Monday, September 2, 2013

Cool Announcement: Publication of My Critical Study of Haibun (Haibun Today, 7:3, September, 2013)

My Dear Fellow Poets/Readers:

I just published a 30-page detailed study of David Cobb's What Happens in Haibun. The methodological approach for my study is a thematic, textual, and perspectival analysis.  This study was written in response to the goals and reasons stated by David Cobb, the renowned poet and a founding member of the British Haiku Society:

What Happens in [David Cobb’s Conception of] Haibun: A Critical Study for Readers Who Want More by Chen-ou Liu

What Happens in Haibun: A Critical Study of an Innovative Literary Form by David Cobb. Uxbridge, UK: Alba Publishing, 2013. UK 12/US 16/EUR 14; also available from Alba Publishing as an e-book. ISBN: 978-0957526518.

Being a reader, I love to read the haibun written by the poet David Cobb, which are crafted in a variety of subject matters, styles, and accompanied with visually and aurally appealing images. However, being a critic, I’m more interested in what kind of a study or how a study is done by a fellow critic David Cobb, according to his stated goals and thesis statement (pp. 5-7). . . . Throughout What Happens in Haibun, the critic David Cobb thinks and acts more like a literary guide who takes readers into the mind of the poet David Cobb. His vision of haibun and his set of critical skills for literary analysis are limited, and he fails to take readers to see beyond the text horizon inscribed by the poet David Cobb or to trespass the boundary prescribed by “gatekeepers” of the genre, haibun.

-- Chen-ou Liu


Thematically speaking, What Happens in Haibun is divided into two parts; the first one consists of Introduction (pp. 5-15) and Conclusions (pp. 75-83), which provide Cobb’s reflections on the literary genre, haibun, practiced in Japan and in the West and his thoughts on the craft of haibun writing, and the second one Commentaries on Marching with Tulips (pp. 16-74), which is made up of detailed comments made by the critic David Cobb on each and every haibun included in Marching with Tulips written by the poet David Cobb.

Cobb’s study of haibun is a rather slim volume, 88 pages in total. Its main aim is to “provide useful material for newcomers to haibun, perhaps tutors of creative writing courses and their students for whom this may be a wholly new field of literature, one that blends prose and poetry, with few pointers how to meet its challenges” (p.5), and he also states that this study may “serve to concentrate some of [haibunists’s] thinking about the form, especially about the roles the haiku play in [their] haibun . . . may also be useful to editors and publishers of literary magazines, websites and anthologies, who sometimes admit they lack sufficient criteria for selecting haibun to publish” (p. 5).

To the best of my knowledge, David Cobb is the first writer in the field of English-language Japanese short form poetry to play two conflicting roles in evaluating his work: the critic and the poet... 

In fact, my study is more than 30-page long. It's because some of the aesthetic, historical and typological issues related to the genre haibun were already published in the following "To the Lighthouse" posts, which were inspired by the reading of Cobb's book: "Essay-like" Haibun?!Haibun MythMisunderstood Japanese Literary Terms (haibun, nikki, karumi, senryu, zappai), and The Art of Titling.

I'll further discuss some of the important issues raised in my study in a forthcoming series of "To the Lighthouse" posts, hoping that the haibun community will rethink how to explore haibun from a more contextualized and aesthetically-rich perspective, and most importantly, that my critical study will be trend-setting (this means no more book reviews or commentaries  replete with “praise this and praise that,” occasionally intermingled with “this small quibble or that small quibble.” )

Many thanks for your continued support of my work.


1 comment:

  1. In her Contemporary Haibun Online review, Naomi Beth Wakan emphasizes that:

    Usually commentaries on texts are done by a variety of other writers, but in this case the commentary is by Cobb himself. This does present an unusual, rather schizoid, but strangely interesting situation in which Cobb speaks for himself in the third person, as “the writer.”

    There is nothing new or unusual about this kind of writing practice. Wakan has no knowledge of commenting on one’s own work as a strategically effective way of engaging in the politics and poetics of a literary genre, such as in the case of one of the key figures of Third World Literature, Chen Yingzhen, whose harsh criticism of Chen Yingzhen, titled “A Discussion of Chen Yingzhen”, written in another penname, Xu Nancun, is a must-read for students and scholars of Third World Literature in general and modern Chinese literature in particular. 2 Most importantly, the author, David Cobb, of What Happens in Haibun, has no such understanding of this writing strategy either. In order to avoid giving readers the impression of “self-regarding and self-elevating” (p. 13), and being “liable to be a sneaking bias towards [his] own preferences” (p. 13), Cobb gives the following three reasons for why 40 (not “43” on p. 13) haibun he has chosen are his own (p. 13):

    Why did I not gather together a corpus of exemplary haibun from a variety of different pens? Frankly, because I am in my “senior salad days” and did not have the stamina to seek permissions from a host of other authors (it is common knowledge that for the purpose of reviewing, the reviewer does not need to get permissions from the authors to quote their works), to engage with them in extensive correspondence about why they said this that way, and that this way (the poet’s work can speak for itself, otherwise no one can review the work by a dead poet, such as Basho’s Narrow Road to the Interior); and in the process risk falling out with them if I felt I had to say something about their works that they could not accept (emphasis mine; the thinking behind this reason saddens me) .