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April 2017, vol 13 no 1

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Bob Lucky

Random Praise: Melissa Allen's "What I Read, What I Didn't"

In our last issue, featured writer Glenn G. Coats wrote that as an editor he is looking for passionate writing, that he wants "to be startled by all the elements of a haibun (title, prose, haiku, tanka)." Being startled is not the same as being shocked. Occasionally a writer will try to shock, but more often than not it's merely transgression for transgression's sake and serves no literary purpose in the haibun. The haibun that startle you are those that, as Coats points out, compel you to read them again and help you "to learn something new about what it is like to be a human being."

The Random Praise for this issue goes to Melissa Allen's "What I Read, What I Didn't" because it's a haibun about how humans can find a glimmer of hope in just about anything – despair, illness, boredom, even hopelessness. Maybe not a glimmer of hope so much as a strategy to endure. The speaker/narrator in this haibun learns she has a serious medical condition in "Chapter One" and considers finding a new doctor or perhaps getting a second opinion. (The haibun is divided into four chapters.) In the second chapter, we learn of the speaker/narrator's relationship with a man, we see two people negotiating the detours a problem in a relationship can erect. In the third chapter, we're at a chemo or radiation session, a treatment of some kind. In the last chapter, we meet the new doctor.

The haibun progresses a bit like a novel that's been shrunk to a short short story. What moves it all forward, what keeps you reading is the speaker/narrator's voice and curiosity – curiosity that turns every moment of her life into a narrative or the possibility of a narrative. And story-telling is how we make meaning of our lives. It's also a way to distract ourselves, in this case away from the pain and the reality of her condition. The other side of story-telling is reading. The speaker/narrator is reading her world and wondering what it all means. Your task, Dear Reader, is to take the indeterminate ending of this haibun and do a little meaning construction of your own.