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April 2016, vol 12 no 1

| Contents This Issue | First Haibun |


Roberta Beary’s Deflection

Ray Rasmussen

coverRoberta Beary, Deflection, Paperback, 36 pages, 25 pieces, 5.5 x 8.5 inches, Accents Publishing, April 2015. ISBN-13: 978-1936628339. Available from Accents Publishing and Amazon.com.

Introduction

I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,
or walk inside the poem's room
and feel the walls for a light switch.
~ Billy Collins, from “Introduction to Poetry” [1]

Roberta Beary is the haibun editor of Modern Haiku, one of the premier haiku-genre print journals and a well-published and award winning poet working in multiple genres. Thus, it’s instructive to see how she has put together her first collection of haibun and what both new and experienced writers can learn from it.

When I do a review, I feel like Billy Collin’s mouse, dropped into someone’s private room searching for light switches. Given the kind of mouse I am, I realize that I may be engaged more in what Collin’s warned against in reading poetry, that is:

all they (students and teachers) want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it. [1]

I’m clear that I’ve tortured some confessions out of Beary’s collection, and that they have much to do with my focus on the psychological underpinnings of poetry and perhaps little to do with the poet. For example, I’ve treated the collection as an autobiographical Kikōbun – a tightly connected series of haibun as opposed to a collection of somewhat independent pieces. And I realize that the pieces may be fiction written as if autobiography, an approach that a number of successful haibunists favor. What matters most is that the writing is strong and evocative and readers will enter Beary’s mouse box and find their own light switches.

Thus, the intent of this review is not so much to explore Beary’s poetic talents, which are considerable and which other reviewers (Tish Davis, Penny Harter, Barbara Snow to name three) have already addressed. [2] Instead, my focus will be on:

• How the collection is organized
• The interconnectedness and psychological underpinnings of the 25 haibun
• Titles
• Confessionalism and Openness
• Obliqueness
• Stylistic Variations – Hybrid Haibun
• Conclusion

I. Organization of a Collection: Nikki vs Kikōbun

Writers who have put together collections will readily understand the difficulty of doing so. After wrestling with which pieces to include, one has to decide whether to group the pieces thematically and, if so, decide the order in which themes are to appear. Another option is to present the pieces in chronological order either as they occurred in the writer’s life (thus childhood memoirs would come first, pieces about aging last), or as they were written (a childhood memoir might appear later, at a time when something triggered the writer’s memory), or simply by the dates they were published. Or, if they wish to avoid these sorts of organizing principles, writers can imitate Auden, who in his first collection arranged the contents by alphabetical order of the first line of the poems, purportedly to avoid any connotations that readers might imagine.

II. Interconnectness and Psychological Underpinnings

Beary's first collection is presented in alphabetical order by title. It's not clear to me whether, like Auden, she went to that trouble to avoid connotations, and it hasn't prevented me from imagining a raison d'être behind her presentation. As I see it, collectively the 25 pieces are of a singular theme focusing on the period when her mother's health failed. From that vantage point, the pieces reveal what can be expected when going through the emotional rollercoaster of a parent’s death – that is, the mind naturally skipropes through memories, and memory lane doesn’t operate chronologically. In my reading of it, Deflection isn’t just a collection of unrelated “nikki” – the Japanese term for the dominant form found in current English-language practice consisting of a title and a few hundred words of prose wedded to one or two haiku. Instead, the collection strikes me as a modern descendent of kikōbun, a travel journal where all the pieces are connected to a journey. The most famous travel journal is Basho’s Oku-no-hosomichi (The Narrow Road to the Deep North) in which he connects all of his pieces as a travel diary focused on his visits to the cultural and poetry places in Japan’s history. [3] In Beary’s case, we’re reading about Beary’s mental journey during her mother’s demise and death. Instead of Basho’s travel from one site to another, we have Beary’s mind wandering among memories and considering what comes next as she attends her dying mother.

The Relationship with Her Mother

Six pieces that appear in the center of the sequence relate to the caring for and death of Beary’s mother (Bringing up Baby, Caretaker I, Caretaker II, Deflection, Dementia and Nighthawks). For those readers who are or have lived with their own parent’s infirmities and deaths, as I have, these pieces are certain to trigger memories. A passage from Beary’s “Nighthawks” aptly serves to describe my last visit to my comatose mother:

… mostly i just talk and she listens. eyes glued shut in coma land. well past morning i kiss her rice-paper face. stroke her white hair. …

Beary is known for her promotion of the importance of titles in haibun. Here are her thoughts:

In haibun, the wrong title is like a wrong number. It makes the reader want to hang up the phone. A haibun's title should be strong enough to draw the reader into the prose and make the reader want more. Let the title be a link to the prose and the haiku, not give away the rest of the piece. After reading the entire haibun, the reader should be able to look at the title and see more than one meaning. [4]

The title "Nighthawks" serves as an allusion to Edward Hopper's famous painting depicting several disconnected customers sitting in the mid-night hours in a sterile setting while the rest of the world is oblivious to their plight. Such was my experience when visiting the hospital where my mother spent her last days. It's as if everyone but the attending nurse is oblivious to the suffering within the sterile room where the patient (not person) is confined.

In two haiku sequences (Caretaker I and Caretaker II), Beary exhibits her notable haiku craft with contrasts between springtime’s blooms and life’s ending .

cherry blossoms
the incessant sound
of mother’s cough

. . .

day of blossoms
a nurse erases
mother’s name

The haiku sequence in “Deflection,” about the immediate aftermath of her mother’s death, contains two clever haiku. While cleverness can sometimes reduce poignancy, in this case it doesn’t as it contains the imagery of our times when she depicts herself as an upgrading of computer software:

radiant heat
one free upgrade
to orphan

And, in the same sequence, a haiku offers sharp contrasts, white and black, christmas and death certificates.

white christmas
a black line
for my signature

Throughout this sequence of six pieces focused on her mother’s demise, one gets a feel for a distressed daughter providing good care. However, three pieces contain hints of an estrangement.

“Dementia” is a traditional haibun that leads off with Beary’s mother hugging her and telling her that she’s beautiful. It continues with:

She says, “I love you, I love you” in a voice anyone can hear, she blows kisses my way.”

The prose passage finishes very strongly with:

I have never known her to be cheerful. I have never seen her engage in banter. Or dish out compliments. I do not know this woman. I want my mother back.

I paused at the line, “I want my mother back,” and wondered why it’s there. And decided that no matter how unsettling a mother’s behavior, we have no other mothers and mostly choose to accept them as they are. Particularly, in the case of dementia, we’d prefer the real to the excursions of fantasy and paranoia.

“Bringing up Baby” (written without capitalization) has her mother and daughter watching a late 30s film while Beary frets about her mother who has had a fall.

. . . but nothing’s broken and she seems okay. still I go a little crazy. i look for a nurse. then grab my phone. the big screen is turned up super loud. as usual (emphasis mine).

Those who have had a parent at that stage of life have likely experienced the TV being turned up so loud that it precludes conversation (and evokes insanity). More importantly, they know that a fall can lead to broken bones and a very rapid descent into death. Who hasn’t suffered extreme anxiety when this happens? After several failed attempts at being helpful and being shushed by her mother, this:

my daughter, serene at 25, gives me one of those knowing looks (emphasis mine). grandma’s fine she says. she sits right down next to her.

And then there’s a shift to a telling denouement:

i watch the two of them on the loveseat.
my own private screening.
heads so close together
there’s no room for me (emphasis mine).

In “Lipstick,” Beary writes in a philosophical voice that again emphasizes estrangement:

pity the daughters of beautiful mothers (emphasis mine)
the years spent waiting to grow into a beauty that never comes
the sympathetic looks
finally understood at the moment
when childhood ends

Okay, the mother-daughter relationship is damaged in important ways, but who hasn’t experienced problems with parents? It’s only after we look at the pieces about her father that we can guess that something may have been deeply amiss.

The Relationship with Her Father

Pieces centering on the man I assume is Beary’s father are fewer and are more oblique than those about her mother. They inform us about important aspects of her relationship with her mother. The haiku-tanka sequence, “Before the Outing,” starts with a telling haiku in which Beary is preparing herself for a family dinner with son, son’s partner, and her parents:

my son’s boyfriend
three words I practice saying
alone in my room

Beary moves on to her father’s reactions and her reaction to her father:

rainbow flag
father pretends
not to see

. . .

not something
that’s contagious
still you step back
from my son
and his boyfriend

It's heartbreaking when a grandparent rejects a grandchild, particularly when grandparents are the ones who can take on the important role of provider of unconditional love. Still, her father’s behavior is understandable. After all, he’s of an age when most men were deeply homophobic (and, yes, many still are). My father indicated much the same sort of bias when a teen relative showed up at a family event with an African-American boyfriend. I had almost never seen my normally silent and emotionally flat, Danish father upset at the level he displayed that evening and in the days following.

It’s the fourth verse in the sequence that brings me back to Beary’s relationship with her mother:

rainbow flag
mother tiptoes around (emphasis mine)
the subject.

Why is her mother tiptoeing? And why did my mother tiptoe when my father so unexpectedly spewed his views about black-white relationships? Indeed, why did I turn away, unable to listen to his rant?

We learn something about the why of tiptoeing late in the book through “The Offer,” in which Beary depicts her father’s temperament. Evidently living alone, he makes an offer:

. . . Right on cue he asks me to move back. . . . His eyes get watery. Like he’s trying not to cry.

And as she considers it, she reveals a deep fear of the man:

He says he’s old. He no longer can take care of himself. I take a good look. He needs a shave. He needs a haircut. He needs a wash. This man who used to scare me to death (emphasis mine).

And then we learn more about his personality, about why she (and I assume, her mother) had been so fearful. Squirrels have evidently gotten into the man’s attic, (or this may simply be a description of the man’s dementia):

The squirrels get louder. Quick, he says, his heavy cane raised. Bang. Bang. Bang. So hard a crack forms on the ceiling. God damn you to hell, he says. Look what you made me do (emphasis mine).

In the closing line, Beary escapes with:

I need to get something, I say. In my car.

And the haiku presents her looking in the rear view mirror as she drives away:

rear-mirror
the stunted pine’s (emphasis mine)
red robin.

Okay, he got angry, acted out, blamed her. What parent, myself included, hasn’t done much the same? Isn’t it a bit heartless to run out on an obviously needy and demented old man, particularly after this closing plea:

It was the squirrels, calls a voice from the doorway. Not you. Come back inside, says the voice. Come back.

It’s only in another haunting free-verse hybrid, “Irish Twins,” that Beary presents the most troubling piece (for me) in the collection. It describes a man’s (her father’s, I presume) sexual assault on her sister:

His footsteps are heavy
He smells of old spice
And cherry tobacco
My eyes are shut tight
I know he is there
I feel his weight
Never on my side
Always on the side she sleeps
When the bedsprings sing their sad song
I fly away. Up to the ceiling. My sister is already there.

The term “Irish Twins” refers to the imposition of Catholic morality on the Irish and the consequent large numbers of children and their closeness in age. One assumes that her father is not only pushing sex on her mother, but is also engaged in incest. It’s now that the previous haiku’s ‘stunted pine’ as a metaphor makes sense. He’s clearly a violent, stunted man – and the daughters and mother must have lived a life of fear and tiptoeing.

If Beary’s mother tiptoed around her father’s reaction to her son’s coming out, then she may well have done so around the sexual assault – or her mother may have simply been unaware of the assault. Can we forgive a mother who either doesn’t recognize or who looks the other way under such circumstances? Certainly not easily.

Early Partners (Failed Romances)

As a third core theme related to loss, we get glimpses of a troubled romantic life in several pieces. “Afterglow” is a confessional work (no pejorative intended) about an adulterous relationship and “Bonsai Gallery” is about the lingering emotional pain related to a failed relationship. “On the F Train” closes with a sentiment expressed in the haiku that seems to fit all her early relationships:

old subway car
the cane seat’s
broken weave

There’s not an unusual amount of angst expressed in these pieces. We’ve all had our relationships ups and downs and we’ve all taken our time getting over them. And as she says in the prose:

. . . all the books (he has given her) a little worse for wear, but the tote bag still intact.

It couldn’t be put better. Yes, with time, we tend to remerge intact, albeit a bit more cautious in selecting our next romantic partner.

And what has this to do with her mother? Why reel through memories of failed romances while her mother lies dying? One pop-psych school has it that “perhaps nothing is as disheartening as the discovery—after years of trying to escape from your dysfunctional childhood—that you have actually managed to recreate it.” The suggestion is that children copy the parent’s adaptive behaviors. [5]

Did our author recreate her family’s dysfunctions in her own relationships? Did her mother’s tiptoeing serves as a model, leading to Beary’s tiptoeing around her father and later, around the narcissistic males she encountered? (I’m guessing about the narcissism, for after all, weren’t most of us males who had affairs with younger women, self-interested to the point of being narcissistic?)

While inviting this sort of speculation, at the end of the day, as the 17th century philosopher Blaise Pascal put it, “the heart has reasons that reason doesn’t understand.” So Beary’s openness about these issues best serves as a prompt for us to engage in examining our own relationship failures as opposed to treating this very open work as a soap in which we speculate on the motives of the players. For myself, I came to the point where I could see that my Danish father’s lack of verbal or emotional expressiveness and his retreat from fights with my volatile Italian mother was the model I employed for my early (failed) relationships. I remember once dreaming that my mother was sinking in quicksand while I was helpless to rescue her. I remember her weeping and pleading while my father retreated into the bedroom, locked the door and turn on the baseball game (loud).

We get a glimpse of Beary’s resultant loneliness in “Summertime Blues,” a profound loneliness that matched my own after several early failed relationships. Here are two haiku from the sequence:

suddenly single –
a carpenter bee gives me
the wrong kind of buzz

and

overripe no one to mow my lawn

Loss

Her mother’s death, the ending of one or more romantic relationships, and the damaged relationship with father are themes related to loss. Two other significant types of loss make up the remainder of the work.

“Philantha” focuses on what is one of the central dilemmas of modern relationships – whether or not to have children. In this case, the couple:

. . . used to talk about it sometimes (emphasis mine), but . . . never got as far as names.

But Beary evidently did get as far as imagining names. The title of the piece, “Philantha,” is a touching name for a might-have-been child meaning “lover of flowers.” The piece closes with:

home again
driveway daffodils
come and gone

Driveway daffodils are those portents of spring that are often deliberately placed to be seen and signal the arrival of spring’s lightness. Of course, the feeling related to the fading of flowers’ brightness isn’t nearly as intense as the feeling of having lost the opportunity to have children. It’s the cycle of promise and hope followed by discouragement and loss that’s so well caught in the poem.

The title of the last piece, “What Remains” may sound inviting for those readers who like happy endings. But where we might expect a resolution, we are introduced to yet another loss. Someone (Beary’s son or brother or younger relative, I presume) has evidently committed suicide or died while texting and driving. She writes about the consequences of being left with unfinished business:

I always thought we would have time to repair the old grievances. I never thought I would be the recipient of your story told over and over. Words that never change: “Imagine losing your only son. Imagine. “What remains after the words are gone?”

Endings

The next part of the prose in “What Remains” and the last piece of writing in the book, signals the end of what I see as the Kikōbun, the end of Beary’s journey through this dark period.

It’s 4 o’clock in the morning. A police car sets its revolving light on a mother’s house. The shadow of two men appears. . . . One man is a policeman. This is where the story ends. The other man is a priest. This is where the story begins.

The closing haiku suggests the place where Beary’s journey leaves her:

a blue cat roams
the empty hours . . .
cold winter moon

III. Titles

One meaning of the term “Deflection” is a change of course. Beary’s walking away from her father’s pleading is one way that she’s changed course. Another comes from what is perhaps the only “light” piece in the collection, “Journal Entry.” She’s evidently planning to go on a trip and is relearning Italian. The closing haiku beautifully shows her feelings involving the next part of her life:

first light
a paper rose unfolds
the new year

“Sunday Dinner” also lets us know that Beary has moved on, at least from failed relationships. She describes a strong relationship with a husband, although evidently a not-so-great relationship with the in-laws. It opens in the way many of our own in-law stories might:

i like my husband but not the older sister
too bossy for me the way she likes
to tell me we don’t call him sweetie pie
in this house …

And contains this passage about another feeling of loss - the lost years:

. . . mostly I don’t like
the way they knew him
all those stolen years
before he found me

As the closing haiku in this piece suggests, a healthier life is not without its thorns, both in the immediate sense, the relationships we endure because they involve family or in-laws or old friends, and in the sense of memory, those dysfunctional relationships we return to again and again on our mental journeys.

porch-glider
the rosethorns
back and forth

When "Deflection" is taken as its other meaning, a deflection of or masking emotions and thoughts, then the act of tiptoeing ones way thorugh life aptly fits the term.

IV. Openness and Confessionalism

Comments by other reviewers mention the rawness of the collection. Snow describes it as a “punchy, raw poetry collection” about loss; Harter tells us that “Beary’s poems are always starkly honest, startling the reader with her skillful rendering of very personal, and often harsh, moments of her experience”; while praising the collection, Davis mentions that the glass is dark; and on the back cover, Rotella says, “Hard to swallow sometimes the depth of stark reality in Roberta Beary’s immaculate poems.” [2]

Indeed, the collection is entirely (and bravely) focused on a dark period in Beary’s life and it reads like autobiography, which, as far as I’m concerned, is what haibun should be. After all, along with its little partner, the haiku, autobiographical sketches are how haibun differentiates itself from both short fiction and non-fiction.

Haibun about aging, the loss of parents and friends, and failed relationships appear relatively frequently in our journals. This is likely because many writers come to haiku and haibun late in life, a time when people think about writing memoirs. But themes related to homosexuality, suicide, sexual and parental abuse, drug addiction and sexual promiscuity are almost nonexistent. Why, I wonder, when we live in an age where so many women suffer sexual assault and a high percentage of our population is addicted to drugs (medical prescriptions, recreational drugs, tobacco and alcohol). Some might deem these subjects as too open or feel that reading work focused on these subjects is depressing. Indeed, when I wrote a piece about a trip to an STD clinic as part of entering into a new relationship given that we both had previous sexual partners, one writer-colleague wrote that she felt the subject was ‘too personal” and that I shouldn’t submit it for publication. But then what should we write about? The beauty of nature – that idyllic place in a meadow with birds singing and the sun shining, the one without rain, biting insects and predators? Sure, that too, but not to the exclusion of the dark sides of life.

Mainstream poetry had a dialogue about confessional writing starting in the late 50s as identified with the work of poets Robert Lowell, Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, John Berryman and W. D. Snodgrass. It has been described somewhat neutrally as poetry "of the personal” or “the I." As an aside, there's an irony in that this would be an apt description of much of what is published in haibun journals. In a positive sense, these award-winning confessional poets are said to have pioneered a type of writing that forever changed the landscape of poetry, and its influence continues to this day in the work of poets like Marie Howe. [6] In What the Living Do, Howe produced an elegy for her brother, John, who died of AIDS. [7] Reflecting about poetry and everyday life, Howe wrote:

This might be the most difficult task for us in postmodern life: not to look away from what is actually happening. To put down the iPod and the e-mail and the phone. To look long enough so that we can look through it – like a window. [8]

This isn’t to say that all confessional approaches are alike. Snodgrass, who to his chagrin was labeled as a confessional poet, had this to say about another poet’s work that was labeled as confessional:

. . . there’s a difference between exposing yourself and displaying yourself. If you can’t do it without making a display out of it, I don’t think you ought to do it. [9]

In an email exchange a writer-colleague suggested that the issue is like opening a can of worms, in that it's so easy to stray from profundity into being read as psychologically incongruent or overly sentimental.

I raise these issues because they allow me to say that I didn’t have the sense that Beary was “making a display out of her life,” or being overly sentimental, or that she’s using her dark experiences as a form of self-promotion. My sense is that of a writer poetically describing a highly significant and dark period of her life, of a writer coming to grips with what that previous life has been and creating a vision about what might come next.

With respect to mainstream poetry, the furor over confessionalism has long since died. However, English-language haibun, which has only come into its own over the last two decades, hasn’t yet dealt with these issues.

I’d guess that some readers will feel uncomfortable with the extent of Beary’s openness. Instead of rejecting or avoiding confessional work, they might ask themselves why these rather prevalent issues in contemporary society should be considered out of bounds? Beary’s collection suggests that the very personal is a legitimate subject matter. Given the advanced life stage of many of our writers, dealing with such dark subjects is unavoidable if we are indeed to write about our real lives and not engage in fiction where the characters’ lives are invented. This isn’t to suggest that the darker subjects are the only subject on which we can or should focus.

V. Obliqueness

Writers and readers differ greatly in their desire for ambiguity in writing. On the one hand, there’s an argument that writing needs to leave room for readers to interpret and make their own associations. On the other hand, ambiguity can lead to confusion, presenting readers with a puzzle to solve. Some readers will enjoy teasing out what is happening in a less than straightforward narrative, others won’t. I confess that I’m one of those who in places felt confused by the ambiguity I found in this collection. For example, it’s quite important to understanding Beary’s relationships with both her father and mother to know whether it was her father who assaulted her sister. And why not indicate directly whether it was her son or a sibling or some other relative who was involved in either a wreck or a suicide. Both are about loss, but anyone who has experienced a suicide of a family member or friend can tell you that suicide makes a profound difference.

VI. Stylistic Variations – Hybrid Haibun

English-language haibun appeared only recently on the poetry scene, and much later than the establishment of English-language haiku. Haiku has dramatically evolved from the initial misunderstandings of the difference between the length of Japanese sound unit and English syllables that led to a demand for a 5-7-5 form. Now haiku might be identified as, roughly 13 syllables that can be said in one breath and two phrases or a sentence or even three in one, two, three or more lines. Matters are not so settled with haibun, which is still undergoing adaptations from Basho’s travel journals. In the last decade, we witnessed an explosion of both subject matter and style to the extent that Haibun Today editor Jeffrey Woodward has written that:

. . . one is more likely to confront a unicorn than any consensus of the structure and nature of haibun. [10]

And Contemporary Haibun Online editor Bob Lucky has described the evolution of the subject matter thus:

Traditionally, English-language haibun writers have paid homage to Basho and the Japanese origins of the form, but . . . (while) there are poets writing hybrid poems that combine prose and verse of various kinds and calling them haibun, I don't think of them as haibun because they don't read like haibun. That speaks to a tradition, a bottom line. On the other hand, I can read hybrid poems in which the prose is nature writing, erotica, fiction, diary/journal, science fiction, epistles, murder mystery, historical essay, etymological musing, personal essay, prose poem, or recipe and as long as the haiku has that magical link and shift, that it resonates with the prose, illuminates the prose, then it reads like a haibun to me. [11]

Beary’s book has a number of haiku/tanka sequences, which are fairly unusual in published work. Initially, I wondered whether a haiku, which has been described as a moment in time could hold a storyline, which might be described as a string of moments that tell a story. I found her haiku strings worked quite well to tell a full story. Here’s the full string about her father’s and mother’s reactions to her son’s coming out to the family:

Before the Outing

i

my son’s boyfriend
three words i practice saying
alone in my room

ii

rainbow flag
father pretends
not to see

iii

not something
that’s contagious
still you step back
from my son
and his boyfriend

iv

rainbow flag
mother tiptoes around
the subject

v

with knife in hand
my son’s lover dissects
the last white peach

Is anything more needed to tell this story? Might it have been better to tell it in standard prose paragraphs? I think not.

Beary also has pieces that employ poetic phrases with line breaks instead of prose paragraphs. Whether the line breaks employ structuring to merit being called ‘free verse’ is a matter I’d rather duck. The question for me is whether line-break prose works as well as standard paragraphs. Here’s an example that works quite well for me:

Lipstick

pity the daughters of beautiful mothers
the years spent waiting to grow
into a beauty that never comes
the sympathetic looks
finally understood at the moment
when childhood ends

However, in “Sunday Dinner,” something goes amiss for me as a reader:

i like my husband but not the older sister
too bossy for me the way she likes
to tell me we don’t call him sweetie pie
in this house who died and made her
queen and the younger sister too
always talking money and how poor
growing up but mostly I don’t like

The piece reads awkwardly for me in line 4 where ‘in this house’ seems to run on to “who died and made her”. I’d prefer punctuation or spaces after ‘In this house.” But in general, Beary’s use of line breaks works for me as good story telling using haiku-like phrases. It may be that Beary’s experience with haiku phrasing enables her to present storylines effectively in this clipped-phrase fashion.

VII. Conclusion

A key aspect of Deflection’s quality is the interconnectedness of the haibun and thematic layering. It’s as if the book is a layered onion, and to understand it other than one piece at a time, it’s necessary to peel back each layer to see the interconnections between the layers. In short, Beary has presented a single journey about a period of loss in her life, and not a series of disjointed pieces organized under separate themes.

The book has considerable variation in style from the most practiced haibun form [title, prose paragraphs, haiku] to several what might be called 'hybrids' and in content from the typical subject matter to subjects that rarely are presented. Thus, I can easily recommend it to new writers. And for experienced writers, Beary’s book provides an opening into other ways of presenting their work when considering shaping a collection. She’s demonstrated the merit of both haiku/tanka sequences and prose with line breaks as suitable alternatives to standard prose paragraphs that so quickly have become a haibun orthodoxy. As far as content goes, Beary has shown that personalizing the writing and including "dark" subjects is a worthy, and I’d add, important subject matter. Finally, she’s shown a way to present a collection as something other than a number of somewhat independent ‘nikki’, but instead as a Kikōbun. In short, while it’s a tough ride, I strongly recommend Deflection for your bookshelf.

References:

1. Billy Collins, “Introduction to Poetry,” from The Apple that Astonished Paris, University of Arkansas Press, Fayetteville, Ark., 1996.

2. Tish Davis, “On Roberta Beary’s Deflection,” Haibun Today, 10:1, March 2016; Penny Harter, “Review: Roberta Beary, Deflection,” Frogpond 38.3 2015; Barbara Snow, “Roberta Beary, Deflection,” Cattails, January 2016.

3. David Cobb, “Potentials of Two Different Haibun Forms: Nikki and Kikōbun,” KYSO Flash, Issue 3, Spring 2015.

4. Roberta Beary, in "The Lost Weekend," Frogpond, 34:3 2011.

5. Peg Streep, “Why Your Partner May Be Like Your Parent,” Psychology Today (online), taken on March 1, 2016.

6. “Confessional Poetry,” taken from the Wikipedia website on February 12, 2016.

7. Marie Howe, “What the Living Do,” The Atlantic Monthly, April 1994.

8. “About Marie Howe,” taken from the Poets.org website on March 8, 2016.

9. “The Original Confessional Poet Tells All: W.D. Snodgrass interviewed by Hilary Holladay,” taken from PoetryFoundation.Org website on December 4, 2015.

10. Jeffrey Woodward, “Haibun Minus Haiku,” Haibun Today, November 30, 2007.

11. Bob Lucky, “Introduction,” in Angelee Deodhar (Editor), Journeys 2015, CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, September, 2015.

Biography:

Born and raised in Queens, New York. Roberta Beary is the haibun editor of Modern Haiku. Beary’s book of short poems, The Unworn Necklace (Snapshot Press, UK), was selected as William Carlos Williams Book Award finalist (Poetry Society of America). Her recent book, Deflection (Accents Publishing) is a collection of haibun and haiku sequences. She travels worldwide to give readings and poetry workshops to the disenfranchised. Awards: Snapshot Press Book Award (2005), Haiku Society of America Book Awards (2006 - 2008.). Follow Beary on twitter @shortpoemz.


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