The Inspirations of Mentors: a #NaPoWriMo2020 / #GloPoWriMo2020 #haibun

Left to top/bottom: Hortensia Anderson, Carolyn Forche, Jane Hirschfield

I call three poets my mentors: three women, three masters, three exemplars of the art

A head bowed in awe

Constance Coiner introduced me to Carolyn Forche. The poet was one of the modern American women writers we studied in Professor Coiner’s course of the same name. Forche’s The Country Between Us was the work we read. I stopped breathing when I read “the Colonel”:

…The Colonel returned with a sack used to bring groceries home. He spilled many human ears on the table.They were like dried peach halves.There is no other way to say this. …

Forche, “The Colonel” The Country Between Us (Harper Perenial, 1981), p. 16

How she conveyed so much with detailed, ordinary imagery, and an aesthetic of witness. She sees. She refuses to unsee the invisible in the El Salvador of which she writes. I learn from her the power of language incarnate in mission, and how even prose poetry is poetry.


the sound of “ears

pressed to the ground”

I already wrote haiku–badly–when I discovered haibun. Hortensia Anderson may have been my first. I went to her website over and over. I finally ordered The Plenitude of Emptiness, a post-humous collection of her haibun. When I read “Maybe You Can Come Home,” my heart skipped a beat, in deja vu:

“…I shall take rememberings by dismemberings” the Commandante kindly said “and keep them for you” as he dragged my loves through white snow leaving a jagged red path like a ragged scarf in my memory…

…frozen moon

we face the lighted ground

a single file of shadow

Hortensia Anderson, “Maybe You Can Come Home” The Plenitude of Emptiness (Darlington Richards, 2010), p. 56

That a haibun could address the horrors of those made invisible by atrocity was a lesson Anderson taught me. She crafted poetic prose and haiku that danced with a complementary synergy that would make a master haijin weep. I modeled so much of my early haibun on her unique, intimate style, without ever coming close.

evening songs

“The Angels of History”

still weeps

I don’t remember how I encountered Jane Hirshfield. Was it Nine Gates, her collection of essays on the craft of poetry, which I checked out of Nyack Library? Did I come across her poems first, from The Lives of the Heart? All I know is I can’t escape the the allure of her language:

The world asks of us

only the strength we have and we give it.

Then it asks more, and we give it.

From The October Palace (HarperCollins, 1994) by Jane Hirshfield. Copyright @1994

I can only bow in gratitude to her insight as well as her skill:

Every good poem begins in language awake to its own connections–language that hears itself and what is around it, sees itself and what is around it, looks back at those who look into its gaze and know more perhaps even than we do about who and what we are…

Jane Hirshfield, “Poetry and the Mind of Concentration” Nine Gates (Harper Perenial, 1997), p. 3

How a poem could move a heart, a soul, through an invisible, yet palpable, resonance of language is what Hirshfield taught me, in theory and practice.

a distant dawn

“measured against all the dark

…still the scales balance”

I write as I do today because I encountered my mentors: these women, these masters, these poets.

A sleeve drenched with grateful tears

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