Taos, New Mexico, USA
On Terry Ann Carter’s On the Road to Naropa
On the Road to Naropa, My Love Affair with Jack Kerouac: A Haibun Memoir by Terry Ann Carter. Edmonton, AB, Canada: Inkling Press, 2015. Paperback, 77pp. ISBN 978-1928147-24-4. Price: $15 CAD.
Terry Ann Carter, president of Haiku Canada, is the author of four collections of lyric poetry and five haiku chapbooks. Her current publication, On the Road to Naropa, My Love Affair with Jack Kerouac: A Haibun Memoir, is her first foray into this form. Interspersed with the life and writings of Jack Kerouac, it is told in episodic mode. Some of the major recurring themes are her missing brother, husband’s illness and mother’s death.
Forty-three haibun, titled by year, range from 1946 to 2013. The majority of them follow the standard format of one paragraph and one haiku. Four tanka sequences are also included. With the exception of the last haibun of this review, all works are quoted in full.
Carter often layers her family memories with flash-forward techniques as in “1948”:
I stay with my aunt and uncle who live on Cape Cod when the eldest of my brothers is born. Their home looks onto the ocean. I only remember stories that are told about this visit. The way I watched my aunt painting the Manhattan skyline over their bar. The way I would remember this drawing in 2001 when the Twin Towers burned to the ground. The way my brother’s life would spiral out of control and fall into ashes.
into the air and gone
the scent of wild roses
The poetic device anaphora with accent on the phrase “the way” helps to bring the reader into the emotionality of the piece. The fleeting nature of life that is expressed in the prose reverberates nicely in the haiku.
In many haibun, Carter effortlessly blends personal experiences with elements of American popular culture. Consider “1952”:
A second brother is born in Waterbury, Connecticut, the hometown of Rosalind Russell. I watch her buy gloves at Bonwit Teller’s on a shopping spree with my mother who wants me to wear organdy dresses. And patent leather shoes. Second brother never likes Rosalind Russell, prefers Gene Autry. In kindergarten I learn how to read. I would rather freeze my legs off than wear snow pants.
all the little fingers
in the puzzle—
The final prose sentence, a clever turn of phrase, reveals a six-year-old’s growing awareness of appearance. The haiku seems like a missed opportunity, merely relating back to children in the prose.
Oftentimes, the relationship between prose and haiku is weak. Take, for instance, “1956”:
Father Knows Best. Mathematician, gardener, southern gentleman, scholar. When I am ten he builds a hutch for my rabbit, Mittens. And a model of the Panama Canal in the back yard. With locks that lift for toy boats to sail through. He sprays the garden hose against my bare legs. A million tiny droplets form a crystal arc against the sun.
just to hold his hand
I didn’t know that my older son would live and work in Panama City. That I would travel there to see the real canal.
waiting for toucans
fall one by one
The first haiku seems to recall another childhood memory and is therefore too close to the prose. The second haiku contains lovely images but it is uncertain what the writer is attempting to evoke.
In the haibun “1962” the prose moves skillfully from a global to a local scene, from “missile crisis” to shooting the centre out of the “P” on a “Dr. Pepper can.”
I meet Jack Kerouac for the first time in a Music, Art, and literature class taught by an ex-Marine and listen intently as he explains everything in terms of demolition. There is also a missile crisis.
my father’s record with
the broken needle
Every summer the family travels south to visit my father’s family in Goldthwaite, Texas. My Texan grandfather looks like Will Rogers. Wears a Stetson. And cowboy boots. I see windmills for the first time. Cattle. Horses. Red hot peppers. In this part of the world, young uncles bend on one knee. Learn to distance themselves from the click of a trigger. A bull’s eye shot. They close one eye. Aim. And fire. Never missing a blink. Never missing the P in a Dr. Pepper can. My aunt Shirley is a lady rancher. She makes homemade ice cream on the front porch.
on a wire fence
the ram’s bleached skull
The first haiku attempts to bridge the two paragraphs, while the latter echoes the landscape of the second paragraph.
Carter’s writing style is characterized by short declarative sentences and sentence fragments that prompt the reader into imagining her experiences. However, there are a handful of works which are not as successful. Here is
My sister is scouted to play ice hockey for the Huskies, a women’s team at Northwestern University, Boston. A strong left-winger she laces up her Bauers every weekend to play teams from Harvard. Yale. Wellesley. Brown. My mother drives to Mathews Arena to watch her play.
after hockey practice
her long walk
For this reader, the prose, a litany of facts, has no emotional draw. The long walk home, in the haiku, might have had an emotional impact, if it occurred after a game rather than “hockey practice.”
The four tanka sequences, toward the end of the book, feel tacked on. A better balance might have been created if more had been included and dispersed throughout the collection.
“Tanka Sequence Duet” is the most accomplished and easily a favorite. The fifth and last tanka is the most evocative. Carter is preparing Christmas tea in honour of her mother’s memory. While baking in the solitude of her kitchen, she listens to “The Flower Duet” from the opera Lakmé. She is wearing her mother’s apron and reliving what many mothers and daughters share at the holiday season.
in my mother’s apron
I hum along
with the famous sopranos
flour dusting my arms
white jasmine—the snow
Carter ends her memoir at the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics, Boulder, Colorado, where she is visiting. Taken out of context, the final paragraph of “2013,” creatively loops back to earlier subjects of her book as though the author is taking stock of her life.
Satori. Something cracks open. The cumberbund is an ensō circle. Great om of the universe. Drawn in chalk on a sidewalk, not sumi-e ink on rice paper. A holding of pain and ecstasy. Lorca’s duende. Darkness of Jack Kerouac’s alcoholism and early death. Roman candles of his life. My brother’s schizophrenia and disappearance. A husband’s failing health. Friends to hold me up. Capturing the moment in haiku. Like Jack. I know it won’t last.
in the sun
Carter has condensed her sixty-seven years in the fewest words possible. The memoir is for readers who enjoy a light and easy read that offers a small portal on the pivotal moments of her life.