Clovis, California, USA
On Journeys 2015: An Anthology of International Haibun
Journeys 2015, An Anthology of International Haibun, edited by Angelee Deodhar. 6" x 9," perfect bound, 288 pp. ISBN:978-1515359876. CreateSpace, An Amazon.com Company, 2015. Price: $20 USD.
Like the first volume in this series edited by Angelee Deodhar, Journeys 2015 functions as a sampler of haibun literature. The bonus here is that it casts its net back over fifty years to include hard-to-find work like Jack Cain’s “Paris” from A Biannual of Poetry, 1964, Volume 63. Other pleasant surprises are four rarely seen haibun by Elizabeth Searle Lamb as extracted from Lamb’s papers and publications, edited and formatted in 2011 by the indefatigable historian of haiku, Charles Trumbull, plus five pieces by Gary Snyder from the Dust on the Wind section of Danger on Peaks, published in 2005 by Counterpoint Press, about Snyder’s first ascent of Mount St. Helens in 1945. Haibun by William J. Higginson, Robert Spiess, and Vladimir Devidé, fill out the book’s opening “Early Adaptors” section. I’d like to see this made a regular feature, as it affords invaluable perspective on the larger section of more recent work, anchoring English language haibun in a bit of its own history. The remainder of Journeys 2015 follows the formula and design of the first in the series, offering five haibun by each of twenty-five contemporary haibunists.
That this is not a “definitive anthology” is a desireable outcome, not a dent in the cargo. While some anthologies are built around a central concept, point of view, or interpretation of an art form, thus narrowing the range of material selected for inclusion, this is not a weakness of Deodhar’s series. Diverse approaches to haibun appear to be the rule. Ironically, the absence of any single dominant view or critical apparatus that defines what a haibun needs to be is evident in the comments at the front of the book by Bob Lucky and Ray Rasmussen. They are quite right, of course, about the lack of definition beyond the rudimentary “a haibun is prose and haiku” kind of treatment. Preoccupation with defining haibun is, I think, a non-starter, just as similar preoccupations have been for virtually all literature and, indeed, all art. Just try finding a dominant, single definition for, say, the 600 year old sonnet, or the novel! A “rudimentary” description is all you need; each piece of art either contributes to, or in some small way offers, its own definition.
Enjoyment and appreciation of the work requires that we be open to the artist’s own vision and version of what that art can be. In haibun, as in other genres and literary types, judgment of real worth and achievement comes naturally from comparing and contrasting a given piece with others we are familiar with—which we enjoyed or did not enjoy—in the species. Culture and the arts offer no other more reliable mechanism for separating the real ore from the gravel. Because it is rooted in the subjective constructs of the human psyche, art never has had, nor does it need or work with, mathematical formulae or precision. These subjective constructs—attitudes and perspectives formed from accumulated experience—are not algorithms but emotional climates that exist within the individual and culture. In their natural lifetime, these climates find their weather in personal and cultural values that shift, conflict, and change, that diminish in one direction and grow in another. In contrast, art that appears atrophied is, invariably, art that has somehow been killed off by authoritative, overwhelming definition, and a public gullible enough to accept that definition without question or any perceivable function of the imagination.
The demise of Contemporary Haibun, which is noted by both Bob Lucky and Ray Rasmussen in their introductory essays, may be a good reason for Deodhar to continue her series of collections into the future. A third volume, Journeys 2016, is underway and set for publication during 2016. Why not make Journeys an annual and give it a good, long run? Haibun writers could use the additional exposure. Haibun readers would clearly benefit from having a reliable, broad look at work from several dozen print, online, and other sources that are otherwise rather difficult to track down, consistently follow, or know about. There is also the benefit of the anthology’s editing mechanics themselves and the obvious filtering and vetting of material in order to retrieve and re-print an author’s noteworthy pieces. Since Deodhar appears to have found a printer and manufacturer who produces well-bound, well-printed editions, the shelf-life of these collections should be more than adequate to meet basic needs to preserve and keep over many decades. Part of the game, surely, is grabbing and holding onto future real estate. Serious archival deficiencies exist and though progress in establishing archives continues to be made by organizations like the Haiku Society of America and the Haiku Foundation, the work is slow, painstaking, and underfunded. The fragility of primary sources and their chances of surviving remains a real threat to the literature and to its practitioners, artists, and devotees. Anthologies like these help to hold back the cruel entropies and losses that occur over time.
I particularly enjoyed re-acquainting myself with some of the work of the “early adaptors” already mentioned. Among the more recent contemporaries, I enjoyed the poetic beauty and nod to sleep and dream found in Marjorie Buettner’s “Chuang Tsu’s Butterfly.” I found Tom Clausen’s “In the Woods” to be a wonderful, candid childhood memory and story. The sense of place and spooky evocation of “the heart of Transylvania” in Ion Codrescu’s “The Mountain Shrine” was much appreciated, as were Miriam Sagan’s eloquent and edgy “A-Bomb Haibun” and John Stevenson’s short, crisp, memorable “Ishmael.” The upshot of experiencing these favorites is that they, by force of gravity, will draw me back into the book, hungry for more, and a new list of good ones.
Keep them coming, Angelee.