This haibun is for the dverse prompt about handwriting. As a lefty, I had a hard time mastering the knack of writing. What motivated me to overcome the difficulties was a childhood obsession with the shape of letters and the pictures they make.


From left-handed struggling to make the shape of the words as beautiful as the sound, with the examples of uncial script and italic, from the Book of Kells and the Lindisfarne Gospels, I shaped the loops and strokes into a form of art. In my eyes, words have always formed a frieze as weighty as the Bayeux Tapestry, the souls of their writers singing out in their graceful script. The child, inspired by the pictures and the colours in the capitals, the gold leaf and the vivid tints, formed by chilblained fingers in some long dead chapter house, writes still, guided by the hands of all those dead artists.

A leaf falls slowly,

parabola, wind-lifted,

telling autumn’s tale.

Published by

Jane Dougherty

I used to do lots of things I didn't much enjoy. Now I am officially a writer. It's what I always wanted to be.

82 thoughts on “Words”

  1. i love your take on the prompt, Jane, and that you have written about the Lindisfarne Gospels and the Book of Kells (which I have seen in Dublin) and I lived just outside Kells in the early 1980s). As a child, I too was inspired by ‘the pictures and the colours in the capitals, the gold leaf and the vivid tints’.

    1. I’ve seen them both too. I always loved handwritten texts, but the old gospels are something special. The nuns at school wrote in uncial script, and so did my grandad. I do sometimes, but italic comes more naturally.

  2. Ah, Jane, I can imagine you being inspired by the Book of Kells. Have you seen the animated movie? it’s rather beautiful. It’s hard being left handed, but they do say lefties are more creative…

    1. I wanted to be able to write capitals with pictures in them when I was a kid. I was so slow at writing though it’s a good job I was discouraged! I don’t know about being creative, but being left-handed gave me such a loathing for anything to do with sewing. The scissors wouldn’t cut, the stitches went backwards and the sewing machines at school were all facing the wrong way!

      1. I’m glad I’m not the only one! Three of my daughters have had sewing machines since they were in their early teens, my mother spent half her life behind one, and I get a panic attack whenever I see one.

      1. Ink pens mess with me but I like them more for that very reason. Btw did you get the Xmas card? Wanted to check the mail was getting your way as planning on sending you something

      2. No! I didn’t 😦 Our mail is supposed to be redirected from the old address in Bordeaux but I suspect the post isn’t very assiduous. I’ll send you the new address in a mail. I trust them more out here. Might be stupid, but I do.

      3. Can you please? I wondered if you’d got the books I sent (second lot) and the card but figured maybe they got lost in the move. Do send me your new addy and LMK how the new place is? I have a book I got for you I just had to you’ll see why. xo

      4. I remember you saying you were going to send something, then you got ill and I supposed you had more important preoccupations. No, the postal service got those too 😦 I’ll send you the addy and all.

      5. It takes a while doesn’t it? I always find that. I don’t know how people can be all moved in suddenly, it’s a process. I hope it goes as well as is realistically possible given that it’s always quite a bit of work but hopefully good work toward a better place all round.

      6. We had a few days of sorting out boxes then gave up. There are boxes of ‘essentials’ that must be either in the attic or in the barn, but where? One day we’ll get around to doing a proper search.

  3. Lovely poem, made richer by the backstory.

    I, too, write left-handed. Although as I learned when I broke my right arm, I do many other things right-handed. I may have learned to write right-handed as well, had I not had my right thumb stuck in my mouth during my formative years. Too late now: to me, some things are obviously right-handed things and some are left-handed, and some things I do equally badly with both hands. Although my handwriting has gotten terrible over all these years of typing, I doubt it would be any better if I switched. 🙂

    1. That’s a funny thing about left-handedness, I find—sometimes I really don’t know which hand to use. Writing is always with the left hand though I can write with the right if pushed, but in sports I always used to hold the bat or racket or whatever in my right hand. I think it’s just easier for left-handers to be ambidextrous.

      1. Or “ambi-clutzy” which is a better description of me with sports. People ask, well just try throwing the ball, which way feels more natural? My answer: neither?

  4. I am ambidexterous. I am also dyslexic so writing was very hard for me as a child. I like that you were inspired by the Book of Kells. I saw it years ago in Dublin was totally awed. your haiku is so very lovely.

      1. I loved the haiku. and I later gave them fidgets because I insisted on using one of those fillable fountain pens…I used peacock blue and violet inks. Not black or blue. I was a trial to be sure.

      2. Same here! I borrowed my mother’s italic fountain pen but she was right handed so the nib was completely wrong and I scratched my way through paper like a chicken scratching for worms. Eventually I was given my own pen with a special left-handed nib.

      3. That is great. So many people do not understand about nibs and such, especially this generation of youngster who in the US are taught to print – only. Sad lack of education.

      4. They are taught to write in a particular copperplate script here which I don’t like. It means that all French kids have the same handwriting until they decide to customize it. They never seem to do it in a way that makes it more attractive though.

  5. My older daughter is also left handed, but I am right handed.
    I like how you were inspired by those beautiful old manuscripts. Have you ever seen the story about a manuscript from the Middle Ages that has cat paw prints on it? It makes me laugh to think about it.
    The haiku is lovely.

    1. Thank you 🙂 I like to believe in the creativity of lefties. Being left-handed must have compensations! I think I have heard of that story about the paw prints. I have my very own version of it in the house. In the terracotta floor tiles there are several with big dog paw prints in them and one with four little cat prints. The company that made these tiles all those years ago obviously had difficulty keeping their livestock away from the place they were left to dry! We should be grateful they didn’t keep cows, I suppose.

      1. Well, left-handed daughter is creative, but I like to think I am, too. 🙂
        That is so cool about your tiles! But cow prints would definitely have been unique.

    1. Thank you, Vivian. A proper handwriting is something I set out to give myself when I was an adolescent. I was taught a good hand but lost it when I went to secondary school and had to speed-write. That kills off most of the art in handwriting!

  6. Jane, we share the left-handed struggle when it comes to writing. Your prose is fascinating, thinking of the hours and hours spent at the monks’ writing tables when the only way to transmit the written word was by hand. The haiku–perfect!

  7. I love old books and manuscripts, their beauty and art of the written word.
    Also intrigued by the apparent prevalence of lefties of those who have left comments. One of my sons is left-handed and I sometimes wonder how he can see what he has written, as it appears his hand is blinding him of it.
    Your haiku is indeed lovely.
    Anna :o]

    1. Thank you, Anna 🙂 It’s one of the problems of being lefhanded. We really ought to write from right to left to avoid smearing the ink—or write in pencil. I also started writing with my hand bent around so as not to obliterate the words (my son still does) but taught myself to write with my hand below the line. It’s tricky and apparently boys rarely learn how to do it. Make of that what you will 🙂

  8. Beautiful script writing of the past is really a work of art as you say. Sad that our grandchildren will only know computer script, and many will not be able to read cursive.
    Great post!

    1. Thank you, Dwight 🙂 How do they teach children in your schools then? Here they are still taught a script that I don’t like much but it’s more or less the same one their grandparents and great grandparents were taught.

      1. Which reminds me I must remember to join that class action to blame somebody for my left-handedness and the discrimination and trauma I have suffered from it…

    1. I think it’s a beautiful art form. I decided to get to grips with it when I was twelve or thirteen. School dictations and exams had destroyed the handwriting I’d learned in primary school. Teach yourself. It’s a great skill to have mastered.

  9. Lefties as such talented souls and I see where your creativity flows from, the other side of the brain we others can’t harness enough of. My second daughter is a lefty and she learnt to write at an earlier age than the others and she has beautiful handwriting often called upon to write cards for teachers etc. However it wasn’t always easy to be left handed, my mother with her dated superstition insisted we teach my girl to use her right and it was a lot of struggle to be firm and allow her, her natural process. I love the haiku so much, it flows like a little river thawing out of winter.

    1. Thank you, Gina! I wonder if lefties end up with either completely messy handwriting because your fist gets in the way of the flow of the words, or very careful and delicately formed handwriting because it takes so long to make it each letter without smearing it! Apparently girls manage to teach themselves to get their hands tucked out of the way but most boys never do. That must say something about this genius element boys are supposed to have that means we have to excuse them for being boorish in other ways.

      1. i have come across very tidy lefty boys too and one person in particular who I see very often writes beautiful script. Both he and my daughter are also very good artists and draw tattoos for the ink artists commercially as well as a hobby. I note that they have a certain arc of their elbow when they write and slant their bodies differently. It was so difficult for me to teach or sit with my daughter when she studied as I kept getting in her way! And boys will have us know that they use an disadvantage to their advantage!

      2. Writing left to right is a big problem for lefties. You either loop your hand over the top of the line or tuck your elbow into your side and keep your hand below the line. Either way it’s unnatural because you push the pen rather than pull it—hence the mess and the scratched paper 🙂 Yes, boys will probably tell you that looping your hand over the line of writing is a sign of genius.

  10. I can imagine the frustration living in a “right-handed” world. Not fair…we should mix it up a bit.
    This is a beautiful haibun.
    I especially like ” the souls of their writers singing out in their graceful script.” …and the way you included “parabola” in your haiku.

    1. Thank you, Mish. Parabola is a word that fascinated me when I was in primary school. The kids in the last class (ten and eleven year-olds) had made beautiful rainbow coloured ‘parabolas’ in embroidery cotton. I would have loved to have been able to make one, but it was the kind of school that did a thousand different creative projects and my year never made parabolas. I’ve only recently discovered that it’s actually a mathematical construct.

  11. I am mesmerized, I believe, by the beautiful language some of you have, speaking of writers. Norwegian is more down to earth. Reading your encouraging post I think of Salomon, telling us to watch our tongues. You expand the basic message by pointing out writing is also a presentation. And by the beauty of your language you show there is even more.

    I am right handed. Thou I believe my left-brain and my right-brain have not settled the disagreement of which rules the hand.

    1. I was brought up in Yorkshire where the dialect is based on Old Norse. The people there pride themselves on being very down to earth. I’ve always loved their sense of humour. Norwegian is maybe more versatile than you think. Familiarity breeding contempt and all that 🙂 If you feel the two halves of your brain arguing, I’d say you have some of that strange ingredient that goes into creativity.

  12. I love the story that you have threaded through this, that the writing is a tapestry. I want to see them too now. I want to wonder at the labours in those days of old to keep the stories alive and bold. XXXX

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