Ludmila Balabanova is the recipient of a Touchstone Distinguished Books Award for 2019 for her volume Sunflower Field (Plovdiv, Bulgaria: Zhanet Publishing, 2019).
Commentary from the Panel:
Ludmila Balabanova has broad bandwidth. The Bulgarian haiku poet and haibun writer extraordinaire holds a Ph.D. in literature but also lectures on computer engineering. Her bilingual collection of haibun, Sunflower Field, demonstrates what stunning effects and cumulative power someone with a wide-view lens, diverse skill set, and ease with contrasts can conjure with this hybrid form.
The book’s introduction, simply titled “Haibun”, serves admirably as a pithy primer on the subject. It’s the product both of an incisive mind and an open heart, ever oriented to the reader. “The aim [of the prose-haiku juxtaposition] is to stimulate the imagination and sensibility of the reader to find deeper relationships and complex connections.” When Balabanova states that “[h]aibun is a subtle and sophisticated literature” we intuitively sense that she knows exactly what she’s talking about. Her ensuing work confirms this.
The opening piece in the collection, “Distances”, begins with a haiku that displays a fascination (seen throughout this volume) with the celestial realm.
between the stars invisible stars
Subsequently we experience the first of many synapse-triggering register shifts with the haibun’s capping poem.
the sun rooted
in the sky
A number of the haibun in this collection are highly personal and deeply moving. One begins with a single-sentence paragraph that’s at once impossible to stop at and dislodge: “Yesterday we found my son’s and his friend’s white bunny dead.”
In contrast, the collection’s shortest haibun—presented here in its entirety—leaves a more lyrical but no less indelible impression.
After the autumn fires which burned down the green cathedral of the summer, before the white flag of the winter . . .
my love let’s see Venice
before it sinks
Placed at intervals throughout the collection are hand-drawn illustrations, some of isolated and featureless figures in contemporary apparel, others (as on the cover) of one or two individuals occupying precisely rendered interior elevations. These images do not relate to particular haibun but instead act in concert with the entire volume to create something of a meta-haiga imbued with complexity and intrigue.
Not only an array of haibun spanning the full spectrum of expressive and emotional colorations, Sunflower Field also stands as a coherent work with a fully satisfying experiential arc. Balabanova’s last haibun, “High Lake”, ends thus:
equinox . . .
at sunset shadows lay down
It’s a rest richly deserved.
See the complete list of winners of both Individual Poem Awards and Distinguished Books Awards in the Touchstone Archives.