A Hundred Gourds 5:3 June 2016

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Journeys 2015: An Anthology of International Haibun –Angelee Deodhar, editor

reviewed by Gary Ford

book cover

Journeys 2015: An Anthology of International Haibun
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 years.

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 online booksellers.

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 sentence fragments.

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 intermission.

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 forgiveness:


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.

falling star
let me forgive
my parents

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:

Dimension Box

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 . . .

Rock sky,
Earth music,
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 escaped.

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
faces talk.

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 of haibun.


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