Best Intentions

| Recently Published Haibun by Ray Rasmussen |

image credit: unknown

Hell isn’t merely paved with good intentions:
it’s walled and roofed with them. Yes, and furnished too.
~ Aldous Huxley

We’re dining on ginger beef and cod in black bean sauce, flavored with catch-up chat. My friend Kathy, leans toward me and says, “I think you’re just about to have an important birthday. Yes?”

I tell her my age and, excited now, she says: “I thought so. Why don’t I organize a party to celebrate your milestone?”

Milestone? The word was coined for the stone obelisks placed by those great builders, the Romans, to mark distances along the many roads branching out from Rome.

age-worn stone 
the emperor’s name 

“If you set up a milestone gathering, have a good time and say hello to everyone for me,” I reply.

“What – you wouldn’t want to celebrate with your friends?” she asks.

“It’s the idea that I’ve done something extraordinary to reach my present age, like conquering a new territory, and thus deserve a tribute where I parade my army, plunder, and slaves through streets lined with cheering citizens. A milestone party would invite congratulatory comments like ‘You’ve made it to a magic age,” lead to questions like ‘What’s on your bucket list – going sky diving?”

“Do you mean you think they’d not be sincere?” she asks.

“When I look at someone my age, even when they’re still mentally and physically active, I feel a sadness about their diminishment. On my last hiking trip, a middle-aged companion said, ‘Ray, I sure hope I can be as active as you when I’m your age.’ Tongue in cheek, and secretly irritated, I replied, “I’m confused. I’m only 35.” I knew it was intended as a compliment, but I was thinking, There are downsides to reaching my age, the small infirmities that, like weathered milestones, ruthlessly mark diminishment’s path.

“Okay,” she replies, “no milestone-theme party, but I’d like to do something.”

“Agreed. I’d enjoy a gathering celebrating everyone, each person who wants sharing what’s going on in their own lives”

my winter is just this – 
a pair of goldfinches 
still visiting the feeder*

“You’d not want any comments on your birthday?” she asks.

“If people feel they must say something, I’d prefer honesty, preferably with humor, like Hal’s greeting the other day when I met him for coffee: ‘Damn, but you look grizzled, shaggy white beard, wild hair. Looks like you’ve been in a wind storm.’”

She laughs. “I’ll bet it was you looking in the mirror talking to yourself.”

You’re right, I looked and said: “I’m happy to be here and yet I feel guilty about having my cosmic dice roll so many 7s.”

awaiting cremation –
birthday cards line
the fireplace mantel


Published in Presence, 2020.

* The second haiku is after after Issa’s: my spring is just this – / a single bamboo shoot / a willow branch

The Ask. A haibun by Ray Rasmussen

| Recently Published Haibun by Ray Rasmussen |

image by r. rasmussen

The Ask

My lover asks me:
"What is the difference
between me and the sky?"
          ~ Nizar Qabbani

After reading Qabbani’s poem together, my lover smiles and asks: “What’s the difference between me and the sky?”

The difference, my love, is when in spring, you guide me to view the purple crocus poking above winter’s leaf litter.

And when in summer, you put your canoe paddle aside to pick up your camera, and my eyes follow your gaze to a tiny bonsai-shaped spruce growing from a sawn stump in an Algonquin Lake.

And when in fall, you see ATV tracks that have scoured the forest path we love to walk, and I see your eyes flood with pain.

And when in winter you hush me and stop to gaze at deer tracks in the snow.

And when today, you gasp and your face lights up when a red fox gracefully crosses Moss Stone creek on an inches-wide log that no human would dare walk.

And when minutes later, a second fox follows, bark-yips, receives a bark-yip in return, and together they cavort in spring’s warming sun.

All that, my love, is how you are of the Earth, and different from the sky.

warming sun –
her hand slips
into mine

Epigraph is from Nizar Qabbani’s poem, “My Lover Asks Me,” translated by B. Frangieh & C. Brown.

Published in Cattails: The Journal of the United Haiku and Tanka Society, April 2020

Haibun Exemplars

| Haibun Exemplars | Haibun Commentaries | Haibun Close Reading Guide |

Exemplars: What are they? Why are they 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.

Haibun Titles are Important!

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.

Read more to explore why titles make a difference and the options open to haibun poets -> The Importance of Titles in Haibun

China’s Shakespeare, the Poet Du Fu (712-770)

In Brief:

painting of Du Fu
painting of Du Fu

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.

Continue reading here ->

A Winter Renewal with Issa

| Haibun: Winter Renewal | Comments on Issa’s Haiku | More Haiku by Issa |

This blog is primarily focused on exploring the nature of haiku, haibun and haiga. I posted “Winter Renewal” which contains my prose, haiku by Issa and mimic haiku by me for several reasons:

  • to expose new writers to haiku and haibun to some of Issa’s poetry.
  • to showcase a type of haibun that might be called fantasy dialogues with other writers. “Billy Collins & The Writer’s Gaze” is another example.
  • 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.

To start have a look at -> “A Winter Renewal with Issa

About This Blog

Welcome. My intent is to show examples and to discuss contemporary English-language haibun and haiga which necessitate also exploring haiku (haibun prose’s and haiga image’s little partner).

  • haibun : a mix of title, prose and haiku
  • haiga: a mix of an image of any type (painting, photograph, digital art) and haiku

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.

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. Both of us also enjoy photography and I’ll be mixing Nancy’s and my image on these pages.

My personal homepage is Raysweb: Photography and Haiku Poetry.

~ Ray Rasmussen

Basho’s Haibun “Hiraizumi”: A Commentary

Field at present day Hiraizumi ruins site, Japan . . . all that remains of soldiers’ dreams.

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.

Continue reading . . . -> Commentary

A Monk’s Journey with Basho

courtesan and monk,
we sleep under one roof together,
moon in a field of clover
~ Basho 

“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. . . .

Continue with the haibun and comments -> A Monk’s Journey

Billy Collins & The Writer’s Gaze

What the oven is to the baker,
and the berry-stained blouse to the dry cleaner,
so the window is to the poet.
                                         ~ Billy Collins
fall morning / a nuthatch outside my window / inside my poem

This essay-haibun is and exploration of a poem by Billy Collins, past Poet Laureate of the U.S., about how writers focus their attention.

Continue with -> “The Writer’s Gaze: A Haibun