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January 2013, vol 8, no 4

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Ken Jones

Commentary on Claire Everett's "Under the Sun"

(click here to open "Under the Sun" in it's own window)

This haibun first attracted my attention because of its intriguing theme. Most haibun benefit from a theme, Exceptions include very short, impressionistic pieces, but also haibun of average length whose power resides in delighting and satisfying the reader by their sustained and concentrated imagery. (Examples can be found in Clare McCotter’s Black Horse Running, from Alba Publishing, 2012).

Ideally the theme should be introduced so as to stimulate the reader’s imagination by leaving enough unsaid. It then needs to be unfolded, sustained – and not side tracked – and brought to a suitable conclusion, and haiku, as well as prose will need to be put to work. So often a promising theme gets lost because the writer could not figure out where to go next, or maybe just loses interest.

Everett’s theme opens with ambiguous birdsong in the first haiku

morning dusk

a touch of curlew
in the starling’s song

and gets off to a fine annunciation. It soon becomes clear with phrases like “strangely familiar” and “will not be cast aside” that the writer’s muse has made the sudden and unannounced appearance which is typical of literary muses. With bearing “this poem which is not my own” she creates a shift which broadens the original theme of the visit of a muse when the latter “asks me to consider if anything is truly original”.

A danger in some themes is that the writer can be tempted to speculate, question and opinionate – all of which are anathema in the haiku family. Our readers want our poetry, not our opinions. At this point Claire falls briefly into temptation, with two questions in the second paragraph:

What of the Romans with their borrowed gods? What of Shakespeare, who took his inspiration from Boccacio, Brooke, Saxo Grammaticus, Holinshed, Plutarch . . .?

With the third paragraph the poetic strength of the theme begins to falter, though otherwise well and strongly sustained by the two family examples. Compare the imagery – sharpened by metaphor – in the first paragraph. There the “most alluring [birdsong] lurks on the cusp of a dream,” and the muse “clutches at the ankles of every thought, begging to be mine.” However, there is just enough poetry in that third paragraph to keep the haibun alight, for example, “as if to taste the magic before it vanished."

The three elegant haiku are instructive. In their function, these are examples of what I term ”lateral haiku.”

morning dusk

a touch of curlew
in the starling’s song

every snow angel
feels like the first . . .

little egret

rain-washed pheasant . . .
everything old
is new again

That is to say, each carries a metaphorical echo and reinforcement to the unfolding prose. All three of these haiku feature a bird or birds, reinforcing the unity of the piece as a whole. Further, the second two repeat the theme of nothing new under the sun. Lateral haiku are a valuable tool for the haibunist whose prose runs rich in imagery, and whose haiku would otherwise be almost indistinguishable from the surrounding prose.

The concluding sentence feels rather forlorn, as if the author had almost forgotten the muse who initiated the theme. Nonetheless this is a talented and interesting piece, where the poet has set herself a creative challenge.