The Haibun – Thoughts – December 30, 2015

I was “googling” today to see if I could find something particularly interesting to write about haibun, basically I was just interested in a “how to write a haibun” page but came up with a treasure trove,  this interesting article on Haibun TodayTransmissions of Haibun by David Cobb of Shalford, Esse, England in the September issue of 2013.

I found this a fascinating read about the transmission of haibun into Western society (and specifically to Britain ) … especially considering that haibun had/has become almost a dead letter until recently in its native Japan: “Toshinori (Nenten) Tsubouchi, began encouraging the genre these past few years in Japanese, partly under the stimulus of Hisashi Miyazaki, who in turn was influenced by SHG (Tito) and Ken Jones (both of Britain)*”.  Of course haibun was introduced to the west thanks to the translation of Nobuyuki Yuasa who translated Basho’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North (Penguin Classics, 1966).

Before this wonderful translation though,  Jack Kerouac might be considered to be the first westerner to actually write a haibun of sorts:

“Jack Kerouac’s The Dharma Bums and On the Road have certain resemblances to haibun, in attitude if not in execution. […] In The Dharma Bums, Kerouac’s alter ego, Japhy Ryder, is bitten with the same sense of mission: ‘This,’ he said (meaning The Dharma Bums) ‘is really a book about religious vagrants . . . rucksack wanderers . . . Zen lunatics who go about writing poems that happen to appear in their heads for no reason.’ We might accept this, right down to the present day, as not a bad description of what haibun means to a good number of those who are intoxicated by the form.” (article cited above)

I myself only discovered the haibun in August of 2013 through a blog called Ligo Haibun hosted by Hamish Gunn which is now closed I think.  One thing I’d noticed was that the haibun has often become a sort of flash fiction or short story with haiku interspersed in it or with a more classical haiku ending and sometimes they’re tales about inner journeys, but certainly they’re rarely a travel diary (which I admit  that I myself have written in all these forms) and quite frankly, haibun today seems to have little to do with Basho’s Oku-no-hosomichi (The Narrow Road to the Deep North) 

“Where might haibun stand in relation to these experimental forms? We seem to agree that haiku is a poem conceived (observed) in a flash; some also hold that it is also best recorded (written down) in a flash, though more of us—from Bashō onwards—demur that haiku should be crafted carefully over any length of time. Kerouac also, though we may associate his method with ‘action writing’ and ‘stream of consciousness’, is on record as saying ‘haiku is best reworked and revised.’ ‘Flash writing’ is not to be confused with ‘first thoughts, best thoughts’, better left untouched. The ‘flash’ is a loose measure of the time it takes to read a piece, but not the time it took to write it, or the time needed, after reading it, to absorb it. All this applies equally to haiku and haibun.

Of course, haibun is not ‘flash fiction’. From the point of view of subject matter, most haibun are ‘flash-faction’, an umbrella for sub-sets such as ‘flash history’, ‘flash legend’, ‘flash myth’, ‘flash memoir’, ‘flash essay’, ‘flash diary’, ‘flash journal’, ‘flash travelogue’, ‘flash prose poem’; though there are indeed examples that we might call ‘flash story’ and even ‘flash fairy tale’ and ‘flash science fiction’. Ken Jones has aimed to broaden his readership by calling some of his output ‘haiku stories’.

Interest in ‘short writing’ exists not least in creative writing courses—among students, and among tutors. It is for that reason it seemed to me timely to offer, in tandem, Marching with Tulips—a very varied collection of different types of haibun—and What Happens in Haibun—a study which tries to pinpoint whatever roles haiku may play when embedded in prose. (article cited above).

To be honest, unlike with haiku and other waka, I’d never really looked into what haibun is or isn’t nor of its evolution or history or even where it stands in the world of poets (Japanese and Western) today.  I found this article stimulating enough to want to go and do a little more research into this fascinating genre.

*Some background about the British haibun tradition – Icebox

What Happens in Haibun

On David Cobb’s Marching with Tulips

Icebox a blog dedicated to haiku and haibun that began publishing in 2008

**I found the photo of this panel on Art and Life in an interesting post entitled: “Haibunga!”