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October 2014, vol 10 no 3

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Marian Olson

Introduction to Marjorie Buettner's Some Measure of Existence

[Editor's brief interruption: I was moving around a lot this past summer and did an unsatisfactory job of hunting down book reviewers. I know you're out there somewhere. (I expect you to come forward and identify yourselves for future assignments, please.) From what little response I got, I got the impression you all had hectic summers yourselves. Fellow editor Marjorie Buettner has a wonderful book out, as you'll read below, and I didn't want it to go by without some mention in CHO. After some consideration, I thought why not reprint Marian Olson's introduction to the book. It certainly captures much of what I feel about Buettner's haibun.]

Some Measure of Existence may be unlike any book of haibun you have ever read. Since Basho's famous travel diary Oku no Hosomichi or Narrow Road to the Interior, haibun has been evolving and rarely resembles the early master's work. Modern haibun often delves into the experimental with its lack of punctuation, fragments, obscure interior monologues, and strained capping haiku, which is not haiku at all with its cryptic, clever lines that lack sense, as well as the beauty and potency of the traditional form. Too often the uninspired prose ends with haiku that fogs meaning, leaving the reader straining to "get" the writer's intention. Or the writing is so commonplace that it leaves the reader shrugging so what? Thus, novelty, obfuscation, and uninspired work mark many haibun being written today.

In our world of modern haibun, Marjorie Buettener's work is unique. Her voice is singular and clear as a temple bell.

Some Measure of Existence is not a book to fill time between plane flights with reading candy, and it is not a book one reads to escape from the stress of every-day life. Buettner is not that kind of writer. Her work reflects her scholarly training and philosophical interests, as well as her knowledge of Greek and Roman mythology and classical literature. Reading her haibun is a mind-expanding experience, a deeply satisfying experience.

When you open Some Measure of Existence expect thought-provoking prose paired with real haiku, beautifully crafted work with dense language composed by a writer who cares about language that draws the reader into her sensual and sensuous musings. Reading her work reminds me of qualities found in the work of the famous Sufi poet Rumi whose writings shimmer with life as he celebrates the wonder of our place in the cosmos.

Taking us through spring to winter, Buettner's themes move like concentric circles expanding and contracting, circling round and round, from light to dark to light, from morning to night to morning, from past to present to future and back again in the ever-pulsing mystery of life and death.

Some Measure of Existence is the kind of book you read with intention when your soul is hungry for some substantial nourishment.