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Volume 34.1
Spring 2003

book review

Brushwood 1
Anthology of the Nobuyuki Yuasa
International English Haibun Contest 2002


reviewed by John Stevenson

Brushwood 1: Anthology of the Nobuyuki Yuasa International English Haibun Contest 2002. (Shalford, Essex: British Haiku Society, 2002). 32 pages, 5I" x 8.25", saddle-stitched. ISBN 0-95223975. £5.00 from the British Haiku Society, Sinodun, Shalford, Essex CM7 5.5N, U.K.

This booklet reports the results of what the sponsors, the British Haiku Society, intend to be the inaugural holding of an annual English-language haibun contest. In addition to the five place-winning entries, it contains a foreword, judge’s comments, a list of titles and authors of additional commended haibun (though not the works themselves) and information about the second holding of the contest (in-hand deadline of March 31, 2003).

The fifty-three haibun entered for the 2002 contest were screened by Ken Jones, and about half of them were forwarded to Nobuyuki Yuasa for final selection. Professor Yuasa, for whom the contest is named, is a John Donne scholar and editor/translator of the Penguin Classics version of Bashô’s Oku-no-hosomichi (Narrow Road to the Deep North).

There is good news and bad news about this contest. Whatever a contest can do to stimulate interest in reading and writing haibun is all to the good. However, as the foreword notes, there is no other regular contest for (English-language) haibun on this scale. Thus, this contest has significant potential for shaping the direction of the genre, at least until other contests are organized. Those responsible have taken immediate steps to realize this potential. The instructions for next year’s contest contain both a maximum length of 1,500 words (a practical requirement if one hopes to give appropriate attention to a large number of entries) and a minimum length of 200 words. The latter is a refinement of the first year’s requirements, added by the organizers and based upon an aesthetic judgment articulated by Yuasa in his adjudication notes. “I found some entries too short. I admit that classical Japanese writers have some very short haibun, but in a contest such as this, short haibun have some disadvantage because they often give an impression of lacking volume and impact.” While it is interesting to know what the judge is looking for, the imposition of a standard that prevents contestants from attempting to move him with a stunningly effective haibun of less than 200 words seems unnecessary.

Other aesthetic points are either stated or implied in the work selected, the format requirements or the commentary. Of particular interest is the following, also from Yuasa. “One element of traditional Japanese haibun is understatement which leaves open space in its structure.… I often felt that the Western haibun had a tendency to be overcrowded. Japanese haibun are like watercolours, but Western haibun, at least at present, tend to be like oil paintings.”

The five prize-winning haibun, in ranked order, are “Apart-Together” by David Walker, “Raspados” by Michael McClintock, “Snowdrops in the Dark of a Dream” by David Cobb, “Sensei” by Margaret Chula, and “Terminal Island—Furusato” by Janeth H. Ewald. Authors of additional commended works include Pearl Elizabeth Dell, Doreen King, Michael McClintock (for three titles), Sheila Windsor and Jane Wittle.

An excerpt from Michael McClintock’s “Raspados:”

… the languid hour after dinner, tired from the world’s canning, the world’s stitching machines, the lathes and hot lights and liquid metals, the smell of grease and ozone, cement and tar, deaf from the buzzing saws, deaf from the hammering presses, deaf from drills endlessly drilling, ceaselessly laboring for that foot in the ass—

muggy night...
the child’s moon drawing
taped to the fridge



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