Take a ride down Route 575

‘Travel by Haiku’ by Marshall Deerfield

3 minute read
The latest volume of ‘Travel by Haiku’ offers switchback dashes of poetry and prose. (Image courtesy of A Freedom Books.)
The latest volume of ‘Travel by Haiku’ offers switchback dashes of poetry and prose. (Image courtesy of A Freedom Books.)

Travel by Haiku, volumes 6–10: Far Out on the Road with Friends is somewhat poetry, somewhat travelogue, somewhat roman à clef, and an unabashedly enthusiastic ejaculation of Beat tropes. Described by the publisher as “a collection written collaboratively by six individual journeyers that explores the potential of contemporary renga in connecting back to the roots of nature,” its exploration of potential is in turns thought provoking, absurd, insightful, and clichéd.

Fortunately, the little book is not meant to be taken too seriously, and its switchback dashes of poetry and prose convey as much to the reader without undermining the value of reading it.

Clockwise collaborators

Travel by Haiku rejoins the fictional dream poet Marshall Deerfield in his travels across the American southwest and up the sunny Californian coast, as Deerfield takes to the open road a year after the previous installment (Travel by Haiku: Still Trippin’ Across the States). This most recent collection, however, gathers a series of haiku that were written collaboratively by the semifictional Deerfield and fellow travelers. From driver to passenger to back seat, haiku were written clockwise as the “voice of the poem began to call out. The last part to the surprise of each author.”

This framework of collaborative and collective journey accommodates the lighter haiku while allowing more profound moments to stand alone. Reading Travel by Haiku is much like its roadtrip: sometimes there are long talks by a campfire, sometimes there are delirious riffs on toilet paper and truck stops. Occasionally, too, the company gets stale; as the reader journeys along with Deerfield in his travels, more journalistic sections can begin to feel monotonous or clichéd. Phrases like “dreamers,” “scavenger poets,” and “clowns” feel like signposts we’ve passed miles back, in better-paved towns with names like Kerouac and Thompson.

Questioners, seekers, thumbers of noses

But the visual interest of the haiku themselves—with unconventional line breaks and shifts in font and typeface—allows the short lines of the haiku to do double the work, visually configuring new meanings and shifting the stolid haiku in an almost psychedelic way: “Green so green it cries / a magic carpet / disguised / wilderness holds us.”

The book is at its freshest when its observations turn from the cosmic to finer observations of place. Describing the death of Ponderosa pine forests, Deerfield writes, “Ponderosa Pines normally bright red with sunshine, turned gray as the life is sucked right out of them. Standing like zombies amidst their dying relatives. Shells of a corpse.”

These few pages ring with the truth of Deerfield’s own surprise at the changed landscape of the American West, and moments such as these breathe contemporary realism into otherwise romantic Beat topos.

Luckily, Travel by Haiku is fun, and both Deerfield and Philadelphia publisher A Freedom Press know their audience: questioners, Beat seekers, creative naturists, and cheerful thumbers of noses. And by the end, it’s likely that readers, too, will feel that they have “travelled so long / tickling curiosity / till it got the hiccups.”

Image description: The cover of Travel by Haiku, volumes 6–10: Far Out on the Road with Friends, compiled by Marshall Deerfield. It’s a color photo of a mountainous landscape with a lake and pine trees in the foreground. The title and poet’s name are written in chunky, cartoonish script in yellow, orange, green, and purple.

What, When, Where

Travel by Haiku, volumes 6–10: Far Out on the Road with Friends. Compiled by Marshall Deerfield. Philadelphia: A Freedom Books. February 2021. 149 pages, paperback; $15. Get it on the author’s website.

There is a free online release party on March 31, 2021, cohosted by the Random Tea Room. Find more info and RSVP here.

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