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Contents Page: April 1, 2011, vol 7 no 1

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Theresa Williams

 

Once and for All

No looking back to the house we shared, its kitchen smelling of squash and sage, its medicine cabinet holding only peppermint lifesavers and a red pencil with the imprint of your teeth. Our bodies that were quick, quick, quick.

autumn night
plucking cold grapes
from their stems


 

In Repair

In 1868, the Steamer John Porter, up from New Orleans, suffered a broken rocker shaft and stopped at Gallipolis, bringing the yellow fever that killed 66-people. Today a man comes into the shoe repair wanting new soles on his cowboy boots and the scuff marks doctored. He's middle-aged, tired and thin. His wife was sick a long time before she died. "I got married again," the man says, making an uncomfortable sound deep in his throat. He takes out his wallet. "See, here's a picture of her right here." The cobbler takes a long look at the photograph and nods his approval. Then he delicately slips a boot over the metal form.

sandstone pillar
it marks the height
of prior floods


 


Ken Jones Comments

There's more than one kind of good haibun which is why haibun competitions with only one winner can be so misleading. It is open to each of us to find our distinctive voice, However there are some characteristics which I would expect to find in any publishable haibun, and they are well illustrated in these two by Theresa Williams.

First, the haibun should have something to say to its readers. If not a theme or story then at least some kind of truth or value on which to focus. Here Theresa has signaled the themes in her two titles. Both are about the sadness of loss, a theme which readily attracts a reader's empathy. The second and longer one is skilfully crafted around a double loss – of sixty-six people in a plague and the loss of a wife. And the haiku suggestively links the two.

Second, outstanding in each are the unsaid things, expressed symbolically and in open metaphor. Awakening the reader's imagination and then leaving space enough for him or her to do the imagining is a key feature in all genres of the haiku family. In "Once and For All" three lines of prose enable us sense in our own way what this particular life together was like. And the haiku hints at the cold, lonely aftermath. "In Repair" is more explicit, but still enables us to imagine the man's sadness. Maybe the second marriage has not been one to heal the sense of loss of the first. " 'I got married again,' the man says, making an uncomfortable sound deep in his throat," and he seems anxious to win the cobbler's approval of his second wife. The haiku's reference to marking the height of "prior floods" seems also relevant here.

Third, there's that golden rule of "Show, Don't Tell!" Skilful and memorable imagery has to do most of the talking, and then only implicitly. "A red pencil with the imprint of your teeth". The cobbler's kindness is signalled by the time he gives to looking at the photo of the second wife and his nod of approval. And that he then "delicately" slips the boot over a metal form tells us a lot.

Finally, both these haibun are about strongly felt experiences. And they are communicated so that, however subtly, they enrich the reader's life. They tell three sad stories, and yet somehow they make the sadness in our lives more bearable. This is one of the blessings of literature. And the haibun really worth publishing ARE literature – not just anecdotes, personal reminiscing, or entertaining narratives.

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