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Volume 33.3
Autumn 2002

book review

Summer Dreams: American Haibun & Haiga, Volume 3
edited by Jim Kacian, Bruce Ross & Ken Jones


reviewed by Randy Brooks

Summer Dreams: American Haibun & Haiga, Volume 3, edited by Jim Kacian, Bruce Ross, and Ken Jones (Winchester, Va.: Red Moon Press, 2002). 128 pages, 5.5" x 8.5", paper, perfectbound. ISBN: 1-893959-27-9. $14.95 (plus $3.00 postage) from the publisher at PO Box 2461, Winchester, VA 22504-1661.

The third annual anthology of haiga and haibun from Red Moon Press, Summer Dreams: American Haibun & Haiga, builds on the promise of growing interest in these sister arts—prose and visual arts linked with haiku. Adding Ken Jones of Wales to the editorial team of Jim Kacian and Bruce Ross, this anthology becomes much more international than American, reflecting the shrinking global village of the contemporary haiku community. Perhaps the series title needs to be changed since a majority of the works cannot be characterized appropriately as American. I am pleased with the sense of collaboration between artists, haiku writers, and editors represented in this collection.

Summer Dreams includes "small suites of work" from individual authors, which give us more of an introduction to their work than we would get from a single piece. The range and quality of these authors varies a great deal, which suggests that the editors are willing to take risks with their selections in order to represent the diversity of current approaches. Especially noteworthy are haibun by Michael McClintock, Cor van den Heuvel, Jim Kacian, naia, and David Cobb—all writing a fairly traditional haibun with rich atmosphere-building prose followed by an indirectly linked haiku. Michael Dylan Welch, too, has an effective tanka prose sequence based on reactions to the September 11 terrorist attack, which establishes an interesting rhythm between the prose and tanka. These experienced writers know the difference between prose and poetry, and their work demonstrates the fun of linking the two.

The haibun by these authors work well because a gap is left between the haiku and the prose—an empty, incomplete expression that invites the reader to enter into that space and join in the creation of the aesthetic moment. Other haibun tell us too much, leave no details out, or explain the unspoken elements of the haiku. The prose serves only to prepare us for the haiku, or the haiku simply demonstrates or merely gives an example of what the prose asserted. A bad haiku cannot be saved by being placed in the middle of compelling prose, just as faulty commentary cannot be rescued by a zippy haiku. Bad haiku will torpedo a haibun even if the prose is exemplary, and the haiku must pass the test of quality even when the surrounding prose is bad.

When haibun works well, the prose breathes life into the place, the things, or the person being written about, then we leap off that context into another level of consciousness or awareness. That leap, made without being certain of the landing spot in the reader’s mind, is what makes the best haibun worthy of reading again and again and repeated imaginative completion by multitudes of readers. This kind of leaping beyond the tone of the prose is what I seek in haibun, so most of those haibun that place a haiku between every other paragraph do not work for me. I like the travel journal approach to haibun, and I understand the model of Bashô’s Narrow Road to the Deep North.

Some of the longer haibun in this collection have weak haiku (like the internal links of a renga) that are only a comment, a single image, or a statement expressed in three lines. Many of the long haibun strike me as egocentric autobiographies with passing commentary haiku. Perhaps the longer haibun-sequence is one of the English-language haikai arts we need to work at to achieve a mature degree of achievement. I do not find most of the current examples satisfactory in this regard.

The haiga in this collection are contributed both by leading contemporary practitioners (such as Jeanne Emrich, Susan Frame, and Kunihara Shimizu) and from relative beginners (Angelee Deodhar, Tom Clausen, and Karen Kubara). Unfortunately, the poor quality of the haiga reproductions makes the majority of the haiku illegible. I can read the haiku in only half of the forty-two haiga presented in this collection. Fortunately, the interesting haiga by Borivoj Bukva includes translations into English. Of course, it would be a much more expensive production if the publishers were to create plates instead of using digital halftones for each work of art, but the original quality of the artwork is difficult to appreciate in these fuzzy, dotted versions.

Moreover, many of the originals are beautiful full-color haiga, available on line in all their glory, so it is especially disappointing to see them here as mere shadows of the original creations. The artists employ a wide range of media, including traditional painting and computer graphic software to create these haiga. This anthology gives a sampling of the work, but to see the originals as the artists intended them one must to seek them out on the Web, or in other publications. For example, the haiga by Kuniharu Shimizu illustrating Santôka’s eccentric Zen haiku are beautiful because of their use of color to suggest the tone of the haiku. View the originals at:

www.mahoroba. ne.jp/~kuni/haiga_gallery/hai_jin25/ santoka_more.html

I recommend that you buy this third anthology in the Red Moon Press series featuring contemporary haibun and haiga. It is a valuable addition to your collection. If enough readers buy this edition, its continued success might help Red Moon Press afford a higher quality production for next year’s anthology.

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