For readers unfamiliar with haibun (phonetically pronounced “hi-boon”), it’s a form of poetry that pairs prose and haiku created by the famous Japanese poet Matsuo Bashō over 300 years ago. Terry Ann Carter’s well-informed history of writing and teaching various Japanese forms of poetry is evident in On the Road to Naropa; it is beautifully written and balanced within the constraints of haibun but also very accessible.
At heart, Naropa is memoir. We begin in 1946 with Carter’s birth and stretch across the pages of her life to the more current 2013, with each year a marker of change and growth.
Autobiographical writing is inherent in most poetic forms but memoir as poetic prose is a unique challenge that requires a certain amount of subjectivity, objectivity, creativity, memory and keen sense of flow. Carter knocks it all out of the park.
With each turn of the page, she slips in and out of life moments that are entirely relatable and, seemingly, entirely personal. It’s unclear how many imaginative liberties Carter took while writing this book, but her memory appears seamless as she moves from one striking image to the next.
Carter speaks as much to the psychology of memory as she does to her upbringing as she ages into understanding herself and the rest of the world around her. From “1963”:
My Irish grandmother has a word she mutters under
her breath to explain things she doesn’t like. Shite, she
says, when the garbage man forgets to place the metal
cans back in the garage. When the Hoover explodes one
morning and leaves a pile of crap on the living room
rug. […] One rainy November morning she reaches
across the breakfast table and announces, That Rus-
sian killed the president. Shite. Later she would confide
in me. Your brother’s crazy in the head. Shite, there’s
not a blessed thing we can do.
In “1965,” Carter details her first encounter with Kerouac’s characterization of Beat poet Gary Snyder. It is the quintessential account of how one would hope to discover Kerouac and speaks to Carter’s first insights into the permeation of Japanese culture in the West, and her increasing free-spiritedness, which was so emblematic of the Beats and the 60s.
Summer vacation. I fall in love with Japhy Ryder. He is
my favourite Kerouac character. All that rucksack, Or-
egon woods, green tea served on empty orange crates.
Books on Japanese woodblocks. Sumi-e brush scrolls.
Suzuki and Blyth. The discussions on religion long into
the night. Haiku. I don’t have a boyfriend. I have Ja-
Throughout the book, Carter attempts to understand Kerouac: what he and his writing represent and how his universes intersect with hers. As she walks her path she becomes more aware: a comparison, an article, a lecture, a poetry conference, a word on a sidewalk outside Naropa University – all these seemingly insignificant and separate occurrences become forks at which she pauses and attempts to compute Kerouac’s significance in her world. Carter reminds us that all that should be revealed in its own due time.
It is clear Carter embraces life in spite of its challenges and, as all who meditate are instructed, has held on to each wave of nostalgia as it arises before letting it, too, pass.
Marilyn Irwin is a graduate of Algonquin College’s Creative Writing program, winner of the 2013 Diana Brebner Prize, and a 2014 Hot Ottawa Voice. Her work has been published by above/ground press, Apt. 9 Press, Arc Poetry Magazine, New American Writing, Matrix Magazine, Puddles of Sky Press and others. Her seventh and most recent chapbook, waving usufruct, a poetry/photography collaboration with David Emery and Samantha Lapierre, was published by The Steel Chisel in 2016. She runs shreeking violet press in Ottawa.
ARC‘S A HISTORY OF CANADIAN POETRY!