A Hundred Gourds 5:1 December 2015

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In Memoriam

photo TBD

H. Gene Murtha​​ ​October 19, 195​5 – ​October 9, 2015

Quiet Pond: In Memory of H. Gene Murtha

brushing off sand
I walk what's left of
the pine dunes
my time here passes by
like the birds overhead

From the early days of his passion for haiku and related genres, H. Gene Murtha wrote with credibility and soul-baring honesty. His consistently successful haiku demonstrated Gene’s intuitive ability to bring readers into his experience with realistic, vivid imagery. His acute awareness of the natural world surrounding humankind—and the simultaneous awareness of his vulnerabilities—drove Gene’s poetry.

Gene was a man of the earth, with a deeply felt kinship to its creatures. To be outdoors, to observe and experience nature’s ways were vital to him. He drove a pickup truck over hard dirt roads, walked ancient trails, and made his own paths. Gene was also content to simply sit and watch ducks diving, the slow movements of an egret, the circles on a pond.

morning sun —
fish scales glisten
in the otter scat

pond shimmer
there not there

hooded merganser
I hold my breath
between each dive

In his haibun, “Directions,” which he wrote long before his passing, Gene draws us into a woodland setting and charges the reader with returning his remains to the earth. As can be seen with this excerpt, while the work is not dark, it is poignant:

You will find ribbons of clay and sand. Mix them together with the shovel to create loam. Add the ashes from the velvet bag . . . this will improve the soil too. If you feel inclined to say something over my remains, then, that is fine, but it is not important, since you have done enough.

It will be spring soon. Already, you can hear the chickadees.

recycle day
a washed out worm
in the rain puddle

Gene was the tanka editor for the on-line journal Notes from the Gean for nine quarterly issues and for the first issue of A Hundred Gourds. He sponsored and judged the first haiku contest for the inner city children of Camden, New Jersey, for The Nick Virgilio Haiku Association (the Virgilio Group), of which he was a lifetime member. His written work, enriching our literature and our understanding of the human connection to nature, also appears in these prestigious haiku volumes: A New Resonance 6: Emerging Voices in English-Language Haiku (Red Moon Press, 2009); Haiku in English: The First Hundred Years [edited by Jim Kacian, Philip Rowland, and Allan Burns] (W.W. Norton and Company, 2013); and Nest Feathers: Selected Haiku from the First 15 Years of The Heron’s Nest (The Heron’s Nest Press, 2015). Whether read in a paper journal, on-line, or in a hardbound book, the immediacy of Gene’s haiku never fades.

gnats swarm up
my raised arm
twilight haze

shooting star —
father’s ring
slips off my finger

spring mist—
a mallard paddles
through our stillborn's ashes

Reflecting certain events in his life that had a profound and lasting effect on Gene, a thread of sadness weaves through his poetry; yet I’m sure he drew comfort and insight from his bond with nature. Anyone who has read Gene’s body of work will already know that the weight of his understanding often found grace in the shape of haiku.

where my brother stood —
twilight chill

spring —
the pause before
she pulls a sapling

if I could
start all over . . .
pink lady slipper

morning dew
I trace my son’s

In a note to me, Gene spoke of his great love for his teenage son. It happens that “first light,” which he wrote for his son, is my favorite of Gene’s haiku, needing only ten words to plumb the depths of a father’s heart:

first light
I pretend to shave
my son’s lathered face

- for Derek Michael

Friendships within the haiku community frequently begin through email, as did mine with Gene Murtha. We began corresponding in 2002, and for thirteen years I was privileged to be Gene’s editor for The Heron’s Nest. Although we never met in person, I can imagine how we might have. It may have been at a poetry gathering. On a crisp autumn evening, he could have pointed out this star, or that, telling me the names I didn’t know. If in summer, surely we would have sat on the grassy bank of a quiet pond, watching bees heavy with pollen trading places in the lilies, and listened to wood ducks foraging in the reeds.

- Ferris Gilli, October 2015


Gene Murtha’s haiku, haibun and tanka are published in A Hundred Gourds with the permission of the copyright holder, Linda Murtha. Gene Murtha’s photo, copyright held by Rachel Rodgers, is published in A Hundred Gourds with her permission.


- “brushing off sand”: Biding Time by H. Gene Murtha; Calameo
- “morning sun”: The Heron’s Nest Volume V, No. 6: June 2003.
- “pond shimmer”: The Heron’s Nest Volume XIV, No. 2: June 2012.
- “hooded merganser”: The Heron’s Nest Volume XVI, No. 2: June 2014.
- “Directions”: Contemporary Haibun Online Volume 4, No. 2: June 2008.
- “gnats swarm up”: Biding Time by H. Gene Murtha; Calameo.
- “shooting star”: The Heron’s Nest Volume V, No. 11: November 2003.
- “spring mist”: The Heron’s Nest Volume IV, No. 11: November 2002.
- “fishing”: The Heron’s Nest Volume VIII, No. 3: September 2006.
- “spring”: The Heron’s Nest Volume X, No. 2: June 2008.
- “if I could”: The Heron’s Nest Volume XV, No. 3: September 2013.
- “morning dew”: The Heron’s Nest Volume VII, No. 1: March 2005.
- “first light”: The Heron’s Nest Volume V, No. 5: May 2003.