Haibun is the relating of a journey, using the language of poetic prose joined with haiku. The journey may be physical, mental, imaginary, wistful . . . virtually any sort. The narration, however, is not merely a description of this journey. Its emphasis should focus on the thoughts and emotions evoked by the experience and how they have been changed or modified by it. Haibun is a very personal form of writing, a poetic expression of an experience intended to describe and project to others the internal and external reactions intrinsic in it.
For this reason, haibun is, in my opinion, most effective when written in the first-person present point-of-view, even if the journey took place in the past. Haibun from other viewpoints are not uncommon, however, and the results of many are quite effective. A present-tense haibun strives to make readers feel as if they are sharing the "journey" with the author, with all the attending emotions and reactions involved--the feeling that the action is taking place in the "here and now."
Written with economy of language, haibun's prose should be succinct, yet highly descriptive of the physical world and of the senses. Syntax may be abbreviated to reflect human thought, which is often not expressed in complete sentences. Every word should carry the story forward to an epiphany of sorts. Flat narrative and sentimentality are to be avoided.
Prose sections are preceded by, interspersed with and/or followed by haiku, usually. Tanka or senryu may be substituted when appropriate. There is no limitation as to the length of prose or the number of haiku--except, perhaps, by the editor. Personally, I prefer haibun of under 300 words. The current trend seems to be a one-verse prose paragraph followed by a single haiku, but variations are numerous.
An easy flow between prose and haiku sections throughout is to be striven for. Some new writers of haibun tend to overdo the number of haiku, placing one or more after each short sentence or paragraph, often creating a choppy and disjointed read.
The purpose of the haiku is to emphasize the prose (and vice-versa) through the use of juxtaposition, not to summarize or repeat what has already been stated. Repetition is to be avoided as much as possible--as in renga.
While haibun's popularity has diminished in Japan, it has been growing in favor in the west, particularly among English-speaking haijin. Since "rules" are flexible, experimentation with style and content is common. The selections I plan to display in Simply Haiku will be a cross-section of styles and lengths, but concentrating on the traditional.
- Allen McGill
2003/2004 Simply Haiku