A Tribute to the Work of Hortensia Anserson
In 2009, Hortensia Anderson, one of the most prolific and respected writers in the haibun genre, informed us that she hadn't long to live. At that time because we at CHO have had the privilege of publishing and enjoying her writing in our issues, we published a collection of her work that has appeared in CHO. Here we provide an update of her CHO publication list with comments by editors Jim Kacian, Ken Jones, Ray Rasmussen and Bruce Ross on one of their favorites of Hortensia's haibun.
Hortensia suggested that we post "Remains of Myself" as her parting haibun.
Remains of Myself
The slab of Botticino Classico has a pale blush.
It is almost golden, glowing in the early sun...
He lifts the sheet, revealing a reclining woman.
I stroke the stone folds of my nude self.
Later, in the studio, I find a dark burlap sack.
Leftover marble chips have been swept into it.
It is as if I have come upon lost remains of myself –
how I yearn to keep them.
rose moon –
the curved darkness
Editors' Selections of Hortensia's Haibun with Comments
Comment by Bruce Ross
The Way Back
As I drift in the lush grass, a monarch butterfly alights by my side. Suppose, as my aunt had told me, the dark map of lines on orange wings really is the way back to my childhood?
I try to flip
over the sky
Here is Wordsworth's childlike "heart's leap" on viewing a rainbow. Hortensia's rainbow is a monarch butterfly whose wings are a map back to childhood. The wings, in a magnificent link, are the swing of the haiku. The ecstasy begun with the monarch settling near her and her memory of her aunt's fairytale of the monarch's wing map is further realized. The haiku swing takes her to the fairytale place, or almost. Yet as Wordsworth continues, "the child is father of the man," and in a Taoist-like transport Hortensia is where the map leads. What supernal joy!
As a child, at dawn, I gather shards of glass, rinse them in the fountain and make my "circle."
Broken glass abounds in Central Park—cobalt Milk of Magnesia blue, beer bottles from honey to amber, shattered greens that once held wine.
"She might cut herself" strangers admonish my mother. But she knows I have worlds to make and not once do I injure myself.
At dusk, with a twig, I scatter the circle and destroy the world, knowing there will be others ...
the sands of time blow through
the sea of space
Comment by Jim Kacian
There are many themes which recur in Hortensia Anderson's haibun, but none more poignant than her effusions of childhood. This example I feel is representative of the best of them. Whenever she casts her mind back upon the past, what surfaces is replete with specific and telling images, often involving color and tactility. Fusing these images is a recollection of the specific emotion engendered, and not in a way that suggests an adult recalling the past, but rather a child still present—not a re-imagining, then, so much as a reliving. I love the power of childhood as evoked here, destroying the world with a casual sweep of the hand, as children do, and also recognizing her invulnerability so long as she is present in her pursuit. Only in the haiku does she step away and grant the perspective which enjoined her to write this particular recollection, rather than the hundreds of others she could just as easily summon. And in the haiku she achieves something difficult to accomplish: she brings abstraction home to us without sacrificing its grandeur. This range in both dimensions—from childhood to adult sensibility, from the here and now to the vastnesses of eternity—in such a short compass creates a powerful knot of energy which, for me, shows no signs of coming undone.
Maybe You Can Come Home
The black behind the mirror never alters—
the scent of death permeates all the flowers.
"I shall take rememberings by dismemberings" the Commandante kindly
said "and keep them for you" as he dragged my loves through white snow
leaving a jagged red path like a ragged scarf in my memory.
His ice blue eyes looked
but his boots
On a too distant cloud,
the angel of history
folded her wings and wept.
we face the lighted ground
a single file of shadow
Comment by Ken Jones
Here, unusually, Hortensia ventures into the domain where the personal becomes public (and, maybe here, the public becomes personal -- even an allegory, perhaps?). Above the butcher's block of history, as Hegel called it, "the angel of history" weeps yet again and again. Thus the two opening lines set the scene...
The action follows with a terrible immediacy. The scene is one of icy cold snow, beneath a frozen moon; and the action is of "dragging" and "jagged red" , of "blood" and "shot". The imagery is precise, vivid, and memorable, right down to the gleaming boots. It calls to mind those countless.atrocities which mark the terrible twentieth century (and the present one, too) -- its "rememberings by dismemberings"..the "jagged red scarf" of memory.
With the shift to a "too distant cloud" a broader perspective is opened and the pressure is momentarily lifted before we are returned to the chilling final haiku, which we can picture as our imagination leads us. A firing squad perhaps ? .
Even the title has a part to play. Could it be the final scene in so many of such bloody incidents, where the bodies have been reburied, the truth revealed, the land mines cleared ?
In faultlessly crafted imagery the theme unfolds with just enough to awaken our imagination, but not so much as to confine it. This haibun is destined to take its place among those few, but infinutely memorable, haiku and haibun which illuminate our history. It puts me in mind of Saito Sanki's "Those in line / watching the wind / sweep the earth".
All night it has rained and today, the sky takes on a delicate blueness. There is a freshness in the just-washed breeze. You wait for me by the gate to your loft—my pink ballet slippers soundless against the cobblestones. We embrace and I close my eyes, pressing my lips against your neck, the clean, distinct scent of you—cucumber and wheat. You open the gate to the scent of white lilacs in full bloom—lush, dripping petals reminding me of snow and clouds.
brushing my hair—
our shadows touch
Comment by Ray Rasmussen
Quality of descriptive detail, succinctness and poetic phrasings work together make this piece work. They take me to a setting and provide a mood. Also important in Hortensia's writing is her presence in the piece–she's sharing a personal experience.
Good writing leaves something to the imagination. As I read, I wonder: Who is the other? An ex? A new lover? What happens next? How did we get from the sensual scent of "cucumber and wheat" to the cold feel of "snow and clouds"? It's not that precise details are needed to make a piece work. Rather, the understatement engages the imagination and leaves room for the reader to step into the piece in his or her own way.
Her choice of title "En Passant" encourages further speculation. It's a technical chess term referring to a situation where one player's pawn is in a vulnerable position, such that the other player can capture it by passing it. Do we place ourselves in vulnerable positions? Might we simply be passed by? What is it to be captured, yet not directly, but in passing?
Hortensia's piece shows her acute awareness of haibun as a linking form. The title is linked to the closing phrase of the haiku ("in passing"). The haiku is linked to the prose, yet it brings a new dimension into the piece. We move from a direct encounter to a time when she's alone reflecting on the encounter. Within the haiku, she links the erotic imagery of the first phrase (brushing her hair) to a sense of something unsettled in the second phrase (shadows touching in passing). And in the haiku tradition, both phrases are based on concrete images.
What shadows are at play for Hortensia in this relationship? We don't know. What's important is that she shares their existence and thus invites us to recognize and examine the shadows and sense of vulnerability in our own relationships.
Good writing like this isn't just about the writer – it's a pathway to our own experiences and awareness.
Hortensia Anserson's Publications in CHO