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September 2017, vol 13 no 3

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Bob Lucky

Random Praise: Kathryn J. Stevens' "Things to Leave Out of the Obituary"

Sonam Chhoki, our featured writer in CHO 13.2, explained what attracted her to haibun: the sparse prose and its relationship to the haiku, which reminded her of the Bhutanese Lö-zey narrative; its suitability for exploring grief; and "how the condensed form offers the possibility to elide multiple realities and interpretations of seemingly familiar situations."

As for advice on the craft of writing haibun, Chhoki pointed to the importance of a good title, the felicitous use of language, and the ability to subject our work to criticism and understand we needn't lose our own voice in doing so.

For this Random Praise, it's easiest to focus on a good title such as Kathryn J. Stevens' "Things to Leave out of the Obituary." As Chhoki notes, "The title is an opportunity for a writer to be inventive, to lead, misdirect, hint or tease and make a haibun distinctive." And Stevens' tanka prose piece (ten couplets capped with a tanka) does that.

The title, based on Joyce Sutphen's "Things You Didn't Put on Your Resumé," let's the reader know they are more than likely about to read a list poem. However, the fact of the obituary creates a bit of hesitancy in the reader, a moment in which she tries to imagine what that list might contain. The title gives Stevens the opportunity to be inventive in the list, and she doesn't disappoint, from the multilingual grandmother who couldn't boil water to taking photos of vinyl floors in public restrooms. The last couplet treats the final vanity at the end of life: a chance to get into the newspaper and a good obituary photo. And the tanka at the end is a nice touch of, if not revenge, getting in the last word perhaps.