hosts: Vidya Shankar & Shalini Pattabiraman
A Thursday Feature.
poet of the month: Andrew Riutta
21 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.
Yesterday while driving close to sunset, I hit an already dead gray squirrel that was in the road and, despite Sergei Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 3 on the radio, could so profoundly hear and feel its bones being obliterated even further between the blacktop and tire, as though they were little more than brittle pieces of shale. This was only a short while after an old friend I'd been chatting with at the library told me that her husband would likely have to have his foot amputated due to a terribly infected wound. And that his mind had as of late become a dark bog of ill cognition and dangerous incomprehension. So, I turned down the music and went directly into my mantra:
"Nothing can be done about anything nothing can be done about anything nothing can be done about anything nothing can be done about anything nothing can be done about anything nothing can be done about anything nothing can be done about anything . . .
Nothing can be done."
And then I flicked my cigarette out the window.
on a bookstore clearance rack,
Contemporary Haibun Online (2022)
Observations on the haibun:
For me, everything about this haibun is acute. The auditory imagery in the prose is so well defined that the sound of the “bones being obliterated” crawls through our skin, the repetition of the mantra echoes in our ears, and “autumn fog” of the haiku reminds us of the “dark bog of ill cognition” in the prose. The writer’s tone and expression make us feel the despair as deeply as he does. But it’s the surprise element in the ending that leaves me in awe of the writer’s skill. “Nothing can be done." Yet, he does something which probably astonished him too. The surprise element continues into the haiku. Here, the writer does it with the use of an unconventional comma at the end of L2 — a bewildered pause because with the “clearance” of the fog and the camouflage he finds Bibles!
Let’s now read this second haibun, read into the thoughts presented here. It’s almost as if the writer takes on from where he left off in the previous one, though it may not be the case.
The Upper Peninsula of Michigan
“We believe we have a life. We do not. It is
Life in whom we have our being.”
— Lewis Sawaquat
You cast yourself out into a moment because that’s really all there is to do.
Everywhere you look, there are dragonflies skimming the pond. And weeds taller than boys who pretend to be soldiers.
The sun had been up there a long time — maybe a thousand hours — along with all of its blackbirds and barn swallows.
But now a chilly haze brings with it into the early evening scents of mint and cedar. And smoke.
A yellow dog named after its antics bursts out of the shadows, wanting to chase or be chased.
You don’t know it yet, but one day you will fall down in front of a woman and beg to be born into all of this once more.
summer’s end —
I empty the bottle
of all its purpose
MacQueen's Quinterly (2020)
VS: What do you think makes a good plot for haibun?
AR: Gosh. In all honesty, I can't think of a subject or plot not fit for a haibun. But whatever the topic, I believe a fairly strong familiarity with its bones is key. Its breathing culture. I can learn much of another language but, having not lived with the soul of the people speaking that language, I'm practically just lip syncing to empty words.
If one digs trenches for a living, then write poems with your shovel instead of a fancy, gold-trimmed pen. Or, if you're a baker of cakes, compose them with your colorful tubes of frosting. Does this make sense? For me, if I don't write from a place that is mostly cut of my actual day-to-day reality, with direct references to it, then more often than not the haibun will fail. Don't misunderstand me. I'm not saying that as artists we should be confined to expressing ourselves using strictly our hometown drivel and slang. Our rusty dictions. But I am saying that your actual reality---your seizing of that very reality---is what will write the most impactful poems.
VS: What would you do if two or three stories presented themselves to you simultaneously?
AR: In the past, I have written haibun comprised of multiple stories. But in some cases I'd say I didn't necessarily intend for them to turn out that way. For better or worse, they just ended up where they ended up. I do however on occasion know exactly where I want to take a poem and its conclusion even before I've begun writing it. But this is truly rare, and certainly doesn't mean that I always succeed.
VS: I am bowled over by the ease with which poetry flows, not just in your haibun but also in your responses to my questions. How do you do that! (Yes, an exclamation mark, not a question mark.)
AR: I'll be really honest here because, beyond the virtue, it also just makes sense. Within my decade-long addiction, like many, I'd hit the very bottom. I exhibited very little public shame over my beastly appearance, yet I avoided the bathroom mirror at all costs. I hated myself about as much as I despised day-to-day existence. Its mediocre dilemmas and premises. I was perhaps a doll hair's width from alcoholic psychosis. And liver failure. I believed, truly, that my only hope of escape from the soulnessness I'd come to exercise would be my death. So, I suppose, I went ahead and aimed for it by drinking even more.
But, blessed by the tender support of family and friends and a growing, evolving relationship with God, I was finally able to smash my bottle back into the grains of sand that gave birth to it and burn the scarecrow who'd turned it into his heart. And after that stain of ash had been rained on long and hard enough and dissolved into the ground, poetry was the substance with which I began to rebuild myself. It's that simple. That unromantic.
Prompt for members:
“You cast yourself out into a moment because that’s really all there is to do.”
What thoughts do Andrew's haibun and honest responses cast you into? Can we let poetry flow?
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.