Friday, November 30, 2007

Jeffrey Woodward: HAIBUN MINUS HAIKU

One common and simple definition of haibun restricts the term to "prose accompanied by one or more haiku." Since neither the genre nor style of prose in this definition are specified, the question will inevitably be raised as to whether an obituary, factual reportage or even a “found text” such as a paragraph of an advertisement may not constitute a haibun by the simple acquisition (or mechanical adhesion) of “one or more haiku.” For this reason, the more cautious commentators have qualified the above provisional delineation to read: "heightened (or poetic) prose accompanied by one or more haiku."

One objection repeatedly raised to the fact that historical haibun exist (see Basho’s “Words in Praise of the Pine of Narihide’s Garden,” in David Landis Barnhill’s Basho’s Journey, SUNY Press, Albany, 2005, pp. 131-132) and to the assertion that contemporary haibun might exist without haiku may be formulated in the rhetorical form in which it is most often advanced:

What is the difference between a prose poem and a haibun without haiku?

Two suppositions are implicit in this rhetorical question that is offered as rebuttal to the heresy of haibun without haiku: 1) that a well-established and conventional definition of “prose poem” exists in the literary community at large; 2) that the quality of the prose is secondary and not determinative, for it is only the presence of a haiku that sanctions prose as haibun.

What precisely, the dissenter may ask, is a “prose poem?” In reading Western literature only, the student will discover defined as a “poem in prose” or a “prose poem,” by either the author of the work in question or by its many commentators, works as widely divergent as the grammatical parallelism of the Pentateuch, Christopher Smart’s Jubilate Agno, William Blake’s prophetic books, Edgar Allen Poe’s Eureka, the German romantic tradition (Hölderlin and Novalis), the French symbolist tradition (Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Mallarmé and Valéry), Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, excerpts from the writings of naturalists such as Audubon, Bartram, Thoreau or Muir, Ezra Pound’s Cathay, sections of James Joyce’s Ulysses and Finnegan’s Wake, Gertrude Stein’s long and short “fictions,” Sherwood Anderson’s highly stylistic sketches and stories, much of 20th century free-verse and far more.

Such wide diversity of form, under the common aegis of “prose poem,” certifies only the continuing absence of consensus on what does or does not constitute a poetry in prose. This uncertainty as to the proper limit of a genre (“prose poem”) renders the above rhetorical equation ― haibun minus haiku equals prose poem ― meaningless.

The second supposition ― that the presence of haiku sanctions haibun ― implies that haiku is self-sufficient whereas prose is not. If this were true, would the insertion of “one or more haiku” into any prose not effectually alter the content and context of the prose? The case of haibun with haiku, however, defeats this expectation.

A well-written haiku alone on a page will leave some margin for interpretation to the reader through purposeful ambiguity or paradox and will establish undertone and atmosphere through a careful balance of rhythm and the connotations of key words in the text. Once this same haiku is placed within a prose context, however, the meaning and emotive character of adjacent prose passages quickly colors the haiku, i.e., the haiku and not the prose is subject to the greater change by this radical marriage of two modes (verse and prose).

Given the above considerations, perhaps a more apt provisional definition of haibun might be: Haibun is haiku-like prose with or without one or more haiku. “Haiku-like,” of course, is susceptible to wide interpretation as it is quite subjective, though in general one might anticipate “haiku-like prose” to avail itself of ellipsis, paradox, understatement and other qualities familiar to the reader of haiku.

by Jeffrey Woodward
Detroit, Michigan
first posted at the Writer's Workshop, July 24, 2007

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Catherine Mair & Patricia Prime: CHASMS, HOLES, INDENTATIONS

It’s a detour, a sudden inspiration. “Let’s go to the mine and return via the beach, so the dog can have a run. We’re going to look at a big hole in the ground,” I tell three-year old William.

wire caged
on the slope’s crest
a giant dump truck

From behind a high safety net we stare down into a vast hole. “Don’t let me fall down there,” he pipes.

“There’s big boys,’ he says, pointing to some children having their photo taken in front of the gaping hole. He peers down into the quarry through the wire mesh. “Dump truck, hooge,” he tells us. On the noticeboard I read that in 1999, 97,000 oz of gold and 700,000 oz of silver were taken from the mine, most of the profit being returned to Waihi township. What will become of this small community when the mine closes in three years?

A dozen terraces below thumbnail-size men stand in a midget group while beetle-size machines labour up the chasm’s slopes to higher levels. Aeons ago this Waihi terrain would have looked as Rotorua does today.

Leaving Martha Mine we drive in the land cruiser to Waihi Beach. Across the green-blue ocean on this winter’s day Tuhua Island looks grey and bleak. “What’s that noise?” questions the child. I tell him it’s only the sound of breaking surf.

Further down the beach a child paddles dog-like on all fours through the shallows. Dogs are only allowed to cavort on the sand between March and November. Understandably.

low-tide mark –
using the garden trowel
to dig a hole

“Shall I throw this in the sea?” asks William, showing us a pinecone he’s found. Sasha, the dog, “fetches” the pinecone from the edge of the waves and after several minutes playing with it, destroys it with her teeth.

on the sand
a piece of driftwood
its anchor-like shape

The boy finds a bleached stick that he decides he’s taking home. The dog leaps around waiting for him to throw it. “NO!” he shouts. “NO, Sasha!”

over sand serrations
scarpering claws
of blue crab

We climb the half-round wooden steps of the track from the beach.

tipping sand
from our trainers
before climbing
into the land cruiser
the tailgate snaps closed

by Catherine Mair and Patricia Prime


Catherine and I began writing linked verse in collaboration with each other quite a few years ago, and have since self-published several collections of our work. These are lines captured in a haiku-like form. For this informal type of linked poetry to work there needs to be balance and empathy between the writers, in much the same way that renga evolved in Japan, as enjoyable entertainment and communication. We don’t see our linked poetry as haiku or renku, but rather as ‘stream-of-consciousness’ lines written when we are in close proximity: walking, talking, visiting places of interest. Our links follow certain themes of time, place, feeling and ‘togetherness’, rather than following the Japanese tradition of the mind ‘leaping’ from one image to something totally different. This, we have been told, is part of the ‘rebellious’ nature of our work, and is what makes it different from the formal style of renga. It is what makes it popular, gives it a certain charm, and makes it more accessible to readers. From writing linked verses, we have progressed to collaborative haibun and sonnets.

Patricia Prime
New Zealand


Collaborative writing for Pat and me is a very enjoyable sharing and communicating practice. Mutual experiences are heightened and recorded. In this particular haibun, “Chasms, Holes and Indentations,” the focus shifts from viewing a huge open cast mine in Waihi, to Waihi Beach itself. Much of the ‘story’ concerns three-year-old William’s reactions to both scenes. A small child’s perceptions are fresh and in sharing his responses and activity the day out is sharpened for both of us. The ‘fun’ of collaborative writing is the second dimension brought to the exercise by two minds. Because writers have their own ‘DNA’ a new slant is contributed by both writers, which if blended successfully, creates a lively piece of writing.

Catherine Mair
Bay of Plenty
New Zealand

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Julie Beveridge: FRESH SHEETS

Somebody else has been in these sheets. My lover in the shower washing away this morning’s sins. I kick my legs, pulling at the blankets to re-affirm my body’s grooves in the mattress. The scent of her hair strong on my pillow, no matter how often I beat it with my fists. I let my eyes close and choose to forget.

Choose to rise in the morning, make his breakfast before I leave for work – take him the paper and a coffee, wake his children and prepare them for their day. And when I arrive home kiss his face and beg him to lie to me about his day.

He crawls in beside me, curls up tight, kisses between my shoulders and tells me how happy I make him.

in the darkness
my wedding vows

by Julie Beveridge
Brisbrane, Queensland, Australia
first published in Home is where the Heartache is, 2007

Julie Beveridge: LAST CIGARETTE

He motions for water. I lift the straw over the tubes that keep him breathing. His cracked lips smile up at me,

‘Can I have a cigarette?’ he asks.

That once familiar voice, now alien. I take out a cigarette, but don’t light it. In thirty seconds he will forget. I pull the blanket up over his chest. Finger the rim of the hole in his larynx. I want to wear him like a ring. As he falls into sleep his breath grunts and rattles.

thin red line
I light
his last cigarette

by Julie Beveridge
Brisbane, Queensland, Australia
first published in Home is where the Heartache is, 2007


I catch a glimpse of the punching bag from number 48. Standing for the first time on the freedom side of the fence. Her small feminine hands wring tension all the way up to her troubled shoulders; broad as my father. I had never seen her ‘til this moment, only ever heard her pleading in time to the beat of her husband’s fists.

I hope that today is the day a taxi takes her away. Soon I will leave this street, and the woman from number 48 … her pain no more than a memory of mine – even though the madness of her every day will continue thump after thump.

walking on eggshells
every silent crack
an alarm

by Julie Beveridge
Brisbane, Queensland, Australia
first published in Home is where the Heartache is, 2007

Review of Julie Beveridge's HOME IS WHERE THE HEARTACHE IS

Home is where the Heartache is, Julie Beveridge. Small Change Press, QLD, Australia, 2007. ISBN 978-0-9803418-1-2. Price: $AU15.00.

Reviewed by Patricia Prime

Julie Beveridge is the current programming coordinator for Queensland Writers Centre and Stage Manager of the Queensland Poetry Festival: spoken in one strange word. Home is where the Heartache is promises that her transition to haibun poet will be equally rewarding for her audiences. A first collection of haibun, Home is where the Heartache is reflects a mind well able to give verbal representation to subject matters that are not easily dealt with, namely: abuse, both mental and physical, and domestic situations that get beyond control.

This volume contains 17 poems. Their themes and insights carry the same intensely personal hallmark, a voice that holds the contraries of hope and despair, loss and self-location in precarious balance; pages that come alive with a sense of the shadows of life. These are the preoccupations of poems with titles like “The Voyeur”, “Stolen Kisses” and Fresh Sheets”.

Told from a persona’s point of view and set in various places such as a house, a car park, an apartment, a barbecue, these gruelling experiences are situations many women like to pretend do not exist, mainly for the reason that they will fare even worse if neighbours or family learn about them.

This is an extraordinary sequence of haibun, in which the simple, straightforward haiku which Beveridge intersperses within, or at the end, of the prose, forms a complex contrast. The poems observe and muse with a rare honesty, totally free of condemnation or pity. They are sceptical, astringent and lively. Beveridge has no time for hypocrisy or meaningless conventions. In particular, the poems dealing with self-abuse are profoundly moving as are those observing the effects of partner abuse and world-weary fatigue. Here’s naked, even raw, poetry. Honest, meaningful and resonant.

Beveridge weaves a moving and profoundly recognisable picture of women at their lowest ebb, in situations often beyond their control and from which they can see no escape. The author ably scrutinises the contemporary situation of women and the necessary strengths they require to withstand harsh circumstances (see “Solitude: the end and the beginning”). These experiences are examined in a fluent style.

In the first haibun, “Someone Else’s Party”, the persona is at a party where “joints and glasses of wine” are freely available and, “cheeky with the prospect of the night”, she observes “the birthday girl / passed out beside us”. These are dangerous times and Beveridge’s poetry confirms this realisation.

“New Girl” shows us “history” caught in the pained music of a girl’s exploration of “someone else’s memories” contained in a photo album. The poetry revealing not only an able writer, but also an individual who is able to phrase plaints against a world none of us wants to visit, a modern world often of our own making.

“Twin Pink Lines” focuses on a young woman checking a pregnancy kit “One pink line and a shadow forming”. In “Ash”, a girl runs away from her burning house “Her hands search in the night for her mother”. In “Last Cigarette”, the persona is with a loved one who is dying. She confesses, “I want to wear him like a ring”. These poems amaze us as we recognise certain situations fresh from the world of chaos and despair – unwanted pregnancy, a partner’s other lover, a child’s despair. People in the poems are angry, frightened, anxious and full of hopelessness.

The collection is perhaps rather an unlikely project to have embarked on, given its adult themes. But love, relationships and enmity are topics of high importance, many of the scenarios all too familiar, and the excessive statements, as well as the imagery of the haiku, seem to express very well the heightened emotions.

In the poem that lends its title to the collection, “Home is where the Heartache is”, the persona’s lover physically abuses her:

She spits shattered tooth back at him. He clenches and releases his bloody fist. Kicks her in the stomach. Steel cap boot in soft young belly. Muscles contract to soften the blow. She buckles, doubled with pain, close and immediate.

The poem engages us in an idiom that is rich and layered, attentive to the reflective facets of language, memory and imagination. This menacing reminder of society’s raw, impersonal ills is a symbol of humanity’s failings and lack of concern for the violence that occurs every day in our homes. The woman’s fate underscores Beveridge’s sense of the threats that overtake many young women:

The small flat closes in around her as the front door slams. It is getting more difficult to tell whether he is locked out or she is locked in. She grapples at the fading green carpet and skulks her way to the bathroom; pushing open the door with her forehead.

The poem leaves us with this melancholy, heart-wrenching image:

a heartbeat later --
the heat of her insides
hits the floor

Another longer poem, “Cold Hands Touch My Face”, is divided into three parts. Part I prods and plays with everyday expressions, taking them apart and reassembling them, giving the reader the feeling that everything is as it should be, “The heat of the day lets me drift into sleep. I feel him driving next to me. I will wake up fresh, a whole new road ahead.” Part ii opens with the realisation that all is not well, “I poke my tongue through my lips and taste the glue that keeps the tape across my mouth”. Sceptical, probing, the poem twists and turns in search of a solution the poet already knows will only be temporary, an inadequate solution to the enigma of existence. Part iii is ominous as the captive girl begins to recognise her kidnapper – “His unkempt mustache tickles my neck. My thoughts leave my body, heavy as stone. There is something familiar about his face, something I cannot identify . . . sunlight glints off his mirrored glasses”.

A later poem, “Gun Smoke”, concerns the shooting of a woman. After his girlfriend’s murder, the murderer thinks, “She has never looked so beautiful” and the haibun ends with the haunting haiku

bent low
the taste of gun smoke
on her lips

Another poem, “Walking on Eggshells” considers an observer watching a woman being beaten in a neighbouring house, “Soon I will leave this street and the woman from number 48. The madness of her everyday will continue thump after thump.” Subject and pitch merge easily, without over-dramatisation. Whether Beveridge is writing about drunkenness, mayhem, or murder, there is a colloquialism here that is accessible, frightening and truthful.

A world of imminent, impersonal violence is the perfect setting for Beveridge’s restrained and thought-provoking scenarios. The danger that lurks on the margins of even the most mundane lives in these extreme situations are held in a finely tuned tension with her investigations into violence, rape, drugs and death. In the last poem “Solitude: the end and the beginning” we see the way in which the persona is affected by the what has happened to her loved ones: “A small portion of myself replaced with a dial tone after every lost friend has hung up”. These are poems inhabited by women who have nothing left to live for, whose very lives are threatened by those closest to them. Their stories will haunt our imaginations for a long time after the book has been closed.

Home is where the Heartache is ultimately becomes a testament to the survival of the human spirit made possible through a combination of the prose and haiku sung so softly but strongly here.

reviewed by Patricia Prime
Auckland, New Zealand
first published in Stylus Poetry Journal, June 2007

Tuesday, November 27, 2007


I beg my husband to stop at an old apple orchard in the Davis Mountains. The owner sells his ruby reds in bushel boxes stacked on the back of a green pickup. "Too many," my spouse protests, but I insist.

Two days later crossing the desert plains, our truck and trailer sway. A West Texas windstorm. He grips the wheel; I muffle my fear. Between Ozona and Sonora, we find a rundown RV park. I step from the truck and wind-driven sand stings my arms and face. The trailer door whips from my hand, slams against the side. From the doorway, the cloying scent of apples.

I peel, pare, simmer, sprinkle with cinnamon. Gusts rock the aluminum trailer; sand peppers the walls. The wind howls, but we eat our applesauce in silence.

our anniversary
only his voice
on the phone

by Lynn Edge
Tivoli, Texas
first published in Table Turning: BHS Haibun Anthology 2005


Eventide on the Texas Coast. I follow a winding trail down the thirty foot bluff to a man-made peninsula. A pier juts from its tongue. My footsteps echo on weathered wooden boards washed clean by recent rain. Near the end a lone fisherman stands, his three rods in holsters along the railing. Tiny metal bells warn of nibbles from below. Night falls. The air smells of water, salt. Storm cleansed. The sea breeze rises, cooling my skin as I climb back to the rim. I turn and look again. On the opposite shore the lights of Seadrift, a fishing village, glitter in the darkness.

mesquite branches
leaning west –
wind sculptured

by Lynn Edge
Tivoli, Texas
first published in Kaleidowhirl, Spring 2005

Monday, November 26, 2007

Charles Hansmann: POSTCARD

We sit in the back, each with an arm crooked out a window, miles on end, not passing a word. Pressed to our doors, undeclared, we compete: whose left

will tan darker than whose right? Ladybug

on the odometer, numbers flipping, travel trailer in tow, I tell you now, on this final stretch home, I’m as close to my sister as I seem to know how, leaning

as far from her arm as this Ford will allow.

by Charles Hansmann
Sea Cliff, New York

Charles Hansmann: PERIPHERY

This grass that is looked at looks different

from grass that is not. For one thing it’s greener than your eyes. But that’s just because your glasses are tinted and this is the color you chose. It’s the grass that has not been looked at that today we keep a lookout for. We are talking this morning of the infinite

ways to describe what the unlooked-at looks like. Look straight at the mirror. Try to watch

your eyes look away.

by Charles Hansmann
Sea Cliff, New York

Charles Hansmann: CLARITY

Literally the shining one, she greets me from a window seat exactly the height of her knee. A perfectly horizontal lap, backlit by glassy sun, as far as the eye

can see. I wait for the unfolding. Her summer robe falls free. Nothing beneath, but nothing showing.

by Charles Hansmann
Sea Cliff, New York

Saturday, November 24, 2007


Late afternoon, I’m racing along the soft lips of sand that stretch to the rocks. My feet wet crunching the shells that glitter like ornaments on the tideline.

The tourist traffic is heavy. Aimless roamers, all dressed up, keeping their distance from the water.

They smile and point at me like I’m an attraction.

stripped to the waist
following the wave back
into the ocean

by Graham Nunn
Brisbane, Queensland, Australia
first published in Measuring the Depth, 2005

Graham Nunn: STORM

The faintest drops of rain touch my face. The blue sky of morning is now peppered with clouds moving from the south. Leaves spin down from the tall eucalypts that ring the car park. My daughter chases the leaves across the bitumen, her voice lost in the crackle of quivering boughs. We run together to the bushwalk’s entrance dodging the now fat drops of rain. Each one kicking up its own miniature dust storm as it hits the ground. Beneath the canopy of trees the birds are active. Currawongs and lorikeets moving restlessly among the branches. Everything is taking cover as we take off, arms outstretched to catch the wind.

clap of thunder
two strangers
share the umbrella

by Graham Nunn
Brisbane, Queensland, Australia
first published in Measuring the Depth, 2005


Great unbound stretches of water and sand fold in and out of each other. With muscular grace tall palms throw their shadows across the park. The swing set creaks beneath the children’s squeals. Chip packets, cans and broken glass shine like ticker-tape. Cars are parked on both sides of the street. Some facing north, some south. And I stand alone . . .

silent –
a river of conversation
goes out with the tide

by Graham Nunn
Brisbane, Queensland, Australia
first published in Measuring the Depth, 2005

Review of Graham Nunn's MEASURING THE DEPTH

Measuring the Depth, Graham Nunn. Tasmania, Pardalote Press, 2005. 60 pp. RRP: $AUS18.50. ISBN: O 9578436 6 6.

Reviewed by Patricia Prime

The biographical notes at the back of Graham Nunn’s latest collection of haiku and haibun, Measuring the Depth, state that he is “a Brisbane-based writer, current director of the Queensland Poetry Festival: spoken in one strange word ( and founding member of local performance group, Speed Poets (” Graham is also secretary of the Australian web site HaikuOz.

Measuring the Depth is Nunn’s second collection of poetry, his first being A Zen Firecracker: selected haiku. In this volume Nunn concentrates on haibun and also presents several pages of haiku that are consistent with his earlier themes. The haibun, with their crisp syntax, clear images and simple style, are mostly a page in length, and focus on a single personal event or impression, while one or two are somewhat longer pieces (2 to 4 pages) that combine narrative episodes in a kind of multiple-exposure.

Poets in ancient times were storytellers, as we know from Beowulf and other epics, that were recited by the poet at large gatherings. Story is also a feature of haibun, which is a Japanese form of poetry from the Japanese hai, from the word haikai, and bun – writings, which refers to the style Basho used in his travel journals. The device of combining prose with haiku, tanka or other forms of poetry enables the poem to act as a torque point, where the attention given to one small aspect of the narrative demands a greater attention as a contrast with the prose. Alongside the narrative of the poem, other frames of reference are allowed to operate. This is a feature of haibun that especially attracts the reader – not just the local situation of a poem, but the larger story, too, which may be obvious or suppressed. How complex, after all, are our stories? In Nunn’s haibun “Brisbane River Blues,” a “sax player lets loose with a melancholy blues riff.” In other haibun, the poet writes poems in a mall, a father and daughter play in a storm, a lover remembers first love. The details may vary endlessly, but the stories themselves – or the structure of these stories: beginning, middle, end - remains the same.

Nunn’s style derives from these personal narratives, but perhaps even more from his surroundings, the larger schemes he brings in to play in his poetry – the worldly material by which he measures his life. This dynamic gives his haibun its distinctive appeal. What’s fascinating is the manner with which he matches story and haiku, the larger narrative with its counterpoint “moment in time”, as in this excerpt from the haibun “Saturday Night for Poets”:

And I belong nowhere . . .
Scribbling madly to make sense of it all.

this poem
reading itself
city lights

Nunn uses a traditional and recognisable narrative method, using many of the story-telling techniques with which the reader will be familiar. We encounter real people: a sax player, busker, child, poet, father, etc. as they undergo dramatic events in their lives. Since his 2003 collection of haiku A Zen Firecracker: selected haiku, Nunn has won several awards and been instrumental in the oral and performance traditions. For him the telling of the tale is a delightful task. Just so, I have been delighted by his haibun – his tales of the ocean and beach, boats and fishermen, deep-sea fishing, the beauty of a Balinese village, city streets and moments shared with his children.

In the poem “Fishing with Dad,” for example, the dominant subject is the connection between father and son and the secondary theme is the way in which the various avenues of this relationship are explored:

Bruised and sunburnt we struggle onto the jetty. While we sort the fish the memories flood back. We shake hands and say “see you again,” knowing it’s unlikely.

in the car
the stories stretch
all the way home

The speaker in these haibun has learned to recall or intuit the most ancient of mysteries, especially those of mutual attraction, as we see in this extract from “Following the Rules of Trolleyology”:

She’s buying oysters . . .

down the aisle
eyes and perfume
. . . linger

Nunn’s suburban milieu is as well expressed as his superb natural settings. In “Howling”, Nunn rides his memory to the city streets where,

My friend flashes me his its-going-to-be-a-big-night smile. We order . . .

black with one
full moon
over Brisbane

but now that he has evolved into a family man and homeowner, a civilized neighbour and a father who enjoys playing with his son in an abandoned boat (“Going Upriver”); “Going upriver and the sweat is gathering on my brow. The high tide eating away at the sandbank, making the dune grass tremble.”

Both in syntax and theme, Nunn’s haibun are powerful. With his superb timing, his compressed narrative, as well as the clarity of his haiku, Nunn has deepened his portrayal of Australia. Such are the tactics and successes of his best haibun. Here is part iii of “Bali Sunrise”:

Another humid morning and I am up with the roosters, shaving the bristles from my tired face. The animal I have only heard has eaten the banana from my fruit bowl and left the black skin for the ants. The sky is hazy, depthless. Standing before the mirror I muse on my time here. I am a solitary Adam, in a foreign paradise.

far from home
a stranger cries
in the stillness

In this volume Nunn’s haiku focus on the here and now. They show us how marvellous life is, and not what we have been taught is true or think we believe is true. They are written from experience, not from beliefs or ideas. “Wet Season” is a haiku sequence that revels in the humidity, insect song and warm breezes of Bali:

leaving Bali
the wet season begins

The haiku that are interspersed between the haibun form a kind of interlude in which one can absorb the haibun before coming upon the observations and imagery contained in the haiku. In this volume many fine haiku sit together in a well-balanced layout. A couple of favourites draw me back again and again:

winter drizzle
my daughter plays
with last holiday’s shells

early morning
spitting the flesh
of the mango

Everything is pared down to the barest essentials, but the haiku and haibun move intensely through their paces to bring the reader an exact pleasure. Because the longer works are such carefully constructed pieces it’s impossible to quote from them fairly. I can only state my sense that they represent something bold and balanced, that they feel right and are very much part of his aesthetics.

Pardalote Press has presented Nunn’s poetry as it deserves. Measuring the Depth should establish his place of one of the foremost haibun poets of Australia, and this is a collection the reader will return to with increasing pleasure.

reviewed by Patricia Prime
Auckland, New Zealand
first published in Stylus Poetry Journal, March 2006

Friday, November 23, 2007


I have returned to the hamlet of my childhood. The tiny village is bordered by hedges of white flowers aglow in the moonlight ― masses of honeysuckle drip nectar as jasmine sweetens the purple-black shadows cast by spikes of heady tuberose. The west wind remains in love with the hyacinth; the narcissus by the reflecting pool remain in love with themselves.

summer dream ―
the perfume atomiser
shattered glass

by Hortensia Anderson
New York City, New York

Hortensia Anderson: WATER STONE, 1986

Surrounded by a field of white rocks roughly the same size and shape, the black basalt tsukubai murmurs. It is like glass, polished smooth as the water flowing over its irregular edges. I wonder if, before his first chisel, Noguchi had already heard the sound

early Spring ―
as it strikes the stones,
water finds its voice.

by Hortensia Anderson
New York City, New York

Hortensia Anderson: SA MAJESTE DE ROSE

Wind carries the scent of a woman in the Alsace region of France across the Atlantic. She is a rose held to the branch. Masses of verdant leaves spill dewdrops on silken petals. How one can forget she has thorns!

summer fog ―
a green beer bottle
rolls in with the waves

by Hortensia Anderson
New York City, New York


summer drizzles: haiku and haibun by Bruce Ross. HMS Press, 2005. ISBN 1-55253-63-9. Perfect Bound, 6” x 9”, 84 pp.,$10.00 US in USA/Canada; $12.00 US abroad. (Available directly from the author at: Bruce Ross, PMB 127, 11 Bangor Mall Blvd., Ste. D., Bangor ME 04401.

Reviewed by Jeffrey Woodward

Bruce Ross, well-known author of the haiku manual How to Haiku (2002) and editor of the popular anthologies Haiku Moment (1993) and Journey to the Interior (1998), divides this latest collection of his own writings evenly between an introductory section of 50 haiku and a closing section of 18 haibun.

“Gone in Sleep” provides a ready entry into the world of Ross’s haibun. The prose opens briskly and objectively while adopting a tone appropriate to a tour guidebook: “Chicago, for all its breathtaking skyscrapers and densely multi-racial population, lacks the hustle, bustle, and buzz of New York City ….” This breeziness proves deceptive, however, for only two sentences later the poet introduces his true subject which is not a world-class city but something much closer at hand:

Chicago features clean streets, with only a few of its homeless visible. Just outside a breakfast place was one of them ― he looked up at me from his seated position with bright eyes and the most dazzling smile I had ever seen, as if a light had gone on in him, as if I were his best friend ― but I walked by and into the place, to return to the street only after breakfast.

a warm breeze
the beggar’s dazzling smile
gone in sleep
(p. 77)

The chatty and easy-going prose assumes a powerfully ironic tenor in the stark contrast between a breakfast establishment and the street, a comfortable visitor from out-of-town and a homeless resident. Meanwhile, the earlier perception of the poet, “he looked up at me … as if I were his best friend,” can now be rejected as having no more substance than the “warm breeze” in which the “dazzling smile” of the homeless man and his illusory friendship with the poet is definitively dissolved, “gone in sleep.”

Occasionally, like most writers, Ross allows his emotive investment in a motif to override his critical judgment. “Old Stone Walls” is instructive in this regard:

The long abandoned monastery lies in the hills of western Portugal. We wind our way single file through the narrow, low passageways, entering the various living areas in turn, with bowed torsos. In a courtyard we are told that one of the monks’ vows was not to write or speak anything unless it was as beautiful as silence. I linger in one corridor and almost melt into the stillness.

monk’s quarters
light and shadows
on the stone walls

This clear and precise paragraph depicts a very colorful scene, indeed, and imbues it with much atmosphere, until one, led by Ross, enters the courtyard. There, the relation of a vow “not to write or speak anything unless it was as beautiful as silence” induces the poet to “linger in one corridor and almost melt into the stillness.” Objective detachment is abandoned and the sentimental phrase “almost melt” ― motivated, perhaps, by an uncritical acceptance of the conventional equation of silence equals beauty ― is allowed to damage what would otherwise be one of the collection’s finer haibun.

This criticism points less to any shortcoming in Ross as a poet than to the inherent difficulties of the haibun genre in which a single writer must master and wed two opposing modes of discourse: prose and verse. This act is akin to that of walking on a trapeze wire where one may more readily fall than cross safely.

One final haibun, “Winter Desert,” may illustrate, by positive contrast with the above, this author’s range. Here, the reader discovers Ross on the Arizona-Mexico border in the Tohono O’odham Reservation:

Mile after mile, the desert landscape, uniquely covered with giant cactus, saguaro, organ pipe, senita, some forty feet tall …. The fantastically shaped saguaro take on human form: two large cactus arms held up in prayer, a big and little saguaro, parent and child, spine-to-spine, the arms of a cactus twisted in ecstatic dance. The cactus have survived to their own ends in this place and the Indians have made peace with this.

as close together
the stand of saguaro
Indian gravestones
(p. 67)

Ross’s independent haiku, while centered upon nature, often limit their ambition to objective description. Concise and exacting descriptive writing is not easy to attain by any means but were haiku criticism, like figure skating or diving, to admit the concept of “degree of difficulty” (perhaps it should!), description would be on the low end of that scale as compared to the symbolic, the metaphorical ― the haiku, in short, that conceals an entire universe beneath its simple descriptive veneer.

These haiku show how ably Ross can present his subject:

singing its heart out
to no one in particular
morning blackbird
(p. 10)

seaside motel
the only window
filled with fog
(p. 55)

Each poem is clearly constructed and would likely prove acceptable to any haiku editor. Nor is there anything precisely to fault. Ross’s contentment with deft surface description is everywhere on display. The critical difference between such “free-standing haiku” and the haiku that Ross employs in his haibun, perhaps, lies in the broader context of the haibun’s prose. There, his descriptive haiku freely adopt new connotations and, reciprocally, add depth and resonance to the paragraphs in which they are embedded.

Ross, on occasion, promises more

off center
the empty clay pot
beside the doorstep
(p. 36)

but close examination of this arresting but enigmatic artifact reveals no means to penetrate its world. The reader is in want of the fuller context that Ross, with his excellent haibun prose, provides.

summer drizzles is neatly, if plainly, produced with a simple black drawing on the cover and with legible type. It is an interesting read and well worth the price, especially for the student of the quiet but growing haibun movement.

reviewed by Jeffrey Woodward
Detroit, Michigan
first published in Lynx XXII:3, October 2007

Thursday, November 22, 2007


The title, Haibun Today, is really a misnomer. Haibun as a genre is fluid and ill-defined, volatile and subject daily to change, invisible to the public-at-large and widely misapprehended by haiku editors and commentators. Haibun is richly varied, by its foremost practitioners, in matter and technique but paradoxically Lilliputian in character when this achievement is measured against what appears to be its inexhaustible promise.

Haibun is terra incognita – vast and only marginally explored.

Earlier this year, when reviewing Contemporary Haibun 8, I wrote: “… haibun in English has few, if any, hard and fast rules. Well-intentioned journal editors who solicit or reviewers who comment upon the genre may inform the reader that haibun’s requirements include any possible combination of the following guidelines: prose plus one or more haiku; use of present tense; use of first person; a subject chosen from one’s common everyday existence; a revelatory or ‘aha’ moment …. Unfortunately, the curious reader who conducts even a cursory review of the literature will soon discover that exceptions outnumber cases of conformity to every guideline cited and that, moreover, the exceptions quite often are not weaker for this lack of adherence. Practice precedes theory in poetry and so poetic success in the face of a critical failure and lack of consensus should not greatly surprise.”

Objections must be anticipated when one issues a pronunciamento. I received them, of course, in due time. Cogent arguments to the contrary – and I did receive these, also – left me, I admit, unconverted and I persist in my skepticism.

Precision is precious and reassuring. Perhaps Haibun Tomorrow would be the more exacting sobriquet, for tomorrow may be the day that we discover what precisely haibun is. In the interim, the individual poet will continue to write what he or she labels haibun and, with every flirtation and approach to the form, will discover, again, its protean nature, its quality of shifting before one’s very eyes, of assuming a new identity and nature – not tomorrow, not today but now, this very moment, in the act of writing itself.

Why, exactly a fortnight ago, did I launch Haibun Today? Can any positive result be expected from such a venture?

I read Contemporary Haibun Online avidly, collect the annual anthologies of its best writing and admire the broad taste of its editors – Jim Kacian, Bruce Ross and Ken Jones – who exclude no style or technique and who, with uncanny accuracy, publish many excellent haibun while surveying the nine-headed Hydra, to their peril, at close range. But CHO, to my knowledge, remained the lone haibun-specific outlet until two weeks ago.

Haibun poets, beyond securing a place for their work in CHO, have only scattered outlets in various haiku journals. Some periodicals ― Modern Haiku, Frogpond, Simply Haiku and Bottle Rockets come to mind ― regularly offer fair representation of the form. In most haiku venues, however, haibun is either wholly absent or rarely tolerated but poorly understood. The recipe for acceptance in many markets is one or two serviceable haiku with a dash of undistinguished and generic prose: voilà, haibun!

One publication cannot achieve everything. CHO, while consistently collecting and preserving the best haibun submitted to its editors, has had little space for critical articles and little inclination for book reviews, now sorely needed as haibun’s practitioners continue to grow in number and sophistication.

I envision Haibun Today as an ongoing and open critical forum as well as an evolving anthology of the genre. I invite the participation of haibun writers of every persuasion and, to that end, plan to initiate sections for “Letters to the Editor” and “Guest Editorials.” Essays and book reviews pertinent to the genre are eagerly sought. I intend to post the best examples of haibun made available to me – unpublished and previously published.

I aspire to place as few restrictions as possible upon would-be contributors. I do ask, in relation to works previously published, that accurate first publication information be provided so a proper acknowledgement to the source can be made. I also ask contributors not to forward works currently available in widely-read online journals. There is little point in duplicating here work that everyone has previously read at Simply Haiku or Contemporary Haibun Online, for example.

I hope it is clear, from my own skeptical attitude toward haibun definition, that Haibun Today intends to adopt the liberal and catholic stance of inclusion. I have no style or school that I wish to favor, no style or school that I desire to exclude.

Jeffrey Woodward
Thanksgiving Day 2007
Detroit, Michigan

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Beverly A. Tift: NIGHT SONG

After fifty years of skirmishing with my hair, we come to terms; it will behave if I don’t unduly impose my will on its free spirit. My mane accepts a moderate haircut, one length, slightly above my shoulders; this allows the freedom to fly unhindered in dreams and reveals my face in the daylight. We have tried longer tresses, catering to my desire to have a braid meandering down my back. While there was no hirsute rebellion about being plaited each night, for both my hair and I fretted about being entangled in a dream state, there came the afternoon I clearly heard, “Cut me.”

This time, instead of returning to the cropped, boyish styles that I usually wear after a period of long hair, I try shoulder length—most days worn with two side combs winging my hair back from my face (almost a 1940s look) or unceremoniously gathered together with a rubber band when my neck is hot. Today, I realize that I can still draw my hair up into a tight, twisted bun—for those days at work when I want to subtly announce, "Don’t mess with me."

Now, I find a certain ease in dreams with a brush of hair crooning just over my shoulders; anchored but free.

night breeze
through the wisteria
the wind chimes

by Beverly A. Tift
New Haven, Connecticut


Tonight, I visit the ‘Moving Wall’, the half-size replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial that has toured the country for more than twenty years. Each time the wall comes to Connecticut, I go at twilight—for I cannot bear my reflection.

laundry day—
clenched between my teeth

by Beverly A. Tift
New Haven, Connecticut

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Bruce Ross: NOD

It is a sultry mid-summer morning. Everything is still in the garden. I am caught up in the lassitude and become sleepy in a kind of reverie.

swaying feeder
the grosbeak's head
begins to nod

by Bruce Ross
Bangor, Maine
first published in summer drizzles ... haiku and haibun, 2005


Lying on my back on the floor I look up through the tangle of trees to the last slice of the luminous full moon. All that crowded my mind to the brim this especially busy day vanished. And then the strange radiating burnished orange ball, so far away and yet so close in all its strangeness.

lunar eclipse
all of the stars
so much brighter

by Bruce Ross
Bangor, Maine
previously published in summer drizzles … haiku and haibun, 2005

Monday, November 19, 2007

Patricia Prime: REED FLUTE CAVE

Lined along its zigzag length with stalactites and stalagmites in dazzling colours, the cave is known as the “Palace of Natural Art”. The entrance to the cave is distinguished by clumps of reeds, which the Chinese use to make flutes.

windy day
outside the cave’s entrance
strangers talk

The Crystal Palace of the Dragon King can hold a thousand people, and many crowded there during the war using it as an air-raid shelter. A great slab of white rock hangs from a ledge like a waterfall, while opposite another stalactite resembles an old scholar.

the silence
fills with the sound
of bats

Calligraphy dating from the Tang Dynasty is clearly visible on the cave’s walls. A gallery of sparkling rock forms a myriad of shapes and forms. We speak in whispers.

departing ―
camera focused
on the toddler’s grin

by Patricia Prime
Auckland, New Zealand

Patricia Prime: WEARABLE ART

How I’d like a bra like that. The one I like has twin teacups containing bouncy flowers. One couldn’t wear it in the street for fear of putting out someone’s eye. There’s one made of small straw hats, another like a twin-engine plane with propellers on the front that rotate rhythmically in time with the models graceful prance along the catwalk. Some of the bras look too dangerous to wear, lighting up, making noises, sharp and brazen.

I think I’ll stick to a regulation bra, after all, concealing, restricting, uplifting.

flashing orange
on her mailbox bra
a tiny flag

by Patricia Prime
Auckland, New Zealand

Patricia Prime: DISTANCE

On its belly at night along the bottom of the dark valley slithers the train. Villagers see its lights as they climb into bed. The river is frozen, weeds blanched with ice. A siren pierces the foreign air.

sleeper closed up
reluctantly we lock in
the cockroaches

Dozing in the bowels of this huge worm, we open our eyes for a moment to find a startled Chinese man sitting up in the bunk opposite. He’d arrived in the night and was astonished to see two Western ladies sharing his sleeper. We fall asleep to the sound of snoring.

dawn over the fields . . .
a handful of sheep
led on a string

by Patricia Prime
Auckland, New Zealand

Saturday, November 17, 2007


A haibun poem may tell or give an impression of an actual or imagined experience.

It is written in prose and differs from the standard haibun in that it will usually not have a haiku. It is written with one or more (usually intra-sentence) line breaks. The line break may take the place of haiku and serve a similar purpose. Among other things, the line break may suggest a shift in meaning, introduce a juxtaposition, pause before an insight, link to something unexpected or alter a perspective.

The line break may also function in ways similar to a line break in poetry. For instance, it may work against the syntax of a sentence, so that a word’s part of speech (e.g., whether it is a noun or an adjective) may seem to change from the enjambed line to the line that completes the sentence. The line break may also signal a change of movement or suppress or highlight various internal features of the prose, such as rhyme or off-rhyme.

The number of line breaks is restricted by the writer’s concern for maintaining a sense of prose.

by Charles Hansmann
Sea Cliff, New York

Charles Hansmann: DOLDRUMS ENTRY

Sand isn’t land, nor is it sea. Shore is where both or neither want to be. Can’t say the same about air. This boat won’t stir

until it freshens. In the meantime, thought invents inverted lessons: to do there is nothing, hence this jotting. And who’s to say the sky doesn’t need every inch beyond the earth to make it blue? Blue because for all

purposes endless, nothing gets past, though now there’s a breeze, and wind amends this

stall – fast.

by Charles Hansmann
Sea Cliff, New York
first published in Chrysanthemum, V1, N2, October 2007 in an earlier version

Charles Hansmann: WERE IN MY ARMS

Our first married buy is an 1860 bed that has made it to the States by container ship. English, we think, but French, we are told, chateau furniture from the coast of Normandy. The Channel was a conduit of influence. This strikes us funny, repeated in the car. The next week we set out to haul the bed home. It’s two states away, the Hudson spread out below our rental truck in its

endless, landless flow. “Christ that my love,” I begin to recite, for crossing the bridge, in cold slanting rain, it seems we have set out to sea.

by Charles Hansmann
Sea Cliff, New York

Charles Hansmann: FERAL

The cornfield filled with whispering follows us

as we skirt it, our voices husky and the sharp stalk leaves keeping us from cutting through. In there lives the girl put down to nap without a fan, the scratches on her arms a stranger’s

entry through her open window.

by Charles Hansmann
Sea Cliff, New York

Friday, November 16, 2007


He called to say he would come over just before lunch.

In Provence that can mean between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. I did not wait and kept working, leaving my studio window open. He knocked at my front door just before noon. A tall man, friendly and relaxed. I walked ahead to show the house his company was to insure.

He noticed the three tatami mats used for the tea ceremony and told me he had just bought futon for his children via a cousin who practises martial arts. When we reached my atelier, he looked out the window, admiring the view. I told him it was my favorite room.

He sat down and unfolded his power book to enter various data concerning the house. Then he asked if I knew Kyodai. I did not. On the tiny screen he brought up a game. I helped him find matching symbols to the sound of a rushing waterfall somewhere in the depth of Japan.

By then it was past lunch time — he had seen enough of the house, it was to be insured against fire, water, and various acts of the gods. Outside he looked up at the roof tiles and pointed at the swallows’ nests.

on screen
moss-covered stone lanterns —
a slight nostalgia

by Giselle Maya
Saint Martin de Castillon, Provence, France

Giselle Maya: A VERNISSAGE

we arrive and she leaves with her daughter we say a few words she has lost some of her former chaleur I wonder why I see our old president he's cut his hair short talking to the somewhat elusive secretary with wild curly hair several quick hellos I see the paintings between people baroque abstract Rubens a touch of eastern european solemnity with muted quick painterly oil brushstrokes the bookstore lady talks to me she's known the painter for 15 years and the Englishman in a mauve shirt likes the black and white drawings I meet the artist with his tonsure from Poland from Forcalquier I say some congratulatory words and he seems pleased and smiles an artist yes

another painter from Sweden says the work is solid the painter knows his metier the show is too densely hung less is more a German painter can't relate to the work at all it is dated smacks of doom she's a minimalist and here is le contraire we move along in an intricate unanticipated dance through the long white chapel miming the movement the painter's brush has made in paint on canvas conversations plans for the association time to go back to one's studio having briefly touched art which is our heart and force and keeps us painting and living

painterly brushstrokes
reflected in an earring
a stream of viewers

by Giselle Maya
Saint Martin de Castillon, Provence, France
first published in Modern Haiku, 2003

A Note on the Writer's Workshop

The Writers Workshop, an online forum, was started in 2003 to serve as a place where writers in the haibun and haiku genres could post early drafts of their work and receive candid feedback from other members. Its aim is to help members prepare their pieces for submission to quality haiku and haibun genre journals. It was sparked as a response to the lack of readership and especially to the dearth of candid feedback occurring on most haiku-haibun genre Internet forums.

The past and present members of WW include people found often in the pages of Modern Haiku, Heron's Nest, Contemporary Haibun Online, Simply Haiku, Lynx, Blithe Spirit and other quality haiku genre venues. For example, the current issues of Contemporary Haibun Online and Simply Haiku have pieces by present and past members Sharon Dean, Lynn Edge, Charles Hansmann, Ray Rasmussen, Jeffrey Woodward, Roger Jones, Lynne Rees, Adelaide Shaw, Richard Straw, Robert Hecht, Tracy Koretsky, Zane Parks and Dru Philippou.

Writers interested in becoming a member of Writers Workshop should apply to Ray Rasmussen [].

by Ray Rasmussen
Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

Thursday, November 15, 2007


Pot holed track
the last finger post
points here

Down by the gate I recognise the tricycle contraption from his previous visit, some four years ago. The same old pig-tailed hippy, with his faded army surplus fatigues and shamanic accoutrements of bead and bone. Last time I'd turned him away. Who needs a knife grinder in this outback, where every man and woman has their own means of keeping their edges sharp ― or dull ― as needed? But this time it is different...

Hollow knock ―
the rattle of wind chimes
made of bones

I sit him in the kitchen, put on the kettle, and go out to the barn to sort out my own blunt edges. Ordinary country talk. Who lives where now. Who's died; who's still alive. I eye him carefully, as he deftly sprinkles and mixes grass and Gold Flake along the edges of a Rizla paper. He pulls heavily on the thin, damp roll-up. Sweat and leather, the smell of ancient labour.

There's something about him. I spill tea ― as out of the corner of my eye I glimpse a gothic devil's face. But then, as he pauses at the door, an archaic smile.

Through the window I watch him set up the tricycle in the yard.

Peddling away
in a shower of sparks
spittle on the blade

"Lovely scythe you have", he says.
"No I don't".
"Up in the rafters it was", says he, "A keen edge to it again. In three or four years ― it all depends ― I'll be back for you, boyo."

He turns the corner
but his evening shadow
lingers on the road
by Ken Jones
Aberystwyth, Wales

first published in Contemporary Haibun Online, V 1, N 1, June 2005
reprinted in The Parsley Bed: Haiku Stories, 2006

Ken Jones: POSTS

This is not about gate-posts, boundary posts and other posts that have something obvious to do.

Taut barbed wire
smooth new fence posts
each held upright in its place

No, this is about posts that have now become free to be just themselves.

Particularly in wild places they are welcome companions. Well-weathered, they have been left alone long enough to have developed a bit of character. When plodding across the moor, one can see one of these fellows approaching from quite a distance. There’s time to savour the encounter. Some sport wisps of wool blowing in the wind, and others are clad in mosses and lichens. It is an honour to salute such a venerable but well set-up post.

Against the sky
a slotted post
its bright blue eye

But beware of clapping one of these ancient too heartily upon the back. Many have been retired longer than their useful employment. And they rot from the bottom upwards.

Then there are the old salts you meet on the sea shore. Some just manage still to keep their heads above the sand, each standing in a little pool which carries its reflection. Others have grown top-heavy.

Blockheaded posts
their thin shins
gnawed by the tides

I’ll even go out of my way to see how some lonely old post is getting on. Nothing anthropomorphic about all this ― the whole point about posts is that they’re only posts. What is it that they have to say? “Deaf as a post” if you ask them. But if you are quiet and let them take you by surprise, in the simple post-ness of a post there is everything you need.

The Way marked out
with ancient cairns
of horse shit

by Ken Jones
Aberystwyth, Wales
reprinted from The Parsley Bed: Haiku Stories, 2006

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Review of Jim Kacian's BORDER LANDS

Border Lands by Jim Kacian. Red Moon Press: Winchester, VA, 2006. ISBN: 1-893959-58-9. Saddle stapled, softbound, 4 x 6 inches, 68 pp., $12.00 US.

Reviewed by Jeffrey Woodward

This attractively produced, shirt-pocket sized volume is that relative rarity in its genre, the book-length haibun. Jim Kacian ― co-founder of the World Haiku Association, former editor of Frogpond, owner of Red Moon Press ― presents, in Border Lands, a modern staple of haibun literature: the travel journal. Not content to assemble a disparate collection of individual pieces, the author demonstrates an ability too often lacking in poetic circles of Eastern and Western persuasion: the disciplined skill necessary to construct a book.

The poet is summoned to this journey to the Balkans, to Serbia, to attend the funeral of a distant friend’s father and, in fulfilling this obligation, surveys an ancient culture torn apart by ethnic and civil war. Though the rite of burying the dead is the very cause of Kacian’s pilgrimage, the funeral itself, although the pivot or centerpiece of the narration, plays a truly marginal role in Border Lands. The author, instead, is concerned with the journey proper ― the going out, the coming back. He states why in his very succinct foreword to the book:

Once in a great while we are fortunate enough to witness something of great significance outside our usual ken. The rest of life is preparation for such moments. The question is not whether or not we will be able to cross the line once we have come to it, but what we will be when the time has come, and if we are able, to cross back.

Kacian, who carries with him not only a backpack but a justifiable anxiety about crossing a country at the brink of war, is quickly immersed in a landscape physically ravished by a history of exploitation

These mountains, stripped of their hardwood forests by Venetian shipbuilders at the behest of merchants more than five centuries ago, are mere karst now, the bones of mountains, yet they appear no less impenetrable….

and depopulated by the current conflict:

Darkness is overtaking us. We still have fifty miles to sustain before we stop. The first sickle of the waxing moon is dead ahead, and nearly nestled in its arc, the steady gleam of a planet, red, Mars….

ancient road
wearing away
my share

We have arrived in Z.’s native place. It is now a farming village, a few hundred souls, but once it was a sizeable market town. The church is dedicated to Sveti Sava, patron of travelers and poets. A small waterfall flows down the ancient steps, worn in the center by innumerable feet….

The poet follows briefly with a sketchy description of the village and preparations for the burial:

lighting a votive
for the living
with one for the dead

Then, with the simple words, “And then it is done…,” Kacian shifts boldly away from the motive that directed his narrative through the first half of Border Lands and directs the reader’s attention to what, at first, appears as nothing more than a tourist’s detour: a previously planned meeting with another friend to climb in the Alps. While the segue is abrupt and unexpected, the poet, with a steady hand, guides the reader, in this fashion, through the first steps of the journey home:

The air is light and incredibly bracing. It smells of snow and rock, old and unsullied. We can’t breathe enough of it in, after the smoke and catarrh of the keening. We speak in great fogs which dissipate instantly…. I want to carry that with me all the way down the mountain, back through the city, through the country, through the air, all the way back home.

This trip to the Alpine summit acts, also. as a purification ritual after the preceding immersion in war, death and desolation. Kacian is preparing himself for the “coming back”

returning home
the chessmen have maintained
my lost position

The irony of the haiku is self-evident and requires no exegesis. It foreshadows, in a quiet but moving way, the final return as well as serving to highlight the ambivalent position of Kacian who is caught up and inexorably changed somewhere between the anxiety of a strange land and the comfort of home, between the going out and the coming back:

The next morning we arrive at the airport in plenty of time, then sit in a smoky bar without saying much. The airport is brightly lit, generic, not any place specific but a place between places; really, no place.

The structure of Border Lands can be summarized quickly. The narrative proceeds episodically from one brief prose notation to the next, not one of which exceeds two pages, while these several entries are linked together by the intermission of three to four haiku that expand upon the prose exposition.

Border Lands challenges the reader to follow its author’s example and to question his own honored values and assumptions, to measure his private and local vision against a public and universal reality. In doing so, Kacian eloquently but modestly illustrates his personal courage and his indelible artistry.

reviewed by Jeffrey Woodward
Detroit, Michigan
first published in Lynx XXII:3, October 2007

Tuesday, November 13, 2007


As I stretch out in my sleeping bag, the quiet regular beat of my heart induces in me the same rhythm I feel in complex water ― the soft regular rolling from one direction, but also the sideslips, just as pleasant and less to be anticipated. It's the kayaker's version of sea-legs, and literally aids me in drifting off.

I've come to Chance Harbor, a tiny crescent carved out of the coast along the Bay of Fundy. When I first put in the waves lapped at the edge of my tent. Now, though, I could nearly walk to the rocks in mid-cove I had to pull hard not to clip in the swell. Across the bay, crags whose tips just cleared the surface in the troughs of waves are too formidable ― wet and sheer and tall ― to even consider an ascent. The tide varies by as much as 50 feet here, and what is left behind each day must thrive in wet and dry to survive.

I have speculated on the name of this place, and have developed three theories: the cove was discovered or owned or claimed by an Englishman named Chance; rather, the name is French and should be read therefore as "luck", perhaps referring to a fortuitous manifestation of the adage "any port in a storm"; or more equivocally, since water level varies so much here, anchoring a boat with a sufficient draft was risky business (less so now because of sonar) and so one took a chance of coming aground and sustaining damage to one's hull. None of the locals seems to know, so these remain conjecture.

It was chance for me, as well ― I meandered the coast and turned down here when the sun was low in the west. I wasn't attracted by the deep water, the spray of surf against rocky islets, the lean of pine into the wind. Or rather, I was, but didn't know I would find it here.

My initial reaction to new water is fear. In a small craft you are much more exposed to the swells and vortices that can spring up with a big tide, and the reefs and rocks of its subsiding. I ply the waters farther from a coast at first, and approach perhaps on a third or fourth pass. I will sit and feel the water shift under me, feel its tug and toss, watch for its quirk and shunt. This is where the shuttle of the body comes in, where you learn to love yourself in a small boat or go on to something else. When you are pulling hard it is possible to have the illusion that you can power past calamity, but in the quiet moments you become aware that you are the toy of the water, fully hers.

My tent is above the wrack line and the night is benign. Yet I dream and dream again that I have misread the signs, that the sea rises higher in the night and that I am being lifted gently and carried out into big water, that my sensations are not the supposed lull and sway of my heart, but actual, the heart of the sea. It is curiously not frightening, or at least not frightening enough to wake me, and I let the sensation slide me gently out, adrift in the dark, rolling slightly. When the sun wakes me the next morning, I am here.

driftwood the slight curve of the horizon

by Jim Kacian
Winchester, Virginia
first published modern haiku 36:1

Jim Kacian: CRAFT

One of the first projects in the new house is to change the kitchen. Perhaps the kitchen more than any other room in a house echoes fashions of living in our culture: colors, use of space, paint or wallpaper. There are hundreds of choices to be made, and each one is a signature not just of the owner and chooser, but of the generation and the era as well.

The current floor is not horrible ― tan and ivory linoleum with a hint of rust, probably circa 1985 ― but it will not do for our color scheme of blue and white, which is chosen to feature the tiled landscape behind the splashplate of the sink. Though not elaborate, there is a pleasing liveliness and variety to these tiles, and it is not a difficult decision to make them the focus of the room. Of course, it is probably that these tiles were here when this basically brown linoleum was chosen, too, so it is apparent that not everyone has felt that the birds should be the centerpiece.

We want a ceramic floor, a bright white to match the ceiling and trim, a sunny white to match spirits with our choice of Mediterranean blue for the walls. It's my task to take up the floor, so we have a solid foundation for the new ceramic floor. I begin.

I know that beneath this brown, geometric vinyl there is another floor, something probably laid in the 1960s. It is the color of good mustard gone bad by overlong exposure to refrigerated air, and is stained by water in the one place where it is exposed, beneath the refrigerator. But as I begin leveraging away the top layer and its luaun plywood base, I come to another unexpected level, a brown and white geometric pattern which makes sense of the brown marble countertops which we have yet to change. This was laid directly over the mustard color, perhaps in the early 1970s. It must have been very sedate after the wildness of yellow. None of these, however, explains the wallpaper we've already stripped.

Another surprise lays in store for me: yet another layer of linoleum, this time the hue of vomit with colorful orts, comes up last, and is cemented to the subflooring. It was probably state of the art in 1954, when this house was built, but it is nauseating now, and checks my enthusiasm for the white ceramic we have in mind: what will people think about our choice half a century from now? At least it will be ceramic, and they'll have a hell of a time getting rid of it.

I finally rid the subflooring of all this detritus, and am pulling nails that haven't come up with the plywood. In the farthest corner, near the door, I am surprised to find a couple signatures, done in pencil in the finest Palmer penmanship, and dated May 1954. Thinking about it, it is conceivable that this is the last floor laid in the house, and that these craftsmen would have moved on to another job after the final few nails here. They had taken enough pride in their work that they felt they ought to sign it, and I must agree with them ― the house is well built, 12 inch joists of solid wood, not twin sixes with anchor plates; inch and a half subfloors; etc. When these men signed their floor, it must have seemed unlikely anyone would have found their signature, since the work they did was done once, and for good. Not the shoddy work of the subsequent suppliers who piled layer upon layer. No signatures there. It was only the decision to get back to ground zero, to the good work, that made me discover this at all.

Faith is belief in the absence of reason. I believe mine was the greater act of faith.

beside the names
of master craftsmen
I write my own

by Jim Kacian
Winchester, Virginia

first published Buffalo Haibun Journal

Jim Kacian: ... GATHER

the men of the several countries ― zoran from serbia, ban'ya from japan, ion from romania, milivoj of holland via croatia, zinovy the russian jew, alain from bretagne, myself the lone american ― into the house of a slovene born bulgarian and bearing a yugoslavian passport fill with euphoria from a successful weekend of talk drink and high emotion and they will sing and what songs! traditional songs of the many lands full of pathos and longing the japanese a little trifle but somehow right the russian full of strast and bravura the chanson pastorale melodic and light as air and zoran declining to sing since he has played only rock n' roll and such music is not fit for such a night in such company i sing "Shenandoah" and am pounded on the back and proclaimed to have great soul i am here among men and with their spirit . . .

passing the jug
the warmth
of many hands


. . . skup

ljudi nekoliko zemalja ― zoran iz srbije, ban'ja iz japana, jon iz rumunije, milivoj hrvatski holandjanin, zinovi ruski jevrejin, alen iz bretanje, jedini amerikanc sam ja ― u kuci slovenca bugarskog porekla sa jugoslovenskim pasosem punog euforije zbog uspesnog vikenda kafanskog rasgovora i jakih emocija i oni ce pevati ali kakve pesme ! tradicionalne pesme raznih zemalja pune patosa i ceznje japanske pomalo saljive ali nekako lepe ruske pune strasti i bravura pastoralne sansone melodicne i svetle kao vazduh i zoranovo odbijanje da peva jer je svirao samo rokendrol i slicno lici na kapric ove noci i ovog drustva ja pevam "Senandoa" i bivam oboren na ledja i proglasen velikom dusom i tu sam medju ljudima i njihovim duhom

putujuci jugom
mnogih ruku

by Jim Kacian
Winchester, Virginia
first published in second spring (red moon press 2001)
slovenian translation by Dimitar Anakiev

Monday, November 12, 2007

Ray Rasmussen: DRAGONFLY

Three days of steady rain pummeling the cabin's roof. This morning it has slowed to a soft hiss. The break comes in late afternoon, the wind gentling, spots of sun breaking though, clouds turning white, the surface mirroring the sky.

A gray heron rests on the red canoe. As I approach, it lifts off, wings tapping paired ripples.

My paddle dips & rises in a steady rhythm, stirs reflections of cloud and mountain. Water drips off, becomes lake again.

the surface
red dragon fly

by Ray Rasmussen
Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
first published in Ink, Sweat & Tears, Wed., 23 May 2007

Ray Rasmussen: CYBER CAFÉ

It's four weeks since I struck out for the Escalante Wilderness of Southern Utah. The roads are rough and clouds of dust kick up behind my truck. Signs warn that they are impassible when wet ― as if it ever rains here. Each day, I load my pack with food, water and camera equipment and strike off for remote canyons. I walk dry streambeds, cross arid cactus flats and search out places where the view through my camera lens fills with weathered sandstone spires and curving canyon walls.

In the desert silence, the only sounds have been an occasional birdsong, the rustle of lizards hidden in sage brush. At night, a small fire casts a ring of yellow warmth, the moon journeys through the sky, a coyote yips in the thrall of the hunt.

Today, I pass through a small town and enter a cyber-café ― it's a kaleidoscope of the senses: new age music, the fragrance of coffee and baked goods, a steady hum of voices.

In this Mormon dominated town, the café is an alternative gathering place for a mix of people who wear the down-to-earth garb of the 70s. Crafts and artwork decorate the walls. A bulletin board offers the usual in new age dalliances: massage, tarot, acupuncture, whole earth foods.

Like me, a number of people ply their computers. I don't speak with anyone except to order coffee and food. Yet, I feel connected. It's as if we solo travelers have each used a different path to find our way to this small oasis.

Email floods in-messages from friends and a wave of spam offering sexual aids and the companionship of wanton females. I feel like a 19th century sailor arriving at an island port, thrilled to find mail from home and, there for the taking, an exotic woman.

The messages rest in my mind like the flotsam and jetsam found on a beach-glad tidings and troubling news. I am torn by the urge to rush home to the complexities of everyday life and the desire to return to the simple elegance of the canyon lands.

desert streambed—
a scatter of debris from
the last flash flood

by Ray Rasmussen
Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
first published in Frogpond, Fall 2006


The Parsley Bed: Haiku Stories by Ken Jones. Pilgrim Press: Cwmrheidol, Wales, 2006. ISBN: 978-0-9539-9014-6. Perfect bound, 5 ¼ x 7 ½ inches, 122 pp. Send $15 US, $17 CDN, or 15 EUR in currency notes or £7.25 in a sterling cheque directly to the author: K. Jones, Troedrhiwsebon, Cwmrheidol, Aberystwyth, Wales, SY23 3NB, UK.

Stallion’s Crag: Haiku and Haibun by Ken Jones. Iron Press: Cullercoats, Northumberland, England, 2003. Perfect bound, 4 x 5 ½ inches, 104 pp. Send $15 US, $17 CDN, or 15 EUR in currency notes or £7.25 in a sterling cheque directly to the author: K. Jones, Troedrhiwsebon, Cwmrheidol, Aberystwyth, Wales, SY23 3NB, UK.

Reviewed by Jeffrey Woodward

The Parsley Bed generously collects 35 haibun and 75 haiku of the Welsh poet, Ken Jones. Divided into five roughly equal sections (each division consisting of five to eight prose entries with a brief postscript of a dozen or more related haiku), the many haibun, by their great variety of subject matter and tone, demonstrate the impressive scope and indelible prose style of one of the foremost practitioners of this genre today.

Whether Jones assays an elegiac mode as in “Clinkers” (a memory of a distant childhood and more distant father), a wry and black vein of humor as in “End Game” (a recounting of the author’s dealings with a cantankerous crematorium manager and his chiseling of his own gravestone), a topographical survey as in “Consuming Light” (a homage to Van Gogh upon a visit to Saint-Rémy) or a character sketch as in “Per Ardua ad Astra” (an intimate close-up of a retired mechanical engineer named Uncle Jack), the author time and again demonstrates a mastery of conception and execution, however unpromising the material, at first sight, might appear.

Space limitations prohibit more than a cursory survey, but two haibun, in particular, may suffice to show Jones at his best.

“Posts” concerns itself, Jones informs us, not with “gate-posts, boundary posts and other posts that have something obvious to do” but with their long-abandoned brethren:

Particularly in wild places they are welcome companions. Well-weathered, they have been left alone long enough to have developed a bit of character. When plodding across the moor, one can see one of these fellows approaching from quite a distance…. It is an honour to salute such a venerable but well set-up post.

Against the sky
a slotted post
its bright blue eye

But beware of clapping one of these ancient too heartily upon the back. Many have been retired longer than their useful employment. And they rot from the bottom upwards.
(p. 43)

This intimacy with “Posts” continues for another hundred words or more and two further haiku, with increasing humor, as the author describes the “old salts you meet on the sea shore” and denies any anthropomorphism in his willingness to “go out of my way to see how some lonely old post is getting on.” Whereas Jones assures his reader that “the whole point about posts is that they’re only posts,” one need not leap far to see in

Blockheaded posts
their thin shins
gnawed by the tides
(p. 44)

an image or reflection of the human condition.

The second haibun, “The Knife Grinder,” achieves near perfection in its prose rhythms and in the vision it relates. One might lay stress upon the word vision insofar as this work, while presenting its subject in a matter-of-fact and realistic way, gradually assumes an oneiric character and remarkable grandeur in its 300 odd words:

Down by the gate I recognize the tricycle contraption from his previous visit, some four years ago. The same old pig-tailed hippy, with his faded army surplus fatigues and shamanic accoutrements of bead and bone. Last time I’d turned him away. Who needs a knife grinder in this outback, where every man and woman has their own means of keeping their edges sharp ― or dull ― as needed? But this time it is different …

Hollow knock ―
the rattle of wind chimes
made of bones

I sit him in the kitchen, put on the kettle, and go out to the barn to sort out my own blunt edges….

There’s something about him. I spill tea ― as out of the corner of my eye I glimpse a gothic devil’s face. But then, as he pauses at the door, an archaic smile.
(p. 83)

Then, later:

Through the window I watch him set up the tricycle in the yard.

Peddling away
in a shower of sparks
spittle on the blade

“Lovely scythe you have,” he says.
“No I don’t.”
“Up in the rafters it was,” says he. “A keen edge to it again. In three or four years ― it all depends ― I’ll be back for you, boyo.”

He turns the corner
but his evening shadow
lingers on the road
(pp. 83-84)

One is tempted to apply the term allegory or dream-vision here for the figure of the title recalls medieval representations of a visit by Death personified, often in the trappings of some commonplace disguise. The “shamanic” beads and bones, the “gothic devil’s face” that is inexplicably transformed into “an archaic smile,” the “sparks” from the sharpening of the “lovely scythe” that our poet denies any knowledge of possessing, even the shadow that “lingers on the road” after the knife grinder departs: every image is intimately connected to a vision of death’s near approach as is the antagonist’s promise, “I’ll be back for you, boyo.”

While The Parsley Bed constitutes this Welshman’s fourth collection of haibun, Ken Jones has developed a public reputation in haiku circles, at least on this side of the Pond, as being recondite and obscure, cold and intellectual, austere and inaccessible. What lies behind such misapprehension is the reception ― sometimes begrudging in its praise, sometimes scarcely veiled in its hostility ― first accorded to the next title under discussion.

Stallion’s Crag, published four years ago, offers a tripartite design that opens with the title work, a 6000 word haibun that revolves around the mountain of Pumlumon (or Plynlimon) in central Wales, moves on to a little anthology of 60 haiku, and concludes with a selection of shorter haibun. While the individual haiku and shorter haibun have much to commend them, the discussion, due to space considerations, will be limited to the ambitious title piece, the work that led to such misunderstanding on the part of so many North American reviewers.

Many of the complaints of obscurity and austerity originate with the specifically local subject matter of Welsh topography, folklore and history so central to Stallion’s Crag. Jones immerses his reader with few preliminaries in the barely inhabited wilderness of Pumlumon, of the deforestation of its mountainous expanse, of its gradual depopulation through foreign (English) occupation and, of critical importance to the author, the central role of the mountain in the tragic history of the last Welsh war of independence led by Owain Glyndwr, Prince of Wales, in the early 15th century:

I soon dismissed this bleak, featureless wasteland when I first came here as a youth in search of excitement. Even today there is only one car park, unofficial and usually empty. Instant drama begins further north, on Cadair Idris. There, if you spend only a night on the summit you will at least awaken either mad or a poet. Pumlumon takes longer. Half a century in my case. (p. 12)

“Either mad or a poet”: the two terms are inextricably connected from ancient times, from Plato’s divine frenzy ― no, even further back, to the intimate tribal connection between shamans and poetry across many ancient cultures.

Jones, however, haunts the waste of Pumlumon as a modern-day Welshman, an avowed Buddhist and sometime hermit, a poet, the tribe to whom he swears fealty being one that vanished, for all purposes, with the tragic heroism and legendary exploits of a 15th century prince.

Some local shepherds refer to “the Prince” as if he were still a local resident. Perhaps he is. “Myn Duw, mi wn y daw” (“My God, I know he will come”) sings the national pop star, Dafydd Iwan. (p. 19)

The motif of the hermit, long dear to Chinese and Japanese literature, is often evoked in these pages, often with reverence, often with a wry and self-deprecating sense of humor on the poet’s part:

My way, however, lies west up the wild valley of the Gwerin. Its entrance is guarded by a crag, surmounted by the only pine in a dozen miles. Dramatically bonsai’d by the westerlies, it has survived the sheep by growing out of a deep cleft …. As to that solitary pine, my hermit name is Coedn ar yr Mynydd (“Tree on the Mountainside”) ― I Ching hexagram 53. There is a wonderful word disgwylfa, for a place of watching and watchfulness …. (pp. 26-27)

Or, later on, in a brief scene or ironic self-portraiture:

“How interesting, but what do hermits actually do?” she asked, balancing a wine glass in one hand.

The main concern of this one is not to be in the same place and time as the clouds of midges which share my habitat…. In fact this hermit’s job description is a blank; just bare attention, disgwylgar, to be all here and not somewhere else, and to let the mountain do the rest. (p. 39)

The alleged obscurity and coldness of Stallion’s Crag might be judged largely a by-product of what, for many, is an unyielding, forbidding and alien landscape, of the desolate but exotic Welsh tenor of the work overall. However, allusions that the author makes to Welsh or Zen Buddhist matters are not particularly arcane and, where one verges upon the questionable, Jones commonly provides an immediate aside to aid the uninitiated.

The Parsley Bed and Stallion’s Crag, together, present some of the finest English-language haibun to date, work that is truly groundbreaking, and both are essential reading for the person who wants to understand what the genre is and what it might yet become. Both books are nicely produced as trade paperbacks while Stallion’s Crag, with its crinkled rice-like papers and ‘watermarked’ “solitary pine” as a background for the tasteful typography on every page, is one of the most aesthetically pleasing haikai books in print.

reviewed by Jeffrey Woodward
Detroit, Michigan
first published in Lynx, XXII:3, October 2007

Sunday, November 11, 2007


Contemporary Haibun, Volume 8. Edited by Jim Kacian, Bruce Ross & Ken Jones. Red Moon Press: Winchester, VA, 2007. ISBN: 1-893959-61-9. Perfect bound, 5 ¼ x 8 ¼ inches, 120 pp., $16.95 US.

Reviewed by Jeffrey Woodward

Eight years into Red Moon’s highly successful series of annual haibun anthologies ― and with how many years of nascent haibun activity in English preceding this? ― one is forced to conclude that haibun in English has few, if any, hard and fast rules. Well-intentioned journal editors who solicit or reviewers who comment upon the genre may inform the reader that haibun’s requirements include any possible combination of the following guidelines: prose plus one or more haiku; use of present tense; use of first person; a subject chosen from one’s common everyday existence; a revelatory or “aha” moment; and on and on.

Unfortunately, the curious reader who conducts even a cursory review of the literature will soon discover that exceptions outnumber cases of conformity to every guideline cited and that, moreover, the exceptions quite often are not weaker for this lack of adherence. Practice precedes theory in poetry and so poetic success in the face of a critical failure and lack of consensus should not greatly surprise.

An absence of critical and heuristic clarity is lamentable, certainly, but the failure is not wholly that of the English-language haikai community. Basho came to prose relatively late in life and left no explicit rules of composition for the practice of a genre, haibun, that he invented. That his followers were unable to build upon his successes and that haibun in Japan suffered a long decline is evidence that a proper aesthetic for haibun has yet to be elaborated in Japan as well.

Granted that one is more likely to confront a unicorn than any consensus on the structure and nature of haibun, what shall we make of an anthology which collects over 60 haibun by 45 contributors? Can we delineate any tendencies? Can we collate these disparate works and categorize them based upon shared methods or manners? Three methods dominate this collection ― naturalism, reverie and expressionism ― but the demarcations between them often blur in individual works.

Most commonly in evidence in this anthology are haibun that I loosely define as naturalist in style, their chief intent being a realistic depiction of everyday persons, places and things ― present and past. The authors of such works show a fondness for the strictly domestic as in Hortensia Anderson’s “Claire” (p. 9), a scene which sympathetically portrays a learning disabled child, or C.W. Hawes’ “In a Little While” (p. 42). a touching snapshot of a separation in progress. Because the focus in such vignettes is intimate, immediate and close-at-hand, even when, as is often the case, the present gives way to the intrusion of an overpowering recollection of the past, the diction generally leans to the prosaic and, in this relaxed state, admits slang and other idioms frequently excluded from formal written discourse. Yvonne Cabalona’s “Transition” (p. 17) demonstrates the dangers of this laxness when, for example, her cat, pouncing upon leaves, “snaps, crackles, pops” (an unfortunate cliché) or when she observes the “8-to-5’ers” returning from work. Collin Barber, similarly, succumbs to the lazy temptations of the common tongue and weakens an otherwise impressive haibun, “The Long Way Home” (p. 14), with such careless constructions as, “Though I wasn’t involved in this scene, I get the feeling that somehow I’ve done something wrong” (italics mine).

Not every haibun that shows fidelity to the detailed description of the naturalist mode shares these common shortcomings, however. Gary LeBel’s “The Frenchman’s Line” (pp. 54-57), which belongs to the naturalist tendency as well, is unique in this collection and rare for haibun, in general, in eschewing the poet’s immediate life-experience or meditations in favor of an avowed fiction ― an episodic tale, in this instance, of “an iceman’s day on a New England river.”

Haibun wherein the poet is engaged in a state of reverie, dream or trance appear less frequently than the naturalist vignette but are by no means rare. Contemporary Haibun 8 affords some remarkably fine examples. In Adelaide B. Shaw’s “Unfocused” (p. 89), her deceased father “moves slowly” into her dream and she accepts his presence, as if he had never died, but wonders why he has been so long absent, while noting, significantly, that his “image is unfocused and slightly faded,” that he comes in the form of “the young man of his early photos.”

Lynne Rees, in “The Next Wave,” presents a vision of death which, in contrast to the elegiac tone and slow movements of Shaw’s vignette, betrays great anxiety with an accompanying vision of destruction on a rapid and massive scale:

I dream about my mother’s house, a rush of surf where Silver Avenue used to be, waves spilling over a neighbour’s fence, gardens drowning. I hold her away from the window to protect her, the waves tremendous now, pummelling the glass, spitting through the broken seals in the window frame. The next one will crash through. I pick my mother up, her body small and pale like a baby’s, and run to another room.

welcome hug
each time I come home
my mother is shorter
(p. 86)

One of the more captivating, albeit obscure, examples of reverie or dream occurs in Bamboo Shoot’s “Journey” (pp. 12-13) with this arresting beginning:

4.00 am. I woke too early, and found myself locked out of sleep. Reading, a reliable hypnotic when I was interested, now failed me when I was not .... I went to the open window to watch the day begin. But the garden was still unlit …. I dunked a tea-bag, returned to bed, opened my book–and reawoke to find I'd almost missed it. (p. 12)

The elevation of diction shows such fascination with language as sheer material on the poet’s part that it is reminiscent of the dramatic use of impasto, say, in the early painting of Cezanne. An example of the exaltation follows immediately in the next paragraph:

The chorus was already packing up and drifting away to the day jobs; but there, centre-stage, halfway through his Why didn't you wake me earlier routine, was the sun: a sullen blood-dusked eye glared at me out of multicoloured sheets. Slowly, the eye became a globe of crusted gold-melt and saffron calligraphy was fired onto porcelain of the palest blue…. (p. 12)

Were there any doubt as to the trance-like state behind this haibun, Bamboo Shoot advances from atmosphere to an explicit statement of the hallucinatory nature of the work with:

suddenly, from a different window, I was stealing down a broad oak staircase, quietly drawing the bolts on heavy doors, and running barefoot across a graveled drive–out into the ankle-deep grass of fields …. (p. 12)

Throughout this haibun, Bamboo Shoot’s urge to press language to the limit results in confusion of subject and object ― an ambiguity that at times is clearly the author’s purpose, while, at others, seemingly carries the poet away with the reader in a lovely but uncontrollable torrent. I’ve not read Bamboo Shoot’s work elsewhere but this writer is someone I certainly hope to read more from in the future.

The third method, after naturalism and reverie, which is readily in evidence in this collection is what I’ve termed, perhaps with undue liberty, expressionism. Such prose has a place midway between naturalism’s fidelity to the descriptive and commonplace and reverie’s frequent flights from the strict definition of the everyday object. Expressionist haibun, as I employ the term here, refers to a prose that shares naturalism’s interest in anecdotal narrative but rejects its prosaic diction for a heightened poetic diction a la reverie.

Jamie Edgecombe’s “Music of Decline” (p. 16) describes a nightclub scene as clearly as any naturalist vignette but the tone of the phrasing and the atmosphere that it creates places this haibun much closer in spirit to reverie: “Caught between the whisky mirror's logo–familiar eyes …” or “One woman brandishes a sky-blue-camisole; the other, a silk-scarf that snakes to her neck's nape ….” Similarly, Gary LeBel’s “Vowel” deftly employs some very graceful turns to depict a cormorant in its natural setting:

I had watched the bird yesterday as I do today, admiring its ancient look in silhouette, its trailing wake of a long and slender sentence without a period, and I stay until the diving accent grave of a lone, warm vowel slips quietly away into the river's ink.

trusting in tides ―
in the lightless depths,
the cormorant
(p. 54)

“Birdlings Flats” by Jeff Harpeng probably illustrates the expressionist method at its best. From the opening sentence, the reader discovers himself in the presence of a poet who is master of the rhythms of his language and of the possibilities of his material:

A spit of greywacke, gravel and stone ground round as river-rock, infilled with sand and further inland soil, stretches south from the underbelly of that burst volcanic boil, Banks Peninsula. This stony spit landlocks an inlet, endstops gray water: Lake Forsyth. (p. 33)

Harpeng’s frequent compounds, his densely layered images and earthy atmosphere are deeply embedded in the English language and reach as far back as to the kennings of Old English for their expressive power

We have spent a few windswept hours on the beach, hand mining wet stone for green, for ferrous faults: fate lines. We settle for some rounded quartz, abraded cloudy by sand. I find my white stone. It fell out of the book of Revelation, the stone with my secret name underneath. Both obverse and reverse are without text. (p. 34)

Or as far back as to the King James Version of the New Testament, perhaps, for the apt symbol of the “white stone” and “secret name” that is promised to the Elect. Harpeng, for reasons not made explicitly clear to his reader, participates in the apocalyptic vision without, however, being rewarded with a fulfillment of its covenant.

One may record, again, as many have for the previous seven seasons, that for the reader with an interest in haibun in English, no better guide to current developments is available than Contemporary Haibun, the undisputed standard in this genre. The consistently high level of much of the writing is amply complimented by the beautiful design and modest price that one has come to expect of Red Moon Press.

reviewed by Jeffrey Woodward
Detroit, Michigan
first published in Lynx XXII:3, October 2007