In Memoriam Ken Jones
by Jim Kacian
For more than a decade Ken and I had what we might reckon a modern relationship: that is, we knew each other primarily through our online connection. In 2001, seeking to add a broader appeal and scope to Contemporary Haibun, a series I had initiated for Red Moon Press a couple of years earlier, I asked him to join Bruce Ross and myself as an editor. His reputation in the field was already well-established, and he came with plenty of opinions, and the bona fides to back them up. In fact he proved a perfect counterweight to the kinds of approaches that Bruce and I already brought to the project. I can't imagine three more differing viewpoints on the subject, and homogenizing them into a single volume was one of the challenges of that time for me. This became somewhat simpler with the creation of Contemporary Haibun Online (2005), which served as a feeder system for the print volume, and which allowed not only a broader range of work to be published (as consensus was unnecessary, and so each editor could champion individual works that appealed to him), but also provided a platform where technical and theoretical matters could be taken up by each of us. A look at the articles section in the CHO archives will provide insight into the varied ways we three took in coming to terms with haibun. Ken served as editor of both these vehicles until I gave them up at the end of 2013.
A good deal of our conversation, understandably, was given up to this mutual project, but part of that modern relationship was the sharing of life circumstances and personal activities. It seemed that Ken was always off on a jaunt, leading a mindfulness workshop in one far-flung corner of the UK, or a Zen retreat in another. But most intriguing to me was his descriptions of the tramps about Scotland and Wales that he and Noragh undertook each year. I knew that they were both a generation older than myself, but they sounded wonderfully spry and indefatigable, and I was envious. Some day, I said to myself, I would like to have the opportunity to share such a trek, if the timing worked out and they were willing.
I didn't mention my aspiration to Ken, but in 2010 an opportunity presented itself. I was invited to be the US representative to an international haiku conference in Ghent, Belgium, and, as is my wont, I sought immediately to tie it in with other opportunities to meet haiku poets from various other places. Besides the poets representing 34 countries in Ghent, I also met with individuals and groups from Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Italy, and France. And, not least, I was invited to travel to Wales, to be the guest of Ken and Noragh at Cwm Rheidol for a week prior to attending a weekend meeting of the Red Thread Haiku Sangha, a bit farther to the north in Wales. I made a point of asking that we set aside some time, if possible, for a cross-country romp. This, I discovered, was much to their liking.
Those who have had the pleasure of being hosted by the Joneses will recognize my good fortune. I was given a room in the front building, and a key for coming and going as I pleased. I was invited to explore the buildings and grounds as I liked, and to participate in meals and other activities as desired. And I was expected to be ready to trek. In fact, except for a day spent preparing for the Red Thread meeting, we hiked every day. A couple times we set out across the cwm, following (and occasionally straying from) paths that had been centuries in place, when not walking through the lower 40s of the local landed gentry. On other occasions we would drive to a spot and rove about the terrain. Even the Red Thread gathering was highlighted by a scrambling ascent of the local peak. On some occasions it would be just Ken and myself, on some just Noragh and me, and a couple times, the three of us. Nearly all of these ventures ended in local inns or pubs, where we would warm our sodden feet before a fire and slake our thirst with the local brew. It was about as idyllic as can be imagined, and exactly what I had hoped it would be.
That was a mere five years ago. The cocktail of drugs that had kept Ken's illness in abeyance was working maximally at that point, and he was sharp and energetic. In fact, I gather that the drugs worked until they didn't, and that with the exception of the last few weeks, Ken was a full participant in his life, bringing his considerable personality to bear on his circumstances and able to write and interact as he always had, with vigor and panache.
It was a personal sadness to me, then, that by the time of my most recent visit to the UK this past July, his fortunes had altered dramatically. So much so, in fact, that though I had the intention of visiting when planning the trip, by the time it actually came about I felt that it would be selfish of me to take so much of his remaining strength and energy and time when he could use those things to make final arrangements, say goodbye to the many he would wish to, and manage his own pain. I feel I did the right thing. Nevertheless, I am sorry not to have had that last connection with him, however unenviable his situation might have been.
I think this is the way Ken affected most of us. We were glad of his attentions. He made our lives feel richer and more connected. His legacy (aside from his considerable writings) is this group of people with whom he had personal contact, who feel enlarged by that contact and who may bring that enlargement to the other aspects of their lives. It is an enviable legacy, one we might all strive for. But it never seemed Ken strived—he simply had the gift, and bestowed it freely. I am grateful to have been one so fortunate as to receive.