Haibun Today

A Quarterly Journal
Jeffrey Woodward, Editor
Volume 5, Number 1, March 2011

Tish Davis
Dublin, Ohio, USA

On the BHS Anthology The Unseen Wind: BHS Haibun Anthology 2009

The Unseen Wind: British Haiku Society Haibun Anthology 2009. Selection and Commentaries by Lynne Rees and Jo Pacsoo. Longholm, East Bank, Sutton Bridge, Spalding, and Lincs, U.K.: Hub Editions, 2010. 5 ½" x 7", perfect bound, 77 pp. IBSN: 978-1-903746-84-4. Available £7 UK, $10.50 US from the British Haiku Society BHS Bookshop at www.britishhaikusociety.org.

Released in 2010, The Unseen Wind, The British Haiku Society's 2009 anthology, showcases 25 haibun. Publication, the prize awarded to 14 international contributors, also includes the judges' independent commentaries.

Graham High contributes several works including "Spring Burial," a haibun in the interlaced form (alternating prose and verse elements) that includes five haiku. The vignette begins as mourners arrive at the cemetery "where a green tarpaulin has been laid to one side ready to receive the coffin" (24).

dead oak tree–
still a fine presence
over the gravestones

As we slowly gather in small groups each of us seeks out a friend or relation they can comfort or get comfort from. Everyone is early or on time. We wait for the priest to come. Odd that he alone should be late.

spring funeral–
a robin looks for worms
in the turned earth

Haibun of the interlaced variety are often choppy, jolting the reader as prose and verse alternate. However, High writes comfortably in this form. Even though his haiku have the same basic structure—a noun followed by a short sentence or phrase—his transitions are smooth and his haiku add dimension. Additionally, High provides subtle links: the vertical image of the rope slowly lowering the coffin to the image of mourners who "move slowly in a line"; the late priest to "the deal box . . . lowered in a series of little snags" (24). These images provide a subliminal connection and further contribute to the flow.

High demonstrates his ability to select techniques and to employ them successfully. The haibun contains several juxtapositions. The prose, which consists primarily of simple sentences, is counterbalanced with descriptions that are rich and textured. In the penultimate prose segment, High incorporates sound adding yet another layer to this evocative haibun (24):

The ropes are slowly eased over the scaffold planks that line the grave. They creak at the bevelled edges of the coffin. Overhead the wind tests the tension in the trees.

bird-box in the yew
gives out small chirpings
over the coffin

Peter Butler quietly celebrates life in "A Piece of Shrapnel." This is a wonderfully understated work where the individual parts (title, prose, and verse) come together in a dynamic way. The "forbidden piece of shrapnel" pocketed by the narrator as a youth represents what happened and what could have happened (8):

         a strange quietness     the ambulance     parked in the street

Time shifts as the writer effortlessly moves from the present to the past and then back to the present. The narrator's home now has "peeling frames and fussy borders." The shrapnel has "grown smooth and friendlier through the years (8)."

The shrapnel, a souvenir found in a neighborhood where children once "hopscotched in brick dust" after "the bomb aimer missed the chimney," is also a harbinger of death. Butler acknowledges this with an unusual, but effective leap in his concluding haiku as he pays tribute to the men and women who have served their country. Without their sacrifice, the freedom of the next generation to express themselves, albeit with spray paint on a sidewalk, would not have been possible (8):

         at the war memorial     freshly sprayed     jude x ron

In "Having Been Thrown Out," Doreen King tells "the abandoned, half collapsed scarecrow everything" before unrolling her sleeping bag under "the black bulk of night" (14). King's effective use of alliteration and consonance helps create the mood in transitioning from the harshness of the k sound prevalent in the first half of the work ("clear-cut shadows," "caws of crows," "clots of night clouds") to softer s ("roseate," "rest," "sesleria") and b sounds ("bag," "blue," "blade," "brushstroke") at the writing's closure. The haibun concludes with a peaceful haiku "showing" the reader that the narrator is ready to move on (14):

         flickering sunlight
         a swallow circles
         just the once

Patrick M. Pilarski contributes "Icefall," a lyrical composition of less than 120 words. While I found his description of wind that "Paws toward me down the river" (16) a bit awkward, the images that follow are fresh and exhilarating:

Rushing water. Even in winter it flows, invisible and constant beneath the ice. I follow the sound to its source: a frozen waterfall, fifty feet of soft thunder and broken pine.

Sixteen works in The Unseen Wind contain more than one haiku and most are haiku that can stand alone. Regardless of one's stance on the often debated "stand alone" topic, the editors' comments are worth reading. Lynne Rees in particular offers some astute observations on haiku and the relationship of prose and verse. Her commentary on Graham High's "Foreign Fish," for example, includes her rationale for suggesting a rearrangement of the lines of his penultimate haiku.

Both editors felt that Cherie Hunter Day's opening and singular haiku in "Inclement Weather" pre-empted the theme. Pacsoo suggested placing it between the prose paragraphs (18):

         the darkness
         between us

Day's haibun is the only one in the collection written as an inverted basic unit—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," Jeffrey Woodward, Haibun Today, Volume 4, Number 4, December 2010). Perhaps the editors missed an educational opportunity to further comment on Day's contribution in this context.

In general, the collection is slightly weighted due to multiple contributions from a single author (7 of 14 authors contributed more than one work; Graham High and Doreen King contribute 4 each). The quality is mixed with most works containing both delights and flaws. Lynne Rees and Jo Pacsoo did a fine job offering their critiques in "the spirit of this anthology as a teaching and learning tool" (2). In addition to the haibun previously mentioned, the anthology includes works by many well-known practitioners of haibun such as Ken Jones, Ruth Franke, and Ray Rasmussen.

The haibun in The Unseen Wind can be read solely for enjoyment or studied in parallel with the commentaries. Modestly priced at $10.50, the British Haiku Society's 2009 Haibun Anthology is worthy of our support.


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