A Hundred Gourds 3:2 March 2014
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Commentary: on Glenn
Coats’ haibun, ‘Turntable Junction’
By Ray Rasmussen
In the few years since he began
writing haibun, Glenn Coats has become one of
our best and most prolific writers1.
So when I received his newly released collection
of haibun and haiku, Snow on the Lake2,
I read it with high expectations and wasn’t let
down. However, this is not a review of Coats’
book. Instead, I’ve chosen to focus on one
haibun, “Turntable Junction,” 3 his
memory of one of those most difficult of human
experiences – betrayal and unrequited love.
As an editor of a haibun journal, many
submissions I receive employ a surprise ending,
that is, a story unfolds that deliberately has
been made oblique so it’s not until we read the
last passages or haiku that we come to
understand the story. This practice, if done
well, fits with the suggestion by Billy Collins,
past Poet Laureate of the United States, that
readers crave "a mixture of clarity and
In “Turntable Junction,” Coats finds that mix of
clarity and mysteriousness in masterly fashion.
His haibun is a play that unfolds bit-by-bit in
In Act 1, he provides a few details about a
I have no idea as we wade into the
river. Our heads bow as we thread salmon eggs
onto golden hooks. The distance grows between us
as we toss our lines upstream and let the baits
bounce along the bottom. You never say a word.
Yes, here’s mysteriousness. I’m not sure whom ‘we’
refers to – probably a male fishing buddy – and
I’m intrigued by what it is that he has “no idea”
about. Added in are hints of something amiss: “The
distance grows between us” and “You never say a
word.” While it’s neither unusual for fishermen to
move apart in pursuit of their prey, nor for men
to remain silent while so engaged, Coats’ careful
placement of these phrases create a signal to the
reader that a problem is surfacing.
Act 2 provides further hints to an unfolding
drama. What is it that he fails to see in the
other’s face? And a few more intriguing hints.
This other seems so anxious to get away that his
car kicks up gravel – a sound that grates on the
I do not see it in your face when I
say, “See you in the morning.” Your car kicks up
gravel as you pull out of the drive.
Acts 3 takes us a step further without yet fully
revealing what is going on. Two friends, one
perhaps a girlfriend and the other the fishing
buddy make excuses for not attending a dance. It
seems that no one is going, not even our
The dance is Saturday. I call Mary
first and she says not this weekend—too much
homework. Next, I try you and you are too tired.
I say that I am not going either—not by myself.
My assumption is that since Mary is his
girlfriend, he doesn’t want to take another girl
to the dance. Instead he asks his fishing buddy to
Act 4 is the denouement. When our protagonist
shows up, girlfriend and pal are there, together.
It’s in this penultimate paragraph that Coats’
prose becomes particularly poignant and poetic:
I do go to the dance—alone. And there
you both are, out on the dance floor with the
disco ball breaking your faces into pieces. The
band drowns out all the voices and silences the
tapping of shoes.
Mary, the object of his affection, and his unnamed
fishing buddy have betrayed him. They both lied
about not attending the dance and they’ve withheld
the fact that they’re in a relationship.
And Act 4 finishes with this emotionally loaded
“I am the last one to know.”
At times in our lives, we must all have felt the
sting of being “the last to know” about something
important in our family and friendship circles.
Recently, a woman friend lamented that she didn’t
mind so much finding out that her husband had been
seeing another woman for some time, but more that
she had been the last to know.
The humiliation of such an experience runs deep
and leads to Act 5, the haiku.
a memory too sharp
As the images in the haiku suggest, the pain of
betrayal can be likened to being enclosed in
barbed wire and to bring the memory to
consciousness is akin to being stabbed by a barb.
Of course, every play has a title. Many writers
don’t treat titles as much more than something to
set the stage for the prose and poem. However, a
haibun’s title is increasingly considered to be as
important as prose and haiku. As Robert Beary,
Haibun Editor of Modern Haiku has aptly
In haibun, the wrong title is like a
wrong number. It makes the reader want to hang
up the phone. A haibun’s title should be strong
enough to draw the reader into the prose and
make the reader want more. Let the title be a
link to the prose and the haiku, not give away
the rest of the piece. After reading the entire
haibun, the reader should be able to look at the
title and see more than one meaning.5
Coats’ title, “Turntable Junction” is at once
descriptive and metaphoric. While it may be the
place name of a dance hall, the interesting
question is what does it signify? At it’s simplest
level, the dance may have used a turntable and
records for the music. But why “Junction?” Coats
may be suggesting that betrayal forms a
significant junction in life. In the future, it
will be harder to trust male and female friends.
And at such a juncture, the kind where everyone
else knows and thus there is loss of face, one
path might be to withdraw from the social
Turntables can also be looked at as more than just
signaling a dance setting. Turntables spin, as
must have our protagonist when he realized what
has occurred, when the disco ball broke their
faces into pieces, when the band drowned out all
sound. And over time a record becomes worn, the
sound scratchy, but the song is still there
beneath the noise, an old record playing over and
over, music that destroys sleep.
In closing, as an editor, I’ve too often read
submissions that are oblique to the point of
creating a headache in trying to figure them out.
Some readers like puzzles at this level; I don’t.
I like to read something that flows reasonably
well and that doesn’t involve too much head
scratching. In this vein, Collins has warned that
while on one end of the spectrum, poems that are
perfectly clear are "a little flat," on the other
end, “too much mystery can render a poem
inscrutable”.6 Coats’ haibun is not
guilty of being either flat or too mysterious, and
in that sense it succeeded well both in drawing
this reader in and in creating a work that reminds
us of our own human foibles.
Having read the collection and found enjoyment in
the variety of subjects and in the many quality
haibun, I can highly recommend it.
I have no idea as we wade into the river. Our
heads bow as we thread salmon eggs onto golden
hooks. The distance grows between us as we toss
our lines upstream and let the baits bounce
along the bottom. You never say a word.
I do not see it in your face when I say, “See
you in the morning.” Your car kicks up gravel as
you pull out of the drive.
The dance is Saturday. I call Mary first and she
says not this weekend—too much homework. Next, I
try you and you are too tired. I say that I am
not going either—not by myself.
I do go to the dance—alone. And there you both
are, out on the dance floor with the disco ball
breaking your faces into pieces. The band drowns
out all the voices and silences the tapping of
shoes. I am the last one to know.
a memory too sharp
Glenn Coats began writing haiku in the mid 90s
and haibun only since 2009. With numerous
haiku published in a variety of online and
print journals, A New Resonance 6
(Red Moon Press, 2009) included Coats as one
of the “emerging voices in English-language
haiku.” Given his many haibun published since
2009, were there an announcement about
'emerging voices in English-language haibun'
Coat’s voice would certainly be among them.
2Glenn G. Coats, Snow on the
Lake: Haibun and Haiku, Pineola
Publishing, 2013, p. 56.
3Glenn G. Coats, “Turntable
Junction,” in Snow on the Lake,
p.62; first published in Frogpond 35.2,
4"Collins Values Approachable
Poetry, Not Pretension," Transcript of an
Interview, NPR Books Website, April 06, 2011
1:00 PM, taken from the Internet on December
8, 2013. Collins Interiew
5Roberta Beary, in “The Lost
Weekend,” Frogpond, Volume 34:3 2011.
6Collins, op. cit.
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