A Hundred Gourds 5:3 June 2016
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An Anthology of International Haibun –Angelee
reviewed by Gary Ford
Journeys 2015: An Anthology of
Editor, Angelee Deodhar
Paperback: 288 pages
CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform,
First Edition (September 21, 2015),
ISBN-10: 1515359875; ISBN-13: 978-1515359876
Price: $US20 via
When I first opened the hefty,
288-page Journeys 2015 volume, I
looked at the table of contents to see what it
contained. I noted with the pleasure of a
student exposed to new learning that the
anthology included a preface by Bob Lucky, a
summary of the history of haibun by Ray
Rasmussen, and 147 haibun penned by 31 writers,
none of whom appeared in the 2014 edition.
As I understand it, Deodhar’s intent with these
two and the forthcoming Journeys 2016 volumes
is to profile some of the best published work of
a variety of our contemporary writers. And in
this volume, Deodhar included six early adapters
of the genre none of whose work I had ever seen.
This approach differs from the
'Best-of-the-Year' Contemporary Haibun
and Red Moon multi-genre Anthologies,
and it’s a welcome addition to the resources
available to new and more experienced writers.
The contents are organized by contributors, and
I was pleased to see work by well-published
contemporary poets who are showcasing a
selection of their favourite work. Deodhar
invited the writers to send as many as a dozen
of their published haibun of which she selected
five for the anthology.
Contemporary Haibun Online Editor Bob
Lucky’s introduction offered food for thought on
the issue of definition:
“There may be as many definitions of
haibun as there are haibun writers. . . . More
and more haibun are being published that don’t
neatly fit the definitions. Traditionally,
English-language haibun writers have paid homage
to Bashō and the Japanese origins of the form,
but there’s a growing trend . . . of hybrid
poems of various kinds making a claim to the
haibun form. To my mind, the innovation in
haibun is occurring in the prose (or non-haiku
part) and a haibun needs a haiku. So, while
there are poets writing hybrid poems that
combine prose and verse of various kinds and
calling them haibun, I don’t think of them as
haibun because they don’t read like haibun. That
speaks to a tradition, a bottom line. . . . I
can read hybrid (writing) in which the prose is
nature writing, erotica, fiction, diary/journal,
science fiction, epistles, murder mystery,
historical essay, etymological musing, personal
essay, prose poem, or recipe and as long as
(there’s a haiku) that has that magical link and
shift, that it resonates with the prose,
illuminates the prose, then it reads like a
haibun to me.”
Haibun Today editor Ray Rasmussen’s
'History of English-language Haibun' gave me a
better understanding of the roots of this writing
genre from the Japanese Masters (Basho, Issa,
Buson, and Shiki), to the 'early adapters'
(writing in the 1960s through the late 90s) and to
the present contemporary or 'third generation'
writers (late 1990s to the present). Rasmussen
points out that while the birth of
English-language haiku can be placed in the early
60’s with the Beat poets, the publication of R H
Blyth’s popular History of Haiku (1963)
and the introduction of haiku into English poetry
classes, haibun modeled on the Basho’s 'haiku
writing' and travel journals began several decades
later, and most published haibun and journals
carrying haibun have appeared only in the last 15
Although I’ve been writing haibun for ten years, I
haven’t studied the work of the Japanese masters,
and I had little prior knowledge of the origins of
English-language haibun. I was particularly
impressed that Deodhar had collected works from as
early as the 60’s from early adapters whose work
is difficult to find either on the Internet or in
print. For example, Amazon lists Robert Spiess’ Five
Caribbean Haibun as out of print and I was
unable to find a used copy in the listings of
I was also reminded, as Lucky suggests, that there
is room for continued maturation of the form. As
Lucky puts it:
“The best thing about a good anthology
like this is that you get to see some of the
best examples of the form all in one place, and
just when you think you've sussed out what makes
a good haibun, you're blown away by another
haibun that changes your definition.”
I agree with Lucky that Journeys 2015
presents a tremendous range of styles. The
examples of the early adapters are heavily
influenced by their primary commitment to haiku.
The haibun from Higginson, seen by many as the
guru of American haiku; Elizabeth Searle Lamb, who
Raymond Roseliep called the first lady of American
haiku; and Robert Spiess, long time editor of
Modern Haiku, contain multiple haiku, as if
the prose was an excuse to showcase their haiku.
The work of the early adapters also tends to be
longer than that of most contemporary writers.
Consider, for example, the difference between the
thousand words of Lamb’s 'Santarem 1 to 3' taking
us into the briefest of Zen moments in the Amazon
jungle and Chen-ou Liu’s forty words in 'Under the
Sun' that give us the tension of a moment of
becoming a man in his father’s eyes.
There are also similarities and differences in
content. While I had always assumed that Basho’s
work was primarily a narrative of places visited
for spiritual and cultural values, his work
contains personal disclosures. So does the work,
as examples, of Marjorie Buettner as she writes
about the shadow self, loneliness and a broken
heart 'Losing the Way', Steven Carter as he writes
about a visit to Birkenau in '1991', Margaret
Chula as she writes about a nightmare during a
visit to a friend’s house in 'Strange Bedfellows'
and Tom Clausen’s discovery of sex as a young boy
while walking in the woods and stumbling on a
couple making love 'In The Woods'.
And, again, as with the work of Basho, Issa and
Shiki, there are the many poignant pieces about
the human condition. I particularly enjoyed '
Caged Birds' and ' Super-8' by Margaret Dornaus,
'The Dinner Is Ready' by Ion Codescru, 'Pathways'
by Terri French, 'A Clown With Figs' by Lee Gurga,
'A Life Turned To Stone' by Noragh Jones, Miriam’s
Sagan’s 'A-Bomb Haibun', and two about dealing
with aging family members in John Stevenson’s '
'Opportunity', and Harriot West’s 'Sometimes I
Have To Look Away'. And Rich Youmans tells us of
the death of a child in 'Head On' and the death of
a loved one in 'You Cannot Turn'. The collection
also contains a few examples of erotica and lust.
Chen-ou Liu writes about a sexual encounter with
'A Woman Who Enjoys Reading Orlando'. Harriot West
writes about a hug from a departing guest who
stirs her lust in 'Longing'.
Peter Butler’s work provides an example of the
range of topics that one writer can choose to
explore – a fantasy ekphastic piece 'Instructing
Mona Lisa', a descriptive piece 'The Chair' about
watching a woman taking care of her
wheelchair-bound husband who was injured in a
rugby match, 'No Way Back' about the return to a
former home by an individual recently released
from an institution, 'Have You Noticed?' about the
difference in how the blind experience the world,
and 'Early Morning Call' dealing with the possibly
false arrest of a man for a thirty year old crime.
And although abstract, quasi-fiction writing has
less appeal to me because I find it harder to
relate, there are creative works such as 'Water
spider' by Guy Simser, Vladimir Devide’s 'Streams
Of White Dots' and 'Autumns', Alan Summers’ 'Crow
Star' and 'The Search for the Colour Yellow'.
Stylistically, there are examples of hybrid
approaches including Alan Summers’ free verse
lines in 'Windsor & Newton receive a small
parcel', and Sasa Vazic whose prose in 'Beyond'
utilizes the poetic devices of repetition and
The following four haibun show this wide range of
styles and content. Harriott West presents a
charming confessional piece that is polemic in
nature – a critical commentary on modern attitudes
as compared to an earlier period of time:
A Brief Analysis Of
Contemporary Society As Seen Through My Eyes
Tolstoy wept while listening to the andante
cantabile of Tchaikovsky’s first string quartet.
I, on the other hand, wondered what kind of hair
gel the viola player used, considered where I
might find shoes like those worn by the cellist,
speculated about the gold band on the right hand
of the fair-haired violinist, and worried I’d
blushed when I ran into an old boyfriend during
rustle of silk
what I remember of
War and Peace
Max Verhart, presumably writing about a meteorite,
uses the haiku to relate the stone to an act of
Just a piece of stone. At least, that’s what it
looks like. But it’s a pebble from outer space:
a meteorite that got caught in our earth’s
gravity. If it happened on the night side of
this planet, it must have been visible for a
moment as a brightly glowing trail in the sky.
But it was too big to totally burn up during
that fall. And there you are: just a piece of
stone on the face of it.
let me forgive
Stephen Henry Gill (Tito) shows us something of
his fascination with things Japanese by linking a
journey to Waterton Lakes National Park with the
power of a colleague’s ceramic art:
Late August 1978. On a long journey, driving
through Waterton Lakes National Park in Alberta.
The great upheavals of mountain formation; the
vast, echoing symphony of glaciation; I saw and
heard and felt these keenly. Over the surface of
a blue lake, a steady breeze . . .
The dream of all this was soon locked up in the
ether . . .
Until, one day, almost twenty years along the
way, a friend showed me a ceramic casket. Its
‘stars were in their places.’
One of Takahiro’s dimension boxes has just
opened up . . .
And, accordingly …
Rhythm of the lake waves.
And this excerpt from Jack Cain’s three-page
haibun contains fifteen haiku about coming out
from a long period of working in the Arctic to
travel to Paris for a restless period of visiting
bars, museums, galleries and visits with ladies of
the night, to once again needing to return to the
solace of the more empty places:
… I lie on my bed alone.
On the wall there is a
painted over fly
Contrasts frequently turn my thoughts to a love
I had left behind. Attractions seem less and
less strong as winter comes, clammy, taking the
leaves from the trees and the warmth from the
air. The walks are chill now and something has
In the winter mist
the Eiffel Tower’s top
Is lost to view
There is a short letter that asks in tones that
tear, please, oh please, come home.
In the café’s light
harsh and bright
I waited a week then returned to the virgin
snows of Canada.
White flakes sift down
from a silver moon
soft as my lover’s lips.
Now some months later, I am alone again.
In the setting sun
trees are black
this winter evening.
In his afterword, Glenn G. Coats, haibun editor of
Haibun Today, reminds us that we can
find haibun only from a limited number of outlets,
and Journeys 2015 gives us:
“a variety of voices and styles, from
short to long, from experimental flashes of
words to graceful prose, from fragment to story,
from history to travel diary, all with words
that vibrate long after the reading.”
With this collection of outstanding examples of
contemporary and early English-language haibun
with its international flavor, Journeys 2015
will be excellent reading for all serious writers
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