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July 2014, vol 10, no 2

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Bob Lucky

A Plunge into the Mainstream


In a couple of reviews in the past, I  have attempted to draw relevant distinctions between what I regard as true haibun and other versions extant, mostly in the mainstream poetry world, that sail under the haibun flag. In a recent issue of Ribbons (10.1), Jane Reichhold explores tanka’s prospects in the mainstream verse world and Angela Leuck reviews Harryette Mullen’s Urban Tumbleweed: Notes from a Tanka Diary. Leuck also interviews poet Steve Luxton about the place of tanka in the Western poetic field and summarizes the views of poet and theorist Chen-ou Liu from a 2012 Lynx interview with Jane Reichhold. What they have to say should be of interest to all haibun writers.

The discussion of tanka pertains to haiku as well as haibun. I’ve been regularly publishing Japanese short-form poetry in English since only 2007, or thereabouts, not nearly as long as many of the readers of this journal, I would assume. But from my experience, there has always been a tension between the short-form poetry world and the mainstream literary world. On the one-hand, mainstream poets dismiss haiku and tanka as pedagogical tools, syllable counting exercises; on the other, short-form poets tend to dismiss mainstream attempts at haiku and tanka as being wide of the mark. And in general, with a few exceptions, mainstream poets are not publishing their haiku, tanka and haibun in short-form poetry journals and short-form poets are not publishing their haiku, tanka, and haibun in mainstream journals. There are poets who see Japanese short-form poems as inspiration, as a different way of seeing the world. There are other poets who see English short-form poetry as the continuation of the Japanese traditions. West is West. When will the twain meet?

Well, we short-form poets may be getting our shot. I’m writing this in late April, so this may be old news by July, but it’s worth hearing again. Rattle, a mainstream poetry journal, has planned an issue dedicated to Japanese short-form poetry. See the link below. However, to give you a taste: “The poems may be written by any poet, in any subject or length, but must use a traditional or adapted Japanese form: haiku, renga, tanka, haibun, etc. Translations welcome, as well.” And you haiga-inclined artists need to note that Rattle still needs “cover and internal art for this issue. Photography, paintings, or collages relating to the theme will all be considered.” (Rattle, calls)

I would be remiss not to mention what an honor it is for me to take the baton from Jim Kacian, Bruce Ross, and Ken Jones, three haibun writers I’ve admired and studied. It’s also a bit nerve wracking to try to follow in their footsteps. And perhaps the relay-race analogy isn’t a good choice since I’m more of a stroller than a sprinter these days, but the idea is that I plan to stay on course and continue to keep CHO in the forefront of haibun writing. I’m also fortunate to be joined by Lynne Rees and Marjorie Buettner, both excellent writers. And as good fortune seems to attract more good fortune, Ray Rasmussen has agreed to stay on as Webmaster and Garry Eaton as designated copy editor. It’s good to be the editor-in-chief, to paraphrase a Mel Brook’s character.




crane