A Review of Sonam Chhoki and Mike Montreuil's, Mapping Absences .
Sonam Chhoki and Mike Montreuil, Mapping Absences. Éditions de petits nuages, 2019, paperback, 41 pages. Available as a download at The HaIku Foundation.
Mapping Absences, a chapbook collection of 24 haibun, tanka prose and tanbun by Sonam Chhoki and Mike Montreuil, illustrates well the possibilities in the growing trend of collaborative prosimetria. Chhoki and Montreuil have been collaborating for a few years; other collaborative writing pairs of haibun and tanka prose that come to mind are Lew Watts - Charles Trumbull and Patricia Prime - Giselle Maya.
I approach collaborative writing with awe and confusion, partly because I admire those who can do it and partly because I’m not that familiar with it as a reader or a writer. I don’t go out of my way to read renga or renku or rengay or other collaborative forms. I’m attracted to voice, and sometimes there’s static in collaborative writing. As a writer, I have even less experience; years ago I was involved in a collaborative tanka prose piece that was a source of pleasure as well as, well, occasional confusion and frustration.
I read through this chapbook several times with my limitations in mind. I now see Mapping Absences as my primer in collective haibun and tanka prose. In particular, I’m beginning to appreciate the possibilities authors have to play with point of view and voice.
In several of the longer pieces, which tend to be more narrative than lyrical, the voices of Chhoki and Montreuil meld into that of one speaker or narrator. “The Raid” (14), “On a Day When Nothing Went Right” (24), and “The City” (26) are good examples of this unified voice. Enhancing the unified voice in those pieces is a unified narrative. Both poets build on the narrative of the initial contributor. In some pieces, the thematic links take precedence over the narrative, as in “A Meal for Days.” In this case, the voices of the poets are distinct, and the content clearly shifts between rice fields in Bhutan and pre-fab houses in Canada. In the introduction, both authors touch on the challenge (and the reward) of the cross-cultural aspect of this enterprise.
As a haibunist, I’m familiar with the idea of thematic link and shift between prose and haiku. Many of the tanbun here do this very successfully. While some of the tanbun are narrative or contain a skeleton of a narrative, such as “Sailor’s Delight” (37); others are more lyrical and dependent on a thematic link or shared imagery, such as “Much like Life” (36). A sense of unity prevails.
I’ll leave you here with a tanbun (23) and point you to the link above, where you can download your own copy and enjoy more of Chhoki and Montreuil’s work.
Sonam Chhoki and Mike Montreuil
They Want to Possess his Dreams
A rant is a rant is a rant. What happens if you are right?
a Shirley Temple
On the way home he is drawn by a glow in the bell tower of the derelict church.
from his lawn chair
He can’t shake off the suspicion they want to possess his dreams.
the street lamps
seething with moths
On the morning news, talk of another wave of genocide in a country people will soon forget.
the loneliness spreading
thick as fog
Editor’s note: The term ‘tanbun’ was created by Larry Kimmel in 1997 to connote a short haibun where the prose is limited to 31 or fewer syllables, and the haiku, as usual, to 17 or fewer syllables and the tanka to 31 or fewer syllables. It was originally called a tibun, meaning tiny haibun. It is felt that the conciseness of this form provides an opportunity for a lyrical expression of a type not normally found in a normal length haibun. (paraphrase from Larry Kimmel, from a river years from here, Winfred Press, Colrain, MA.)