Ray lives in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. He's a writer and photographer. He's been editor of a number of haiku and Haibun journals. He enjoys wilderness hiking and canoeing. His collection "Landmarks: A Haibun Collection" is available on Amazon.
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, said 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, but found definitions lacking, particularly the formulaic ones like 5-7-5 syllables in 3 lines, short-long-short.
So I read a lot of haiku, both those of the Japanese masters and of contemporary haijin who managed to get their haiku published and learned I simply didn’t get much out of them. Indeed, I mostly wondered why the editors picked the haiku featured in their journals.
I learned 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 glancing at them, not engaging in 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 reading skills, so that I could appreciate and understand why the editors selected some and not others, and particularly not mine. And that’s what this three part series is about – How to do a deep reading of haiku as a first step in learning how to compose haiku.
Welcome to presentations about the whats and hows of Haiku, Haibun (a mix of title, prose & haiku) and Haiga (a mix of image and haiku).
The focus is on contemporary English-language writing and artwork in these genres.
Examples and discussions of exemplars in these genres from both contemporary writers and artists & Japanese masters like Basho and Issa are offered.
Comments and questions are welcome. If you send a comment, I’ll consider posting it on a C&R (comments and responses) page. -> email@example.com
This is not a place to submit your work for publication.
I plan to gather a collection of a large variety of writers’ favourite published haibun or haiga on this site. If you send me an example of your favourite published work, either haibun or haiga, and I’ll discuss it with you and consider posting it. By published, I mean work that was submitted to a journal with independent editors. Regardless of its quality, I won’t post self-published work (e.g., posted on your own blog or website) or work that has been posted on forums or blogs where there isn’t a serious independent editorial process in place.
If interested, send one, two or three published pieces to me at -> firstname.lastname@example.org
Subject line: Ray’s Blog, My Published Work, Your Name, Date
Email Body: Include along with your piece(s) provide Title, Name of Publication, Date of Publication. e.g., Day’s End, Haibun Today, 11:2, 2015.
Email Body: Your Name and country and state/province/region of residence.
Email Body: Your blog or website and/or email if you wish to have them listed.
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. . . .