New Criticals

Queer scholar Eve Sedgwick cites Merrill’s haibun as the inspiration for her book-length haibun, A Dialogue on Love (Beacon Press, 1999). In her book, Sedgwick recounts her coming into queerness and self-love through a long period of therapy she began as a treatment for depression following a cancer diagnosis. Sedgwick’s haibun recount sessions with her therapist Shannon—a heterosexual man who does not share her intellectual training or interest in queerness.

And it frightens me to feel rage, to have it reach into my senses so deeply I can’t see around it anymore, can’t go on suspending it

as I’ve suspended
the worry about Shannon
just being too dumb

these hours when I’ve splashed around so happily in his mild, hired companionship.

Aside from a brief description of her interest in Buddhism, recounted as a conversation with Shannon, Sedgwick’s haibun is not preoccupied with Japanese culture, nor does she employ Japanese culture or iconography to mobilize her metaphorical journey from shame and isolation to interpersonal connection and more capacious love. Instead, Sedgwick is enticed by the formal qualities of the haibun, the movement of the form, deliberate as calligraphy: “sweeping into and through the arias, silent impasses, the fat, buttery condensations and inky dribbles of the mind’s laden brush,” “some use / for all the white space.” Sedgwick’s haibun, like Bashō’s, explore interior landscapes, movements from internal preoccupation to external connection. Sedgwick finds shame to be a creative internal resource, rather than a fault to be externalized, projected, and disavowed. Sedgwick’s notion of shame-creativity is expressed through the haibun form, which allows for observation, narrative, and progression, but also reflection and triangulation. Not poetry, not prose, but a queer form.