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A Quarterly Journal
Jeffrey Woodward, Founder & Owner
Ray Rasmussen, General Editor

Volume 13, Number 3, September 2019
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Sean O’Connor (editor), The Haibun Journal, A Review by Tony Beyer

Sean O’Connor (editor), The Haibun Journal 1:1, 2019, published by, Ballygibbon, Nenagh, Co. Tipperary, Ireland, E45, WP63, 70pp, ISSN 2565-6932, €6, subscription & submission information.

A handsome A5 format, perfect bound print book with an inviting minimalist cover, the first issue of The Haibun Journal is a welcome addition to the marketplace for poets and readers and deserves the support of both. Ireland has of course long been recognized as a focus of activity in the world of English-language haiku, so a periodical of this sort emanating from there seems a natural development. Sean O’Connor’s positive ambition, though, is not solely local. While about half his initial contributors are Irish, there are also haibun in the issue representing writers from the USA, Canada, England, Wales, Japan, Northern Ireland and New Zealand.

From among the Irish poets, it’s worth quoting in full Bernadette Ní Riada’s ‘Coffee Break’, because no other words can convey as effectively its vitality and beauty:

He carries the steel bucket in his right hand. I stay a few paces behind him. The bucket is full of warm milk. A thick layer of foam has settled on the top. He pauses at the doorway. I slide my small hand from the mitten. Drag my index finger along the froth. Squeeze my lips and eyes tight while the foam melts. He delivers the mock scold. Our laughter echoes around the cowshed.

cappuccino froth
soft and warm
fresh tears

From the other side of the Atlantic and an almost diametrically opposite direction comes Jim Kacian’s ‘Wetware’:

Well, I’ve done it: swapped out every bit of my RAM for images gathered from a screen. Not a single tree remains in there that is not a photo of a tree; not a face but a selfie. As soon as I master this VR mask I’ll be ready for the implant.

brain fever
all my memories
pixillating

These contrasting works remind us that the haibun may robustly occupy both the fast-moving and sometimes daunting modern world as well as the continuity of the world as we have always known it.

Another feature of this haibun collection is their consistent high standard – a credit to Sean O’Connor and to the authors. From Patricia Prime’s historical dramatics in ‘Scandalous Behaviour’ to Kerri ní Dochartaigh’s meticulously detailed descriptions of place, the range is appreciably diverse. Almost anyone who has been in a similar situation will enjoy the opening sentence of Paul Bregazzi’s ‘This Writing Life’:

At the artists’ retreat house for a week, I feel the pressure to produce but since this is like willing the weather, I decide to follow the example of the poet Ted Hughes – and go fishing.

Other titles such as ‘African Shower’ (Norman Darlington), ‘A Pocket of Sea Glass’ (Lorraine Carey) and ‘At the Crossroads’ (Robert Smith), remind us of the origin of haibun in travel sketches and records of human or natural atmosphere. Combining some of these concerns, Michael Dylan Welch, in his 'Hearing the Owl,' spins out the associations derived from a favourite book (Margaret Craven’s I Heard the Owl Call My Name) into a consideration of cultural traditions among the indigenous Kwakiutl of British Columbia. He muses on the way stories are told and signs become totems passed on into the future, history and mythology, visual art and more intimate personal experience. His words for visiting the UBC Museum of Anthropology, “transcendent and humbling” draw these strands together into a reflection on what it means to belong among the succession of human inhabitants of a place

Similarly, appealing is the inclusion of Sean O’Connor’s selection (Parts I to III) from ‘Stallion’s Crag’, a haibun sequence by the late Ken Jones, first published by Iron Press in 2003. This will be continued in the next issue of The Haibun Journal. The editor is well justified in thus bringing attention to an impressive example of the possibilities of modern haibun. The text is a veritable crossroads of cultural reference, covering images from mediaeval and more recent Welsh history, the Welsh language and the voices of Welsh poets. The relevance of Chinese philosophy is not lost in this otherwise apparently local frame of reference. Landscape and language come together memorably in these sentences from Part I:

Here at the road’s edge there’s a keen wind blowing. Cold and rain are kept out by closely woven cotton, over finely spun lambswool, over Welsh flannel, over Japanese silk, over mortal skin.

Bashō might have said the same.

On this debutant showing, Sean O’Connor’s journal has a great deal to offer to the world of haibun and to literature generally. He is unmistakably a gifted editor, vigorous and resourceful but also careful and discerning. Of particular note is his interest in promoting (or reviving) the longer form haibun alongside what he refers to as ‘one and one’: the more recently common haibun of one prose paragraph plus one haiku. That Sean O’Connor can appreciate both approaches is manifested by the examples he has chosen. What’s refreshing is his openness: “There is no reason at all that a novel cannot be written in the haibun form”.

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