Journeys 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.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.
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:
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.
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