hosts: Vidya Shankar & Shalini Pattabiraman
A Thursday Feature.
poet of the month: Andrew Riutta
14 December 2023
The Featured Poet for this month is Andrew Riutta. When Terri L. French was featured in this blog in December last year, she said of Andrew, “I love the honesty and humility of Andrew Riutta.” Through this month, as you get to read samples of Andrew Riutta’s work, you will be able to identify, beyond language structures and themes, a certain “honesty and humility” as their underlying quality which gives his poems that raw, inimitable flavour.
Andrew Riutta was born and raised in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. He is a grateful father and son; brother, uncle, and nephew. His essay, "The Myths of Manhood," from the collection, This I Believe: On Fatherhood (Jossey-Bass) was featured on Public Radio International's Bob Edwards Show in 2012. His latest book, blessed: Modern Haibun on Almost Every Despair (Red Moon Press – 2022) was shortlisted for the Touchstone Distinguished Book Awards and won a H.S.A. Merit Book Award for best haibun collection.
I’m finally going to give them a try, these generic cigarettes that were gifted to me last week by a Native American friend from Canada. An NHL-certified ice technician by trade, he’d moved here to northern Michigan after accepting a job offer to teach his traditional language to children. But he’s already gone back. Because — even in small towns —politics always trumps traditions. Before he left, he handed me these smokes, as well as some frozen fish sticks and chicken fingers.
Behind thick glasses, his eyes beheld all things with an equal respect, making a fish stick no less sacred to him than a beaded medicine bag. In fact, tonight, I will microwave those fish sticks and offer a prayer while devouring them. Maybe even chant. After I’m finished, I’ll step out into the light of the waxing moon and smoke. Coyotes will begin calling to one another across the cedar swamp and the air will smell of smoldering braids of sweetgrass. A hot ash will fall from my cigarette and be caught by the earth. But — before its glow has completely faded — a handful of ancient ghosts will lean in from out of the surrounding darkness to try to warm their hands.
autumn arrives . . .
I bend to greet
a stone in the mud
blessed: Modern Haibun on Almost Every Despair
(Red Moon Press)
Observations on the haibun:
Who would have thought that a poem on deciding to try out a cigarette that did not have the value of branding would have underlying tones of discrimination? “Because — even in small towns —politics always trumps traditions.” What the writer also says here, though not in black and white, is: Because — even in small, personal decisions —politics always trumps traditions.
Here's a second haibun.
The Frugal Chef
For LaVern "Moose" Clewley
We were discussing the state of the world when I told this real caring woman I’d recently met about one of my best friends and how he’d pretty much been all alone through this Covid, global-crisis business. No job. Very few groceries in the fridge, and the ones he did have, just terrible junk. Plus, Type-2 Diabetes. Lights off most of the time. Black mold in the corners. Hardcore porn on the computer. Naturally, she expressed sincere concern over his situation
and its recipes for despair. Or even suicide. But I told her that he would be just fine — because he is like a rat, a Michigan basement rat. “My dear, he can chew his way out of a black hole,” I said. “Or even Hell. He’s done it many times before and he’ll surely do it again, only, this time, he may need to add a few of his own bones for flavor.”
sprouting potatoes —
the afternoon alive
blessed: Modern Haibun on Almost Every Despair
(Red Moon Press)
For this week, my focus is on how the writer works with time.
What captures my attention in ‘Eugene’ is how the writer glides into the future tense. He begins with the present tense, then goes on to talk about things that happened in the past — a bit of background story — before going into the future tense. A point to note is that the narrative has not moved into future time. The writer is still in the present time; he creates a sense of immediacy by bringing the future into the present. And when the “handful of ancient ghosts” make an appearance, the scene is timeless.
The sense of immediacy and timelessness continues to the haiku. The haiku is in the present tense but it talks of a future time. “Autumn” indicates a passage of time which has made the writer older and wiser because he “bend(s) to greet / a stone in the mud”. But this future time has immediacy because “autumn arrives…”.
‘The Frugal Chef’, by contrast, is written almost entirely in the past tense. But there are two dimensions of past time here: the first one is the “discussion” the writer has with “this real caring woman (he)’d recently met”, and the second one being what his friend had to go through during the “Covid, global-crisis business”. And while a dialogue is a great tool for immediacy, what interests me is the use of the present participle in the haiku.
VS: Immediacy is an important aspect of haibun. Are there any set patterns by which a writer can bring in immediacy to a haibun? Could you please elucidate on the topic?
AR: For me, and I'm sure this will strike most as pretty odd, but I guess poems themselves are kind of like ghosts that tell me what clothes they want to wear in their wish to be known---and what voice they want to own (past, present, or future; first or third person; soft or exclamatory). This is about as close to a set pattern as I follow. I may have a particular manner or style in mind of how I want to present my moment or emotion, but then maybe the haibun tells me it doesn't want to wear khakis and a colorful polo but instead stained Carhart's and an old brown flannel. Sometimes stomping its feet. But no matter the particular voice, I've found that there are times I seem able to establish a strong sense of immediacy by really piling on the layers of details---audaciously---which in turn brings the moment to flower, hopefully, in all of its capacities and dimensions right before the reader. The piece 'Eugene' owns some of this approach, in the second paragraph in particular.
VS: The more I read your work, the more I am enthralled by the genuineness that's interwoven through every aspect of the poems that make your haibun so superior. Which brings me to ask the question that's been playing on my mind: Have your poems ever been rejected? What would you like to tell our members, especially the new poets, about their work getting rejected?
AR: I have been rejected many, many times over the years. Even a few pieces this past year. And thank goodness they were. Frankly, they probably weren't nearly done cooking. Or my enthusiasm within the poetic outflowing allowed too many inconsistencies---wrinkles and folds in the fabric. If not downright tears. But even bad poems are a necessary part of the process. Actually, bad poems are great. For myself, I know that I'm writing the bad poems away so that there will be room on the landing strip when a potentially impactful one arrives. So, I don't beat myself up anymore. Also, I understand that just because a haibun's been accepted doesn't mean it's good . . . and, likewise, one that's been rejected doesn't automatically qualify it as being terrible. You won't please everyone, so don't set out to. Just work hard (write hard), be yourself and true to yourself. You will hit your confident stride.
Prompt for members:
How do you think you can manipulate time dimensions to create an effect of immediacy? Study the two examples and use the tips given by Andrew to write your haibun.
Haibun outside this prompt can also be posted!
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Important: Since we're swamped with submissions, and our editors are only human, mistakes can happen. Please, please, remember to put your name, followed by your country, below each poem, even after revisions. It helps our editors; they won't have to type it in, saving them from potential typos. Thanks a ton!
1. Only two haibun per poet per prompt. Please put your name and country of residence under your poem, it makes the editors' work easier. Thanks.
2. Share your best-polished pieces.
3. Please do not post something in a hurry or something you have just written.
Let it simmer for a while.
4. When poets give suggestions and if you agree to them - post your final edited version on top of your original version.
5. Don't forget to give feedback on others' poems.
We are delighted to open the comment thread for you to share your unpublished haibun (within 300 words) to be considered for inclusion in the haikuKATHA monthly journal.