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A Quarterly Journal
Jeffrey Woodward, Founder & Owner
Ray Rasmussen, General Editor

Volume 11, Number 2, June 2017
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Jeff Streeby
Walkerville, Michigan, USA


A Review of Journeys 2017: An Anthology of International Haibun

Journeys 2017: An Anthology of International Haibun, Dr. Angelee Deodhar (Editor), Paperback: 390 pages, CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 1st edition (February 24, 2017), ISBN-10: 1541387031, ISBN-13: 978-1541387034.

Journeys 2017: An Anthology of International Haibun, compiled and edited by Dr. Angelee Deodhar, is the third volume in her earnest and energetic exploration of the beginnings and the continuing development in English of the haibun form. Haibun is a Japanese hybrid mode of expression introduced by its creator Basho in the late 1600’s. In simple terms, haibun (“haiku writings”) are prose narratives, usually short, that are punctuated by haiku. Deodhar’s far-reaching survey attempts, as has no other, to represent the genre by furnishing examples of its sources, its contemporary theories, its established patterns as practiced by important writers of haibun, its current boundaries, as well as the ambitions for the form among its devotees. Examples of both historic and contemporary haibun suggest the genre’s mainstream possibilities.

Series editor Dr. Angelee Deodhar, an eye surgeon from Chandigarh, India, is known internationally as a haiku poet, translator, and artist. Her other books include English-to-Hindi translations of If Someone Asks: Masaoka Shiki's Life and Haiku (2005), Haiku: A Master's Selection, edited by Miura Yuzuru (2006), Ogura Hyakunin Isshu: 100 Poems by 100 Poets (2007), Children’s Haiku from Around the World–A Haiku Primer (2007), Indian Haiku (2008), and The Distant Mountain: The Life and Haiku of Kobayashi Issa (2009).

Anthologies of haibun have appeared infrequently in the past (Journey to the Interior: American Versions of Haibun (1998) edited by Bruce Ross; Wedge of Light (1999/currently out of print) edited by Michael Dylan Welch, Cor van den Heuvel, and Tom Lynch; and The Red Moon Press series of annual collections American Haibun and Haiga 1 & 2 & 3 which later became Contemporary Haibun (1999-2008), edited by Jim Kacian, Ken Jones and Bruce Ross); but today a search of Amazon book titles will produce 17 pages of search results related to the keyword “Haibun.” In accord with her stated purpose for this series, “to attract more interest in the genre,” Deodhar’s Journeys series presents foundational critical principles explained clearly by recognized experts to guide the reading of the selections. Deodhar devotes more space and focus to these discussions that prepare the reader for the experience of haibun than do many editors of similar anthologies. This focus differentiates her anthologies from others and makes of the Journeys series a useful handbook of understanding for readers and writers of haibun.

Journeys 2017 will likely have most appeal to writers and readers of haibun or zuihitsu in English and of short-form Japanese poetry and its other derivatives. Writers and readers of prose poetry, flash fiction, memoir, creative non-fiction, and the lyric essay will also find much here to enjoy. Deodhar’s Journeys 2017, like the others in her series, presents readers with a variety of subject matters and treatments in the haibun tradition as it is taking shape under the influence of writers in English. Like the other books in the sequence, Journeys 2017 is thoughtfully prepared, is eminently readable, and offers much interesting and instructive material about haibun that will appeal to a broad readership.

This volume begins, as do the others in the series, with a congenial but authoritative introduction followed by a detailed craft essay that provides focus and direction for a productive reading. The introduction for Journeys 2017 is provided by Rich Youmans, who describes for us the wide and deep sphere of activity that the book covers. A short treatise on haibun structure “Form in Haibun: An Outline,” is presented by Jeffrey Woodward. His description of the varieties of haibun architecture is straightforward and to-the-point, detailed without being overly technical, and helpful to readers new to the experience of haibun.

Next, the “Early Adaptors” section of the book opens with the work of iconic mainstream poet John Ashbery. For readers unfamiliar with postmodern aesthetics and theories of language, his representative haibun are difficult of access, composed as they are in a typical postmodernist idiom that rejects conventions of culture and authority, that employs images without references beyond themselves, that fragments narrative and denies it context, and that refuses to allow language any authority to make meaning. These artistic imperatives also figure prominently in the subjects, structures, and diction of his haiku. Still, he manages in practice somehow to achieve both a prosaic quality in his narratives and a contrasting lyric quality in what are accepted here as his haiku.

Selections from Ashbery are followed by selections from the works of early doyens of haibun writing, i.e. Kilbride, Leibman, Schmidt, Schiffert, and Wilmott. Among these offerings is the remarkable 4000-word+ “Kyoto Temples” by Paul Schmidt. “Kyoto Temples” is the most structurally elaborate piece in this section. Although Schmidt uses in it virtually all of the haibun architecture as described by Woodward, “Kyoto Temples” might more appropriately be labeled zuihitsu, a rambling, widely discursive, loosely connected set of fragments and essays. Schmidt begins with a contemplation of two ink drawings, moves to a description of his zazen meditation ritual and a brief biography of his abbot, then to a consideration of Japanese architecture and aesthetics of space, and on to an account of a visit to the temple at Honen— how one enters, what one will find there, and how one should feel about it. He develops three separate and distinct narratives (about 1000 words) before his first haiku emerges in the fourth narrative. Schmidt supplies readers with an impressive assortment of narratives in “Kyoto Temples” including an explication of Japanese aesthetics (“I find a penetrating aesthetic integration…”), a personal experience essay/memoir (“At five in the morning…”), an itemized critique of a competing meditation style (“My friend Jerry Tecklin arrives…”), a process analysis (“To seek the aesthetic, avoid the spectacular…”), a position paper (“I do not believe in reincarnation as a literal metaphysical event…”), and he concludes with what might be a parsing of that transformative step where he moves out of the ordinary world and into enlightenment (“At Obai-in Daitoku-ji the gravel in the garden…”). Schmidt’s long lyric discourse with its rich variety of shifts and surprises realizes at its closure a single impression of composure, of inevitability, of serenity.

The other early writers of haibun included in this opening section of Deodhar’s book each make their own unique and compelling claims on our interest and our emotions. Jerry Kilbride works within the recognizable forms to deliver to us his poignant mix of dramatic travelogue and memoir. Kenneth Leibman is a companionable itinerant who gives us a glimpse of a quiet Florida cypress glade and shares with us a leisurely stroll around the Japanese town of Horyuji. Edith Schiffert, fluent, graceful, and supremely confident in her powers, challenges all the envelopes of structure, in “Yama-Biko: Mountain Echo” assuring us “There never were any rules, just fashions and preferences.” Rod Willmot’s prose in the excerpts from his novella with haiku, Ribs of the Dragonfly, employs meaningful, precise imagery:

Across the bay the ducks and geese took off with a muffled splash, then passed overhead on their way upriver. Ethereal. So brief, the whistle of their wings, yet enough to change everything. Like a crack in the glass

and uses plain but musically and rhetorically satisfying language:

The ice impassive now, no longer apprenticed to the rhythms of cold as it boomed and sang responsively. Master of silence in its death. The water, at times wholly reflection, at times pure darkness, at times more silvery than ice

to describe what he knows of Nature, a Nature that Whitman calls (and with which pronouncement Willmot seems to agree) “... the only complete, actual poem.” Taken together these “Early Adapters” establish the structural and thematic frameworks for the continued growth and transfigurement of haibun in English.

The inheritors of this artistic legacy and its powerful potential are the “Contemporary Writers of Haibun.” In this section Deodhar presents, in alphabetical order, twenty-two frequently published writers of haibun in English. The range of subjects is diverse, sometimes mundane (“Ida’s Parmesan Cheese” by Ed Higgins), sometimes esoteric (“The Higgs Boson” by George Marsh); the styles, varied but uniformly articulate; the approaches to haibun, usually conservative and recognizable, sometimes more radically innovative (Stanley Pelter). Some superb examples of contemporary haibun have been included in this section and striking even among these is the sampling from Tom Lynch. “A Beginner’s Mind,” his New Mexico hiking diary, is thoughtful, well modulated, and dense with details of the landscape and the region’s history and folklore. His treatments, from “the southern edge of the Jornada del Muerto” to the “Rabbit Ears Plateau Trail”, teach readers how to be present in their own significant moments. All of these selections, from the homey eloquence of Melissa Allen’s death-themed meditations to the quiet contemplations of Bill Wyatt, the first ordained British Zen monk, everything will satisfy, nothing will disappoint a reader.

Journeys 2017 includes, as well, a third section entitled “Excerpts from Japanese Books” that begins with an important introduction “Travel Diaries and the Development of Modern Haibun,” another clear and detailed exposition by Rich Youmans. In it, Youmans describes the stages of haibun evolution from its earliest incarnation in the diary-keeping customs of important members of royal courts (e.g. Tosa Nikki) and kikobun or travel journals (e.g. Izayoi Nikki), through its emergence as a distinct form with Basho in the 16th century, to its present “chaotic volatility” as a form in the hands of writers in English. In the introduction to Journeys 2017, Youmans describes the contents of this section as “a bit of a ‘grab bag’— but one that holds many treasures” and it certainly is that. The section begins with an examination of the life and writings of Saigyo by William LaFleur and closes with the Slocan Diary by Kaoru Ikeda. American readers will recognize a kinship between Slocan Diary and the widely-read WW II-era memoir by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston Farewell to Manzanar and will find in it a similar appeal. Ikeda’s diary records the experiences of Japanese-Canadians during their forcible relocation and incarceration at Slocan, an internment camp for “enemy aliens” from 1942 to 1945. Mrs. Ikeda masks the dissatisfaction she felt at departure from her home (“…I could not help but weep”) and finds her comforts in establishing and maintaining familiar domestic routines at Slocan, like cooking traditional foods (“the taste of our handmade udon was exceptional…”) and commemorating important community holidays including Halloween (“Then to everyone’s delight we set off a firework display”) and Christmas (“Thus our Christmas [1942] turned out to be an unexpectedly merry time”), in her garden and flowers (“Desolate garden/of our temporary home/nobly/pointing to Eternity/the fragrance of white chrysanthemums”), in her paid work assignment (“Mountain life/gathering fallen wood/the right job for an old one”), and in her surroundings (“The fall scenery of Slocan was especially fine”). Readers will appreciate that Ikedo records the day-to-day activities of the Issei at Slocan, their joys and disappointments, their fears and concerns, and their hopes for the future (“I can only pray for good results”) in a voice that is self-controlled, measured, and emotionally genuine. Slocan Diary has the unaffected charm of the best folk-art and makes a nice note upon which to end the collection. Like the other sections of Journeys 2017, Deodhar’s Section III “Excerpts from Japanese Books” is readable, informative and interesting for a general audience.

Deodhar’s three-volume series, Journeys (2014), Journeys 2015, and now Journeys 2017, is a valuable source work for readers and writers of haibun. Although American readers may wish for some mention of important mainstream poets’ experiments with the form (like Sherman Alexie, Robert Hass, Billy Collins, Kimiko Hahn, and Marge Piercy, all of whom have explored this genre), Journeys 2017 is a fitting capstone to Deodhar’s series of anthologies, and it contributes much to her wide-ranging but still economical survey of the contemporary haibun genre.

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