Review of Paresh Tiwari, Raindrops Chasing Raindrops
Raindrops Chasing Raindrops: haibun & hybrid poems by Paresh Tiwari. New Delhi: i write imprint, 2017. Ru 300, US$ 10; Cdn$ 12.50 at Amazon.
In his introduction, Paresh Tiwari makes a confession. This is not surprising once you've read Raindrops Chasing Raindrops; the tone is primarily confessional. Even the more speculative pieces hint of a secret being shared. The confession in the introduction regards the form of prosimetric poetry he uses to bare his soul, the haibun. It's really a warning: some readers may not consider all of these pieces to be haibun. He needn't have bothered. Tiwari has in a relatively short time established himself as a haibun writer of distinction. I don't think there's one piece in this book that couldn't be called a haibun.
He claims that "In an attempt to remain honest to the story, I have at times pushed the limits of this delicate form" (10). There are two things to note in this claim. First, I don't think the form is a delicate as he imagines. Haibun are showing up in a variety of venues these days, and some of the submissions I read as the editor of this journal definitely push numerous limits. And some that I accept might certainly be considered experimental.
Second, I suspect remaining "honest to the story" has less to do with pushing the limits of the form as acknowledging the artifice of all art, the difference between 'telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth' and just telling the bits that support the truth the artist is trying to convey. As an Amy Hempel narrator says, and I quote or paraphrase in almost every haibun essay and book review I write, we leave a lot out when we tell the truth. What makes confessional poetry work, in part, is the reader trying to figure out what's true, what really happened, and what's the truth, what the writer is trying to communicate. Some readers care only about what happened or may have happened. Some readers, the so-called readers of literature, are more interested in the truth. Tiwari's honesty to the story indicates, I believe, the pursuit of truth.
Like many haibun writers, Tiwari mines his memories for stories, crafts those stories, polishes them like diamonds. (Or perhaps the haiku are the diamonds dangling from the thread of the narrative; he writes some wonderful haiku.) As the speaker of "Engram" says, "A few minutes later, the train rolls out, like always, leaving me behind with a duffel bag bursting at the seams with memories" (68), a clever title if ever there was one. Haibun seem to deal with memories or, somewhat like haiku, a specific moment. Sometimes, a specific moment triggers a memory. This is the domain of this book.
And if we think of the book in such geographic terms, we have to mention its cultural locale – India. This is an important layer in the book, but it's mostly images – lime-washed walls, ceiling fans, words such as aayat and ghee etc. That's not as important as the terrain and the terroir. Almost every haibun in this book is planted in the soil of a relationship, and in one way or another they explore the terrain, the highs and lows, of those relationships. This is where the confessional aspect of the haibun shine.
Perhaps the most powerful section in the book is "Postcards from the past." The pain of loving and/but not-loving another human being is palpable. This section is almost painful to read. The death of one's parents, the disintegration of a marriage, and the mixed emotions of becoming a parent are universal in scope. However, this is where confessional writing skates a thin line between the emotional vulnerability of the writer and the emotional manipulation of the reader.
"The mirror of erised" is a beautiful haibun that is marred by its ending. The title, once again, is brilliant, a Harry Potter allusion in a haibun about his child, but the tacked on paragraph after the haiku – "The doctors say he has difficulty processing and integrating his senses. How is a father supposed to feel?" – feels intrusive if factually true, or manipulative if serving the truth.
That kind of dissonance is rare. Most of the haibun ring 'truth'. And they are affecting. The fact that this is the kind of book that can be recommended to writers of haibun who will appreciate the craft Tiwari demonstrates as well as to readers who wish to learn more about the craft of writing haibun is high praise. And – possibly this is where haibun is headed – this will appeal to readers who like good literature no matter what the form is.
Editor's Note: Paresh Tiwari is a writer, poet and a cartoonist in the body of a Naval Officer. He has been widely published in haiku genre journals and mainstream poetry journals. His first collection of haiku and haibun, An inch of Sky, was published in winter of 2014 and is being used as source material for haiku and haibun at the Indiana Writers Centre, USA. Notably, Tiwari is a Pushcart Prize and Touchstone Award nominee and has won multiple peer-reviewed haiku competitions. Tiwari is also the serving haibun editor of the literary magazine Narrow Road, a tri-annual publication focused on short forms and including haibun.
Narrow Road uses an Internet technology that makes for easy online reading from iPads and computers.