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Autumn 2007, vol 5 no 3
 

Small Events
by w.f. owen
A Review by Johnye Strickland

 

Whatever else he may be, Bill Owen is a consummate storyteller. This slender volume of haibun captures the reader's interest with the title piece, "small events," which compares the author's memories with a family photo album, "put together in haste, out of chronological order, too many shots of some events, too few of others." The interest never wanes, as we discover also his strong sense of what makes a book a book, following through with the theme of photo moments from the everyday sandwiched in with the historic moments we all remember. For example, who doesn't remember a landmark birthday:
 

happy birthday

November 22, 1963. From overhead, the crack of the PA system announcing "the President is dead." He was forty-six. In the long hallway of our high school, there is an eerie creak of lockers opening and closing, like little coffins. On the way home, I kick a can ahead of me. A little boy's game I decide, kicking it into the gutter. Sixteen. I am sixteen today. Arriving home, I see that Momma has made my favorite cake: banana nut with butter cream icing. The candles are on it already, but everyone is huddled around the TV.
                in black and white
                Marilyn Monroe sings
                happy birthday  (p. 39)
 

Owen is also adept at handling the problem of tenses, which challenges every haibun writer. He navigates so skillfully between past and present the reader is scarcely aware of the structure, blending his/her own memories with the public events anchoring the particular within the universal, the real within the surreal. Another example we can all relate to:
 

napalm

Returning after years away, I walk onto the Oahu beach. This sheltered cove is where the memorable love scene in "From Here to Eternity" was filmed. I had taken hundreds of SCUBA students across this sand where famous actors had wallowed. On dives with my buddies, we spread speared fish here. They flapped over and over on the sand until they seemed breaded for frying. Now even those times seem distant as I kneel near the surf where remnants of waves wet my trousers. This is the first time I had worn long pants here. Removing my shirt, I tie it around my throat like a neckerchief. The spray from the Blowhole a few yards away wraps everything in salt mist. I crack a smile and murmur "I love the smell of salt in the morning." The Colonel in "Apocalypse Now" surely must have felt the same. A moment sealed in time by the smell of napalm incinerating all that it touched in gelatinous globs. Like me in my fully wet pant legs, an emblazoned memory.
I read in the newspaper that the U.S. military has decided to stop making napalm.
                high-water mark
                the Portuguese man-of-war
                shrinks into itself  (p. 27)
 

Sensory appeal, diversity in subject matter, and a careful blending of form and content make this a good book. It is also an attractive book, with the image of a scuba diver in an underwater cave on the front cover, and snapshots from a scrap book on the back.

But the main attraction, in my opinion, is the sense of connection the poet conveys between the "small events" of ordinary experience and the parade of history we are part of. This is a book one can return to time and again, for a quick run-through or a slow browse, stirring memories--the way we return to a family photo album. I have read it several times, and each time I pick it up, I am rewarded with nuances I hadn't noticed before. It is both a good read, and a model for writers, who might like to capture their own memories in haibun.

Another stocking stuffer my family would enjoy.


Small Events
Haibun by w.f. owen
Soft Cover, Perfect Bound
5" x 7 7/8", 64 pages
$12 plus shipping
ISBN 978-1-893959-62-0
Red Moon Press
PO Box 2461
Winchester, VA 22604 USA
www.redmoonpress.com

Editor's Note: w.f. owen (Bill) is the Haibun Editor for Simply Haiku.