Snowshoes Across the Clouds by Robert Garlitz & Rupert Loydell, 46pp, £5.95, Stride Publications, 11 Sylvan Road, Exeter, Devon EX4 6EW


How is this going to work – I already feel something positive about collaboration, writing being lonely.  But what if that loneliness is essential?

Was it reviewed at the end? or printed as is/was?

‘We can't wait until we have all the information we need before deciding what to do next’ – Valerie Parr, The Idea Factory.

I noted

it reminds me of abundance, which mustn't be confused with providence.

It doesn't build, it is of no moment and has no moment.


23. ‘Hiss and whine’

last 3 lines

‘A hypnotic tolling bell, receding guitar, the call of birds as the day ends, a steam train slowing to a halt:’

feels like a shorthand / screenwriter's note, not real experience, pile it on, list making (not the only example) list as stand in for emotional state, very Hollywood, and de Chirico come to that, statue, train, bananas.


16. ‘A hundred topics’

Not a delivery to a sweet shop. More lists, concatenations, assemblies

‘Eggs. Power. Pattern. Texture. Derivation.’


38. ‘The great spiral’

I form the idea that this is about Spiral Jetty, the land-art piece by Robert Smithson. and

the stones and leaves arranged into art robs the photographers of their souls

(2nd line from bottom) surely Andy Goldsworthy, there. Something ringing true. Later – I saw the film. It’s very true.

Is the first half always the same writer or do they switch around. I find it difficult to tell from the prose, although there are vague cultural tags.

So end my first thoughts. I am mindful of the need to find something positive. Generally I feel no different having read such material than I did before starting. It leaves no footprints. Adoration and violent loathing suit me better.

Later: among the things it’s not is it’s not boring.

On hearing my guesswork explanation of how they were created he said: So they are first derivatives like financial services such as the selling of futures. Downstream derivatives.

Carrying on with the sandwich idea he thought they were rather like Big Macs. The most interesting bit is the cheese – the blank line. Are the central layers in the sandwich 'Styolites'? These occur in limestone formations where trivial remnants are left after the loss through the dissolution of earlier, thicker layers.

He went on to say that the human mind can only take so much beauty. But it is encouraging that there is a system here.

Ian is going to scan the relevant pages for me as he has character recognition software. I can then carry them about with me.

We'll never know whether loneliness is essential will we? Replies later: why not?

My theory is that being a fire sign I need to generate sparks in order to produce anything and collaborating is one way that works for me.

Copying those pieces makes them easier to read. There is not a word of explanation or assessment in the whole book. I was just about to sit down with a cup of coffee and start reading when your email arrived and I embarked on this displacement activity.

Shall we just write what we think and then sort out what to do? I may start a file and write in Word and send as attachments. How about that?

This collection of forty mirror haibuns, Snowshoes Across the Clouds by Robert Garlitz and Rupert Loydell is an elegant, slim, volume in a square format with attractive photographic covers. I asked the Creative Writing tutor if she could explain ‘haibun’ for me. ‘I used to know’ she said ‘but I’ve forgotten. I’ll look it up.’ I tried to look it up as well. It isn’t in our copy of Webster’s dictionary, nor the Concise Oxford. I turned to the internet. Merriam-Webster produced no result. OED remarked ‘There are no results for your search.’ Bartleby replied ‘No documentation matched the query.’ Encarta was no help. 

Google came up with answers to the instruction ‘define haibun’. I quote from <>: ‘Haibun is a combination of prose and haiku poems. Its focus is often on everyday experiences, but sometimes it focuses on a journey, and in the style of the originator of haibun, a Japanese monk named Basho who kept travely [sic] journals.’ Characteristics of the haibun are given as terseness, juxtaposition of prose and haiku, abbreviated syntax, objectivity, use of imagery and humour, the inclusion of one or more haiku (a haiku usually concludes a haibun),

Snowshoes Across the Cloud  contains no explanation of how these pieces have been created.  There is a table of contents, forty terse titles. At the back is a list of sources, arranged like a beautiful slender poem but this is no bibliography. Whether each source is a book, a poem, a newspaper article, the text accompanying a CD or anything else is a matter of guesswork. There is no information about how the collaboration between two authors occurred or is expressed.

I have turned to family and friends for help. Below is a collection of observations.

They don’t look like poems. They look like writings. Are they supposed to follow on? What are they writing about? Oh lord, it’s a bit heavy isn’t it?

Each occupies a page which is handy and they are largely prose which is good. Each is arranged like a club sandwich or a Big Mac – two chunky paragraphs separated by three spaces isolating two narrow statements. The most interesting bit is the blank space in the middle.

I like the effect but I don’t want to know what it’s about. It’s all too clever for the likes of I.

Oh but you rationalise it. They seem to have alternated. It starts primitively as if it’s breaking us down into bits like stardust. Do we need to interpret? They leave no imprint but some phrases give bemusement and starriness. It’s self referential, about language. The object signifies. It works on different levels and is picturesque.

Surely the two central sentences are chosen from texts and the rest work outwards from there.

This is a comment on society this poem – gigs of music – the triviality of what life presents and the inner strivings of trying to make sense of it. Quite a melancholy feeling, about how bloody awful life is, comes out of it.

This is rubbish. It really is rubbish. I actually think it is insulting to expect you to go through this. Come on. Pull the other one. It does leave you in a fog.

I have read six of the pieces several times. As I begin I am always convinced that I have never seen this one before. Then phrases appear which are familiar like landmarks looming up out of the dreamy mist. Some are beautiful and I become rather fond of them as they crop up; but afterwards I feel they have left no trace, no imprint on my mind.

I want to have another go at reviewing the Snow thing. Reading them really does not impress at all. If I search for haikus, read the things out loud, let it all flow, perhaps I will find something to say. I'm not at all anti but just left unmoved which is curious.

Hope you feel better soon.

It's the complete lack of contingency which could be taken as insolent – the rawness which another might take as inviting reader-involvement. I have a deep seated hey maybe it's innate desire for a story. The evenness of each image and event carrying the same weight is somehow sickening like standing on a cross-channel ferry and staring out at the endless flat sea. I mean how can peanut butter merit a mention? (7. ‘New Nightmares’) give me a break I can do shopping lists.

I could be somewhere, and doing something. Reading this is not a good alternative.

I feel I ought to say something about the six pieces you chose. After that we could select every tenth word or something and play around. Boil it all down to something meaningful. Ho. Hum. Your paragraph sums it up actually. I pause to mull.

Subject: Nuns fret not at their convent's narrow room.

Replies later: It was because I had 60p when I was at the photocopy shop.


© Robert Joyce and Sally Chisholm 2004