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January 2018, vol 13 no 4

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Bob Lucky

Random Praise: Claire Everett's "Grace"

Editors, often in a hurry or sometimes just lazy, throw out the term 'link and shift' as if they and everyone else knows exactly what they're talking about. It is simple on one level, but it can be difficult to grasp and apply at other levels. Rich Youmans, the featured writer in our last issue of CHO 13.3, has a lyrical description of the term that is helpful in visualizing the connection between the prose and haiku in a haibun:

[H]aiku … serve an essential role: They create leaps that, rather than interrupting or dangling like useless appendages, actually enrich the reading experience. If the prose is a river, then the haiku are islands that permit the reader to pause, to dwell, to contemplate, to reflect and see anew. They offer different vantage points and new strains of thought—maybe a dash of humor, or a touch of wonder or poignancy or mystery—that complement and deepen the prose. And because they are poems, they have a charge, a succinct potency, that can’t be achieved through prose alone.

For this Random Praise I've selected Claire Everett's "Grace" because it so clearly illustrates what Youmans has described. Without the haiku at the end, "Grace" is a simply a well-written vignette, a snapshot of a conversation between a mother and a precocious six-year old child, one the reader can see is about to proclaim her vegetarianism.

If "Grace" ended with the last line of prose – "'Do you mind if I ask . . . did this come from an animal?'" – then the reader could smile, turn the page, and move on. The story's over. However, in Youmans' words, the haiku "complement[s] and deepen[s] the prose." And now the reader feels compelled to reread the piece because it is no longer a snapshot, a vignette, but poetry (of the prosimetric kind), a haibun.

I feel that some of the best haibun are those we want to reread not just for pleasure but for additional meaning. The haiku are like keys to a safe full of surprise, insight, mystery, humor. Haiku, the ones that 'link and shift', are key to a haibun.

Go back to CHO 13.3 and read "Grace" once without the haiku and once with the haiku. I wouldn't be surprised if you read it yet again.