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«White Heron: The Authorised Biography of Australia's Pioneering Haiku Writer Janice M Bostok Sharon Elyse Dean BA (Hons1) School of Humanities Arts, ...»

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White Heron: The Authorised

Biography of Australia's Pioneering

Haiku Writer Janice M Bostok

Sharon Elyse Dean

BA (Hons1)

School of Humanities

Arts, Education and Law

Griffith University

Submitted in fulfilment of the requirements of the degree of

Doctor of Philosophy

August 2011

White Heron


The form of this PhD is an authorised biography of Australia’s pioneering haiku

writer, Janice M Bostok, titled White Heron. For the purposes of examination, the

biography’s Introduction serves as an exegesis.

Drawing on material acquired through unrestricted access to the subject and her personal papers, interviews with family and friends, and meticulous research into her prolific literary output, the work employs a double-stranded narrative structure to tell the story of Bostok’s difficult childhood, extraordinary love affairs and groundbreaking creative endeavours. Inquiry into the theory of English-language haiku – a genre of ‘one-breath’ poetry that originated in ancient Japan and is now growing in prominence worldwide – is woven throughout the text.

The Introduction is the main repository of material relating to the genesis of the project. It articulates the book’s original contribution to knowledge (White Heron is the first Bostok biography), and contains two prominent lines of inquiry: one haiku-related, and the other associated with biographical theory.

Haiku-related concerns include: discussion of a misconception over ‘syllable counting’ commonly associated with English-language haiku; a brief history of haiku and its related forms in Japan; a short analysis of the correspondences between meditation practice and haiku practice; an appraisal of the influence of traditional Japanese poetry on writers connected with the ‘Beat Generation’ (in particular, Jack Kerouac and Gary Snyder) and, in turn, the influences of these writers on Bostok; an examination of an over-valuing of the role of Zen in haiku;

and, an assessment of the value of haiku as a ‘literary art’.

Biographical considerations include: an investigation into difficulties commonly associated with biographical writing; an exploration of tensions between ‘fact’ and ‘fiction’ in biography (with reference to the writings of Virginia Woolf and Drusilla Modjeska); a report on the subject’s reaction to potentially confronting ii White Heron chapters; and, an outline of the biographer’s methodology, comprising an emphasis on dialogic research and documentation as inspired by feminist standpoint-theory and the transcendental ethics of the philosopher Emmanuel Levinas.

Appended to White Heron is a select bibliography of Bostok’s haiku-related writings, a timeline of key events and publications in Bostok’s life, a copy of the informed consent mechanism package drafted at the beginning of the project, and a copy of the project’s ethical clearance certificate.

Bostok’s contribution to the development of Australian haiku is significant. After learning about the genre from an American pen friend in the late 1960s, Bostok created the first market for haiku in Australia by founding the journal Tweed. In the 1990s, she wrote The Gum Tree Conversations, the first series of articles to demonstrate the relevance of haiku to the Australian experience and landscape. In 1999, with fellow haiku writer John Bird, Bostok edited the First Australian Haiku Anthology, which led in 2000 to the founding of the Australian Haiku Society (Haiku Oz), and then in 2006 to the publication of the Second Australian Haiku Anthology.

Over four decades, more than four thousand of Bostok’s haiku have been published, together with sixteen collections of her haiku-related work. She has won many awards, edited journals, mentored two generations of haiku writers, judged national and international haiku competitions, and conducted numerous haiku workshops.

White Heron investigates the key personal forces underpinning Bostok’s creative success: namely, her desire for attention, and her longing to ‘disappear’. It also reveals the extent to which growing up in a small country town – with an unbounded passion for the natural world, an early interest in Japanese culture and the constant feeling of ‘not belonging’ – helped shape Bostok’s proclivity for haiku.

iii White Heron Bostok as a child was shunned for being ‘the fattest kid in town’ and belonging to a ‘weird religion’. White Heron charts her settling as a seventeen year old in Melbourne, where she met her future husband, Romanian migrant Silvester Bostok. After the early years of their marriage in the Victorian sawmill town of Cann River, the couple bought a banana plantation near Murwillumbah in northern New South Wales in the late 1960s. For the next thirty years, Bostok helped her husband work the land while developing her writing career and establishing a reputation as the doyenne of Australian haiku.

During this period, Bostok adopted a neglected child, raised a severely disabled son and battled diabetes. In 1978, she made an overseas pilgrimage to visit some of the world’s leading English-language haiku writers. All the while, her relationship with her husband was obsessive and complicated. White Heron demonstrates that throughout Bostok’s adult life, regardless of the challenges she faced, she consistently sought refuge in haiku, a ‘way of seeing’ that fortified her spirit and reaffirmed her connection with the natural world.

–  –  –

Acknowledgements Janice M Bostok’s contribution to Australian haiku is immense, and I’m grateful to her for supporting my research into her pioneering and productive career. I would also like to thank Jan for her generosity in helping me understand her complicated personal life. Always ready to answer my questions, regardless of how intrusive or irrelevant some may have seemed, she insisted that I write her stories in my own way, and in my own time. So thank you, Jan, for your courage and candour, and also for your trust and patience.

For professional support and guidance, I owe a significant debt of gratitude to Associate Professor Nigel Krauth, whose friendliness, knowledge of research and literature, and ability to cut through red tape appeared to know no bounds.

I acknowledge the assistance given to me by my mentor and close friend, Dr Christine Williams, who read drafts of each chapter, and helped me face their shortcomings. My dear friend, the poet Max Ryan, commented on early drafts of three chapters, and also proofread the final draft of the Introduction.

An enormous thank you goes again to Max Ryan, along with Geraldine Loong, Michelle King, Erika Gelzinnis and Lisa van Kempen. The encouragement consistently given to me by these five friends enabled me to persevere with my PhD through periods of upheaval in my life, and also at times when it seemed as though the complexities of the project would never end.

Michelle King and Erika Gelzinnis proofread the manuscript in the week before submission. Thank you, beautiful friends.

For their supervisory roles in initial stages of this dissertation, I would like to thank Dr Inez Baranay and Dr Jacqui Murray, while among librarians I owe a special debt to Julie Somers of Griffith University’s Gold Coast Library, and Mark Brennan of the National Archives of Australia.

vii White Heron Anyone who values Australian haiku must be grateful to John Bird for his diligent work in raising Bostok’s public profile. I thank John for creating Jan’s website in the year 2000, and also for the effort he put into nominating Jan for the Masaoka Shiki International Haiku Prize in 2004.

For providing me, at critical junctures, with peaceful writing havens – all within easy walking distance of the sea – I am deeply grateful to Matthew Meury, Jane Camens & Ian Smith, and Dr Christine Williams.

For their patience, companionship and good humour, I thank my sons, Ashlin and Henry Coyne, and also my parents, Pauline and Maurie Dean. I also acknowledge the love and support of my friends, especially Merrilyn Hunt, Rosalinda Corazon, Lisa van Kempen, Geraldine Loong, Michelle King, Max Ryan, Erika Gelzinnis, Tarnya Daniels, Craig Collyer, Matthew Meury, Leyla Roberts, Peter Barnard, Caroline Ladewig and Vijaya Radhakrishnan.

It is a privilege to belong to the Cloudcatchers haiku group. In appreciation of haiku friendship, I would like to convey my respect to the very special members of this group, especially Quendryth Young, Helen Davison, John Bird, Max Ryan, Nathalie Buckland, Pam Smith, Jacqui Murray, Leonie Bingham, and Merle Packham.

For giving me the opportunity to share my work in its developmental stages, I would like to thank Alanna Hardy, Conference Secretariat of the Eleventh Annual Australian Association of Writing Programs Conference 2006, Elaine van Kempen, founder of the Watermark Literary Muster (which sponsored my attendance in 2009), and Beverley George, convenor of the hugely successful Fourth Haiku Pacific Rim Conference held in that same year. For camaraderie at various conferences, I thank Stuart Cooke, Steven Ross, Adam van Kempen, Martin Lucas, Pam Smith, and Jesse Blackadder.

viii White Heron Many people have participated in interviews about Jan’s life and/or haiku-related

literature. For taking time to answer my questions, I thank (in no particular order):

Norma Govett, Lorraine Gorman, Professor David G Lanoue, Robert Gray, John Bird, Beverley George, Associate Professor John Knight, Jim Kacian, Ron Moss, Rosie Stalker, Ross Clark, Jean Rasey, Lyn Reeves, Jeff Harpeng, Graham Nunn, Vanessa Proctor, Michael McClintock, Randy & Shirley Brooks, Brian Joyce, Alex Byers, Ion Codrescu, Quendryth Young, Tony Bostok, Vicki McLeod, Ian Fox, Sandra Simpson, Penny Harter, Greg Piko, Ernest Berry, Jeffrey Woodward, Pete Hay, and Cyril Childs.

Charles Trumbull was incredibly helpful when it came to finding referencing details for some of the more obscure haiku cited in the biography. Thank you, Charles. Without your assistance, I would have been forced to cut many of my favourite haiku from the manuscript.

For enabling me to remain healthy in body, mind and spirit throughout the duration of my PhD candidature, I offer deep bows of appreciation to: HirJiwan of HarJiwan Yoga, Byron Bay; Ellen Davison from the Kuan Yin Meditation Centre, Lismore; and Julia Kalytis of Shiatsu Essentials, Alstonville. For providing me with an ideal environment in which to let off steam during the final year of the project, I offer an elbow-padded hug to the spirited members of the Northern Rivers Roller Derby.

On the employment front, for understanding the importance of the commitment I made to my postgraduate studies, I thank: Alison Farrant from TURSA Employment, Education and Training, Ballina; Amy Logue of the Animal Science Department at North Coast Institute, Lismore; and Greg Price, Executive Care Manager at BCS Maranoa Centre, Alstonville.

For part of my candidature I was the recipient of an Australian Postgraduate Award. I acknowledge that financial assistance.

–  –  –

Statement of Originality This work has not previously been submitted for a degree or diploma in any university. To the best of my knowledge and belief, the thesis contains no material previously published or written by another person except where due reference is made in the thesis itself.

Three sections of the biography have been published in previous forms. An early version of the book’s Prelude appeared in the proceedings from the Fourth Haiku Pacific Rim Conference held at Terrigal, NSW, from September 22-25, 2009, as part of a paper entitled “Sensing a Life: a preview of the forthcoming biography of Australian haiku writer Janice M Bostok”. The framework for Part 1 of the book’s Introduction was published in Haibun Today in 2008 as the context for an interview called “The Curious Incident of the Dog and the Birthday Cake: A Wide-Ranging Conversation about Haibun with Janice M Bostok”. Also previously published in Haibun Today during 2008 – as part of an article called “Stepping Stones: An Interview with Janice M Bostok” – is a segment of interview transcript about haibun theory. This segment now appears in Chapter 7.

And finally, several paragraphs in Part 2 of the Introduction appeared in Stylus Poetry Journal in 2006 as part of an essay called “Goin’ on a Ginko”. (See Bibliography for full referencing details.) ………………………………..

Sharon Elyse Dean August 2011

–  –  –

Author’s Note Episodes in White Heron are based on real people and events, but ultimately the biography is an imaginative reconstruction of the subject’s memories. For the purposes of a smooth-running narrative, some conversations recorded on separate occasions have been conflated into single time frames.

Unless otherwise indicated in the in-text referencing, all quotations attributed to Janice M Bostok are taken from interviews conducted by the author between March 2007 and August 2010, or from emails written to the author during that period.

Also unless indicated in the in-text referencing, comments attributed to characters identified as the subject’s deceased relatives – in particular, Valerie Irvine and Clarrie Irvine – are the inventions of the author, based on the subject’s recall of her experiences with those people.

Please note that with respect I have used English spelling for Romanian place names, such as ‘Bukovina’ for ‘Bucovina’, and ‘Storozhynets’ rather than ‘Storojineţ’.

Also note that when describing a Japanese historical figure – ie. a person born before the Meiji period (pre-1868) – I have used the traditional Japanese order of family name followed by given name. When describing a modern Japanese figure – ie. a person born after the beginning of the Meiji period (1868 onward) – I have used the Western order of given name followed by family name.

–  –  –

Dedication This PhD dissertation is dedicated to the memory of the Bukovina Jews whose bones lie in mass graves in Romania and the areas under its control during World War II, as well as to the Australians whose bone tissue was stolen during the Strontium 90 Measurement Program.

–  –  –

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