Firefly Lanterns: Twelve Years in Kyōto
by Margaret Chula
NYC BIG BOOK AWARD DISTINGUISHED 2022 FAVORITE
In 1980, having spent two years traveling the globe, Margaret Chula and her husband, John Hall, agreed that they wanted to live and work in a different culture for an extended period. They chose Japan. Chula was drawn to the subtleties of Japanese poetry and to a culture that celebrated the beauty of everyday life. Once settled, they immersed themselves in the joys and challenges of living in a traditional Japanese house. Upon their return to the U.S. in 1992, they were pressed for stories about their “exotic” lives in Kyōto. Chula began to write her recollections in the Japanese form haibun, a combination of prose and haiku. The result offers a glimpse into the life of a gaijin (outside person) with humorous, embarrassing, and heartbreaking stories. Complemented with select photographs, Firefly Lanterns is the story of an inner journey enriched by knowedge of Japanese history and culture and relayed in the rich and artful haibun form—a beautiful homage to a remarkable and life-changing experience.
BIOGRAPHY & AUTOBIOGRAPHY / Personal Memoirs
ISBN: 978-1-951651-98-5 (print; softcover; perfect bound)
Copyright 2021; released September 2021
138 pages; 24 full-color images
Margaret Chula grew up on her grandparent’s tobacco farm on the banks of the Connecticut River, where she explored eighty acres of woods and meadows. In her thirties, she traveled around the world with her husband and then settled in Kyōto for twelve years, where she taught English and creative writing at universities. Maggie has published twelve collections of poetry, including Grinding my ink, which received the Haiku Society of America Book Award, and One Leaf Detaches, a 2019 Touchstone Distinguished Book Award winner. She has been a featured speaker and workshop leader at writers’ conferences throughout the United States, as well as in Poland, Canada, Ireland, Peru, and Japan. In 2010, she was appointed Poet Laureate for Friends of Chamber Music in Portland, Oregon. She also served for five years as President of the Tanka Society of America and currently sits on the Advisory Board of the Center for Japanese Studies at Portland State University. Grants from Oregon Literary Arts and the Regional Arts and Culture Council have supported collaborations with artists, musicians, photographers, and dancers. She lives in Portland, Oregon, where she hikes, gardens, swims, and creates flower arrangements for every room of the house.
“This lovely combination of poetry and prose evokes Kyōto, not so much the Kyōto of cherry blossoms and autumn leaves, but the fascination of Kyōto to be found in the insects, animals, and people of the four seasons. Chula has truly captured the old capital.
“Haibun is a venerable genre of Japanese literature that seamlessly marries prose and poetry. Margaret Chula skillfully balances the two, breathing new life into the haiku form that punctuates her memoir. In Firefly Lanterns, we experience the heady discoveries at the journey’s outset—the missteps, the laughter and wonder of slipping into a fresh new world. And our heart breaks with the author’s return to Japan, after years away, to find what we know to be inevitable: dreams are ephemeral, like a lantern of fireflies extinguished too soon. At the end, we are left with a slender silver thread that ties us so delicately to the luminescence of memory.”
“This memoir works on several levels. It’s a delicate and stylishly written autobiography that provides special and affectionate insight into the author’s life in Japan and the people, country, and culture. It contains haiku that are smoothly integrated into the narrative text and, with subtlety, elegance, and imagination, works within the ancient tradition of haibun.”
Interview, Haiku Poet Interviews, April 1, 2023
Ce Rosenow, Review, OPA (Oregon Poetry Association)
Laurence Kominz., “Kyoto Haibun” (Review), Kyoto Journal, 2022
Rich Youmans, “Book Review: Firefly Lanterns: Twelve Years in Kyoto,” Contemporary Haibun Online
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