Concord, Ohio, USA
On Journeys: An Anthology of International Haibun
Journeys, edited by Angelee Deodhar. Hyderabad, India: Nivasini Publishers, 2014. 5.25" x 8.25," perfect bound, 254 pp. ISBN: 13:978-81-929002-1-6. Price: $18 USD.
Where does one begin when invited by a publisher, in response to the growing interest in India in Japanese forms of poetry, to prepare an international collection of haibun that showcases the genre with a variety of styles? Not knowing where to start, writes editor Angelee Deodhar of India, she contacted the 25 writers featured in the anthology and asked them to contribute works for consideration. The result was 116 haibun, 3 tanka prose, and 3 hybrid poems containing both haiku and tanka.
The anthology opens with a set of definitions from "Haibun Defined: Anthology of Haibun Definitions" as previously collected and published by Jeffrey Woodward in his online journal, Haibun Today. Six of the poets featured in this anthology are also included in Woodward's December 2007 list of definitions: David Cobb, Ken Jones, W.F. Owen, Ray Rasmussen, Bruce Ross and Jeffrey Woodward.
Haibun from poets in South Asia represent only twenty percent of the collection which is arranged alphabetically by author's name with the author's country and a short bio preceding his or her haibun. Because I was interested in the writers from South Asia, I intentionally read their works first, but the curious reader can thumb through the book, pick a spot and jump in.
Bhutan's Sonam Chhoki writes about the passing of her father in the serene "When my father became prayer flags . . . ." The setting is an ancestral place where "Gamboge tendrils of bitter gourd vines flutter noiselessly in the breeze" and where ". . . 108 prayer flags flap in unison." Chhoki demonstrates good emotional restraint allowing the scene to convey the mood. She concludes with a haiku that implies that everything previously known to her is now out of view:
fog in the valley—
long creak of prayer wheels
into the night
In Kala Ramesh's "All That's Left" (written in basic unit style—one paragraph of prose followed by one haiku), the Indian poet introduces readers to both poverty and richness through the daily life of a mother dedicated to caring for her family:
The cow dung paste caressingly patted in her hands and slapped across the outside walls to dry in the scorching Chennai heat, this mother to seven children then moves on to other chores . . .
As with Chhoki's piece, Ramesh controls her emotion. She never tells the reader how to feel or reveals her own thoughts. The author closes with a haiku that carries the reader beyond the family's simple mud floor dwelling:
the desert . . .
and all that's left, the sky
with all her stars
In "Termite Hills," Johannes Manjrekar, also an Indian poet, is a disobedient child fascinated by "the termite hills that sprouted like little red-soil plants on the empty plots in our outskirt of the town." Determined to keep the cobras away and to keep "us humans safe," he stuffs the holes with stones.
There's humor in Manjrekar's closing haiku which is only realized when one considers the work as a whole. It isn't necessarily a strong "stand alone" haiku (some haibunists consider this a must), but in the context of this piece it strengthened the work and made me smile.
crows and kites pick off
the winged termites
The above is just a sampling of the 25 works from India and Bhutan. Haibun from writers in the USA and Canada dominate over half of the journal. David Cobb and Ken Jones represent the United Kingdom and Wales respectively, but this geographical region, in general, is underrepresented with only 6 haibun from an area with many strong and veteran haibunists such as Graham High, Lynne Rees and Peter Butler. The anthology also includes haibun from New Zealand, Philippines, and Ethiopia but sadly skipped Australia and the fine work of writers such as Jeffrey Harpeng.
Stylistically roughly half of the haibun are basic unit in form—one paragraph followed by one haiku—or are works with several short paragraphs followed by one haiku. The collection only contains one haibun written in inverted basic unit form—a single haiku followed by prose. In the inverted basic unit, "the haiku adopts some of the narrative or expository qualities that we ordinarily associate with the prose . . ." (see "Form in Haibun: An Outline" by Jeffrey Woodward, Haibun Today, Volume 4, Number 4, December 2010). Ironically, that work is Jeffrey Woodward's and readers wishing to study this technique will find "Peace and Plenty" not only a good model but an evocative haibun.
Three poets—Glenn G. Coats, USA; Patricia Prime, New Zealand; and Michael D. Welch, Canada—employ the verse sequence in some of their works presenting two or more haiku without interruption from the prose. I'm particularly fond of Coats' "Presence" which I'll reprint here in its entirety:
I nail his New Jersey license plate (2007) to a wall in the shed like a horseshoe—a memento. I find a few of his guitar picks in a drawer and a can of Canadian pennies that he used for poker. A few tarnished spinner blades hang like earrings on a shelf. There are black marks on a table where he pressed hard, underlined everything he wanted to remember.
Tonight it is all the same blue. The sky, pine trees, and lake water are the same color. I see him in the bow of his boat, moving rod and line, making lures dart and dance like live fish. I see him tossing a plastic frog across lily pads, and reeling in so quickly that it has no time to sink. My son is there in the shadows like a small bird, a flicker of light, the flash of a wing. My eyes strain to see where he is.
light fades in a corner
the creek of a boat
What appeals to me in this haibun is the seamless flow of images as the narrator's awareness transitions from the tactile objects that remind him of his father to the water that is "all the same blue." With sky, pine and lake all the same color, the narrator is the son of his father and a father to his own son.
Coats' shasei-style haiku step the reading down gradually. With the sensory inclusion of sound in "loons" and then "loon" and the visual as the light dims, the curtain closes leaving the narrator perhaps contemplating how his own son will remember him.
I have a number of favorites in Journeys—too many to list—but let me highlight a few.
• In Roberta Beary's "Nighthawks," the reader is presented with a devastating portrait of a helpless daughter's vigil at the bedside of her dying mother.
• David Cobb's "Doing Eggs" is light and humorous. The narrator is a grandfather who has a cooking trick up his sleeve. Cobb's anecdote has universal appeal. The grandson also has something he can show his grandfather.
• After enduring backwoods conditions, Jim Kacian tells readers exactly how he feels in "wilderness." His second paragraph of three words ("I like it") connected the prose and the haiku that followed in a way that made the whole work resonate for me.
• Jeffrey Woodward's verse envelope, "The Pivot," transitions readers from the image of youth: "only the wind/ in a wading pool/ and yellow leaves" to the implication of death: "the sound of a hammer/ nailing something together—/the leaves of autumn." The prose in the middle is one 89 word sentence, a brilliantly executed, non-emotional, matter-of fact portrayal of the cycle of life: "the whole of matter one vertiginous flux . . . ."
Overall, the collection is successful and will provide readers genuine enjoyment. Since one of the goals of the international collection was to attract more interest in the genre and encourage writers to experiment, it would have been prudent to present a broader array of examples of the form. However, since the works were selected from what the contributors who were contacted submitted, that was difficult to control. I would have also preferred the inclusion of a "first published" acknowledgements page as a courtesy to the journals where many of these works originally appeared.
The anthology's initial printing contained serious formatting and editing errors. Some works were wrongly presented with lineation breaking up the prose as if it were free verse; works of one author were credited to another. One expects better proofreading in an ambitious anthology such as this. But the errors were rapidly corrected with a second printing.