All True Haiku are the Anchors of Experience

During this Plaguetime, I continue to ransack old notebooks; the problem is that one thing keeps on leading to another, one photo to other photos, an endless stream of things all written down in various kinds of exercise books, stapled to start with but from 1957 onwards hardback perfect-bound. Seventy years of notebooks! Miles & miles of words…

In November 1992, the year The British Haiku Society came into being, I was in the middle of going regularly to The Polish Centre in Hammersmith, West London, by the Thames, to take part in Ian McDermott’s training in Neuro-linguistic Programming (NLP), a life-enhancing experience. So much stuff that chimed with me as though I’d done it all before. Simply to think or say the word ‘Hammersmith’ now anchors me not just in Gustav Holst’s fine piece of music but also in the whole exciting cast of mind and way of thinking that the NLP experience there codified in me. This was at the same time as I became editor of The British Haiku Society’s journal Blithe Spirit. Learning about what, in NLP, is called ‘anchoring’ I understood the connection between the process and the writing of haiku. To my knowledge, nobody else has ever made that connection before.

Anchors – residual patterns in the mind, deriving from events in the past, both visual, auditory, kinaesthetic, olfactory and gustatory, that act as triggers in the present for feelings, both positive and negative. They anchor you, take you back, fire you up, make you feel miserable, cause great excitement, depending on the nature of the original experience.

The reason it’s unnecessary to refer directly to an emotion evoked when writing a haiku is that it’s already contained in the words depicting the experience – they already anchor the feeling.

In November 1992, making notes on the NLP experience, it’s clear that, though I could easily come up with negative anchors like ‘having to make a telephone call’, or even a sad/happy anchor like ‘Newlands Corner’ (thereby hangs a long tale – you can find your very own dubious anchors), I found it exciting to indulge in a stream of conscious noting of the things that anchor me positively in life as it is lived. Here is an example, more or less as it is scribbled in my old notebook:-

The smell of books, old books, new books, secondhand bookshops, smell = knowledge & excitement (Proust), the look of poems on a page, the beginning of a piece of music, the moment just before the string quartet starts up in the Wigmore Hall, sacred places – Box Hill, Salisbury, the Avenue (Worcester Park, Ann Veronica), stag beetles flying there, any insect in flight, trees on a horizon, shapes of houses in the dusk, a radio commentator from other people’s houses, lit interiors as you pass them in trains, any journey on a train, the set direction & the criss-crossing of roads, the shapes of hills & fields, long tunnels, the beach at Bournemouth in 1947, the old ruined house in the Avenue, putting words on paper, organising scraps of paper so they make sense, seeing what you think as the page fills with words, a new notebook, snow that hasn’t been trodden on, smooth sand when the tide’s gone out, making a simple physical movement, committing to something new, the long line of the horizon, footpaths that disappear round a bend, the sound of bicycle tyres on a happy road, reading a map, the excitement of snow, reduction of difference to uniformity, a fresh sheet of paper to write on, sedums in a rock garden, the struggle of the shrubbery, a mown lawn with stripes, a lawn against a profusion of greenery, ivy on walls, flickering firelight, light from a room when you’re outside it, autumn leaves & people clearing them, woodsmoke, the smell of damp undergrowth, decaying leaf matter, parks hiden away between houses, railway yards in London on a Saturday afternoon, houses whose back windows look out on parkland, views from windows of gardens in summer, then in autumn, Walt Whitman piling anchor upon anchor in the sea of himself, automatic writing, dredging, making found poems, lost poems, lost images, Whitejacket’s Almanac, the ease of old men raking leaves, the Nothingness of time when you link one thing with another, books about time, (Dunne, Priestley, Nicoll), books as anchors (Return of the Native, Journey to the East, Germinal, Nausea), the sound of trains going through cuttings, dogs & cats wanting a stroke, swifts in an evening air, chaffinches at daybreak, the ends of railway lines in Scotland (Inverness, Wick, Thurso), the names of places, Tintagel, Colchester, Norwich, newts, damselflies & hoverflies, little old dogs paddling in rainwater, the flow of a fountain pen on smooth paper, flowing ideas, flow of thought, flow of road past the bicycle, flow of landscape, the flow of long stretches of outer space, two trees by a bowling green, being on your own, Richmond Park on dark autumn evenings, silver birch branches, whistling a bit of Brahms, a bit of Beethoven, something of my own, the opening of Alan Rawsthorne’s 2nd Piano Concerto, Shostakovitch Ten, walking through the night, rising early, working late, head on pillow…

When you read a haiku which does something to you it’s probably because the image fires an anchor in you:-

path by the lake
cormorants roost
beneath lark song

(John Parsons)

I am immediately by a different lake called ‘The New Sea’ (Coate Water in Wiltshire) I walked round many years ago and here’s a path I’ve created myself to ‘disappear round a bend’ in my very own forest next to our garden to anchor all those other paths that have haunted me for years. When I tread round it with Bertie, the cat, every morning I join with all the other paths I’ve ever trod:-

Everything is potentially an anchor. In a serious experiment, Finesmith (1959) demonstrated that people react sensationally to the sound of nonsense syllables – how much more will they relate to the sound of relatively meaningful words connected with things that have been of some moment to them? An anchor is a mental representation of an original ‘event’ of some kind. The representation of the original ‘event’ becomes a frame of reference for ongoing things in the present, a template you bring to bear on things as they happen NOW. The original event itself was nothing but a representation – it stood for an attitude of mind, it made a pattern in the mind that lasts forever. As I read through my stream of consciousness list I’m happily back in specific occasions and, one by one, they now awaken, any one of them on its own, a feeling of joy in the present. When you ‘chain’ anchors in a thought stream the buzz can be huge.

The more anchors you bring into consciousness, the bigger the healthful buzz. The richer one’s chaining of anchors is the more positive and resourceful becomes one’s grasp of life, even in this Plaguetime. The same goes for collecting anchors in haiku: as James Kirkup used to say ‘A haiku a day keeps the doctor away…’

All true haiku are the anchors of experience.

There are many negative anchors relating to times we’d rather forget but coming to terms with moments that seem unaccountably dismal, when suddenly the world seems alien to us, it’s worth thinking about why it’s so: it’s usually because, in your other-than-conscious mind some negative anchor has been fired.

Reading JBPriestley’s brilliant novel They Walk in the City this last week, I was reminded of a profound negative anchor that I’ve long since disposed of. Though what’s really interesting is that I can still amuse myself by dwelling on it to sully a blue sky morning whenever I choose. In Priestley’s novel, Edward Greenfield is on his way to a workplace he finds mentally debilitating:-

Most members of both sexes [on the bus to work] looked disappointed and rather angry, as if they had just discovered that life had been cheating them for years, that all the gold in this forest was turning into dead leaves. The newspapers they were reading were angry too. Edward had no newspaper and was not sorry. There was no sense in being a happy man with an angry newspaper. He amused himself by looking at and thinking about the other people. They were nearly all office-workers, and they had stayed in bed an hour or two longer than the busmen, policemen, street-cleaners, hawkers, and porters, yet all these earlier risers looked far more contented and cheerful. Edward concluded, not for the first time, that there is something about office work that makes the people who do it peculiarly sorry for themselves. Miners and teachers, foundrymen and surgeons, all have hard days, but little is heard of them; the real weary worker, who may be seen in the advertisements demanding a certain sort of easy chair or mattress, who has to be nourished on a late cup of this or that, is always from an office. It is only offices that have the privilege of seeing that colossal figure, the Tired Business Man, at those times when presumably he is not tired [while making the advert…]

Reading the very word ‘office’ awoke momentarily in me all the horror of the period from 1955 to 1964 when, except for a couple of years of paradoxical freedom called ‘National Service’, I was chained to an ‘office’ desk. The sound of the word itself can take me back to the horror but, without even a wobble now I can laugh at the recollection and notice what in fact I gained from the experience.

And here’s how JBPriestley, going meta to his narrative as he often does in splendid philosophical mode as well as displaying an other-than-conscious understanding of how anchors work, uses positive anchors to convey emotion in the moment. Edward Greenfield (the surname itself an anchor for an innocent 23 year old ready for learning) has at last located the lost Rose in London:-

Nothing much happened on that Thursday. Two youngsters went out on a little jaunt and enjoyed themselves, because they were so young and in love. But they will remember it all their lives, just as we all remember certain days all our lives, and as this is their book, the day must not go unrecorded. Those who do not wish to read about happiness may be quickly assured that there is even now enough misery in print to last them until their eyesight goes. Happiness cannot be adequately described, and that is why we read so little about it, while the dark wastes that lie around it are strewn with millions of words. But the day shall have its chapter, even though the bloom is not there, nor the deep tender mystery of it. This happiness is the rare blossom upon the tree of our life, as rare as the suns of warmth and light in the black cold interstellar spaces. It is also a mystery, for though it seems to spring from the core of life, it does not quite belong to this world, which is bewildering enough if, as we are told, we are the children of this planet and the centre of our being is here. So now for happiness, for the flower that comes at last out of the dark ground; the fragrance of primrose and violet after the rotted leaf reek of winter; the flash of the fabled blue-wing; blackbirds fluting it in misty orchards; the ship long overdue entering the harbour mouth; all the sheaves bound and the vast moon rising; garlanded landfalls in the South Pacific; the fog lifting and the landing-ground clear; the sudden smile of a friend in some God-forsaken hole; moonlight among the Meistersingers; a brick wall in the enchanted country of Vermeer; the last experiment finished and not a loophole anywhere; an eight-pound son turning his face to suck; the epic written and outside a glitter of stars; the bulge and weight of stockings in the dark of Christmas morning; the Cease Fire and not a lad missing; the last task completed and every promise kept and your grandchild putting your chair out in the sun. You will not understand the happiness of these [things] unless you remember your own, and set it glowing behind the pages, turning the poor dim picture into a glorious transparency.

the wheelbarrow man
snapped in some obscure station
turns down an alley



Strangely, this haiku from my 5-7-5 era, and the photo of the moment, both anchor for me a three week organised tour of China and provide me with a life-enhancing ‘glorious transparency’ related to all the images connected with days out of the ordinary in unaccustomed environments I’ve ever experienced.

21 thoughts on “PLAGUETIME 5

  1. Strangely I had an anchor occur/appear yesterday while sitting vacantly staring out of the window, the fence next door curves round and down, something within its sense of enclosure struck a mysterious chord, which in turn gave me a feeling of deep satisfaction, and completion, combined with a strong sense of deja vue. I could return again and again and recapture the same experience, although the ingredients seemed so slight. In younger days I always called it ‘like
    seeing with fresh eyes in France’. While driving I could switch this on, even on familiar territory, and get a strong sense of familiarity combined with a feeling of newness, the roots of the map lying anchored somewhere deep and unavailable, yet immediately accessible. Although some words are beginning to slip away, I still hold an almost complete map of East Anglia stored in my head, via journeys made there in the car, I often retrace them before falling asleep.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks for that, John. That’s a great set of connections.

      One of the things it’s really nice to do is to try other people’s anchors on for size. I can get the feeling of enclosure or containment, perhaps. I’ve built four summer houses in four different gardens since 1970. Being contained in each, enclosed in an environment that expands as I think about it, does something strange for me.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I have been experimenting with your anchors as you suggest here. Each time I read through them I can feel things changing and have the realisation that this is what life is about. Lit interiors as you pass them in trains – brings to mind a solo train journey I made to your mum in Worcester Park. It must have been amongst those first solo train journeys as a youth, maybe 1975, as the train slowed to arrive at Waterloo each window was a picture frame lit from within, each one representing the intimate life of individual’s choices and actions.
        Yesterday -the sound of bicycle tyres on a happy road – the country lane I cycled along sang that song through your ears and my own.

        Liked by 2 people

    2. Hi John
      Reading your response I had half a mind on the paintings that I had just discovered by an American artist. It struck me how your stimulus was firstly a visual one followed by a musical reference. I began to wonder what the line of the fence would look like and what instrument and kind of chord might be struck. I also reflected on the amazing sensitivity human’s have for the world if only they knew!
      Do you think that the same feelings might be found in a painting that contained elements you have described?
      Regards Simon


  2. Colin – Wonderful – Ian McDermott must have been an exceptional teacher, and coupled with an equally exceptional student – KerPow !!

    Fantastic thank-you again.

    A great experiment for these times – simply to recall and re-visit all the positive anchors and sustaining emotional experiences collected over the years.

    The Smell of just polished wooden floors, of lavender, of my father’s roses, of raspberry buns fresh from the oven, the site of old aircraft in the skies, the sound of old aircraft in the skies, the smell of coffee from the Cadena cafe, the sound of the gentle lapping of the sea as the tide recedes, the sound of a manual lawnmower, the taste of home made lemon meringue pie, the taste of my mother’s roast potatoes, the feel of silk.

    One I have failed to recreate is the taste of my Father’s chips, hand-cut and cooked by him, all my kids swear that they have never tasted chips as good, and I simply cannot get mine to taste the same, despite using the same potatoes and the same cooking in the attempt. The Memory of the taste is what evokes the happy emotion in us all – even without having the taste available we can taste the now. That in turn conjures up memories of my Father’s laugh, something I shall never hear again except in my head. I have no idea how the two things are related.

    Just a short list, but ALL take me straight to feelings that were entirely positive… a great way to refresh a positive state of mind just at the moment.

    Thanks for sharing Colin.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. ‘Ian McDermott’ – just the words – are a great anchor for all the stuff I’ve accumulated in the last thirty years! I remember that during one of the first evening occasions when I went to check him out (as it were) he had just finished saying something when from a long way off down the corridor outside the room where we were there was a loud sound of applause. “Thank you very much,” he said, bowing. That was enough for me – I loved the guy!

      Your collection of sounds & sights & smells & tastes & obscure feelings (my father is always in my head – he died in 1971) grips me. I’m reminded of this haiku written a couple of months ago:-

      Putney past –
      the river & the smell
      of roasted coffee

      And I’m doing a lot of ‘memory-haiku’ these days:-

      my father
      on his allotment
      pauses from digging

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Sounds like IanMcD had a whole heap of charisma!

        I might add to yours, which I love – my hopeless attempts of

        Isis path
        river’s perfume
        eights exploding


        My father
        from his allotment
        laden – rhubarb

        but you get the drift …

        There are so very many more – I’ve had a lovely morning’s conjuring as I feed my plants.

        Thank you again

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Ah,yes! Thanks for reminding me, Pat. I can’t find any ‘modern’ reference to the Finesmith 1959 bit of research on psycho-galvanic skin responses to the sound of nonsense syllables I referred to but Damasio bases his Somatic Marker Hypothesis on the same kind of thing. The idea that somatic markers for emotional experiences are stored in some part of the brain (limbic system & amygdala) is presumably the psycho-physical basis of ‘anchors’. And maybe the buzz of haiku.

      flies round the summerhouse
      & flies out

      One of the NLP exercises I took part in long ago consisted of our entertaining something in ‘consciousness’ that we felt deeply about and, in a kind of trance, pointing to wherever it was in our body that we stored it. It’s a somatic thing rather than just a mental construct. Whole beings body/brains or brain/bodies.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes in indeed whole person…

        I’ve sent a meta-analysis paper to you separately on modern day uses of bio feedback – bit subject specific, but interesting none the less. And yes I’m sure the same mechanism is present in anchors.

        Is it necessary to know the neural mechanisms involved – nah I don’t think so… but “science” apparently has to know more even though results were clear.

        Somatic markers are stored in the body I think – hence “somatic.” But the brain being a part of the body etc… and mutual feed back loops and all … I think it’s a both and.


        Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m a little out of step in commenting on your posts, Colin, but I needed time to think this one through!

    The first thought that came to mind was a favourite passage of mine from ‘The Story of My Heart’ …

    […] A time came when, having to live in a town, these pilgrimages had to be suspended. The wearisome work on which I was engaged would not permit of them. But I used to look now and then, from a window, in the evening at a birch-tree at some distance; its graceful boughs drooped across the glow of the sunset. The thought was not suspended; it lived in me always. […]

    sunset birch tree framed by my window

    Like Richard Jefferies there was a time, in my late teens/early 20s, when I had to live and work in a town (near London). I had an upstairs flat in an old Victorian house. The only saving grace was that I could see the top of a Birch tree from my kitchen window. I got to know the tree very well in all weathers and seasons, night and morning – cooking eggs and bacon while looking at the morning light filtering through the leaves, never still. Flickering light and ‘Johnny Noddies’ from my cup of tea, thrown on the yellow walls …

    So a marker of a time in my life that was only made bearable by that view from the window.

    The haiku then anchors all the emotions and feelings of that time (my first time away from home) but also triggers memories of happier times in the woods and meadows of childhood and memories of sunsets – many sunsets – over Somerset fields, Dartmoor Tors and the Wiltshire Downs.

    Or at least I think it does!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. ‘upstairs flat in an old Victorian house’ – that’s an anchor for me, Clive!! Excessively dreary daily work in London only relieved by the evening sight of dreamy old gardens in the space between old tall houses. I’m back there now!

      Thanks for the Jefferies quotation & the Found Haiku – anything from Jefferies is an anchor for me!

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Thanks Colin! There was meant to be a space after ‘sunset’ in the original which may make more sense – oh the fun of haiku!


      2. I think my use of ‘outside’ is not quite right …

        birch tree sunset from my window

        Which perhaps holds more true to Jefferies original thought


  4. Talking of Negative Anchors…

    Here’s Smeeth in JBPriestley’s Angel Pavement:-

    …back again in the office, at his desk, and very cosy it was after the streets. The very sight of the blue ink, the red ink, the pencils and pens, the rubber, the paper fasteners, the pad and rubber stamps, all the paraphernalia of his desk, all there in their places, at his service, gave him a feeling of deep satisfaction…

    For me, back in the time when I worked in an ‘office’ this would have been such a negative anchor – I can think myself back there now… BUT looking around me at this moment, though my workspace is a real jumble of things it’s a positive anchor to have pencils & pens, rulers & sellotape, scissors & Blu Stick just where I want them to hand. Negative anchors change to positive ones!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. So for Mr Smeeth – those objects represent a place where there is order and relief from the streets, I don’t imagine you saw your desk at the tax office (a place of wage slavery) in quite the same light!

    However, for you those objects are the tools that facilitate your creative output in your own place of freedom, again “creative output” perhaps not something one would associate with HMRC offices! Although… it all depends whose being “creative” I suppose.

    Liked by 2 people

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