New Criticals

In 1981, poet John Ashbery discovered Hiroaki Sato and Burton Watson’s newly published anthology of Japanese poetry, From the Country of Eight Islands.[4] Ashbery began experimenting with the haiku and haibun forms, both of which would appear in his poetry collection, A Wave (Viking Press,1984). Midway through that collection, a sequence of five haibun appears, each titled “Haibun” with a corresponding number. As the critic John Shoptaw notes, these haibun are hugely significant poems in John Ashbery’s oeuvre, as the first poem from the sequence, “Haibun,” is the only poem in his considerable body of work to use the word “homosexuality,” and indeed the entire 5-haibun sequence is concerned with homosexual encounter—a rare, explicit treatment of homosexuality as a subject by the poet who otherwise does not overtly thematize homosexuality in his poetry. [5]