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Finding Thin Places in Haiku

Updated: Sep 23, 2022

Alan Peat explores the liminal spaces between worlds in Celtic folklore, and their connection to the practice of haiku

We were holidaying in Scotland in the early seventies, I think in Fort William. I remember the two old Scottish sisters who were staying in the caravan nearest to ours, mainly because they taught my father how to dress a crab, and I watched. It’s not every day that you get to see someone dress a crab. Dad told the sisters that he’d spotted a plover’s nest in the shingle and was taking me to see it. I can’t remember the name of the beach but I remember clearly the manner in which both sisters announced that the beach was a ‘thin place’. I didn’t understand the phrase though it ‘lodged’ and later I came to learn that a ‘thin place’ is a place where the walls between our world and ‘the other’ are paper-thin. I’m drawn to these thin places and they often appear in my poetry, particularly my haiku. In such places the everyday and the spiritual intermingle. I’ve found ‘thin places’ on riverbanks, beaches and city parks. There are rooms in art galleries that I’ve come to regard as ‘thin places’ and there are also places that I have visited with lost loves and departed friends - these are my personal thin places. In a sense the pause between ‘fragment’ and ‘phrase’ in a haiku may be thought of as a thin place. When we inhabit this space the significance/depth of the whole may be grasped; the distance between the writer and reader collapses and we may briefly grasp ‘the beyond’. A fine haiku takes us to the edge of the ineffable, a liminal space that is experienced emotionally and perhaps spiritually. In my haiku… geese over water real and ethereal meet in the thin place (Wales Haiku Journal. Summer 2022) …I attempt to capture something further: the way that a brief event (geese flying by) might transform a location, for a moment, into a thin place. Perhaps, many of our ‘aha moments’ are short-lived thin places; brief windows into the spiritual, the other, the things beyond us that we strive to capture with our words.

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