Whenever I’m in a writing rut, I can count on frogpond to snap me out of it. Frogpond is the official publication of the Haiku Society of America. It is filled with, of course, haiku, but also with so much more: essays, book reviews, senryu, tanka, tan renga, rengay, renku, and my favorite, haibun. (Well, haiga are also right up there but there are no pictures in this particular publication). I read frogpond cover to cover and always find insights and delight.
There is something between waking and sleeping, a place where you are of two worlds, or perhaps of another world entirely, or perhaps of no world. I love it there: my senses acute, my body still for once, my consciousness open to all possibilities and combination of abilities. Thoughts, dreams, visions, out-of-body experiences all happen there. If I grab a pencil to record them, all vanishes deep into this elusive space, inaccessible with merely a body.
from my bed I see
you at a flying river;
splashes on my face.
To understand haibun, it is helpful to know that they are also referred to as “Haiku prose.” Haibun are short, usually quite short, essays with a haiku or two ending it or appearing somewhere within the text. It is not a new form, and in fact, there are haibun from several of the great Japanese haiku masters including Basho who lived in the second half of the 17th century.
According to William J. Higginson in his book, The Haiku Handbook, there are typically seven characteristics to haibun (from page 211 of the 1985 edition). Haibun are
- Written in prose and usually concludes with one or more haiku
- Abbreviated in syntax; grammar words and sometimes even verbs are omitted
- No explanation of the haiku
- Imagistic; relatively few abstractions or generalizations
- Objective; the writer is somewhat detached, maintains an aesthetic distance, even when describing himself
- Humorous; while seriousness and beauty concern the writer, a haibun usually demonstrates a light touch
Well, I got a few of those in “This Morning.” I would love to explain my haiku in the haibun above, but will refrain in order to follow rule #4.
Basho wrote more than 60 haibun and wrote his travel journals in haibun as well. I wish I would have done this on my recent travels. Live and learn; next time. I have, however, used haibun in personal letter writing and think the haiku contributes another dimension to the letter, keeping it from becoming too pedantic, boring, or journalistic.
In the Winter, 2013 (Volume 36:1) issue of frogpond, winners of the 2013 Haiku Society of America Haibun Contest were announced. The judge, Roberta Beary of Bethesda, Maryland, considered the following when reading submissions: “I looked for a title which added texture, risk-taking prose that stepped away from the mundane, and haiku that illuminated the prose.” The winner was Tom Painting from Atlanta Georgia, and here is his winning haibun:
Forty years ago, right after the breakup, I cut her out of the photo and then rounded the edges to make it appear complete. The other day I showed it to my students. One said he bet I had a lot of girlfriends. Yeah, but not the one I wanted.
nightcap the hazy moon.
In frogpond, Beary gives a detailed explanation as to why she selected this particular haibun, essentially praising the work for its “subtlety and nuance.” See below for other haibun resources – but be aware, you just might get hooked!
RELATED LINKS (Poems, Places, Books, Videos, Events, etc.):
Contemporary Haibun On-line
More than the Birds, Bees, and Trees: A Closer Look at Writing Haibun – essay on haibun at Poets.org
Haibun Today – on-line quarterly journal of haibun and tanka
On The Poet’s Trail – A National Geographic on-line article (February 2008) by Howard Norman who retraced Basho’s travels. Photography by Michael Yamashita.
A Selection of Matsu Basho’s Haiku