haibun

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July 2016, vol 12 no 2

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Random Praise: Judson Evans' "Fava Bean Soup."

Bob Lucky

Doris Lynch's comments in the last Featured Writer were as much about reading haibun as writing haibun. You can't have one without the other. As Lynch points out, "it requires a lifetime of experimenting, reading, forming and reforming opinions on what is good, what not so, pushing in new directions, always starting [a]new, writing in the now."

In reading Lynch's observations on haibun, a few phrases kept calling me: travel vignette; patchwork biography; writing in the now. I saw a connection there. Travel writing is a form of memoir. And like ethnography, there's a bit of 'being there, writing here', as Clifford Geertz once described the ethnographic present. Which is why I've chosen Judson Evans' "Fava Bean Soup" for this issue's Random Praise.

Evans' haibun highlights a cultural encounter in Greece, where his next move isn't clear. The prose is full of observations of the festival the author is attending, and tension builds as each observation doesn't give a clear sign, or the signs have no clear meanings. In other words, what is happening is describable and sensible but not necessarily comprehensible. Evans establishes this with the repetition of what he sees, a fair bit of kissing, and claims of knowledge about the ritual of the festival, none of which is enough too help him reach his goal. (The following is an excerpt):

Tiny Greek flags flapping blue and white stripes from lines strung across the courtyard, the priest kissing an enormous Bible threaded through the knot-hole of the miniscule white-washed church. Women kissing the Bible, women kissing women, men kissing the Bible, men kissing men. I knew the etiquette of the ancient symposium. I knew the multiple ancient Greek words for love. The roles, inflections, gradations.

This incomprehensibility is the obstacle that stands in the way of the author and his companion tasting the soup for which they had come. That's good dramatic tension. In the end, however, they were "observers not participants." And that admission gives the author/narrator credibility. For anyone who's been in similar cross-cultural situations, it's easy to relate to that 'knowing-not knowing' sensation in which the soup is always just out of reach.


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