Travelling Light: Haven Haiku

Ellery Littleton’s poems about the “Haven Experience”

By Ian Curtin

The 126 poems in Ellery Littleton’s new book are, he says, “truly Haven haiku in that they were all in some way inspired by The Haven and the experiences it offers.” And as I read through them the first time, I am surprised and delighted. Each poem captures a telling moment and spins a tale in three or four perfectly-crafted lines; time and again I am moved to laugh out loud, shake my head in wry recognition, sometimes moved by these profound observations in deceptive short-form.

“I recognize myself as I read these poems,” observes Jock McKeen, co-founder of the Haven, who wrote an introduction to the book. “I expect others will too if they are willing to take the time to become quiet and savour each one in turn. These are sharply rendered moments of universal meaning through the remarkably effective and vivid haiku form.”

Travelling Light was designed by Haven’s resident graphic maestro, Toby Macklin, who was one of the first people to recognize the potential of the book after reading the first few poems. He encouraged Ellery to press on with getting the first draft completed, then stepped in to handle the design and typesetting, and facilitate communication with the printer. “I’m happy with the way the book looks and feels,” Ellery says. “Toby’s design is elegant and clean, just what I wanted.”

The poems range from the obvious to the subtle – aspects of commonly-shared experiences at The Haven. “My hope is that readers will recognize in these mini-observations of Haven moments, something of their own experiences,” Ellery says. “These poems are intended to conjure up such moments. One does not have to have been to The Haven to ‘get’ the poems.”

The title of the book – Travelling Light – was drawn from one of the haiku in the series.

travelling light …

just me and my life

at the workshop

This poem presents a lot of information in a short space, and has more than one level of meaning – which is the essence of haiku. Haiku are the perfect form for capturing quick, intimate snapshots of times, places and moments of meaning. They are subtle and allusive, leaving lots of room for the imagination of the reader. I can’t help but think they would be perfect mementoes or gifts for anyone in the extended Haven family, or for someone who might be intrigued by such experiences.

There are thirteen poems towards the end of the book which were written specifically for The Haven’s Chinese audience who attend programs every year, on Gabriola and in China. These poems, with translation in Mandarin by Walter Cheng, were crafted with the cultural background of these friends of The Haven in mind, including this one in memory of Bennet Wong:

pausing to pray

in the garden …

I say goodbye to

my revered friend

In closing, I am moved to choose one … no, maybe two … poems from the myriad the book contains, about self, workshop experiences, moments of awareness and recognition, family, lovers and friends … a tough choice indeed. Oh well … here goes:

tonight I am feeling …

and isn’t that


And … the poem which Ellery says he thinks is his favourite in the collection, “because it is extremely subtle, and I love the sound of it” …

I wore my shame

like a shawl

made of silk


Travelling Light: Haven Haiku is available in The Haven store. 1 800 222 9211 x 0. info@ haven.ca

Ellery Littleton is offering two programs at The Haven in 2016: The Spirit Journal Intensive (April 7–11) and The Spirit Journal (Oct. 14–16). Ellery has become a sort of poet laureate of The Haven, who has now turned his observant eye and long experience “in the circle,” to The Haven itself – which he describes in his dedication to “friends of The Haven everywhere,” as follows:

an idea

a place

a green house

for growing

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