Hosts: Reid Hepworth and Shalini Pattabiraman
poet of the month: Sean O'Connor
6th April, 2023
This past February, Sean and I sat down to discuss the craft of writing. These conversations were enlightening and inspiring. We hope you enjoy this series as much as I enjoyed picking Sean’s brain.
Sean O’Connor is an award-winning Irish author specializing in haibun and other Japanese forms. He is the founder and editor of The Haibun Journal, a twice-yearly print publication dedicated to the haibun form, and was a member of the judging panel of the Japan-based Genjuan International Haibun Contest for 2020 and 2021. His first solo collection, Let Silence Speak: A Haiku and Haibun Collection (2016), was shortlisted for the Touchstone Distinguished Books Award. His second book, Even the Mountains: Five Years in a Japanese Village, followed in 2017, and his third, Fragmentation, a series of haibun and zuihitsu meditations on dementia and the dynamics of memory, in 2021. Fragmentation was the winner of the 2022 HSA Merit Book Award for Best Haibun Book. His latest book, The God of Bones has been well received by reviewers. O’Connor was also awarded two Literature Bursaries by the Arts Council of Ireland (2021 and 2022). He resides in rural Tipperary, Ireland.
Come and See
My father is usually at the window when I arrive. The view from there is sparse, the blank wall of the dementia unit is only metres away. Between wall and window is a strip of tightly clipped lawn, two fragile young trees and some flowers.
they bloomed late this year
these bright yellow daffodils
Above the wall is enough sight of sky to judge the weather and so he feels confident to give me his forecast. It will or won’t rain, or:
‘It’s lovely out now, better get out in it as it won’t last. It’s only a pet day.’
During visits he repeatedly shuffles around the bed to look outside. It took me a while to decipher his comments when at the window.
‘I thought there was one but there are two,’ he said. ‘Always busy, always working away, especially in the morning.’
When a workman passed by this afternoon, I asked my father if he was one of the workers he was talking about.
‘No no,’ he said, ‘he’s the gardener. He’s a good worker too mind you. He’s always about the place – lots to do. The other two come and go, have to keep an eye out to catch them. They are usually here in the morning. One of them got a snail and was banging it off a stone for ages till it broke.’
As I was about to leave, my father was back at the window, when his face lit up.
‘There they are,’ he said. ‘Come and see.’
among fresh daisies
a blackbird and a thrush
my father’s new friends
Source: From Fragmentation, Alba Publishing 2021
First published in The Cottage of Visions, Genjuan Anthology Decorated Works 2018-2021, Kyoto, Japan (2021). (An) Cottage Prize winner in the Genjuan International Haibun Contest 2019
To see more about Sean O'Connor's writings visit: seanwriter.com
Come and See – RH: This is a personal favourite of mine from Fragmentation. It is a beautiful, touching haibun. There is a sense of innocence and curiosity in this interaction and speaks to the nature of the relationship between father and son.
I am particularly fond of how you use dialogue in your work and how you tie your haiku with prose. Can you explain how you incorporate dialogue into your work, how you make it believable?
Dialogue is notoriously difficult to write. I did a course on screenwriting about 30 years ago and have been working on dialogue since then. To capture the way people actually speak is problematic as, when talking, people repeat themselves, they hesitate, change direction, think out loud. This goes against the way we would typically write prose. There is the added difficulty of capturing the accents of speech, the contractions often used, and the way people pronounce (or mispronounce) words.
Writing dialogue does require a writer to listen very carefully to how people express themselves. However, that is unlikely to be enough. It is necessary to study the craft of writing dialogue alongside the many other techniques writers use.
As for haiku being tied in to the prose, I would expect that to be the case in haibun writing. Although the components of a haibun are haiku (single or plural) and prose, a haibun is a single and unified piece of work, like an engine. Mechanics understand the components that go into an engine, and that if one part is not working properly then the engine will not function well, or at all!
For this week’s prompt, we want you to focus on the craft of dialogue. Put your listening ears on and go out into the world and listen to how people talk to one another. Don’t just focus on what is being said, but also how it is being said. Think about an experience or interaction that you have had/or overheard and bring it to life. Draw us in by creating effective, believable dialogue with strong prose. Do not rush the process. Show us your best, most polished work.
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.