The World Rights Itself: A Comment on Peter Newton's Haibun
Michael McClintock, who has thought much on the subject, recently called haibun "an anecdotal form."* It would be hard to argue, given the preponderance of examples one is likely to come across. It's true, haibun are often snapshots of moments of emotional significance, recollected or imagined into prose and clinched with a snatch of poetry. And yet, and yet . . .
There are some few who have carved out spaces in haibun that we recognize as their turf: Brynne McAdoo currently owns the market for erotically charged haibun, Hortensia Anderson has made much of her ability to permit her readers to empathize with her physical pain, Glenn G. Coats has evinced a hardscrabble Virginia boyhood with felicity, Bob Lucky has helped us enter Chinese and now Abyssinian cultures. And so on.
This is not to say the whole of it, of course. Haibun contains within it the full range of literary possibilities, and need not typecast itself so early in its English-language lifetime. Haibun awaits its fictive avatar, who will transform what seems small and casual and incidental to us now into something grand and encompassing, though not necessarily longer or denser. Just better.
Peter Newton is new to the genre, and it's difficult at this point to have any sense of what his final range will be. But he has an easy way with a story that compels our interest and attention, as well as an eye for the telling detail, remark or incident. There is a consistency to his demeanor as a writer, which is not to say the pieces don't find their individual voices—more that we come to trust ourselves in his hands early on, and he never violates that trust. Is this "anecdotal haibun?" I suppose it is, but it's also good storytelling, a command of style, and a knowingness about human behavior that doesn't wear thin. If one of the manifestations of haibun is as an anecdotal poetry, then let's chisel it to its finest performance. Newton's comfortable and accomplished pieces do just that.
And of course if we believe there is more to be had, let's explore that as well. I look forward to the time when Newton—and many others—broaden their, and our, horizons, and to the time when McClintock's statement no longer holds true.
* Michael McClintock, On Contemporary Haibun 12: A Workmanlike Addition to a Long-lived Series, Haibun Today 5:2 June 2011.