Wednesday, April 23, 2008


"Subway" is an experimental haibun that fuses the idea of the descriptive travel journal [1] with a growing interest in depicting the cycles of urban life. One of the beautiful things about haibun is the way that it lends itself to the human voice, both in its use of silence, and its potential to influence perception thorough the cadence of words and phrases. "Subway" is an attempt to explore that potential.

In "Subway", both poetry and prose deliberately break from traditional forms, playing with the feeling of sound in the mouth and the way it rattles off the tongue like a jostling subway car. The poem is built around transit through the gritty underbelly of the city; it utilizes racing and fragmented prose to chart a physical and emotional journey to the line's lonely end. Along the way, vivid and highly saturated senryu snapshots punctuate the journey, individually presenting the momentary stillness at each of the subway stops.

There is always a great divide been idea and implementation. The performance of "Subway" at the Raving Poets reading series in Edmonton, Canada, and its subsequent release on the CD Raving Poets — Remixed (2007) was the product of a number of artistic collaborations. The poem's final audio form, however, was in a large part the offspring of chance and some very talented musicians.

Edmonton's Raving Poets reading series is unique in many ways. The most prominent is the fact that all readers are backed by the world-famous Raving Poets Band: Randy Edwards on guitar, Gordon McRae on drums, Thomas Trofimuk playing keyboard, and Mark Kozub on the bass guitar. The night is hosted by the inimitable Mike Gravel. What takes this experience beyond a democratic sampling of live verse and into the sublime is the fact that the music is never rehearsed, never pre-meditated—the musicians improvise all accompaniment live and on the spot. The band skillfully attunes their music to the delivery of each poet, while at the same time profoundly and subtly helping to shape the emotional impact of the piece. It is truly a two-way collaboration, with an incredible outcome—with few exceptions, the resulting performance is much more than the sum of its musical and literary parts.

"Subway" was no exception. Though designed with prose speed and tumbling phrases in mind, the flow of the words took its final shape around the track set down by the Raving Poets Band. After its live recording, Gordon McRae skillfully engineered and remixed the track for inclusion on Raving Poets — Remixed, adding to and accentuating the background beat to fully capture the pulsing and jagged feel of the racing underground.

While "Subway" may have some of our haibun fore-fathers rolling in their graves, it is a rare example of how poetry, music, and sound engineering can come together to present the haibun feeling in pure audio form. Hopefully this work will encourage further exploration into the many diverse aspects of creating and presenting contemporary haibun.

[1] As eloquently described by Bruce Ross in How to Haiku: A Writer's Guide to Haiku and Related Forms (Tuttle 2002): "Travel journal haibun reduce [our] experiences to short, well-crafted accounts that emphasize our emotion and lead us to a realization."

by Patrick M. Pilarski
Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
April 12, 2008

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