Haibun Today


A Quarterly Journal
Jeffrey Woodward, Editor
Volume 4, Number 2, June 2010

Bruce Ross
Bangor, Maine, USA


The Spirit of Mystery and the Fabulous:
Aesop Meets the Noh Play

Poem Tales: Uta Monogatari, edited by Giselle Maya, with contributions by Jim Kacian, Ingrid Kunschke, Patricia Prime and Jeffrey Woodward; calligraphy by Isabelle Baticle. Saint Martin de Castillon, France: Koyama Press, 2010. 10” x 13,” hand-sewn saddlestich, 40 pp. Available 20 Euros, $27 USD from Giselle Maya, 84750 Saint Martin de Castillion, France.

The large format with pale green “crushed” handmade paper cover and animal fables inside reminds us of eighteenth-century translations of Aesop.

Each of the five contributors have five haibun-like tales each. Each author’s work is preceded by an aggressively rendered thick-lined Chinese character for a given animal that appears in one of the author’s tales.

Kacian’s tales, which most resemble haibun as commonly practiced in the West, except for “Margaret of Scotland,” a retelling of a legend of the saint being eaten whole by a dragon, are in a contemporary pared-down, expressive style, with a fine link in “the interview” in which foreign birds are heard on an interview tape. “miles out at sea” opens the threatening, mysterious, or ecstatic otherness of nature brought out in many fables, fairytales, bestiary tales, etc. that the other authors work out of. He is in a kayak at night heading for an island camp. He could “be snatched—by wave, whale, god-knows-what—the unknown made manifest, bodied in its own element, and into which we dimly see . . . .” In “Tawhai Falls” the rarely seen duck pair open up their mystery in the space left in a concluding haiku:

Tawhai Falls—
watching the blue ducks
no longer there

Ingrid Kunschke’s “Wings” alludes to the bestiary notion of goose barnacles giving birth to geese. Two tales are fables: In “In Spring” the conceit of a hubristic fox bringing light, reddened from his fur, to the world is narrated; In “Few and Far Between” a rumination of the seasons’ changes through an arctic owl’s relation to his friend the wind is explored, including a tanka letter to the wind.

The publisher and editor of the collection, Giselle Maya, retells Japanese and Sufi fairytales; “The Fox’s Wedding” appears in an episode of Kurosawa’s Dreams and a version of the Sufi tale “Antelope” is presented in a haunting North African film Bab Aziz. The others are suggestive of Noh plays in their allusiveness of imagery and storybook phrasing, as in “Dragon scales” in which the concluding one-liner haiku refers back to the willed disappearance of dragons:

A green sparkle mirrors a river’s beginning

and the fading snow maiden in “Yuki Ona” (a more frightening version in Dreams).

Patricia Prime offers two narratives of power animals bringing wisdom or symbolic wisdom to the girl in “The White Wolf” and the sisters in “A Winter’s Night” (a bear bringing a treasure). She also offers an expressive take on a familiar tale in “Rapunzel.” “Dancing Feet” is an expressive memory of the ecstasy brought on by dancing.

Jeffrey Woodward’s pieces present have an allusiveness about them that textures the aesthetic depths evoked: mystical dream flight in “Clearly Now,” the parable on freedom “Unbridled,” and the deep wisdom of the wandering blind biwa player (depicted in Chinese and Japanese films).

In general, with the exception of Kacian, this volume uses both an archaic idiom to capture the Western expression of fairytales occurring in a “forgotten time” and the emotional allusiveness underpinning many traditional Japanese poetic and dramatic forms.

If you like the style and approach, you might enjoy this collection.


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