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January 2017, vol 12 no 4

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Random Praise: Bob Lucky on Peter Newton's "The Ascension"

Hybrid poetry, of which haibun is a type/example/form, is a term as misleading as fusion cuisine. Both have been around for centuries – take haibun as an example – but are often spoken of as the newest and most exciting kids on the block. Why? Because hybridization can make things new again, or at least fresh again, or can surprise your ear or palate with an unexpected combination or variation. English-language haibun, one can argue, is itself a sub-hybrid of the Japanese haibun. Translation can have that effect.

If you read the haibun venues regularly, you may notice that at times there's much of a sameness in the fare – first person, present tense, memoir or vignette, a block of prose with a haiku. And those could well be the established conventions of the haibun form. Can we spice it up without merely innovating for the sake of innovation, without losing touch with the haibun aesthetic? Matthew Caretti, the featured writer in CHO 12:3, asked how we might "play with convention, bending its rules to the distinctive needs of the piece?"

For this Random Praise, I've chosen Peter Newton's "The Ascension" from our previous issue as an example of one way to play with convention – breaking up the haiku with blocks of prose, and an unrhymed tercet in this haibun. This isn't a technique that hasn't been used before, but it's one that rarely seems more than an affectation. In other words, Newton's use of this technique does bend the rules to the need of the piece; in this case, replicating the visual staccato of a train passing a window, as well as the speed with which one's final moments approach – the "feeling of being an astronaut at lift off."