all business,
checks passports and tickets.
I attempt to quell
the hot threat of tears,
to oppose the swell
of a hundred indecisions.

Outside, by a garden bonfire,
a sad-eyed neighbour smiles.
I watch the yellow smoke
spiral upwards . . .
then disappear.

SOURCE: Published in Poetry NI’s FourXFour Journal, Issue 14, Autumn 2014.

ABOUT THE POEM: This poem was inspired by a few lines from T.S. Eliot’s “The Lovesong of J Alfred Prufock.”

AUTHOR’S PHOTO CAPTION: The Running Horse, Leatherhead, built in the fifteenth century is…

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There’s something about clowns…

Okay, so the subject in Henri Rosseau’s Carnival Evening, 1886 is the character, Pierrot rather than a clown, but the dark, surreal atmosphere in the painting had the same effect on me as creepy clowns and carnivals. Think American Horror – particularly its Freak Show season

When I spotted that Rosseau’s painting was the prompt for Creative Writing Ink’s latest monthly competition, I had to enter. There is such a mysterious atmosphere in this forest landscape with its phosphorescent couple and I tried to imagine who the strange, bodiless face belonged to at the side of the structure. I think he is secretly watching them…

I decided to combine the image with a haiku to create a haunting haiga and hope you (and the judges!) enjoy it.



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Monday blues turn pink!


Some good news this morning! I have participated several times in London’s Financial Times Workplace Haiku Competition that has been running every fortnight for the last eighteen months. During that period, I was fortunate enough to have had some of my submission selected and learned today that one was chosen the final list of favourites. 🙂

IMG_6045 (1)


Below is the senryu that was chosen.

FT new boss


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Visiting Sheelin, poem by Marion Clarke (MY MANE MEMORIES Poetry & Prose Series)

Visiting Sheelin
Marion Clarke

“Let me brush your hair,” you say,
“how’d you get it in such a state?”

And you scramble up onto those sharp, little knees
on that huge, unyielding hospital bed.

My friend and I, both college crows,
pick through the bones of your lunch leftovers.

You tut in mock annoyance,
I laugh with fake enjoyment
and relate how my tutor had to shake me awake
during a lesson, after Thursday’s folk session
in the student union bar.

My voice sounds shrill
as I babble to fill this sanitised space,
to chase away the silence
that frightens.

In those light-blue eyes, a knowing look
that belies your sixteen years,
no longer disguises that which
I will not — no, cannot — acknowledge.

And you hum as you brush
my unruly curls,
and I’m glad of a fringe
that covers my eyes.

Cherry Tree House, October, 1986
Royal Victoria Hospital for Sick Children


Source: Visiting Sheelin, poem by Marion Clarke (MY MANE MEMORIES Poetry & Prose Series)

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Like father, like son – poetry in the genes

‘It concentrates you…it encourages deep reading, rather than the skim that the world is getting used to – this McDonald’s, fast-food language.”

So says poet and musician, Adrian Rice, on the result of taking a good poem seriously in ‘this age of distraction.’

In a fascinating interview for online literary journal, Numéro Cinq, Gerard Beirne invites father and son poets Adrian and Matthew Rice to talk about their writing process, their individual inspiration and possible influence on each other’s work.

Adrian is now settled in Hickory, North Carolina, where he lives with his wife, Molly and their young son, Micah. Matthew addresses us from Carrickfergus, in his native Northern Ireland. Due to technical difficulties, Beirne has edited his questions out of the recording which, oddly enough, hasn’t impacted on the interview (these two can talk!)

Adrian, whose first poetry collection was published in 1990, explains that for a long time he considered himself a reader rather than a writer of poetry. He reveals that at the age of twenty-six he finally accepted that he had written his first poem when his friend, artist Ross Wilson confirmed it as such. Since then he has had several collection of poetry published and won numerous awards.

Matthew on the other hand, appears to have enjoyed a childhood that was immersed in poetry and art, remembering drawing with Wilson in his studio and visits from his father’s poet friends, including Tom Paulin and Ian Duhig.

“Poetry was almost like a ghost in the house that was haunting, in a nice way.”

He reveals that he ‘read and read’ when his dad got rid of the television after the family moved to Islandmagee on the coast of County Antrim. However, it is interesting to hear that he waited until his was almost exactly the same age as his father before he put pen to paper. He has recently compiled his first poetry collection.

The full interview can be read here Uimhir a Cúig | Interview & Poems — Adrian Rice & Matthew Rice

Thanks to Colin Dardis of Poetry NI for sharing.



Matthew and Adrian Rice

I first ‘met’ Adrian Rice virtually when we both posted a tribute poem on the ‘Seamus Heaney – In Memorium’ website after the sad news of the great poet’s death. I spotted his name and messaged him to say I thought we had a mutual friend in a certain Padraig McGuiness (the musician from his university days mentioned in this interview) We still haven’t met in person, but have been communicating online ever since.

I hope to meet Matt for the first time this weekend at the launch of an anthology entitled Connections. This new collection of poetry from Northern Ireland will be published by Community Arts Partnership, Belfast, as part of its Poetry in Motion project. Matt and I have a number of poems in the anthology.  At the event he will also read his poem that has been longlisted in the Seamus Heaney Awards for New Writing.

UPDATE: 13th March
Well, I was delighted to catch up with Matt at the Heaney Awards this afternoon in Belfast and afterwards we both enjoyed a friendly chat with celebrated Northern Irish poet, Frank Ormsby.

B&W matt and me

Above, with Matthew Rice
Below, with Frank Ormsby


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