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July 1, 2012, vol 8, no 2

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Elaine Riddell & Cynthia Rowe

Catching the Dream

The baby wakes and is fed. The toddler wakes. The baby needs changing. The toddler hits his head on the table. Someone knocks at the door. The telephone rings. Time for the next meal. The baby is put to bed. The toddler wants a story. The toddler needs a sleep. The baby wakes. The baby must be fed. . . . Finally night falls. The children are both in bed. She puts her feet up.

wave sets . . .
tucking white-edged hibiscus
into her sarong

Prose by Elaine Riddell - Haiku by Cynthia Rowe

Collaborative Haibun

A Commentary by Jim Kacian

I recently had the opportunity to offer a haibun workshop in New Zealand, and had the luxury of working with a cadre of strong and experienced writers, and so was able to explore territory not often possible in workshops. I had created beforehand a small workbook which featured previously published haibun, but with a twist: in some instances I printed only the prose part of the haibun, and in other instances only the haiku. We discussed some of the myriad ways in which the poet might have proceeded from the one given item in each case, and then each participant wrote his/her own version of that haibun, before turning the page to see what the poet had actually done. It's always a great challenge to produce quality work on the spot, but the "new" versions of these pieces were charming, competent, and often remarkably cogent.

One such example is "Catching the Dream," co-authored by Elaine Riddell and Cynthia Rowe. In this instance, I had supplied only Cynthia's haiku, and we discussed it in some detail before we set to work. I had chosen the poem for its "exotic" aspect, which offers its own challenges to quality writing in a genre so concerned with quotidian matters as haiku (or haibun). Finding a way to ground such a poem without simply reiterating its exoticness I took to be quite a task. But to accommodate the conception of "wave sets" as well I thought even more challenging than usual. (When asked what wave sets were, I declined to explicate, feeling that besides its usual reading as an observation of the nature of the periodicity of waves, other unexpected readings might emerge, and I didn't want to squelch them.)

The results were amazing. More than a dozen writers offered their versions of this haibun, and all were of a very high order. They ran the gamut of emotions from fear to exaltation, from sorrow to solace, and both embraced the content and veered wildly from it. It was a heady experience, especially for me, far outpacing any expectations I might have had in advance.

In particular I want to laud Elaine's version. She crafts the prose to make a "wave set" of the daily activities of mothering, a nice nesting of concepts. And following the detailed regularity (not to say monotony) of that routine, the poem fairly leaps off the page. But not in any automatic way. I find myself asking questions of the result: is the poem a "reward" for tolerating the prose? Is this a vacation, or simply life at the seaside (I loitered in Fiji for a couple days following this workshop, and certainly there were mothers following just such a routine, to whom the waves and the sarong were a normal part of the backdrop to their regimen)? What is the nature of reward anyway, and isn't the highest purpose of life somewhat closer to the routine than to the vacation? So I found surprising depths in what might seem a straightforward, though telling, causal relationship. (I append her original piece, originally published in contemporary haibun online 5:1, in its entirety below for comparison.)

I'd like to recommend that you try your own hands at collaborative haibun. It can be electric to combine the best impulses of two good writers in a common goal. Surprising things can happen, and at worst you'll learn to think outside your own brain when you like. And the results might be surprisingly charged. I hope to see just such work in this venue soon.


Sun Music

Cynthia Rowe

We play Spanish music on the stereo, drape our bodies in tender white linen. The walls are white. The sun on our skin is white hot when we venture onto the esplanade, blinking. Surfers saunter past in flower-scattered shorts with boards slung under their arms, sunscreen smeared on ears and lips. While we lick sorbet, lemony, tangy, cool as ice dripping on a grain of sand.

wave sets . . .
tucking white-edged hibiscus
into her sarong

Published in contemporary haibun online 5:1 March 2009.