Friday, November 27, 2009

Jeffrey Winke: In Mid-Night Wanders


The rough idling of an 18-wheeler with its pshhhhit, pshhhhit airbrakes stir him in the early dawn. It’s best to move on anyway. Out of mercy or carelessness, the backdoor to this industrial cement-block building is open most nights and the protected, 15-degrees-warmer-than-outside-temp six-foot entranceway, leading to the locked steel interior door, is appreciated. It’s much better than the shelter with the dorm-style cots and the need to protect valuables from the coughing, expectorating human refuse with at least one druggie manic who “borrows” a pair of dry socks here and a warm hat there in mid-night wanders. And the shelter staff with their malevolent, pseudo-benevolent jesus-loves-you-stares. He wants to scream, “The f jesus loves me – if he does, why am I stuck here sleeping on my WILL DO ANYTHING FOR FOOD OR MONEY sign and begging for a bigger breakfast than an anorexic eats.”


bird carcass . . .

dirt, dry leaves

and gum wad


by Jeffrey Winke

Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Bamboo Shoot: Close Encounters

I’m not given to superstition or unsupported flights of imagination, but not so long ago, I had a strange experience, the details of which greatly amused my friends. Even now, the story still gains me much-needed status in chance conversation.

At a rather grand poetry festival, a well-known poet had recounted to us how, one day, he had opened the morning paper to see his own name spread across the front page in stark black capitals: ANTHONY THWAITE. Much intrigued, he had prepared his breakfast and returned to find the headline now saying ANTHRAX THREAT. Imagine my surprise then, when, only days later, the same trick was played on me.

I was sitting quietly in an almost empty reception area of the eye-clinic at my local hospital. To my left was a large reception desk, between which and the swing doors to my right, a young nurse was scurrying to and fro carrying files and forms; sometimes equipment. And on the desk was a large notice which said I’M GOING MAD. Well, after she had passed me for the umpteenth time, I couldn’t resist. ‘I’m not surprised’, I said.

She paused, ‘Pardon?’

‘I said, I’m not surprised’. . . and I smiled to reassure her of my normality.

She frowned as if perplexed; and when she next appeared, she stopped, ‘What were you on about?’

I smiled again, ‘Sorry, I just said that I’m not surprised, really . . . about your going mad’, and I pointed to the notice, which now read INCOMING MAIL . . .

Is it any wonder that our long gone ancestors sometimes suspected an infinitely bored God of poking a divine finger into our human affairs? Wasn’t that, after all, why I had raised my eyes, then, in a mix of mock horror and amused embarrassment, to the thin blue shield separating us from that imponderable blackness?

that damned cat again –
it knows me through doubled glass
at 50 yards


Close Encounters references Spielberg’s film Close Encounters of the Third Kind (Man meets extraterrestrial visitors). The misreading of words has nothing to do with poor eyesight; this part of my tale is about the nature of perception—in this case visual perception. The retina of the eye is an extension of the brain; and it only receives various wavelengths of light. These are computerised at various brain levels, making reference to the memory banks of past experience, in order to provide the ‘mind’ with a consistent view of the world (there is no real objective view of things—only a useful illusion of reality). But visual ‘mistakes’ can be made, and probably everyone has experienced such mistakes. First, something seen at distance may change into something else on closer inspection. But also sometimes, ‘pressed for time’ perhaps, the eye takes in insufficient information to make accurate perception possible; and the eye-brain makes its best guess. This is what has happened in my story (the fact that I was in an eye hospital is just one of those coincidental quirks of life). Note, that possibly something similar happened to Soseki in his Grass Pillow (BS 10.3; Sep 2000, pp44/45) when he thinks that he has seen a woman—his eye-brain deceived his mind. In the final paragraph, my looking upwards in embarrassment is an example of what psychologists would call ‘displacement activity’ (many other animals use it)—a superficially pointless action to relieve stress or avoid aggression etc. However, I am willing to bet that in Man’s case the act of looking upwards also has its roots in the history of religious culture—we look up to curse or thank our God. The ‘thin blue shield’ is, of course, Earth’s atmosphere—and parallels the double-glazing separating me from the cat who may be regarding me as some vengeful god.

by Bamboo Shoot
Salisbury, Wiltshire, England

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Chen-ou Liu: Half-Past Tomorrow

Everything has passed me by; I yearn for unseized moments. I think more of what has passed than of what will be. High expectations of youth have given way to acceptance. My life has always been and will always be uneventful: a series of events.

tomorrow creeps in
day by day . . .
the joints
of my memory
age and ache

I'm not happy; yet I'm not looking for happiness.
by Chen-ou Liu
Ajax, Ontario, Canada

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Glenn G. Coats: Directions

On Saturday morning, the rear entrance to the corner building is locked, so I enter through the front of the coffee shop. It is early and no one is sitting around the small tables that look out on Third Street. Someone from behind the counter calls out , “Good morning,” but I don’t stop. Their coffee is strong and leaves a bitter taste that lingers for hours. The building was once a bank, and I walk quickly past the first vault with its heavy door left open—a manmade cave. I push open the door that reads Emergency Exit Only and pass the elevator that I will not ride and climb two flights of metal stairs that are dirty and spotted with coffee stains. I click on the hall light several times to get it to work and check to see if the restrooms are locked.

on the second floor
homeless stir

Wood is peeling from the door to room 2C, and the doorknob feels loose as I turn it. There are no windows in the office that now serves as a classroom for adults learning how to read. Two gray tables line up like roads coming to a T, and donated pictures hang on the walls. I settle into a heavy wooden chair and read over the story I will be teaching, asking myself about names and places that might confuse a new reader. I wonder about her experiences, has she ever gone camping, does she know what the surf sounds like? The door is open and I listen for feet tapping up the metal stairs. I know it will be my first student wanting to understand a few more words so The Holy Bible will begin to make sense to her.

morning classes—
through air ducts
the smell of burnt toast

by Glenn G. Coats
Prospect, Virginia

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Adelaide B. Shaw: Montgomery Place

We visit an historic house, one of many in the Hudson Valley.

Along the drive leading up to the mansion is an avenue of black locust. The signature tree on this estate. More locust on the river side. Some over 200 years old. Deep, knife-like ridges, forming as the tree ages, extend lengthwise down the trunk.

squinting in the sun—
character lines deeper
with each tree

We stroll past the trees, across the arboretum spread out on the far end of an expansive lawn. Red and white oak, beech, tulip, sweet gum, sycamore, maple. Each planted to give pleasure to the viewer for its size, shape and position on the lawn.

We continue around the mansion, stepping onto the veranda.

a reclining chair
with a river view—
a life before mine

A side path leads to a series of garden rooms, one spilling into another, like the waterfall in a shadowed corner tumbling into a pool. The breeze plays little tricks—first teasing with late blooming roses, then honeysuckle, then sage. We meander on the paths, noting the curving lines, the seemingly unplanned plan. A spontaneous eruption of vistas—lawns, gardens, river.

the cries of geese
crossing the hunting grounds
of ancient tribes

by Adelaide B. Shaw
Millbrook, New York

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Richard Straw: Haibun: It's a Family Thing

A haibun is a family gathering, perhaps a reunion, of young and old and middle aged. Some dads huff prose and some cousins whisper poetry and some sons and daughters do a bit of both or talk gibberish like an uncle through his beer and mustache. All are interacting, replaying old lines, trying new routines, listening to each other, or sleeping in front of the TV, the butt of a face-painting prank. The prose members and the haiku members can say the same lines elsewhere in another setting, such as in a formal gathering of poems or in a critic's selective review. Words voiced separately may even gain some acclaim and applause. Although what's said in nonfamily settings will sound similar to what was said before, it will have a different meaning, a loss usually of context. Outside the haibun family and its relationships, the family members will have different personalities, none perhaps as dynamic as what they share with those who also have similar lips and eyes, tones and intentions.

end of summer
another family
in my old home

So, in a haibun, the prose and the haiku can and will stand alone, just as they can and will stand together, depending on how a reader, the stranger, chooses to experience them. Haibunists can't expect that everything they write will be read in sequence and in its entirety. Novella-length haibun need to be broken up into edible parts, or they may not be read at all. Even some careful readers, such as Samuel Johnson, skim across the page and through a book, much like skaters on a river. The effect of the words that are read, either silently in one's head or aloud in an armchair or on a stage, will also vary depending on a reader's short-term memory and ability to comprehend what the writer may think has been clearly enunciated in black and white. It's all relative so to speak.

by Richard Straw
Cary, North Carolina

Monday, November 9, 2009

Editorial: The Survival of Haibun Today

One year ago this morning I celebrated the first anniversary of Haibun Today in an editorial review of this blog’s stated mission and publishing record. I do not intend to repeat that performance on this, our second anniversary, but prefer, instead, to address the broader problem of the survival of haibun as a viable literary genre.


The haibun writer and connoisseur alike may be forgiven the complacent view—one reflective of human nature, perhaps—that the good that is present today will, of its own accord, be here tomorrow. Hasn’t haibun had a place in haiku literature in English for many decades? Aren’t haibun now a fixture in many haiku journals? A literary form, however, may be compared to a garden. Future harvests are not insured by this year’s gathering but only by the care and cultivation of each subsequent season’s plantings.


Haibun, of course, do date back to the early days of the adaptation of haiku to English. Robert Speiss, long-serving editor of Modern Haiku, published his Five Caribbean Haibun in 1972 and his works are by no means the earliest datable examples. Haibun may fairly be said to gain traction only in the 1990s, however, and to reach some level of sophistication and maturity toward the close of that decade and the beginning of the new millenium in such poets as David Cobb, Michael McClintock, Ken Jones, William Ramsey and others.


What then is lacking? In the editorial “Haibun Tomorrow? Maybe, Maybe Not” (Haibun Today, March 12, 2008), I opined that little in the way of informed critical study of haibun had been attempted and that even an adequate bibliography, a necessary tool for such investigation, did not exist. A bibliography is offered here at Haibun Today but it must be considered provisional and sketchy in every respect. Further, in my list of haibun’s shortcomings, I added:


Perhaps most telling and damning is the lack of a comprehensive historical anthology of haibun classics, one that includes both the earliest and latest significant achievements in the form . . . . For young would-be writers of haibun, this deficiency is critical and debilitating, for they face the challenge of learning a difficult art with only contemporary examples and their natural talents to guide them—historical and aesthetic continuity being a chimera.

My enthusiasm for haibun as written and for haibun as it may yet be written has not wavered. It is this sense of promise, of great things yet to come, that explains the deprivation I feel in the absence of a retrospective collection of the finest haibun. However that may be, and however much I and others may believe that the haibun literature itself justifies such an authoritative and comprehensive anthology, many other tasks—less glamorous perhaps but no less essential to haibun’s survival—require the attention of sympathetic writers and editors.


The necessary work, broadly speaking, might be classed as critical and archival. Occupations for the critic, and haibun theorists and publicists alike are in short supply, include book reviews, historical and theoretical essays, and in-depth articles on or interviews with accomplished haibun practitioners. So little has and is being done, with respect to such activities, that every modest review or familiar essay must be regarded as a welcome contribution. Archival projects, on the other hand, include not only the compilation of an exhaustive bibliography but also the ultimate rescue, from the oblivion of the rare out-of-print journal or pamphlet, of many early exemplars of haibun as well as occasional essays or commentaries of historical and literary importance.


This labor is beyond the skill and resources of any one writer or journal but requires the participation of many hands in the haikai community. So, once again, I would like to call upon not only the self-interest of haibun poets in pursuing such goals but would like to appeal to the haikai community, as a whole, to meet what I see as an obligation, that of honoring and supporting a core aspect of its own artistic heritage, the haibun of Bashō and his far descendants.


by Jeffrey Woodward

Detroit, Michigan

Friday, November 6, 2009

Owen Bullock: Roche

My first full-time job was in a pub kitchen. They did bar food and had a ‘posh’ restaurant upstairs for the evenings. I washed dishes, prepped ingredients, made sandwiches. I also became a shoulder to cry on for my bosses’ wife.

I was nineteen and wore a skimpy beard. The chef advised me to “shave it off and grow un again.” One of the visiting salesmen told me, “rub it in yer wife’s doo-dah.”

When I’d been there a few weeks, the chef left. He’d been mis-managing the accounts and all I remember is the boss saying “I’ll break his fucking legs!” I got shuffled into cooking the bar snacks, which I enjoyed—I didn’t have to do so many dishes.

When the new chef arrived, he taught me how to make white sauce and paté. He was a large man and liked to bang on the bench with a broad-heeled knife. He’d served on the QEII and cooked for the Queen. When the old marge tubs on the bench were full of waste, he’d ask me to “take out the gash.” He found a hunk of venison in the bottom of the freezer, which the previous chef hadn’t known what to do with, and made the most wonderful pies.

But somehow the job didn’t seem useful enough to me and I got work in a psychiatric hospital. When I left the pub, they gave me a St. Christopher’s medallion. I didn’t know what to do with it; I sold it as soon as I could.

I was her confidante
but when I left her employ
she said
there’s a lot of things
I could say

by Owen Bullock
Waihi, New Zealand

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Patricia Prime & Catherine Mair: Uretara Estuary

on the stop bank
wandering with the shadows
cast by clouds

We walk beside the estuary taking photographs of bird life: shags, herons, ducks, Canada geese, pied stilts and bitterns. Along the stop bank we meet a rat-poisoner and his wife laying bait among the reeds. "None of the bait has been taken," he says, "so we must be doing some good." About a kilometer along our path we come across a houseboat. A boy greets us from the top deck where he's fishing. In a small tree a thrush sings his heart out: his song never faltering as it changes from high to low, from a warble to a stream of sound.

calm lagoon—
a blue heron's
sudden flight

On the jetty across the river Christine tricks us into thinking she's a statue standing so still holding the long handle of her white-baiter's net. It is tempting to shout out, "Have you got any? How are they running?" But white-baiters are a secretive breed and rarely admit their success. We hope the bread we carry to feed the ducks isn't viewed as sustenance for the water rats. Coming towards us along the grassy path edged by flax is another walker with two fluffy white terriers. We pause for a brief chat about the pleasant change in the weather from yesterday's wind coming off the snow.

Look! there it is—
the bittern sculpture
on the opposite bank

It's a brisk walk back to the car. When we touch our cheeks, which feel hot and stinging, we find they are cold.

by Catherine Mair and Patricia Prime
Katikati, Bay of Plenty, New Zealand
and Auckland, New Zealand