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Comment by Linda Papanicolaou

"The Bone Flute" is the second in a series of persona pieces I began following a workshop by Margaret Chula at the Yuki Teikei Haiku Society's retreat at Asilomar in 2010. My first, "The Siren Cup" incorporates an explanation of how it came to be. The inspiration, a found text on a Starbucks coffee cup, was about a medieval sailor, but the piece would not write itself until I centered it on a female character. Anonymous was a woman, indeed: what I learned from "The Siren Cup" is that so often archaeological finds—a wooden key, a bone flute—often come with the presumption of manufacture and use by men, and that may be true, but if you listen closely to the artifact, there were also women whose stories may be more open to the imagination. For "The Bone Flute", the woman who made the character come alive for me was "Wilma", a forensic reconstruction commissioned by National Geographic ("The Last of the Neanderthals," October 2008). Here, though, I opted not to write her voice because I wanted to preserve a sense of otherness in the species divide. The narrator thus became a male H. sapiens (gender is not specified but male is the default, isn't it?) who does not perceive her humanity.

I'd long been interested in the problem of integrating images with haibun and tanka prose but was stumped by the problem that laying the longer texts in with Photoshop as one does with modern haiga did not work well. Then, in 2005 I learned about Comic Life, a software package, and realized that the conventions of page design developed for comics—images framed in sequences, speech and thought balloons, caption boxes—offer a better way of integrating and sequencing the prose and poem texts with images. Publications quickly followed: a haibun sequence in the Nisqually Delta Review, "Putting By" in Simply Haiku 4:2 summer 2006; "Lingering Snow" in Haigaonline 7:1, spring/summer 2006; "Mnemosyne", in the Santa Fe Broadside, #49, October, 2006; "Keepers", in Haigaonline 7:2, autumn/winter 2006; and "The Oseberg Find", Haigaonline 8:2, autumn/winter 2007.

An interview by Ray Rasmussen in Haibun Today gave me a chance to reflect. Rereading the interview, I see that what was on my mind then was learning to manage overall page design, create a sequence, use gutters (those channels between the frames that indicate transition) and unframed space. How could these visual devices be employed to enhance the link/shift of prose and poem texts?

"The Bone Flute" belongs to the next phase, which began with "Interstate 80," an exercise at WHChaikumultimedia that involved a haiga setting for a haiku by Santoka. This piece contains a haibun with prose in one frame and a poem in the other. Writing prose and poem in different voices carried into "The Siren Cup" and "The Bone Flute." In these I've begun to play with page layouts of framed text and collaged images, and unframed text against a whole-page landscape to articulate the difference between author's and persona voices. For me, it's another fascinating exploration of the ways that prose, poetry and images can be juxtaposed in renku-style linking.

Note: To hear the flute being played, visit these websites:

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