friday feast: one bowl by penny harter

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I’m happy to share another beautiful haibun written by Penny Harter today, the title poem from One Bowl, Penny’s first eBook, which won a 2011 Snapshot Press eChapbook Award.

In a recent interview at Female First, Penny said that One Bowl is a kind of sequel to Recycling Starlight (Mountains and Rivers Press, 2010), poems she’d written in the first 18 months following the death of her husband, renowned haiku scholar William J. Higginson. Penny feels the poems in One Bowl are “less raw and more contemplative, showing that time does heal.”

“One Bowl” took my breath away when I first read it — its unadorned language so pure and luminous, its message especially appropriate for this season of material excess. Knowing that this was written by a poet well acquainted with grief (Penny also lost both parents in the same year), I was also reminded that a loved one, one single person, can be a person’s entire universe. I like how she blends the temporal and the celestial, creating ever spiraling associations with the human heart at its core.

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“One Bowl” is a haibun, a genre that developed from a diary form of writing which Matsuo Basho, the 17th century Japanese poet, kept as he went on pilgrimage in Japan. His most famous one is known as The Narrow Road to the Far North — sometimes translated as “The Narrow Road to the Interior.” Today, many poets worldwide have expanded the meaning of this “journey” or “pilgrimage” to also include an inner journey through experience and/or emotion. Haibun consist of poetic prose — like a prose poem — with haiku integrated into the whole. The haiku should not directly continue the narrative but relate in theme, mood, or tone — expanding the ripples of association.

photo © 2012 Penny Carter


As I load the dishwasher this evening, I think about how it would be to have one bowl, one fork, one spoon, one knife, one cup . . . and one small shelf to keep them on. Washing these by hand after each use, I would raise each piece to the light to contemplate its shining singularity.

One bowl—cupped hands. Which bowl would I choose from the many I possess? A small bowl my late husband bought at a private school crafts fair thirty-five years ago, its form born from a student shaping clay on a wheel. Brown lines criss-cross its white glaze, triangles circling the rim.

One bowl, one spiral on a potter’s wheel, one orbit of a planet round its host, pulling the spectra of a star’s gaseous fire from red to blue, and back. One bowl, one arm of the Milky Way slowly wheeling through the unfinished round of the sky in the iris of your eye.
One . . .

winter hive —
the cluster of bees

Copyright © 2012 Penny Harter. All rights reserved.

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For me, the closing haiku in “One Bowl” emphasizes the interconnectedness of all things, which I have always felt, and sense even more these days. Plus, I’ve long been fascinated by how bees keep the hive warm in winter — clustering in a ball and vibrating their wings rapidly to produce heat. They keep rotating, the bees at center move to the outside, and those outside gradually move inward. Sharing the task as one organism. That seemed to fit with the theme that the poem led me to — the oneness of it all. And the bowl’s being circular led to all the other circles, spirals, orbits, iris of the eye, etc., that found their way into the poem.

Before I wrote “One Bowl,” I had been longing for more simplicity in my life. And I was reminded of a British friend who lives lightly on the Earth. Years ago when he visited my late husband and me, he remarked that he didn’t need a dishwasher. He only had a few pieces of crockery and flatware, pots and pans, etc., and when he was done, he washed them. At that time he lived alone, as I have been doing since Bill’s death in 2008. So I found myself contemplating how it might feel to have just “one bowl” and one set of flatware, one pot, etc. Some days I look around me and wonder why I’ve kept even this much “stuff” during my down-sizing move from North Jersey to the Southern Jersey shore area to be near family. I may get to “one bowl” yet!

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Thanks so much, Penny!

♥ I highly recommend that you all read One Bowl in its entirety at the Snapshot Press website. Such pristine images and moments of clarity are a welcome balm for the soul!

♥ Visit Penny Harter’s Official Website and blog, Tide Lines, for more about her work.

♥ Read Penny’s Interview at Female First, where you can also read several poems from her other books.

♥ Other Penny poems at Alphabet Soup:

♥ Just in case you don’t already own a copy, check out the 25th Anniversary Edition of The Haiku Handbook (Kodansha, 2010), co-written by Penny and her late husband Bill!


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poetry fridayThe always lovely and gracious Robyn Hood Black is hosting today’s Roundup at Read, Write, Howl. Check out all the poetic goodness being served up in the blogosphere and enjoy your weekend. I’ll be hosting next week!


Copyright © 2012 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.

53 thoughts on “friday feast: one bowl by penny harter

  1. OH! Thank you for introducing me to haibun. I’ve hard of it, of course, but never knew exactly what it was. And thank you for One Bowl – I’ll check out Penny’s site and other poems. Happy Friday!


    1. Penny’s work is so beautiful and inspiring. It is interesting as well as heartening (and sometimes heartbreaking) to see the power of poetry to heal, to see the stages of grief in her poems.


      1. Thanks you again, Jama. Yes, grief does have stages, and writing my poems has been a necessary way to mark them as one passes through. It’s been over four years now since Bill died, and I am much healed—the memories comfort rather than hurt, But there are still moments. . .


  2. This was so moving, even more so because I knew Bill. But it is a powerful and simple image even without that personal connection.

    Thanks for it. It has been a lovely way to start my own creative day.


    1. Hi Paul, thanks so much for you kind comment. I miss seeing you and wish you and Jan a wonderful Christmas / New Year. And as usual have a good creative day—your work (music) is wonderful!


  3. Thank you for your beautiful introduction to Penny and her work. Her words are so – well what comes to mind is the sound when you make crystal ring – resounding, clean and clear. I will defintiely seek out her e-book.


  4. Beautiful and moving. I love the connection – strong yet indirect – between the haiku and the prose. Thanks.


      1. And Jama, when you notice them, sometime you find things (like that “star” on the bottom of the bowl” –that association with what I wrote) that I hadn’t consciously thought of. A bow of thanks for that.


    1. Thank you, Julie. Try haibun yourself—it’s lovely to find just the right haiku to go with the prose—and meet the challenge of not directly continuing the narrative but still relating.


  5. Wow, this is SO beautiful, and I love the interview from Female First. When you said you were taking a break after the peanut butter, I thought you wouldn’t be posting. Very glad to find out I was wrong. 🙂


    1. I’m taking a break after I host next week!

      Glad to hear you enjoyed the poem so much as well as the interview. Penny is such a great teacher too. 🙂


  6. Thank you, Jama, for another amazing post featuring Penny and her writing – and thank you, Penny, for being so generous.

    I enjoyed reading the e-chapbook featured here (thanks for the link!) and love the Female First interview, especially Penny’s description of “clear water” poems, which describe Penny’s refreshing, resonating work.


  7. Hi, Jama and Penny. I am fascinated with the haibun form. Just as haiku often juxtaposes two images, the prose section and haiku portions of a haibun vibrate against one another (those bees!) Thanks for sharing this.


    1. Laura, I love what you say about the haiku and haibun “vibrating against one another” like the bees. I hadn’t thought of it that way, but you’re right. Thanks for this insight :).


  8. My heart is filled by this poem. We’ve been doing a bit of spring cleaning lately with family friends coming over for Christmas and I am amazed at the accumulation of junk, riffraff, useless paraphernalia that are just lying around the house (I haven’t even gotten to the dustmotes and spiderwebs yet). How absolutely right to simply have that which you need, at ONE point in time. “Cupped hands.” Blessed. Soul at rest.


  9. I loved the stillness of this image – still, and yet thrumming with power…so much to take in here, as usual, Jama. And thank you for leading me to Penny’s work, which I cannot wait to explore further.


  10. Thanks Penny for a serene yet powerful journey into your soul. Every image had a personal and moving association for me.


  11. I look forward to exploring Penny’s work. What was shared is so intriguing, quiet and lead me to pause…I too, now wonder what it would be like. Very interesting work from the image at the beginning to Penny’s additions following her piece. Lovely Jama, thank you so much for sharing.


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