Welcome. My intent is to show examples and to discuss contemporary English-language haibun (a mix of title, prose & haiku) and haiku (haibun prose’s little partner).
I will provide examples and discussions of exemplars in these genres by contemporary writers and & Japanese masters like Basho and Issa.
I’ll be drawing from my 20 plus years of writing in these genres and editing journals that publish them. I’ve helped develop and was recently or currently am editorially associated with Contemporary Haibun Online and Haibun Today.
I welcome dialogue, comments and questions, back and forth, should you care to contribute. However, this is not a place to submit your work for publication.
And as a bit of background, I live at times in a rural area near Acton, Ontario and at times in Edmonton, Alberta. My partner Nancy and I enjoy hiking in the Rockies and in the canyon country of Utah, canoeing in Algonquin Provincial Park, and bicycling in our rolling hill country which helps beat the bugs in June and July. My personal homepage is Raysweb: Photography and Haiku Poetry.
Is is safe to say that most writers want someone to read their work. So we send our haibun to friends and family, post it on forums, submit it to journals and publishers, and we create our own blogs to show our work. . . .
For more information and places to send your work -> go here
The Rogue River falls shown above is, in my estimation, nature’s exemplar of a waterfall. I’d also like to say that it’s a photographic exemplar, aka an excellent photograph, but for that it’s my own shot of the falls. Thus someone else will have to praise it or buy it or publish it for it to approach the lofty rank of exemplar.
On this page, over time, I’ll post a number of haibun by writers other than myself that in my view are both well done and help to show the variety of styles that represent contemporary English-language haibun.
For some of these exemplars, I’ll offer commentaries – close readings to explore what makes them work well enough to have been published by a journal editor.
Of course, my tastes in this selection are showing, which is why I think it’s important to post published works where an editor independent of the writer saw fit to select the piece for the enjoyment of his or her readers.
If you read any of these, please use the comments window where they appear to tell me what you think of them and a bit about why.
Very little has been done in the way of informed critical study of the haibun form, particularly when compared with the number of haiku studies.
While there’s been a good deal of emphasis in haibun about the importance of the link between the haibun’s prose and the link-shift with it’s important little sidekick, the haiku, almost nothing has been explored about how a haibun title might similarly link-shift with the haibun prose and haiku.
This is strange because in most other writing genres, there’s a good deal of information about the importance of titles and how to create a good one.
This post explores Du Fu’s poem “Day’s End” in terms of the key characteristics of contemporary English-language haibun composition. It also explores the value of modelling the work of writers whose poetry touches you as a way of expanding your writing repertoire.
Some years ago, I was interested in expanding my reading from Japanese Masters (Basho and Issa) to Chinese Masters and somehow found my way to Du Fu’s poems. It was frustrating that it was so difficult to find the work of Du Fu and other Asian masters in online sources, particularly in light of Harvard professor Stephen Owen’s comment: “We have Dante, Shakespeare and Du Fu (712-770). These poets create the very values by which poetry is judged.” If Du Fu is so highly regarded by the world’s literary scholars, why is it that the Chinese poet-sage Du Fu . . . an immortal in the East Asian cultural sphere, still remains largely unknown in the Western world, and particularly unknown by poetry enthusiasts?
I liked what I found in Du Fu’s writing. As with Basho and Issa, it warmed me to think I could relate to the experiences and poetic sensibilities of a person writing in 8th century China to my own experiences in 21st century Canada. He’d communicated not just from another country, but across a gap 1300 years. Perhaps it’s because the joys and sorrows of the lived life, despite all our luxuries, hasn’t changed that much.
to explore what I view as some of the orthodoxies made about English-language haiku composition, pronouncements that tend to bind writers into a straight-jacket like haiku structure. Issa’s haiku tend not to follow these commonly stated orthodoxies. And yet they are so charming!
to encourage deep readings of the works of Japanese masters like Issa and Basho, and particularly to showcase some of their haibun compositions which are difficult to find online.” Basho’s Haibun “Hiraizumi”: A Commentary” is another example.
I also do this type of writing for my own development as a writer and reader. Deep readings of the work of haiku and haibun exemplars helps me expand my own writing repertoire and enjoyment of poetry.
Early on in my haiku and haibun journey, editors rejected my haibun and several advised me to read haiku, saying that I’d not be able to write a good haibun until I had mastered the haiku part of haibun’s prose-haiku partnership. I had already looked at the many definitions of the two related genres (haiku and haibun), but found definitions lacking in specifics and mostly useless except as a rough guide, particularly the formulaic definitions like number of lines and syllable counts.
So I read a lot of haiku, both those of the Japanese masters and of the published works contemporary haijin and learned I simply didn’t get much out of them except that most didn’t follow the 5-7-5, 3-line, short-long-short structure learned in English classes.
And I mostly wondered why the editors picked the haiku featured in their journals. I concluded that haiku are not only difficult to write, but they are also difficult to read and understand, to “get the poetic spark,” so to speak. A problem was that I had a tendency to read them once quickly and to read too many at a time. In short, I was merely glancing at them, expecting a spark to jump out at me. I wasn’t engaging in what might be called “deep reading.”
I decided that in order to better understand haiku and thus, to be better able to write a worthy haiku and haibun, I had to first hone my haiku reading skills. In this way, I might be able to appreciate and understand why the editors selected some and not others, and particularly why they didn’t accept mine. And that’s what this three-part series is about – How to do a deep reading of haiku for better understanding of the nature of haiku.
Basho’s contribution to English-language haibun and a definition and examples of Contemporary Haibun with comparisons to other short genres including memoirs, journal entries, travel journals, personal essays and flash or short fiction. . . .
Bashō’s travel journals, purportedly the earliest examples of haibun, are accounts of his late-in-life walking journeys through Japan. They are often cited as important reading for serious students of the form. More generally, they are held up as good reading for readers who enjoy poetic prose and who want a glimpse of the spirit of a man who lived several centuries ago.
For this commentary, I’ve selected the passage “Hiraizumi” from Basho’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North about the demise of the Fujiwara clan. The aim to to explore Basho’s use of haibun and haiku as an exemplar of Japan’s best known haiku and haibun master.
I’ve also added one of my published haibun as an example of a contemporary haibun composition.
courtesan and monk,
we sleep under one roof together,
moon in a field of clover
“A Monk’s Journey” is haibun with a mix of my prose intertwined with translations of Basho’s haiku. It was first published in the journal Simply Haiku. I present it to show how writers can work in conversation, so to speak, with the Japanese masters and other contemporary poets. . . .