Bill Waters ~~ Haiku

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On Jeff Streeby’s haibun book Wile

Jeff Streeby, Wile: Sketches from Nature, Great Falls, MT: Buttonhole Press, 2017, 48pp. Suggested donation: $15 for limited print edition. Free e-book also available. Both can be obtained at Jeff Streeby’s Website.

Wile, a collection of haibun by poet Jeff Streeby, contains 27 short pieces that run a page or two each — concentrated, but not abbreviated. Each haibun tells a complete little story, a window into a man’s life that has been lived in close contact with nature (and human nature).

Trapping is the main thread that runs through this book, and the terrain spans the once-Wild West and reaches up into Alaska. By the end of Wile, readers will know a good deal about types of traps — blind set, flat set, walk-through, step-down, castor mound, and others — and how to lay them, as well as something of the animals who meet their ends there. Readers will gain insights into the ways of coyote, bobcat, fox, raccoon, mink, muskrat, and beaver.

The acts of trapping in the book, whether for wildlife management or pelts, exhibit no malice but do display plenty of cold cunning. Prey is viewed with detachment and a certain grim humor, and the scenes the author sketches, whether majestic or intimate, use a measure of grittiness both to dull the edge of beauty and to polish it. But the descriptions are neither grisly nor gratuitous; this is artful writing, not a horror show.

Trapping animals is only half the story, though. Trap-related haibun alternate with a variety of other experiences: visits to a 19th-century pioneer farm site in Iowa and an overgrown riverside holding in Michigan, driving a big rig through flash floods and blizzards, observing winter in Potawotamie country and spring in the land of the Ottawa, and acting as a bouncer at a cowboy bar, to name a few.

Wile, then, is partly a naturalist’s manual, a dispossessed cowboy’s memoir, and a love letter to nature — for example, this lyrical depiction of a sunrise in spring:

. . . these veils of cool fog wearing thin, tattering, the dew beading on the dogwood, the fox sedge, the winterberry. A profusion of fragrances drawing out the early bees who hum now among the alexanders and the meadow rue. A red squirrel chittering in the top of the one black walnut tree.

Or this passage, from a different daybreak:

My Banty rooster from his perch in the chicken coop is calling the sun up out of the dark again. In the next breath, he will praise himself according to his excellent greatness for the daily success of this most mighty act. With the same song, different verse, two strutting turkey toms chant his descant from the brush down by the river.

Like his prose, many of the author’s haiku also capture the wonder of the natural world. They range from the musical (using assonance, consonance, and internal rhyme) . . .

The willow killer . . .
bargello of yellow leaves
decks the Pere Marquette

. . . to the strongly sensory . . .

Sweetgrass, juniper,
sage and pine, black cottonwood—
spring’s fragrant resins.

. . . to the outright magical:

Whitetail season . . .
between one breath and the next
a buck in the clearing

Time spent with this intriguing collection of haibun is like a visit with a fascinating, somewhat world-weary uncle who has lived close to the land he loves and is as contemplative as he is knowledgeable.

Published in Haibun Today: A Haibun and Tanka-Prose Journal (, 3/1/18.

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On Glenn G. Coats’ haibun book Waking and Dream

waking and dream by Glenn G. Coats. Winchester, VA: Red Moon Press, 2017. RRP: $15. Pb, 128pp. ISBN 978-1-936848-82-9.

waking and dream takes its title from a haibun of the same name—a reminiscence in which a lifelong fisherman who has moved far from the trout-filled waters of his earlier years travels back in his mind to fish them once again. “My fly rods stand in a line down in the basement” he says; “a net hunches in a corner like a cat.” But who needs fishing tackle when memories are as clear as a favorite watercourse? “I work my way upstream, casting Coachmen across pools and under trees, the shadows beneath overhangs. I feel the cold current through my rubber boots, my arm working flies through the air, the steady back and forth of a saw….”

Fishing plays a prominent (though not exclusive) role in this collection: in cold weather and hot weather, from shore and afloat, with rod and spear and seine net. Used as a context and a metaphor, fishing is portrayed as both a way of life and a way of looking at life — as much a worldview as it is a sport or pastime.

Readers will find themselves among these pages even if they have never hooked a fish, though, because at its core waking and dream is about rites of passage, stages of life, and emotions common to the human experience. Along the way, readers will meet family members galore, as well as minor yet memorable characters such as a dance partner named Fay, the enigmatic Johnny Fastback, and a trespassing fisherman who is known only by his footprints.

Each haibun in this book includes between one and eight haiku. As for haiku placement, the majority come at the end of the piece, as is common—but with a twist. In nearly two dozen instances, not one but a pair of haiku end the haibun, encouraging two ways of reading those pieces: the haiku can be considered sequentially, with the second playing off the first, or in an “either/or” fashion in which readers can choose their own ending, so to speak. Whether or not this is intentional on the author’s part, it’s thought-provoking and fun.

For example, “High Water Marks”:

That night, I thought about the man who came to talk to my father at the dock; how easily my father spoke to strangers. The man who introduced himself as Jim kept a boat a dozen slips away from my father’s. He had grown up near the marshes, had fished and raked clams all his life. Jim knew how to catch snapper blues and he threw anything silver into the bay and the blues could not resist. He caught gar and kingfish which belonged farther south in the Carolinas; hoisted eels onto the pier that were thick and long as his arms. The man was twenty-eight years old and engaged to a girl who could row a boat fast as any man, knew how to work a crab trap and swam for long distances under water. It seemed like Jim had lived a long full life and I prayed to God that I too would live until I was twenty-eight. It seemed long enough at that moment.

near the sea
fill and empty

morning tide
the sand swept clean
of stories

Not only does the second haiku complement the first haiku, creating a diptych of sorts, but each haiku also could serve on its own to put a different spin on the prose part.

Another intriguing feature of this collection is that a dozen of the haibun substitute free verse for the prose portion, offering readers a somewhat different way to enter into the narrative.

For instance, “The Plow”:

They still farm
his fields,
won’t touch the
spinning through
window frames,
or chop the maple
that keeps clapboards
from drying out.
If he were here
he’d say, “Harrow it

fresh furrows
already talk
of a dry summer

Line breaks are used in this piece to create a powerful stop-action effect — “vines / spinning through / window frames” — as well as to add dramatic emphasis: “he’d say ‘Harrow it / under.’” Impressions like these could not be communicated with such economy using prose.

A captivating compilation of haibun, waking and dream will resonate with anglers and non-anglers alike because across 78 pieces this book tells a story all people can relate to: the story of life.

Published in Haibun Today: A Haibun and Tanka-Prose Journal (, 2/28/17.

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