Together Apart – Haiku from a locked down Sherkin Island

A city dweller

Honeysuckled by nature

Sherkin’s lanes await

Haiku by Patsy Atkinson

I was on the national airwaves this morning, chatting to Damien O’ Reilly on RTE’s Countrywide programme about a beautiful little book of haiku poetry.

During the first lockdown, in the spring of 2020, the Sherkin Island Haiku Group set up a WhatsApp group to share their haiku poetry. It was a way of keeping the community – both on and off the island connected – and to keep the creative juices flowing.

Being invited to join this group has meant the world to me.

With the support of Cork County Library & Arts Service and the Creative Ireland Programme, our collection of haiku has now been gathered into a book, with all profits supporting other creative initiatives on Sherkin Island. With thanks also to the Sherkin Island Development Society members for their on-going support.

The Haiku poems featured in “Together Apart – Haiku from a locked down Sherkin Island” are mainly nature-based, mirroring the beauty of the changing seasons, but they also reflect the impact of Covid19 on this small island community.

As well as the poems, the book captures the lively threads of conversations, quips and feedback, which in itself, tell a story of life in lockdown. It also features drawings of birds by many of the group members.

For me, the ‘ping’ of WhatsApp messages has been a life-line to the island.

It has kept a connection to the people, to the community and to the thoughts, feelings and daily goings-on – and this has been truly uplifting.

Through the words of the haiku, I have gained a sense of the changing seasons throughout the year and the ever-changing seascapes and landscapes.

This simple form of writing, with its three lines and seventeen syllables, is visual, conjuring up images painted with words.

Far removed from island life and distanced by lockdown restrictions, I have seen the island through others’ eyes, such as the roll of incoming sea fog, the glint of light on water or the shadow of clouds moving across the land.

While I couldn’t be on Sherkin Island physically, I was there in heart and mind, walking those lanes and listening to the bird song.

Like the last lockdown, I am so grateful to be part of this group now, and I still find it inspiring and calming. I suppose you could say that it is a form of mindfulness, taking me away for a moment from whatever stress I am feeling and transporting me into a different space.  

I also love the creativity that writing haiku inspires in me, and the fact that as I walk in nature or in the city, I am noticing the minutiae of nature and beauty around me.

Words have always been swirling in my head, but numbers have never been a strong point. Now, deep down in my pockets, you will find me counting syllables out on my fingers as I walk: five, seven, five.

With the fourth print run underway, the book has winged its way as far as Australia and the USA, with lovely feedback from people – and even inspiring some to write haiku themselves.

The book is produced and printed on Sherkin Island by Tess Leak and Sherkin Island residents, Susan Murphy Wickens and Bernadette Burns. It is not a published book but, still, it may be of interest as a gentle insight into life on a tiny island off the coast of West Cork, as well as being an uplifting story about creativity, community, friendship and connection.

One exciting update is that Cork County Library & Arts Service has produced posters of individual haiku and is displaying them in windows of libraries during lockdown to uplift passers-by.

The ping of WhatsApp messages continues as our sixteen members carry on sharing haiku poems.

The books are available for €10 (including P&P within Ireland). Please email  sidssecretary@gmail.com with ‘Haiku’ as the subject.