Haibun Today

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A Quarterly Journal
Jeffrey Woodward, Editor
Volume 4, Number 1, March 2010


Tish Davis

 

Review of Linda Jeannette Ward’s a delicate dance of wings

a delicate dance of wings, by Linda Jeannette Ward, with illus. by Pamela A. Babusci and J.W. Stansell. Clinging Vine Press and Winfred Press. (Available through Larry Kimmel's Storefront). ISBN 0-9702457-4-2. 6" x 9" perfect bound trade edition. 51 pp., $11.00 USD.

Linda Jeannette’s Ward’s a delicate dance of wings, second edition of the Haiku Society of America’s 2003 Merit Book Award for Best Book of Haibun, is comprised of twenty-one works and engages the reader through diary-like narratives and observations of events experienced by a poet keenly aware of self and nature’s unifying equilibrium.

The book is divided into three sections: Home, Outer Banks and Afield. Whether driving along a country road blocked by a grain spill, responding to a lost stranger’s knock on the door, or searching for solitude while on a mountainous retreat run by nuns, the paths that readers are taken along by Ward delight the senses as in this excerpt from “A Country Road”:

The pungency of hot asphalt mixed with the scent of approaching thunder─ one of those blazing midsummer days where light glows round the edges of dark bulbous clouds that bud in the distance and blossom suddenly overhead . . . (11)

In Ward’s first haibun, “A Wilsonian Tale,” the narrator, a city-raised child, enjoys leisurely walks with her grandmother on 300 acres of the family’s wooded refuge.

My days there filled with leisurely walks, Grandmother often accompanying me to point out black-dotted frog eggs in puddles or deer feeding on fallen persimmons in a hidden, neglected grove. . . (5)

In this haven, the child is often allowed to roam free and Ward invites the reader to accompany her:

. . . all by myself I explore, one day encountering a pair of turkey vultures who pause only to offer a passing glance at my approach . . . they seem so huge from my ten-year old perspective: menacing black monsters with wrinkled necks and scrawny heads the color of the blood they feed on. Standing frozen with fright, then with fascination, I watch . . .

road kill
a delicate dance of wings
over rippled flesh (5)

The transition here is breathtaking as Ward competently transforms the scene and reveals the child’s new and heightened level of awareness.

“Legacy,” one of the two evocative tanka prose works in the collection, also draws on childhood memories:

Deer gather along the edge of an abandoned homestead that once stood atop a hill where on sultry days Grandfather leads me down its steep bank to drink spring water so cool beads of condensation form on the jar he lifts from an earthen shelf. . .

deep in a gully
where a mighty force once ran
grandpap’s secret spring
running rivulets
down a clear Mason jar (12)

This work, however, is more than mere pastoral recollection:

As I neared puberty, Grandfather was diagnosed with glaucoma─too late to respond to the primitive treatment of the times . . .

grandfather’s
memories those last years
after his blindness:
the red of strawberry fields
the blue of sky (12)

Here the work shifts adding a layer of depth, as Ward skillfully links the tanka:

how do I know
the color of his memories?
with open eyes
the visions we shared
disappear (12)

This piece is among my favorites and is representative of Ward’s poetic and compositional gifts as she effectively balances title, prose and tanka.

In “Laundry Day,” the opening paragraph invites the reader to observe, from a distance, an interaction between mother and daughter:

I never knew quilts had names until my mother mailed me pictures of the ones she had made, along with a note asking me to select my favorite as a gift. I chose one called Picket Fence. (18)

That relationship is more closely examined through Ward’s ingenious use of metaphor in the prose:

I always wait for warm breezy days to launder my quilt so it will dry as fluffy as it was when I first received it. I carefully place each clothespin along its border of tiny blue flowers that frame alternating shades of blue and white zig-zagging across its whole, creating the delightful picket effect. When the quilt’s dry I gather it into my arms as I remove the wooden pins and carry it to the house, holding it lightly to my chest so as not to crush the fluffiness. Once inside I head straight for the bedroom and allow it to float in gentle folds upon the bed . . .

laundry day—
over the picket fence quilt
a tan and black snake (18)

The tactile sensations that Ward evokes are striking as is the sharp contrast between the billowing and fluffy quilt and the snake. One can surmise from this subtle and well executed haibun that there’s a harmonious, but agreed to, distance between mother and daughter and, although that comfort zone is sometimes compromised, resolution is achieved through the ritualistic and symbolic washing of the quilt.

“Alligator River Wildlife Refuge” engages the reader immediately:

The winter visitors we seek spring up from grasses tangled in shades of tan and wheat that spill from ditches dividing fallow fields from the unpaved roads we bird from. (40)

The prose is strong throughout and the four haiku─ one following each paragraph─ are appropriately portioned, each adding visual depth and a heightened sensory perception:

We ride and stop and scan until my eyes blur with achromatic pattern shifting past the lens of my binoculars . . . then, my husband’s urgent tap on my shoulder . . .

old logging road—
a blue heron’s lift-off
above a red wolf’s leap

I focus on his radio collar as the wolf watches his lost prey glide into a stand of nearby pines, a bough of needles bouncing slightly beneath its weight as it lands. Privileged to witness the reintroduction of this endangered canine 20 years ago we stalk one of their descendants . . . (40)

In the section “Outerbanks,” readers experience uncertainty, loss and reflective moments in works set in or around the family’s seaside cottage.

Here readers are introduced to “Whimbrel Cottage” as the shoreline is pummeled by an approaching hurricane:

. . .she heads for the Outer Banks of North Carolina, churning our ocean with her imminent attack, lining up waves in orderly rows that rise higher and higher ...

each cresting wave
a glimmer of moonlight
crashing (24)

While there are some poignant moments in this haibun, including a well-executed juxtaposition in the prose where the narrator retreats and swaddles herself in flannel sheets brought from home, the five paragraphs of prose interspersed with five haiku perhaps too abruptly shifts as the present tense scenario spans several weeks moving the reader from cottage to home and then back to the cottage.

While it’s impossible for any writer to execute at one hundred percent consistently, Ward’s command of the difficult art of haibun is noteworthy and readers will remain engaged and entertained throughout this award winning and thought provoking collection.


 

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