Journeys 2015: review by Paresh Tiwari

journeys-2-deodharJourneys 2015: An Anthology of International Haibun, ed., Angelee Deodhar, 255 pp., 6×9, perfect bound, from http://www.amazon.com in print and e-book formats or contact angeleedeodar@gmail.com.Price – US $ 20(Print edition) and US $ 4.99 (e-book edition)

 

 

 

 

In his book ‘Looking at the Overlooked’, art historian Norman Bryson talks about the distinction between Megalography and Rhopography. Megalography, ‘is the depiction of those things in the world which are great – the legends of the gods, the battles of the heroes, the crisis of history.’ Rhopography–‘ is the depiction of those things which lack importance, the unassuming material base of life that importance constantly overlooks.’

Haibun, definitely is a hard-to-categorize genre. Is it in essence poetry or prose? Is it written from personal experience or the result of a fanciful flight in a fabulist world which is but the creation of a poet? Questions such as these, do not really matter for someone writing free form poetry, a novel or a short-story, but you write a haibun and more often than not even the practitioners of the form will ask you – ‘It’s nice, but is it really a haibun?’

And then one comes across a landmark work in English-language haibun, with unprecedented scope and focus, Journeys 2015 (The second book in the series, edited by Dr. Angelee Deodhar). The anthology celebrates the evolution of English-language haibun and in the bargain gives us a book to cherish. Featuring one hundred and forty five haibun, the anthology highlights and explores the work of twenty-five contemporary and six pioneer haibun writers. And after reading the book, I am happy to report the question remains unanswered. If there is one thing I have learnt reading the works of these magnificent poets, it has to be – It is futile to attempt to straitjacket something as sublime and as vast as haibun. Sure there are definitions (In fact the first issue of Journeys in 2014, began with a mini anthology of haibun definitions), but once you finish reading the book cover to cover, you would agree that there just might be as many definitions of haibun as there are haibun writers. And that is good news, for it means that haibun as a genre is mutating, growing, evolving and thus is here to stay.

Haibun editors across the globe have rued the fact that not enough is being done for the genre, that unlike other forms of writing there just aren’t enough good books, journals and anthologies to invite the reader in. It is in these circumstances, that Angelee Deodhar, herself a gifted haibuneer, decided to take the matter in her own hands and now for two consecutive years has given us anthologies that deserve a place of honour on your book shelf. Like a magician she knows how to pull the rabbit out of the hat – well in this case, haibun writers and their works from across the globe (a few who are no longer amongst us).

So, where to begin reviewing a book whose scope is as wide as it gets? The beginning may be as good a place as any, the book opens with a preface (by the editor), an introduction by Bob lucky, A brief history of English language haibun by Ray Rasmussen, which delves into the journey of haibun itself in a wonderful and insightful manner and moves on to Section 1, which contains work of six early adapters of haibun. The pieces in this section provide a feel for the evolution of writing in haibun style. The names in this section have been at the forefront of Japanese styles of poetry from its earliest adoptive days and yet their works vary in style content and pitch. Consider this, from ‘Santa Fe Shopping Carts’ by William J Higginson:

The occasional cart, borrowed temporarily to wheel groceries, ends up in a nearby arroyo, where its baby seat becomes the base for a birds-nest. When the rainy season hits, midsummer, the cart sinks into the silt and catches debris, thus ensuring its permanent place in the landscape.

 

summer storm

a shopping cart rolls past

the end of the lot

 

Unlike most of the haibun being written today, this piece is quite long and equally fascinating in the way it takes the help of anthropomorphism, to give us a glimpse of the life and death of shopping carts. An unusual subject for a haiku pioneer, I must say. But the haibun so subtly creates a parallel with our lives that it all just falls into place beautifully, especially when punctuated by Higginson’s usual brilliant haiku.

Each author, in the book has been given space for five haibun and Harriot West’s pieces easily become some of my favourites. Harriot has an unparalleled way with minimalism.She is also a great story teller and uses, each element of this delicate genre to its full potential. Her works are short, but they touch the right chord and each word somehow feels as if it belongs in the exact space that it has been put into. In the space of her five works, she muses on longing, talks about the apathy that most families are capable of, and a whole range of other emotions.

Consider this haibun by her:

 

Empty Spaces

We’re drinking orange juice. Not fresh squeezed but from a can. It’s slightly bitter with a metallic taste. But father doesn’t mind. He’s having his Kentucky style – with a splash of bourbon and a sigh from mother. As a treat for me, he is making scrapple, cornmeal mush with greasy sausage. I love it but what I love most is father cooking. For me. And I love watching mother push the scrapple around her plate. She barely eats a bite.

cabin in winter

the floorboards too

have pulled away

 

Or, on a totally different scale and feel, and brimming with otherness, is another of my favourites from the book, by Peter Butler.

Instructing Mona Lisa

Relax, Lisa. Not quite facing me, more a half-glance. Nails clean? Then hands on lap, right over left. As to expression, no laughing please without your teeth. Lips together.

Now imagine yourself in a post-coital situation – not with me, of course, nor necessarily your husband.

That is perfect, Lisa. Hold it if you can, several hundred years.

 

gallery attendant

checking the time

to his next break

It is to the editor’s credit that no two works in this anthology are similar in taste, cadence or subject. At times they give you a deeper insight into a poet’s world, the places they live in, work, visit and remember, like the works by Margaret Chula, Tom Clausen, Chen-ou Liu, Stephen Henry Gill, and Ion Codrescu. At others the works are a reflection of a person’s most intimate moments, as in the works of Margaret Dornaus, John Stevenson and Terri L French. Or brim with otherness, surrealism and a need to experiment both with language and form, like the works by Alan Summers and Lee Gurga.

And yes, in case you were wondering where does a Megalographic figure in the scheme of things, all you need to do is read Mirian Sagan’s ‘A-bomb haibun’ and Nobuyuki Yuasa’s ‘Wartime Evacuation’.

As a haibun writer myself, I can say with utmost conviction that books like Journeys 2015 will play an important role in spreading the form to a wider readership. It will serve as a very good reference book too.If you are someone who frequents the Japanese short form journals, you may have read some of these works in online journals or own a print-copy where some of these works have appeared, and yet seeing all these put together with care, love and an almost eerie insight on the part of the editor, is an exciting proposition.

My recommendation? Buy the book, keep it on your bedside table and spend some leisurely time in the company of these wonderful poets.

The contributors include: Jack Cain, Vladimir Devide, Bill Higginson, Elizabeth Searle Lamb, Gary Snyder, Bob Spiess, Peter Butler, Marjorie Buettner, Steven Carter, Margaret Chula, Tom Clausen, Ion Codrescu, Margaret Dornaus, Terri L. French, Stephen Henry Gill, Lee Gurga, Graham High, Noragh Jones, Doreen King, Chen-ou Liu, Miriam Sagan, Guy Simser, John Stevenson, Alan Summers, Sasa Vazic, Max Verhart, Diana Webb, Harriot West, Rich Youmans, Noboyuki Yuasa, John Zheng, Bob Lucky, Glenn G. Coats and Ray Rasmussen

 

Photo renku: Journeys

The cafe where we meet as a group is the breeding ground for some crazy ideas. One such idea bubbled up the day I shared some photographs clicked on a lark. And we decided to do a photo-renku, or a linked photo-verse. Now if a photo is equal to a thousand words, then what you have here is the equivalent of a novella!!! I hope you do enjoy the link, shift and the continuum of narration in here. — Paresh

image

/Paresh

image

/Raamesh

image /Brijesh

image

/ Mahrukh

image

/ Sandra

image

/ Rohini

Haiku review: a swan disappears

In this post we review this haiku by Steve Hodge:

late-stage Alzheimer’s—
a swan disappears
into the mist

Published in Frogpond 38:1

*

Author’s comments
(by email to Paresh Tiwari):

I would like to give you some insight into how this poem came about but it’s an uncomplicated and straightforward story.  A woman I’ve known and loved as a dear friend since we met in college more than forty years ago was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease a few years ago. Her husband called to tell me this sad news while I was riding my bike through a local park. After we talked, I saw two swans floating on the lake in front of me. It was early morning and there was a thick mist over the lake. I was thinking about the tragedy that lay ahead for my friend and her husband when one of the swans was enveloped by the mist, seeming to leave the other behind. I wasn’t in any way thinking of haiku at that moment but the poem came to me as I stood there watching the single swan floating alone in the mist.

This poem, more than any of my others, has struck a chord for many people who have contacted me to tell me how meaningful it is to them as they know or have known someone with Alzheimer’s. Different people read it from disparate points of view. Some see the swan in the poem from the point of view of someone watching a loved one with Alzheimer’s slipping away from them, as I did the day the poem came to me. Others see the swan as a person with Alzheimer’s slipping away from him or herself, becoming lost in a mist from which they will never emerge. At least one person saw the swan as the memory of an actual or metaphorical swan leaving the mind and memory of someone with Alzheimer’s. While some of these points of view never occurred to me in concrete terms, I’m more than comfortable with the knowledge that different people approach this poem from various points of view depending on what they, themselves, bring to the poem. I’d be interested to learn if anyone in your group has a different reaction or point of view regarding this poem.

*

Paresh Tiwari:

There are very few haiku that I feel compelled to share with my loved ones. Friends have been ostentatiously pig-headed about the form, family is more restrained but I can often sense that I am treading over gossamer thin patience. But when I read this verse by Steve, I had to share it. With my wife.

‘I still can’t forget the absolute emptiness in his eyes’ she said.

There was a palpable pain in the way she revisited her Dad slipping away from us , waging his lone battle against a fading mind, fighting to recognize the things and people that had defined him not so long ago. Of course, by now she had made peace with the fact that he is gone, but I believe that Steve with these nine words may have given her a closure, which nothing else could.

The verse is layered with so many meanings that I read something new every time I read this haiku. Sometimes, I believe that I have probably understood everything the poet wishes to convey and then I read it again and find a new meaning lurking under the old. Is the swan an allegory about someone who is slowly but surely losing his mind, his memories, himself? Is he talking about the ones left behind? Or is he talking about the constant march of time where paradoxically, the one who is forgetting the world, is forgotten by the world too? May be all of it. May be even more.

This is one poem where I would not like to comment on the technique, for that would be a disservice to the poem, the poet and even that elusive thing we all call memory. Suffice it to say, this verse will remain with me for a long-long time.

*

Brijesh Raj:

When I first read this ku, I wondered if I would have kept L1 back for the last. Kudos to Steve Hodge for writing it as it happened. Or was it simply a desire to let pain be its own author. I have always found the ku that touch me, are the ones written around real life experiences. I know a lady suffering from dementia who does not always know me anymore…

The swan, the mist, this entire haiku reminds me of the impermanence of our very being, a fact we mostly choose to ignore. And isn’t it our memories that define us?  What becomes of this consciousness? Does a forgotten experience cease to exist? Are they engulfed by life’s kaleidoscope, to make way for the next viewer?

One can stay back with the swan left behind or one can follow the one that got away!

An apparently straight forward read that forces a rethink, reminisce and aha.

*

Mahrukh Bulsara:

This Haiku has the colour white written all over it. The opening line is direct, matter-of-fact and harsh. It contrasts well with this beautiful image of a swan disappearing into the mist. But what does the poet mean by connecting these two thoughts?

To me, the whiteness in both the images stand out. The swan is grace and beauty personified while the patient suffering from Alzeimer’s probably has the same qualities where the colour white is likened to old age.  The swan usually mates for life and this person suffering from the disease is being missed dearly and being cared for by the life partner. The mist indicates a mysterious cloud that has surrounded the patient, where he or she has lost all memory. Although, the white colour  lends a bleakness to the scenario – the life-partner, the care-giver has not lost hope.

The mist is temporary and after some time the swan will be revealed intact while late- stage Alzeimer’s and its effects are irreversible.  The poet wants to show the contrast as well as similarities between these two phenomena.

This haiku is full of pathos, of hope, longing and love.

Yet, I would have preferred the opening line to be more subtle and less revealing.  It would have helped in creating even more interpretations than what is currently fathomed.

*

Raamesh Gowri Raghavan:

At the first reading, it is a very simple reading: the swan as the Alzheimer’s patient slipping into the fog that is the dementia is very telling. But little of this haiku resonates unless the illness has had a presence in your life.

Reading it a second time, in the light of a recent exposure to Alzheimer’s, makes this haiku very poignant to me. A close colleague is leaving his job to take care of his grandfather struck down by this disorder, and in his helplessness and pathos, the swan is seen again. Keeping Steve’s explanation in context, I feel suddenly like the second swan, seeing the first one slip away. The pain is suddenly striking – it isn’t just the patient, but a loved one also slipping away: who must abandon much of their life and its pleasures to devote themselves to their care, the indirect victim of the disorder.

A third reading happened after I looked up some of the medical literature of this disorder. I am still to fully grasp what amyloid bodies are, but they are terrifying nevertheless, and the thought that comes with them – the brain dying cell by cell, extinguishing memories one by one: loves, hates, joys, sorrows, hobbies, passions, politics, attitudes… reducing us not only to animals, but animalcules, mere metabolic entities.

In all this it is probably difficult to look at the haiku dispassionately, but failing to do so is a disservice. I think to myself, would stripping it further, to its very bare bones, help?

Alzheimer’s—
a swan disappears
into the mist

Was ‘late stage’ necessary? Is there a poetic nuance it brings? I don’t know. But in this reading, leaving Alzheimer’s to stand by itself does two things for me:

  • it creates the s/l/s visual balance that is beloved of classical haiku
  • it makes, in my eyes at the least, the word Alzheimer’s an unqualified terror, creating a sense of sudden onset or unexpected discovery (where ‘late stage’ might have prepared the mind a bit), and also, contrasts with itself, as a patient with the disorder can no longer stand by themselves, they need to pull someone to themselves, making not one victim but many.

*

Rohini Gupta:

This is one of those rare haiku which moved me when I first read it. The power of the image works even before you think about it. I does not need much commentary because the image is so clear and apt.

It is both beautiful and depressing. A normally lovely picture, the swan vanishing into the mist becomes the symbol of that terrible disease. The next time I see a swan I won’t look at it the same way.

It is particularly fitting since Alzheimer’s works so slowly, taking the mind piece by piece, blanking it part by part. Having watched it happen I know that it deceptively gentle but actually brutal.

In Indian thought, the swan, hamsa, is a haunting symbol of the soul – “the restless swan on its journey infinite”. To me, that adds another level of meaning – the approach of death as the swan is lost in mists from which there is no returning.

Altogether a beautiful haiku which will stay with me for a long time.

Limericks by Gautam — 1

This is the first of several illustrated limericks by Gautam Nadkarni.

image

There was an old Parsee named Pesi,
Who wore English shirts… very lacy!
He’d insist that his wife
Eat with fork and a knife…
But as for his drinks ~ they were ‘desi’!

Haiga sequence — fragile hopes

Members of the group were asked to write a haiku triggered by the picture below. Here are the entries.

image

A-bomb—
the night mushrooms
into a star / Gautam

cloudy light
… the evening decays
in halogen lumens / Raamesh

into the light
the fragile hopes
of city moths / Brijesh

graveyard shift —-
the streetlight reflects
an aura / Mahrukh

haiku review: rickety bridge

In this post we review the haiku by Arvinder Kaur below.

rickety bridge —
the langoor’s leap
from fog to fog

—published in A Hundred Gourds, December 2014 Issue.

Dr Brijesh Raj:

An interesting ku with movement in all three lines and yet an element of surprise. The usage of ‘fog’ in L3 sounds forced but does not detract too much from the beauty of the crystal clear visual. Reading this ku is like watching a video-grab from an incursion into mother nature’s space.

The Langur is a powerful and fiercely free-spirited being. It will not easily share space with us. Ironically it appears to be more sure of itself in the air than the observer on ground.

Gautam Nadkarni:

Obviously here, there are two distinct and disparate images: the rickety bridge – in the fragment – and the seemingly unconnected image of a langoor leaping from fog to fog, in the phrase. Here, how does the rickety bridge, in the fragment, connect with the langoor’s leap, in the phrase? When the langoor leaps from one fog covered limb to another, it bridges the gap between the limbs or branches of a tree, doesn’t it? That’s it! The key is ‘bridge’. And this leap between limbs, covered as they are with fog, is as dangerous as traversing the rickety bridge. The technique employed here, is one of Comparison, drawing a likeness between the two images.

Raamesh Gowri Raghavan:

Between ‘rickety bridge’ and ‘leap’ you see the first contrast: you’re made to think of an image in which you’d rather leap over a chasm than risking stepping on the bridge. ‘fog to fog’ adds to that uncertainty: visibility is low on both sides of the chasm, so how do you know how deep it is? The ‘langur’ is the third visual element and very strong at that: a powerful and resourceful animal much celebrated in Indian traditions.

Taken together, these three images work at two levels. At the literal level one looks at a langur taking a leap in a foggy situation, and one wonders whether s/he’s trying to avoid the bridge and trust her/his own limbs (Langurs are good leapers).

At the figurative level though, picture the mind as the langur (an image often used in Hindu & Buddhist philosophy), leaping from blurry idea to blurry idea, lacking faith in the rickety bridge of actual study and enlightenment; the mind is happier to by lulled by comforting falsehoods than traverse the difficult path of truth.

Mahrukh Bulsara:

The image in the haiku is beautiful.  The juxta positioning of the rickety bridge with the langur leaping is perfect, creating the right bit of tension in the reader’s mind. Although there is a liberal use of alliteration, the ambience and the aspiration created is fantastic. This haiku grows on you.  Makes me want to write a story on it.

Paresh Tiwari: