July 7th, 2009

Egrets Reading

Speculative Haibun

I’m fond of speculative haibun. When speculative haiku fails, it often fails for being too cryptic. On the scifaiku list, there are wonderful long links of scifaiku, where each poem links to an overall theme known by all who are participating. But sometimes, a speculative haiku that causes me to sigh “ah” on the list will lose some of its sparkle and genius when the poem is lifted away from the chain and shown to a non-participant, who has missed all that has gone on before.

A speculative haibun can solve this problem, because it allows some space to set up the universe the scifaiku resides inside.

Several years ago, I used to lament the fact that not enough speculative haibun is being published. This is rapidly changing, and several examples have landed in my mailbox over the past several months.

First, the March/April 2009 issue of Star*Line contains three, including one of my own. The prose in Terrie Leigh Relf’s “The XenodateT Center for Physical Enhancement” reads like a lively advertisement aimed at intergalactic singles unlucky on the dating scene. Even though my haiku editorial eye longed to rearrange the haiku so it had only one cut, ultimately Relf’s combination of prose and haiku works effectively and it's a fine piece.

I like Shawn Bowman’s “Layover” even better. In his prose there is little to clue the reader that the scene is anything but an airport, train station, or bus station, but the haiku makes us realize it’s a teleport, along with the reason for the layover. It links to and shifts away from the prose, leading the reader smoothly to the element of surprise.

As to the third, I don’t feel comfortable reviewing my own “Falstaff Revisited” but I will say that it probably works better for fellow fans of The Bard.

The May 2009 issue of Scifaikuest has seven haibun, poems by David C. Kopaska-Merkel, Greg Schwartz, Thane Thompson, Terrie Leigh Relf, Tim Conally, Fonda Bell Miller, and John J. Dunphy. David K-M is the featured Scifaijin for this issue and his section includes another haibun and a piece of tanka prose.

My two favorites are Greg Schwartz’s “Alien Seed” and John J. Dunphy’s “The Illegal.” Although the title clued me that Greg’s climatic haiku was coming, it still left me satisfied. Greg’s poem is a story about a pick-up bar in an area plagued with UFO sightings and a resulting one-night stand. The half-alien child in the speaker’s womb puts her through agony. It would seem that not all half-alien/half-humans are as easily carried to full term as Spock, which makes a lot more sense if you think about it.

Dunphy has perfected the art of “alien” scifaiku and speculative haibun. Even when I think I’ve read all he could possibly write, he surprises me again. “The Illegal” starts off describing a very earthlike scene, an illegal immigrant working hard to make ends meet, in the face of hostility from legal residents. Like Bowman’s piece in Star*Line, there’s little in the prose to indicate to the reader that the poem’s about an extraterrestrial until the haiku. If there’s a weakness in this fine piece of writing, it might be that the political message is a bit too transparent. Yet, when I reached the haiku and saw the alien’s four hands, I knew that John had done it again.

There are other haibun here I could wax about, but perhaps I’ll leave a few for you to read in case you decide to get your own copy.