Sunday, December 16, 2007


Three weeks ago, in addressing the readers of Haibun Today, I outlined my primary motives for establishing this journal. The needs that drew me to do so were not numerous nor particularly complicated, viz., the dearth of haibun-specific venues for haibun poets and the absence of any outlet for ongoing critical dialogue on the genre.

With haibun’s relatively undefined status and constantly changing ‘rules’ in mind, I asserted that HT sought to present writers of every ‘persuasion’ and every ‘school,’ insisting that haibun in English was too young and that it was premature to seek to elaborate and establish prescriptive rules for proper composition. I am convinced that this is the situation we find ourselves in today as the year 2007 comes to a close.

I regret that I did not stress a collateral issue sufficiently, though it finds a logical premise in our desire to initiate and extend a critical dialogue on the genre and our policy of tolerance toward persons of differing ‘persuasion.’

One problem I wish to ameliorate is what is very likely a by-product of the relative novelty of haibun as well as of the widely-dispersed haikai communities that first nourished the genre and where haibun made its initial steps toward adolescence and mature independence. It is easy to forget, at times, that only in the past ten years have poets stepped forward who have established their reputations predominately as writers of haibun, e.g,, David Cobb or Ken Jones, Jim Kacian or Bruce Ross.

This difficulty that I allude to, this barrier to haibun development, arises from the parochialism that was born of emerging haibun writers working in relative isolation and, hence, innocence of each other’s activities. Not only would a competent haibun poet in North America be unlikely to be in contact with his counterparts in the UK or in Australia and New Zealand, but the haibun poet in New York might be ignorant of his comrade in New Mexico, the one in Melbourne of his fellow in Auckland. Such circumstances are limiting and will deform, if unchecked, any artistic or intellectual discipline. Upon such barren ground, haibun has celebrated its first flowering.

So I want to place due emphasis not only upon a desire to show tolerance among competing schools of thought but upon a spirit of wakefulness and curiosity, also, that extends beyond local particularity and beyond national borders.

Essays, articles and documentation of the evolving haibun scene must play a role in initiating dialogue. Any increase in communication among haibun writers ― today separated more by geographical happenstance than individual interest – can only be viewed as a positive development. Not every poet is given to drafting polemical essays and programmatic statements on points of haibun technique or theory. This much is understood. Yet even the presentation in close proximity of the diverse haibun of many hands – work arising from different locales and continents, work often motivated by rival aesthetic assumptions and views – even such a simple juxtaposition adds to our knowledge, thereby defining parameters and isolating problematic areas for further investigation.

The presence of a haibun community may fairly be judged invisible or an invention of this editor’s rhetoric. No formal organization exists for haibun writers such as the various national haiku and tanka societies. There are a few small and scattered groups – primarily online forums where poets post and critique haibun. Some writers correspond on relevant issues. Beyond such informal and transitory phenomena, the solitary haibun poet may be found lost, as it were, in the back pages of your favorite quarterly haiku journal or lurking in the outer hall of a haiku convention dedicated to exploring topics of marginal relevance to haibun: the “haiku moment,” the rules of renku, the aesthetics of sabi or, perhaps, the importance or lack thereof of kigo for contemporary English-language haiku.

Haibun – I paraphrase Stanley Pelter – is neither haiku nor short story. It is something of both; it is something other and it is something more. Such witty paradoxes may be as close as we can come today at arriving at clarity or definition. Yet, with such achievements as David Cobb’s Spring Journey to the Saxon Shore or Ken Jones’s Stallion’s Crag, to cite only two ambitious examples, and with the gradual emergence in the last decade of quality writers whose reputations are based most firmly upon their practice of haibun, perhaps the time is ripe for these very poets to comprehend their own standing, to recognize the independence of their genre and to build a community no longer limited by or subservient to those ‘rules of engagement’ that well-meaning haiku circles seek to elaborate and enforce.

by Jeffrey Woodward
Detroit, Michigan

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