Wednesday, March 12, 2008


Four months ago, I launched this journal to provide a needed venue for haibun and for dialogue about the genre. I sought as well to build a bridge to connect the widely dispersed practitioners of the form and wrote, in my initial editorial of Nov. 22, 2007, that Haibun Today wished neither to favor nor to exclude any particular style or school. I reiterated, in a second editorial, that our policy would be “tolerance toward competing schools of thought.”

Why, one might fairly ask? Is there some virtue inherent in eclecticism? Is aesthetic quality served by offering representation to one and to all? Or is eclecticism merely an excuse for an absence of critical direction and principle?

The why of pursuing “the liberal and catholic stance of inclusion” of my inaugural editorial has very little to do with eclecticism per se, but finds justification in the recognition that “haibun as a genre is fluid and ill-defined, volatile and subject daily to change” and that this situation will not likely change radically in the immediate period ahead. Definition in literature is a relatively slow process that is achieved by informed critical study of an existing body of work.

Isn’t there an existing body of work, one that has been in place and growing for well over two decades? Yes, certainly. But even the most generous and sympathetic commentators are likely to agree when I opine that “informed critical study” of haibun to date is virtually non-existent. No adequate bibliography exists. Studies of Bashō or Issa are available but there are no monographs on modern practitioners and precious few essays.

Perhaps most telling and damning is the lack of a comprehensive historical anthology of haibun classics, one that includes both the earliest and latest significant achievements in the form. Many important early works are inaccessible to the public, for all practical purposes, because they were published in limited edition pamphlets or low-circulation print journals. Why does this matter? For young would-be writers of haibun, this deficiency is critical and debilitating, for they face the challenge of learning a difficult art with only contemporary examples and their natural talents to guide them – historical and aesthetic continuity being a chimera.

So this is where Haibun Today, as part of the haibun community, discovers itself in early 2008 and this is why eclecticism is the chosen path. In practical terms, this policy compels an editor to double as archivist, also, and to publish haibun and commentaries frequently at variance with his own predilections and opinions. Because a “liberal and catholic stance of inclusion” implies as much, no formal disclaimer has ever been posted here to distance the editor from Haibun Today’s individual contributors.

If haibun is to survive and develop as a viable genre, bibliographies, anthologies, monographs, book reviews and critical essays will play a role that is only slightly less central than the writing of haibun itself. Nor may haibun poets cast their eyes about the larger environment and blame their relative obscurity, with any justice, upon an indifferent “mainstream” literati or broader haikai community. Writers in any arena have an obligation not only to write well but to work, also, to promote that writing, to secure an audience and to improve, thereby, the odds of their art’s survival.

The blame for the general dearth of critical writing and editing on haibun begins at home, within the haibun community itself. Writing a commendable haibun is a difficult task, indeed. If we might compare that task to winning a battle for recognition today, how much greater is the skill and commitment that is required of the haibun poet to win the larger war that secures the survival of haibun tomorrow?

by Jeffrey Woodward
Detroit, Michigan

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