Thursday, November 22, 2007


The title, Haibun Today, is really a misnomer. Haibun as a genre is fluid and ill-defined, volatile and subject daily to change, invisible to the public-at-large and widely misapprehended by haiku editors and commentators. Haibun is richly varied, by its foremost practitioners, in matter and technique but paradoxically Lilliputian in character when this achievement is measured against what appears to be its inexhaustible promise.

Haibun is terra incognita – vast and only marginally explored.

Earlier this year, when reviewing Contemporary Haibun 8, I wrote: “… haibun in English has few, if any, hard and fast rules. Well-intentioned journal editors who solicit or reviewers who comment upon the genre may inform the reader that haibun’s requirements include any possible combination of the following guidelines: prose plus one or more haiku; use of present tense; use of first person; a subject chosen from one’s common everyday existence; a revelatory or ‘aha’ moment …. Unfortunately, the curious reader who conducts even a cursory review of the literature will soon discover that exceptions outnumber cases of conformity to every guideline cited and that, moreover, the exceptions quite often are not weaker for this lack of adherence. Practice precedes theory in poetry and so poetic success in the face of a critical failure and lack of consensus should not greatly surprise.”

Objections must be anticipated when one issues a pronunciamento. I received them, of course, in due time. Cogent arguments to the contrary – and I did receive these, also – left me, I admit, unconverted and I persist in my skepticism.

Precision is precious and reassuring. Perhaps Haibun Tomorrow would be the more exacting sobriquet, for tomorrow may be the day that we discover what precisely haibun is. In the interim, the individual poet will continue to write what he or she labels haibun and, with every flirtation and approach to the form, will discover, again, its protean nature, its quality of shifting before one’s very eyes, of assuming a new identity and nature – not tomorrow, not today but now, this very moment, in the act of writing itself.

Why, exactly a fortnight ago, did I launch Haibun Today? Can any positive result be expected from such a venture?

I read Contemporary Haibun Online avidly, collect the annual anthologies of its best writing and admire the broad taste of its editors – Jim Kacian, Bruce Ross and Ken Jones – who exclude no style or technique and who, with uncanny accuracy, publish many excellent haibun while surveying the nine-headed Hydra, to their peril, at close range. But CHO, to my knowledge, remained the lone haibun-specific outlet until two weeks ago.

Haibun poets, beyond securing a place for their work in CHO, have only scattered outlets in various haiku journals. Some periodicals ― Modern Haiku, Frogpond, Simply Haiku and Bottle Rockets come to mind ― regularly offer fair representation of the form. In most haiku venues, however, haibun is either wholly absent or rarely tolerated but poorly understood. The recipe for acceptance in many markets is one or two serviceable haiku with a dash of undistinguished and generic prose: voilà, haibun!

One publication cannot achieve everything. CHO, while consistently collecting and preserving the best haibun submitted to its editors, has had little space for critical articles and little inclination for book reviews, now sorely needed as haibun’s practitioners continue to grow in number and sophistication.

I envision Haibun Today as an ongoing and open critical forum as well as an evolving anthology of the genre. I invite the participation of haibun writers of every persuasion and, to that end, plan to initiate sections for “Letters to the Editor” and “Guest Editorials.” Essays and book reviews pertinent to the genre are eagerly sought. I intend to post the best examples of haibun made available to me – unpublished and previously published.

I aspire to place as few restrictions as possible upon would-be contributors. I do ask, in relation to works previously published, that accurate first publication information be provided so a proper acknowledgement to the source can be made. I also ask contributors not to forward works currently available in widely-read online journals. There is little point in duplicating here work that everyone has previously read at Simply Haiku or Contemporary Haibun Online, for example.

I hope it is clear, from my own skeptical attitude toward haibun definition, that Haibun Today intends to adopt the liberal and catholic stance of inclusion. I have no style or school that I wish to favor, no style or school that I desire to exclude.

Jeffrey Woodward
Thanksgiving Day 2007
Detroit, Michigan

1 comment:

Kathleen said...

What a great site! Thank you for this. I came here today to read Al De Genova's haibun and read lots more, plus your article here that states your purpose and the origin of the site.

I've been interested in the form since encountering some Jane Hirshfield translations and essays. A friend and I did a long collaborative essay-like haibun, on the theme of journey (various sorts of journey)--published in Ninth Letter, Volume 4, No. 1, Spring/Summer 2007.