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

Volume 12, Number 2, June 2018

Ray Rasmussen
Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

A Personalized Commentary on Glenn Coats' “Mentor”

If you've not yet done so, I suggest that you read Coats' haibun "Mentor" prior to reading my commentary. Then your starting point will be your own personal associations with his work.

The following is meant to be a demonstration of a personalized commentary, as opposed to a more formal literary criticism of Coats' haibun.

The Title

Strange how a single word or phrase can trigger associations. Here’s how I related to Coats' title. My father found work during the Great Depression, provided food, clothing, shelter and cared deeply for his family. And he was an introverted Dane who shared no words of wisdom that I can remember. Thus, as I grew into manhood, I often felt directionless and wished I could find a mentor to help fill the void. I didn’t find any mentors in the flesh. Instead, as Coats indicates he’s done in “Mentor,” I found direction in reading what others wrote about their lives in poetry, memoirs and essays. I was attracted to reading and writing haibun for its autobiographical aspect, its focus on self-examination and presentation of the truths of a real (as opposed to fictional) lived life. In short, I enjoyed haibun for its ability to offer insight to readers.

My experience in lacking fatherly mentoring was evidently widely shared by others of my generation. In the men’s movement of the last several decades, the poet Robert Bly argued that "male energy had been diluted through modern social institutions such as industrialization, separation of fathers from family life through working outside the home.” Bly urged men to recover a pre-industrial conception of masculinity through spiritual camaraderie with other men in male-only gatherings led by experienced older men (e.g., male elders to offer the guidance the men’s’ fathers didn’t provide).


This is the price of the years of thinking,
the casting and recasting of events
and the frantic pen scratching past midnight,
the hoarding of paper, the loneliness,
the pages accumulating while I myself shrink down.
—Josephine Humphreys [5]

I identified with the quote and my guess is that many writers will also do so. After all, few of us will become widely read or have our work carried into anthologies or into the future. At best, friends and family will read what Humphreys calls “frantic pen scratching.” As our writing reaches maturity, we may sell a few copies of our collections (don’t count on it) and receive a few appreciative reviews or have some our work appear in anthologies, which also may not be widely read.


In the prose section, Coats offers a summary of the life of another important influence on his writing life, the poet Len Roberts. Even tough Roberts had nine books of poetry published and his works received a high level of recognition in poetry circles, evidently very few of his acquaintances knew he was a successful writer.

My friends and family know that I write things called haibun, but few read much of my work, and seldom do they comment on it. I've yet to receive a request from a family member to send along my newest pen scratchings.

Coats closes the prose section with the mentoring lesson Riley offered him:

Len's’ poems taught me to go on, to get up in the morning, walk across a cold floor, splash my face with water and start again.

This "lesson" learned from Coats' poet-mentor touched me. I often ask myself why I bother to keep writing. I don't come up with good answers to that question, but it somehow buoys me up to have companions in this lonely writing journey.


My take on Coats' first haiku,

autumn night
the silent pluck
of pine needles

was to think about Coats’ selection of the pine tree. Pine trees are evergreens and seemingly don’t lose their needles. But a pine’s needles are silently falling throughout the years of its life, and there’s an accumulation of dried needles at the foot of the tree. It's true for me that largely, without noticing, my writing has accumulated in computer files, in notebooks, in email messages to friends and family, and even on scraps of paper in desk drawers. Occasionally one of mine finds its way to one of the many haiku-genre journals which are themselves accumulations of the pine needles of a collective of writers. Seldom is there any feedback. My work silently piles up, until it become a nuisance. What to do with it all?

This week, I’ve been clearing my desk and bookshelves in the process of turning my home over to my daughter and son-in-law. Boxes of books have been donated to the local library including my collection of haiku-genre works and my own haibun collection, Landmarks. The library may or may not put any of these on a shelf; some may or may not be sold at sales to bring in revenue to the library; and some may find their way to the library's recycle bins. In this, as Humphreys suggests, I have a sense that I’m shrinking myself down.

A central message of this piece is that even if our writers’ lives are steeped in aloneness and our poetic utterings are but a series of pine needles falling in silence, should we not carry on reading and writing, sharing with friends, petitioning editors to carry our work?

At the least, can we say that in sharing our lives through haibun, we’ve enriched ourselves and our relationships?



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