Buoyant blog of Canadian haiku poet (haijin) Chris Faiers/cricket. Poetry, esp. People's Poetry in the tradition of Milton Acorn, haiku/haibun, progressive politikal rants, articles on engaged Buddhism and meditation, info on ZenRiver Gardens retreat near Marmora and annual Purdy Country LitFests (PurdyFests), events literary and politikal, and pics, amid swirling currents of earth magick and shamanism.
latest incarnation of Journeys is ambitious, massive, endlessly
fascinating, and informative. And at times, it may be too much. For me,
reading haibun demands a certain kind of attention, much like reading
prose poetry or a collection of short stories. It's something best done
slowly, allowing plenty of time for reflection and processing. This is
not an anthology, a tome (literally, even if you have a digital version)
that you begin at the beginning and proceed with the end in sight. It's
too rich. You have to pace yourself as if at an elegant buffet or else
you run the risk of getting unpleasantly full before you've had a chance
to sample everything. Maybe a bit of dessert to start your meal?
Which leads me to this observation. As an editor, I understand why the
three main sections of the anthology – Early Adapters, Contemporary
Writers of Haibun, and Excerpts from Japanese Books (a slightly
misleading heading) – are in the order they are in, but as a book
reviewer, my advice to the reader is to start with Section III, the
Japanese background. Rich Youmans, who also wrote the introduction to
Journeys 2017, kicks off Section III with an excellent essay on diaries,
especially travel diaries, kikobun, and their relationship to
the development of haibun. The final section of the essay, while noting
that many English-language haibun are travel episodes or vignettes, does
acknowledge that a few writers have attempted to write a kikobun
in the fashion of Basho, "narratives that weave individual episodes
into a rich tapestry, often in varying styles of prose." The works
Youmans discusses are Tom Lynch's Rain Drips from the Trees: Haibun Along the Trans-Canadian Highway, William J. Higginson and Penny Harter's Met on the Road: A Transcontinental Haiku Journal, David Cobb's The Spring Journey to the Saxon Shore, Ken Jones' Stallion's Crag: Haiku and Haibun, John Brandi's Water Shining Beyond the Fields: Haibun Travels Southeast Asia, and Jim Kacian's Border Lands: Travels in the Old Country.
The entries that follow Youmans' essay trace a genealogy of the modern
haibun that hinges on Basho. We read about and work from his
predecessors Saigyo and Socho, as well as those who in turn were
influenced by him, Kobayashi Issa, Kurita Chodo, Masaoka Shiki. The last
two pieces focus on Japanese women diarists and on Japanese-Canadian
Kaoru Ikeda's Slocan Diary, an account of her time in a "relocation camp" during World War II.
While Section III is a good place to start because of the historical and
culture background it provides, especially Youmans' essay, it feels
oddly disconnected from the general purpose of the anthology. Partly
this is because every piece is excerpted from a book and a direct tie to
the development of haibun is assumed. Readers new to haibun and those
unfamiliar with Japanese culture and literary history may have
difficulty seeing how, except in a vague way, what this has to do with
English-language haibun. Again, at the risk of sounding like a broken
record (and I think most readers of haibun will understand that simile,
and mercifully forgive the cliché), Youmans' "Travel Diaries and the
Development of Modern Haibun" is the place to start.
From there you go to Jeffrey Woodward's reprinted essay "Form in Haibun:
An Outline" in the introductory section. With the history of Japanese
diaries and kikobun fresh in your mind, Woodward's essay will
give you a good idea of what to expect, regarding format, in the next
two sections. Woodward has contributed significantly to the promotion
and dissemination of English-language haibun. In this essay he explores
the forms modern haibun often take, most of which are found in this
anthology. If there is a modern definition of haibun it would describe a
combination of prose and haiku, one or more. It's more complicated than
that, or can be. The term haibun can loosely include tanka prose and
various other prosimetra. It can even be haiku-less, verseless (though I
can't help but think we already have designations for that kind of
'haibun': prose poetry and short short fiction).
The Early Adapters Section starts with John Ashberry's haibun, which
I've always admired as prose poems while wondering how they might have
become haibun or at least better haibun if he had only known how to
write a haiku. However, his pieces remain fresh and poetic (and his
haiku a kind of model for many writers new to haiku and haibun). In
contrast, the works of Paul F. Schmidt and Edith Shiffert seem
self-consciously "Japanese" in theme and tone and their predilection for
5-7-5 haiku, self-consciously Zen-like (which seems un-Zen-like to me).
Granted, that is perhaps due to the time in which they were written and
to the fact Shiffert lived most of her life in Japan. The haibun of
Jerry Kilbride and Rod Wilmot, on the other hand, feel/sound/read as
contemporary haibun, at least to my ears. They both write in the vein of
the traveler, but Kilbride is the wanderer out to collect experiences
while Wilmot is the participant-observer in his own domain. It was
inspiring to read their work.
One thing that struck me about the haibun in this section compared to
most of the haibun I read today is their length, pages and pages.
Ashberry kept his to one page, which is almost the norm now, but I think
he was aware of the tension a prose poem can bear, how much poetic
language a reader can handle in one sitting. The other writers in this
section were writing mostly narrative haibun or highly lyrical
variations of that. The haiku (or other poetic form) within the prose
narrative has a tendency to slow the reader down, which is why it's
there, isn't it, moments of reflection on the relationship between the
haiku and the prose, the link and shift? Longer haibun, unless well
written, can sometimes fail to hold the reader's attention. We could
blame it on our shrinking attention spans, but I think it may also have
something to do with the attention poetic language demands of the
reader. Longer haibun, kikobun-length haibun, have the space in which to
develop a narrative, explore a conflict or theme, create characters. In
Jim Kacian's Border Lands, the reader wants to know if the
narrator is going to make it, literally and figuratively; whereas in
Paul F. Schmidt's nine-page "Kyoto Temples", despite some beautiful
writing and insightful observations, nothing much happens from a
narrative point of view. There's no classic narrative arc (not even the
abbreviated arc of a flash piece). One might argue, well, it's like a
journal or a diary, but generally who wants to read a diary by someone
they don't really know or whose character does not somehow come to life
in the diary. I mean, why would someone read Kafka's diaries? Isn't it
because they're interested in Kafka or at least know something about
him? I'm over-simplifying, but I do think it's one of the weaknesses of
Section II, a selection of haibun from twenty-two contemporary writers
(five haibun from each writer except one), is a veritable who's who. The
one writer I was unfamiliar with was Chris Faiers. The English-language
haibun world is small, so I feel guilty and a little surprised I didn't
know of him or his work. (As an exercise, compare his "The Buddhist
Monastery" with Schmidt's "Kyoto Temples" to see the importance of a
little narrative tension.) This is a varied collection of haibun, most
of them wonderful. And I'm going to leave it there. Anyone interested in
the history of haibun and wanting to read some of the finest work of
contemporary practitioners of the form would be remiss to skip getting
hold of Journeys 2017. As the series continues, and one hopes
it does, it may settle into a best of series. That is fine. What won't
change is both the historical and literary value Journeys 2017 will have as a document exploring the development of English-language haibun.
Anna Yin has emerged, season by season, year by year, as a fine, probing and nuanced poet. There is a contemplative soul tenderness in her previous books of poetry that can only be accessed through many a unhurried and meditative read of each inviting poem. Anna’s recent book of poetry, Nightlights, illustrates Anna’s fuller potential that is ever being birthed and maturing. Nightlights is Anna’s newest book of poetry that embodies a venturing forth into the suggestive poetic pathway of haiku poetry and all the wavering and timid lights in the night such a journey taken reveals.
Nightlights is divided into six inviting parts: 1) Night Visitor, 2) Sweeping Gingko Leaves, 3) Dancing Alone, 4) Winter, 5) White Wreaths and 6) Reflections. Each of the haiku poems reveal, at ever deeper levels, quiet and unfulfilled longings, painful points on the journey, legitimate nostalgia, loneliness, mystery of unresolved desires, speech from nature to the heart, moments of tender union and places in the soul where few have lingered with the poet. Those who dare to go to the places Anna offers will discover much about their life pilgrimages yet needing to be lived into—a kindly yet aching call to hope in the night season.
Nightlights should not be read merely for information. The deeper and wiser insights offered can only be understood by a slowing down and many a reread. The genre of the haiku, in many ways, is a form of expressing complex feelings, experiences and emotions, in a compact and succinct manner, which leaves many a portal open for entering the layered meaning of the poem. Anna has in this collection of subtle and refined haiku poems made it abundantly clear that this is way of expressing her poetic vision in a convincing and compelling manner. I found myself, at times, lingering at quite a few of the distilled haiku signals, doing my best to heed their call ---each haiku in this collection has called forth much from Anna and, as such, reaches out to the reader and calls her/him to respond to the invitation of the unique haiku. A question---do we hear the call across the water from the further short----each poem certainly bids us welcome to cross the water.
The whispered and colourful front cover of Nightlights is a beauty worth many a quiet reflection as are the many poignant black and white photographs that introduce each part of the book. The “Introduction” by Claudia Radmore is worth many a read as a primer on haiku poetry.
Many poets either say too much or what is said is so abstract or esoteric that the reader becomes lost in a maze. The simple and direct yet ever deeper layers of each congealed haiku that has lived through Anna in Nightlights offers a way of doing poetry that can speak to one and all. Nightlights is a thin book of poetry but once through the haiku doorway, a vast world of the soul, nature and society is revealed.
This is a book of poetry that will remain with me on the journey and does knit me to much that is essential to the core on the trail and off trail treks of life.