Thursday, January 31, 2008

Miriam Sagan: A-BOMB HAIBUN

When I first moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico many years ago I was struck by the presence of the atom bomb, which was invented up on the hill of Los Alamos and tested down in the desert of the Jornado del Muerto. It was then of course dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

indigo pattern
of the kimono –
burned on to skin

When a recent forest fire raged in Los Alamos, people were worried. “We’re downwind from Los Alamos,” they said, as if we hadn’t been all along.

Los Alamos lights
twinkling in the dusk –
like anyplace else

I made a pilgrimage south to the Trinity Test Site where the first bomb exploded.

I walk the crater –
sand fused to glass –
wind in the sage brush

you can buy
a T-shirt, emblazoned
with a mushroom cloud

Last summer, we had a Japanese exchange student staying with us, Akiko. The anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima is celebrated as a peace day here on our Plaza. Akiko and my daughter, two teen-age girls, went off with a festive air to listen to the bands, eat snacks, connect with friends. They had no apparent sense of melancholy. Tragedy was remote, something their grandparents – who had been enemies – might speak of. I was the one thinking of history.

they turn up
in odd nooks – origami
folded peace cranes

by Miriam Sagan
Santa Fe, New Mexico

Tuesday, January 29, 2008


Just up the road from a Muslim butcher shop, across from a noodle stall popular with school kids, is a barbershop with one chair facing a cloudy mirror. On some days there are bags of rice piled up outside, but the barber never comes out to collar customers. Nor, in fact, have I ever seen anyone getting a haircut there. The barber sits on a stool and plays the erhu all day. Not needing a haircut or rice, I often stand outside and listen, imagine a different life – wind rippling the surface of a glacial lake, tea caravans snaking over mountain passes – as he pushes and pulls the horsehair bow between the strings.

winter afternoon
the Jade Green Mountains
behind me

by Bob Lucky
Hangzhou, China

Monday, January 28, 2008


She keeps her promise to wake us before first light. Drowsy children drag their blankets and pillows downstairs; the dog, curled up and warm in his bed, moves like a sloth’s disciple, groaning as he rises.

Outside in the crisp November air she snaps a sleeping bag open on the driveway. How clear it is and how many stars!

Not until a lone white streak leaps out of black space do they realize they’ve been awakened for a meteor shower. Heads swivel north then south in anticipation of the next display—talk ceases altogether with a sudden blossoming of streaming flares. Delight grows as each tries to guess from which part of the sky the next silent explosion will come.

The dust of comet Tempel-Tuttle burning as it hits the atmosphere comes not from any recent appearance but from a pass it made in 1766, returning every 33 years. Each November the Earth spins through the comet’s slowly scattering trail in a spectacle known as the Leonids, named for the constellation of Leo the Lion, the apparent source of its wanderings.

Imagine as it sailed by the earth in that year, the guillotine’s confidante, Robespierre, was only a boy of eight and even Beethoven would not be born for yet another four years. What enormous distances this comet has traveled since it fell into our solar system from its infinite balcony!

After an hour, with the cold of the driveway having seeped into their sleepy bodies, the children return to their beds, their mother following.
Unwilling to let the Leonids go, I take to the neighborhood streets with our dog. Staring upwards, I stumble all over my feet until sunrise. As we walk along I wonder as it passed in 1766, how many American colonists would have dreamed they’d be declaring their freedom from England in just ten years.

the Leonids
here, there ...
pluming breaths

by Gary LeBel
Cumming, Georgia
Autumn 2003

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Bill Wyatt: from CICADA IMMORTALS part 2

I arose earlier than the others, & made my way up to the old Genoese Castle in the morning light. Two Rock Nuthatches obliged after some waiting, with a dancing display. The Little Owl put in an appearance, looking more than bleary.

'Bringing news of spring
the nightingales love song'

After breakfast we drove out to Scala Kalonis. Walked along a dried out salt pan area, managed to see two much wanted birds- Whiskered Tern & Olivaceous Warbler. Plants were few & far between. We later found that the winter had been one of the driest on record.

A barefoot girl
the wind lifting her skirt
made me forget about myself

Just outside of Molivos, we stopped & found growing by the roadside a clump of Syrian Thistle (Notobasis syriaca) The purple-flushed Syrian Thistle, despite its wonderful colouring, comes from a Greek derogatory word meaning "donkey thistle".

It must have been
your lips that sent
your friends away

Plenty of Isabelline Wheatears, their Latin name, Oenanthe, meaning a bird that appears at the same time as the first shoot of the vine.

Down by the sea shore
all the world was shining –
just for you and me

It was getting late, so we headed for our "breakfast bar", no time for a wash & clean up. They were laying on the satellite Cup Final for us. Exciting match, especially as we had a "stuffed" eagle staring at us from the television set. The match 3-3 after extra time. Crystal Palace leading Manchester United 3-2 with 8 minutes of normal time left. Replay next Thursday, the day we get back home.

We finished up back at our digs with wine and listened to some blues and jazz tapes. One of those nights when dreams become immortal.Remembering Plato's words, just as I fell asleep, “Some say nine muses – but I count again, behold the tenth, Sappho of Lesbos.”

In the meadow
horses graze on
the flowers of spring

Lesbos, May 1990

by Bill Wyatt
Bexhill-on-Sea, Sussex, England
first published in Presence 33, Sept. 2007

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Linda Papanicolaou: THE OSEBERG FIND

GRAPHIC HAIBUN: An Interview with Linda Papanicolaou

by Ray Rasmussen
Linda Papanicolaou lives in the Bay Area of California. A middle school art teacher and art historian, she is editor of Haigaonline, assistant director of WHChaikumultimedia, a resident artist at Moonset and a member of the editorial board of Modern Haiga. She became interested in haiku and haiga while teaching an art lesson that combined leaf printing and haiku. This fascination led to further experiments in the combination of image and text, especially in the area of graphic haibun.

Ray Rasmussen – technical editor of Contemporary Haibun Online, web-designer for various online literary ventures and widely-published author of haibun – recently discussed with Linda, for Haibun Today, the various practical problems and future possibilities of her wedding of haibun and art.

Ray: Linda, I'm looking now at your "The Oseberg Find," an account of your visit to a Viking ship museum in Oslo. Instead of using literal photographs of the various parts of the museum and artifacts, you've made up panels composed of digitally modified images that look a bit like newspaper images in their texture and your text and haiku are placed strategically in different places. I think that your approach to this sort of presentation is rather unique. Could you tell us how you came to it?

Linda: As a style, it's actually rather easy because the frames, photo filters and font are all in the software package I'm using, Comic Life. If you go to the company's website, there's an online gallery where you'll see others that are recognizably similar to mine.

As an art teacher, I've noticed that many of our students are avid readers of graphic novels. Graphic novels are comic books that have novel-length plots, character development and a more complex graphic style than the old "funnies" that we remember from when we were kids. Asterix the Gaul and Tintin qualify as graphic novels, but so is Art Spiegelman's Maus. There are also science and history-based novels, and of course a huge market in the US for the Japanese style, called "manga". I started looking at them and realized their practical applications for integrating images into haibun.

Ray: Right, they have the look not of the comic books of my childhood, but of artistic pieces with a different artwork than fine art drawings or paintings or than the literal photography one usually finds in haiga. So, how do you think about them? Why do they work as they do? And am I right that this is a rather unique approach?

Linda: There are others who have put images to haibun. In online presentations, there are two ways to do this. The first is to make a two-column table in html, put the text in one column and a jpeg of the image in the other. This can make for a handsome web page, but text entered in html tends to stay text, while the image tends to sit in its jpeg as an illustration rather than participate in the haibun as a coequal to the prose and the poem.

The second is to treat the haibun like haiga text, inserting it into the jpeg itself. The problem here is that there may not be room for it in the image itself. That means creating a very large jpeg so that you can surround the image with a frame big enough for a column of text. There will be problems of large file size, slow download and inflexibility in adapting to various readers' screen sizes.

I tried both approaches but with neither could I achieve the kind of aesthetic unity one gets with haiga where the text is a simple, short haiku.

Comics have been called "sequential art" and have a highly developed set of graphic conventions that are designed to display the image and text in dynamic relationship so that meaning is created by their juxtaposition. These conventions bring text and image closer together than other art forms, and they offer a ready-made set of design conventions that work very well for combining haibun with haiga. By dividing the page into panels, pictorial imagery can expand beyond the single image to depict narrative progression, zoom or shifting point of view, while the text is in speech or thought balloons, captions, or cartoon effects, each of which comes with a visual code that cues us how we're to interpret it. In other words, images are 'read' and text is 'seen'. The aesthetic of page design in comics and graphic novels allows for every bit of space to be used economically, and the very arrangement on the page follows the reading order of a printed page – for us in our own print culture, that’s top to bottom, left to right.

Ray: Each frame of your “Oseberg Find” graphic haibun has three elements: text that explains the displays; images to illustrate your impressions of the ships and artifacts; and haiku or short poems. Let's start with the artwork. I see a mix of small, digital images that seem to be modifications of photographs and that show us the setting and artifacts, and you have background graphics that give your impressions of the character of the place. And the entire layout, the way these images are mixed, could be called a composite work of art.

Linda: Yes, I use multiple images on a page. When I began doing graphic haibun, I quickly realized that multiple images in juxtaposition on a page are necessary not only to get what we expect as the look of a comic but also to take advantage of its visual conventions. In the page size I use for online presentation, optimal design seems to be four to six frames, including both image and text panels.

Within the four pages of “The Oseberg Find,” you'll see four different ways that the images relate to one another. On page 1, there are three image panels, all of the ship. Two of them are actually the same photograph, though one is zoomed and manipulated with a different Photoshop filter; the third is a view of the carved bowsprit, from a different angle. If you think about it, it's like cubism. A Picasso, for instance, though what may have influenced me more directly is a video from a PBS children's art series called "Behind the Scenes” that I show my art students. It’s about perspective and features David Hockney drawing a chair, conflating multiple viewpoints into a single image. "It's not a chair," comments one of the children in the video, "It's a walk around a chair."

That's in fact what's going on in the first page of “The Oseberg Find”. The text speaks of walking around the ship, gazing up at it from floor level. In the subsequent pages of the series, the relationships between the images shift and develop. Page 2, which speaks about the grave goods, is centered on the sleigh as it’s displayed in a glass vitrine (showcase) in the museum, with other vitrines visible behind it. The secondary images are other artifacts that you see in the gallery. So it's still multiple points of view, but opening out to mirror the larger experience of being there by including more than is in the visual imagery of the page.

On page 3, the background is a much grayed-down reconstruction of one of the tapestries that is thought to depict the funeral cortege, an historical photo of the excavation, and another current view of the ship. So the point of view has now shifted from spatial to temporal–distant past when the ship was buried, recent past when she was dug up again, and the present. Page 4 is also temporal shift–in sunset a Viking ship and an airplane, vehicles of then and now.

Ray: Let's move to the prose. It doesn't seem to follow contemporary haibun practice, in that some of it is a bit like what you'd expect to read at the museum on signs explaining the displays, yet it's more succinct like haibun tends to be. How do you think about composing the prose for these pieces.

Linda: You’re right, though I’d point out that “The Oseberg Find” is pretty traditional in that it’s a travel haibun. My other graphic haibun are more what you've called "contemporary haibun practice" in that they directly focus on personal experience. The expository nature of this one is because of the subject matter, though actually the museum visit was a deeply personal experience. I went with two friends; it was a beautiful day, exquisite spring weather, and it was also the first time that I and one of the friends had talked at any length about the death of her son. Looking at the haibun now, it feels to me that I may have channeled some of this emotion into the experience of the museum, though this of course is not there for anyone who reads the haibun. I considered whether I should include some of this context but decided not to because it seemed to pull the prose off-focus. The "exposition” is because that’s what’s on your mind in a museum when you’re trying to absorb what you’re seeing by reading the gallery labels.

Also, I'm an art historian and all of us who study history have at some moment or another experienced an intense empathetic connection with the past. Viking art isn’t my specialty. When I got home, I plunged into reading about it avidly. Getting the factoids under control was a problem. I dealt with it by balancing each page with a personal response centered on the haiku.

Ray: As for the short poems, or haiku: Here again you seem not to be following the more typical 17-syllables or less, 2-phrase methodology. This isn't to suggest that that's the only approach to haiku, but, given that some of the haiku aren't conventional, tell us how you think of them.

Linda: You’re right. Pages 1 and 2 are inverted-syntax haiku; page 3 doesn't have a poem at all, and page 4 has a tanka. And none of them are particularly compelling as stand-alone haiku, are they? Recently I’ve been reading Bruce Ross’s essays on haibun. In “Narratives of the Heart,” he recounts a session at 2001 HNA where they discussed which comes first in haibun writing, prose or haiku. For me, both tend to pop into my head about the same time, at least in embryonic form. They may change substantially but I always test multiple versions of the poem to make sure that it says what I want it to.

Ray: Tell us a bit more about how you think about integrating text, haiku/tanka images and page design. It seems that you have a lot more to manage than someone doing standard haiga [image + prose/haiku].

Linda: The first time I tried haibun with a graphical interface, I wrote the text, then put it into a page in Comic Life with images based on photos of the same locale. Later, I realized that the graphics and images were no more than add-ons rather than part of the living, organic whole. Now, I ask myself, what part of what I want to say is best allocated to the text, what to the images. Because there’s so much more at play here than just writing, graphic haibun are extremely labor-intensive–much more so than purely text-based haibun. In a graphic presentation, the minutest details count–how size and shape of the text box affects where the line breaks will occur, how position of text and image elements draw the reader’s eye across the page to create meaning. Text-based haibun are processed linearly, beginning to end. But in a graphic presentation, with visual processing, all the elements within the picture frame are simultaneously at play as the eye darts back and forth in response to compositional movement, focal point, repetition of forms.

I'm not a "broad shift" writer in general and in my graphic haibun the haiku tend to be even closer to the prose because the images introduce so much more complexity.

Ray: Let's get back to the haiku. In haibun composition, there's been some theory advanced about the relationship of the haiku to the prose. What about this more complex mix of images, prose and haiku?

Linda: The question that comes up often in the context of both haibun and haiga is how independent and self-sufficient must the haiku be? It's been suggested that both image and haiku must be able to stand alone within their respective forms yet achieve new meaning and depth in juxtaposition.

What does that mean? Obviously, if you have a haiku that can flower into its fullness as a text-only haiku, it would be pointless at best, overkill at worst, to stick it into a haiga or haibun. In the other direction, you don't want a haiku that’s simply redundant of prose or image. What is said of haibun is that the haiku shouldn't be able to be "folded back" into the prose; the equivalent in haiga is that the haiku should not describe what we already see.

There’s an idea that has taken hold–that the haiku has to be about something completely different. From time to time, submissions come to Haigaonline where the text is so close to the image as to be almost a caption. I look at them and think, according to the “rules” this shouldn’t work, yet it does. That’s set me to mulling the whole question of linking. In the current issue of Haigaonline, we have a workshop exercise in haikuing photographs in various link modes, from repetition of what's in the image out to juxtaposition, or "scent linking" as Basho called it in the context of renku.

The exercise will be part of an ongoing study of text/image relationships. I’ve found that text-image linking in comics uses the same categories we do, and they also have a concept of linking. They call it “closure”. It’s the “gutter”, that space between the panels where the reader has to leap in and construct how one framed image relates to the next––narrative sequence, zoom in, pan out, redundancy/emphasis, changing point of view, etc.

So that’s one reason why I find that haibun takes so readily to a graphical presentation in the Comic Life layout software. Graphic novels and comics come ready-made with a vocabulary and syntax for doing just that. By treating texts and images as semiotic systems, turning text into graphics and making images read as text they collapse the differences between the two. There’s flow and unity in the whole.

Because of the way linking is embedded in comics format, I have taken to heart what Bruce Ross has said about renku-style linking being central to haibun as a form. Haiga is another form that privileges the link–on some level we all know this, though I wonder how many of us have taken the next step of recognizing that haiga and haibun are like renku except that the poem links to prose or image rather than to another poem. It’s my opinion that everyone who wants to practice either haibun or haiku should seriously look at renku.

First, in renku only the hokku or first verse has the fragment/cut/phrase structure that is fundamental to haiku; in all the links that follow, whether two- or three-lines, there is no cut. Renga practitioners do not conceive of their links as self-contained because their meaning derives not from within but rather from linking to what’s before and after.

Second, renku has a highly developed and codified approach to linking that offers a much wider range of possibilities than most of us imagine when we’re writing for haibun or haiga. There’s an article on the Renku Home page that I’ve found indispensable: “Link and Shift: A Practical Guide to Renku Composition” by Tadashi Shôkan Kondô and William J. Higginson. I recommend it to anyone who wants to build their haiga or haibun skills. Another is Ferris Gilli’s essay, “English Grammar: Variety in Renku.”

Now, regarding my single-image haiku on pages 1 and 2 of “The Oseberg Find”: Neither has a cut but rather, inverted syntax and I think of them as really more like renku links. Also, both haiku proceed from their pages’ prose narratives rather than leap away to different subject matter or locale. This is something that seems to be frowned on in haibun and haiga, but why? Janice Bostok said that she’d like to see this kind of linking “allowed” rather than only the “leaping away” method (“Must haibun contain haiku?” in Stylus Poetry Journal). In renku context, it’s also what Kondo and Higginson call “object linking” and in renku it’s not a no-no, though you’d want to vary it and use other modes of linking too.

I think I’ve done that. On pages 1 and 2, the haiku proceed from the prose but neither repeats what has already been said–as if prose and haiku ever could say exactly the same thing. I’ve tried to follow Ross and center the “epiphany” of these pages in the haiku by writing them as personal response to the factual narrative of the prose. If you look at the progression of the haibun across its four pages, you’ll also see a widening relationship between the prose and poetry. On page 4 the epiphany of the whole haibun is a tanka that leaps away to the departure area of the Oslo airport.

Ray: That brings up the subject of tanka versus haiku in haibun and haiga.

Linda: There's also been a suggestion that tanka shouldn't be used in haibun. I respect the writers who say this, with reservations. Haigaonline has always accepted haiga with tanka; they work in haiga very differently from haiku, but sometimes you want that. In graphic haibun, I find that they bring a different pacing to the page. In “The Oseberg Find,” I did try to cut this one down to a haiku but it just didn't say what I wanted it to. The prose text is much shorter on that page, so I guess that the two have found their own equilibrium.

Ray: Which graphic haibun among your works combines the three elements –prose, verse and image–more convincingly than in your other graphic haibun? Can you explain where and how this particular work succeeds in ways that others may have not?

Linda: It’s more a matter of progressing as I learn the possibilities of comic mode, especially the different ways of treating text. In my early efforts, I put everything, prose, text and image in frames. With experience, I’ve learned how to articulate the parts of the page for different levels of meaning. Text that is boxed tends to be read as the author’s voice; text laid directly on an image or against an open section of the gutter has more–how shall I call it?–“is-ness”. Similarly, the experiential level of the images differs whether they’re framed in panels, laid across the background as gutter, and whether they’re left as photographs or filtered so as to move them more into the realm of imagination. There are so many possibilities; so far I’ve barely scratched the surface.

Ray: Thanks Linda for taking the time to tell us about the whys and wherefores of this intriguing approach to linking images and text and the idea of doing sequential as opposed to single image/poem presentations. We'll list links to your other graphic haibun pieces so that readers can have a feel for this treatment on a variety of subjects, and, as you pointed out above, they'll be able to see that some of the accounts are more personalized than the museum piece.



“Keepers,” haigaonline V7 N2 Autumn / Winter 2006

“Lingering Snow,” haigaonline V7 N1 Spring / Summer 2006

“Mnemosyne,” Santa Fe Poetry Broadside #49, October 2006

“The Oseberg Find,” haigaonline V8 N2 Autumn / Winter 2007

“Putting By,” Simply Haiku V4, N2, Summer 2006

Monday, January 21, 2008

Nathalie Buckland: DIRT FLOOR

I park at the bottom of the steep driveway, and walk up a rutted track between towering gums. Birdcalls stop as I pass, resume behind me. Close to the top I hear faint sounds of music. My friends are there, in the house with only three walls. A billy simmers over an open fire for the first of many cups of tea. No electricity or running water. Mangoes spill from a hand-made basket. My friends come to greet me under the palm fronds. I take off my shoes and go inside.

midday –
many-coloured wax
on the candlesticks

After tea and conversation we sing. The others play instruments. Though I have only my voice, it is enough.

pan pipes
her bare feet
on the dirt floor

by Nathalie Buckland
Nimbin, New South Wales, Australia
first published in an earlier version in Yellow Moon, 2005

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Ray Rasmussen: FLY-FISHING

Lost Canyon, remote enough to offer the twin pleasures of solitude and daydreaming. I'm surprised to encounter a man casting a fly line in sweeping arcs along the curved sandstone walls. We nod and I ask what he's doing.

“Same as you," he replies, "fly-fishing.”

Is he deranged? Since he's carrying nothing more harmful than fly rod and tackle, I risk saying: “But, there’s no water, no fish here."

"I know that you think it's strange. There’s no use denying it. I can see it in your eyes. But Sara's approach to fishing is even stranger.”

The Sara that I know? I walked with her just last week in Moab, her black hair flowing over a flower-print dress, where all males regardless of age turned to gape.

“Sara is a wonder to look at, isn’t she?" he says, reading my thoughts. "Did you know that she writes poems in matchbooks and leaves them in bars with her post box address included in case someone wants to respond?"

“But how is that like fly-fishing?”

“Fishermen use a slender rod and colorful flies strung together by a spider’s filament. The best of them cut the barbs off their hooks, making it almost impossible to land a fish. It isn’t the fish they want—many neither keep nor eat them. It’s the perfect and immediate communication with another being.”

“And Sara?”

“Sara knows that there's no skill in communicating through her body. She’s cut off the barb of her beauty and instead offers poetry.”

“And me?”

“Like Sara, you cast your lines into near empty places. Like her, you often open an empty mailbox.”

flute music
in an empty canyon

by Ray Rasmussen
Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

Saturday, January 19, 2008


Rising eight hundred feet from the sheep-scattered pastures, oak, ash and birch, how skeletal and delicate they look, under rolling clouds, and framed in the study window.

Pink multi file
the worn elastic

Dog-eared foolscap of eleven sections. For a paper man a cardboard grave. Still filled with the previous project, a workshop on the Three Heavenly Messengers of Sickness, Old Age, & Death. What a jolly group that was – all things considered. The paper for recycling, but the leftover paper clips into the “Cough Lozenges” tin. After nearly eighty years what a relief to stick on a new label and to write, with the bold flourish of self-deception: “END GAME”.

Long corridor
the shadow
shackled to each foot

A lifetime muffled in projects. At age ten, a plan and elevation for a toy fort. The battleship grey filing cabinet stuffed full. And so many “gone away; return to sender”:

The last address book—
spread across dead friends
blankets of correction fluid

Bulldog clips grasp Co-op cheque stubs, and, in a marbled box, certificates, diplomas and degrees in imitation parchment. Old passport photos portray a sinister-looking succession, each pleading his lifelong lawsuit against reality.

Yellow telegram
the pasted strips of text
my father’s death

I laugh at my own funeral oration, so solemnly intoned and recorded when a precocious forty year old. Poking charred diaries. A lifetime of stories told to myself, one as good as another. Knock, knock. Is there anyone there?
Old summer house
settling out of true
to how it needs to be

Finally, the sending out of invitations to the Graceful Exit Party. From that celebratory wake I alone shall depart sober. And, on the back door, hammer the bottom line of a closed book:

Winter twilight
cutting timber by the Rheidol
all there is to know

by Ken Jones
Aberystwyth, Wales


‘ That Englishman, staying at the Plâs. I warned him not to go walking up in Coed Du. Not on Nos Calan. “I don’t believe in such things”, says he. Well, man, neither do I, but I like to hedge my bets. Is he found yet?’

‘No, he is not found. Only his boot prints in the snow. I’ d remembered, in the pub the other night those strange cleated boots of his. Duw, duw; those footprints ! They go in a circle all round the forest tracks – the oddest thing I’ve ever seen. No beginning, no end to them! Some trick, could be. But there’s something else I’ve never seen before – nor ever want to see again.’

Running boot prints
cloven hoof marks

Coed Du .......... Black Wood
Nos calan ....... New Year’s Eve

by Ken Jones
Aberystwyth, Wales

Friday, January 18, 2008

Gary LeBel: SPORT

Surprised by my sudden appearance, the heron spreads its powerful wings, spring-loads its long elastic neck and then leaps up from the shoreline into the air, the whoosh of its wing-beats clearly audible. It flies low and out over the water until spied by a boater who turns and, increasing his speed, pursues it like a cheetah.

He chases it across the lake and into the woods of the opposite shore before veering sharply back out into the channel again, and his other Sunday amusements: it is in the most casual of acts that I become deeply afraid for our fate.

in cast off molt
the small dark tips
of the crawdad’s eyes

by Gary LeBel
Cumming, Georgia

Thursday, January 17, 2008


'The Butterfly House closed last year,' someone tells us. So Beachyhead becomes the focus for this late spring day instead.

'It is returns you want, not singles?' the bus driver asks drily as we state our destination.

He drives us to a point high on the downs from where we walk to look down the precipitous drop to the red and white lighthouse far below, against chalk and spray.

on cliff edge posts
rose bunches bound tight ―
wind through the grasses

Outside the nearby pub-restaurant, under a cloudless sky, people talk of the hazards of full fat foods, cholesterol levels.

are always there' ―
this small pink cranesbill

by Diana Webb
London, England

Note: Beachyhead is a clifftop beauty spot on the south coast of England notorious for suicides. A Butterfly House is the equivalent of a greenhouse for butterflies in which exotic species breed, develop and live in conditions like those of their natural habitat.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008


Bees in morning clover. Floppy-hatted, armed with two baskets each, we gathered strawberries at a local farm. What did it matter that my spine nagged, that I spent most of the time on hands and knees – at 10 o’clock the sun was generously warm, and our baskets soon topple-tilted with the tart and jammy fruit. Someone was in his heaven if there was coffee and Cointreau on the terrace and fresh, hard-worked for strawberries to look forward to.

a taste of honey
in the strawberry fields –
slugs too

The swelling sun was glittering redly through the tops of the tallest skyline trees when we took them finally from their place of cold and dark confinement. Carefully, we piled them into pyramids and dressed them with drizzles of honeyed crystal; then left them to sweat while we feasted on meat and wine. And when, at last, we brought them – glistening – to the table for the slow annointment with rivulets of cream, the warm sweetness of their flesh incensed our nostrils. Our gods spoke. We raised the implements of scooped steel and sought some sign to begin the chase and slaughter. We saw their pinkness run out into the white bowls, and our stained mouths murmured mantras of devotion. Only briefly did we stop to decide which ones would be the last – the chosen ones.

images on TV.
All the swollen bellies –
one sort or another

Later, the three of us sat out on the warm, stone-flagged patio; and alcohol worked its analgesic miracles. We watched the garden dissolve away at the edges as light decayed to other wavelengths, and conversation frayed into silence and the drugged amnesia of honey suckle. But the slow drip of Bacardi to my brain went unchecked; and as one pain drowned, others bloated their way back to the surface. Abruptly, it was time to leave – and suddenly the fixed stars above the tarmac mile stretching back to my lodgings seemed less steady than on other occasions.

a sky full of stars –
how great the gulf between us.
Only a mile to go

Summer '92

by Bamboo Shoot
Salisbury, Wiltshire, England
haibun "Stawberrying" first published in Blithe Spirit 14:3, 2004


Though not literarily educated, I take issue with the conditioned adoption of any one literary style simply because it is believed (and constantly disseminated as) best. The best standard narrative writers are, I feel, those who can slip readily and seamlessly from one tense or style to another when felt appropriate. I see no reason why different rules should apply to writers of haibun. Fragmentation of sentences, noun-phrasing, word-block association, literary allusion and so on are not solely confined to present tense writing; and I regard it as largely a myth that the use of present tense brings ‘a kind of power to words that is unusual’. For myself, once immersed in a narrative, having quickly accepted its conventions, I am largely oblivious to the tense of its writing. Certainly, writing in the present tense does carry a certain brightness; and when Phillip Marlowe says (as he might have done) …so I turn the corner, and there’s Moose with a loaded gun pointing right at me …we do have the impression of being at Marlowe’s shoulder in the act of discovery; but the sense of being in the action – a planned illusion – is no more than that generated by Ruth Rendell writing in the past tense. And try re-writing these first lines of a Seamus Heaney poem in the present tense – then ask yourself how much difference it makes in terms of affect,

Inishbofin on a Sunday morning.
Sunlight, turfsmoke, seagulls, boatslip, diesel.
One by one we were being handed down
Into a boat that dipped and shilly-shallied
Scaresomely every time. We sat tight
On short cross-benches, in nervous twos and threes,

Here, for instance, the imagery far exceeds any thought of tense; and in fact one might feel that the alliterative fight between d’s and s’es over the whole piece makes the use of past tense in l.4 undeniably the correct aesthetic. The use of present tense involves more than just wanting to create an I was there illusion. It involves consideration of overall context and desired tone of the writing, and perhaps how the use of any tense might affect sound qualities and awkwardness of line construction. Current use of present tense in haibun is, I feel, more than just cliché; its much asserted effectiveness seems largely myth – mythic ‘truth’ being the foundation of didact, dogma and ideology. Already we are seeing the emergence of the exclusive high rhetoric of mystification with terms like haibunic prose and templum effect. Reiterated clap-trap ultimately obfuscates that which is essentially simple – in this case, the learning how to write effective prose. Use of the present tense must be decided by aesthetic and technical judgement – not by the fact that one is writing a haibun.

What is of paramount importance in haibun is the dialogue between haiku and prose. Not merely illustrative, certainly not repetitive (as Mr Eliot would have said, don’t write in poetry what can be better expressed in other ways), each haiku should, at least, enlarge its immediately adjacent text; and at best (I speculate), the whole text might be charged with visions of the moment that touch the raw edges of some prevailing mood. In fact, there may be more to it than that; since if strong haiku are gathered as a preliminary to writing some emergent prose, as I believe they should be (unless, perhaps, the haibun is an imaginary creation), then the haiku may well alter the nature of any such previous emotional conditioning. Indeed, otherwise un-placed haiku may well instigate the writing of the wholly factitious.

It occurred to me back in the ‘90s, that haibun is, perhaps, not dissimilar to Van Gogh’s letters to Theo. These were not infrequently illustrated. But why? VG was certainly no slouch at writing; and to illustrate would have taken him longer, perhaps, than to find the necessary words. No doubt he was, in part, proving his abilities to Theo; but might he not also have been finding windows to the heart – to better illuminate the text of the day?


Dear God, not again! Like a nuisance caller in the night, my upper respiratory tract is once more alerting me to its existence: Do something, or you’ll regret it. Each day, I wake and think It’s gone, It’s really gone … then this. I put down Auden, locate my dressing gown and grope downstairs. Boil water, squeeze lemon, spoon out cut-price honey – no Orange Blossom for a bloody cold – add boiling water and return to bed where I sip cautiously at the magic brew and pop a Night Nurse torpedo for good measure. Eight weeks! Eight sodding weeks now; and I sip away to the dregs until my eyes close … and Auden slips unnoticed to the floor …

… bees in morning clover … floppy-hatted, armed with two baskets each, we are gathering strawberries at some local farm … my spine is nagging and I am on my hands and knees – but by 10 o’clock the sun is generously warm and our baskets soon topple-tilting with the tart and jammy fruit. Someone’s in his heaven if there’s coffee and Cointreau on the terrace and fresh hard-worked for strawberries to look forward to …

a taste of honey
in the strawberry fields –
slugs too

… the swelling sun glitters redly through the tops of the tallest skyline trees as we take them finally from their place of cold and dark confinement. Carefully, we pile them into pyramids and dress them with drizzles of honeyed crystal; leaving them to sweat while we feast on meat and wine … until at last we bring them – glistening – to the table for the slow anointment with rivulets of cream, our nostrils incensed by the warm sweetness of their flesh. And when our gods speak, we raise the implements of scooped steel and seek some sign to begin the chase and slaughter … to see their pinkness run out into the white bowls … to hear our stained mouths murmuring mantras of devotion. Only briefly do we stop to decide which ones will be the last – the chosen ones.

images on TV.
All the swollen bellies –
one sort or another

… and now, the three of us are sitting out on a warm, stone-flagged patio; and alcohol is working its analgesic miracles. We watch the garden dissolve away at the edges as light decays to other wavelengths, and conversation frays into silence and the drugged amnesia of honey suckle … and the slow drip of Bacardi to my brain goes unchecked until, as one pain drowns, others bloat their way back to the surface … abruptly, it is time to leave … and the fixed stars above the tarmac mile stretching back to my lodgings seem less steady than on other occasions.

a sky full of stars –
how great the gulf between us.
Only a mile to go

… but it is a long mile … ‘for nothing now …… bees in morning clover …

In transposing Strawberrying, I first tried putting everything just as it was into the present tense. Frankly, I didn’t think it made much reading difference to the two outer sections. As for the middle section, I think I’d already realised that that had present tense potential, but felt that while partial change wouldn’t work, complete change would make it difficult to fit the result into a larger structure largely written in past tense. Ultimately, I found that ‘major adjustments’ were needed to produce something coherent in itself and in agreement with the original intended tone of the whole. I’m pleased enough with the result; not so much because I have improved the middle section by changing the tense (although I think some ‘ceremonial tone’ has been lost in the rephrasing) but because doing so has ‘forced’ me into finding a new technical approach – a different door to the same required effect. So I’m grateful to Jeffrey for his friendly push; at my age one needs it.

Present tense writing can be used in several ways:

....As a tool,eg for structural or tonal reasons. (Diary of a Bad Year; JM Coetzee, I found a good read)

....As fashionably or doctrinally ordained method.

....As a cosmetic to tart up poor content or style, (though you’d have to know first).

....As an attempted cleverness.

....For no particular reason.

Only the first makes for ‘good’ writing. We might, perhaps, best follow Pope’s precept: the final effect should echo the sense or the intent.

I suspect that the supposed effects of present tense writing in haibun probably owe as much to conditioned (even thoughtless) reading habits as anything else. Journey, generously reviewed in Haibun Today (11/2007) was written entirely in past tense; yet its third paragraph gives a present tense feel simply by a change of action. And while the piece appeared to suggest a ‘trance-like state’, it was actually written in a very un-trance-like state of mind. Good readers will, to some extent at least, imagine their own scenarios from any worthwhile narrative. For myself, I find that the ‘overuse’ of present tense by other writers becomes something of a boring affectation; while I believe that exposure of ‘novice’ haibun writers to the same, risks encouraging lazy habits and avoidance of intelligent enterprise. Why walk on one leg, when we are given two?

by Bamboo Shoot
Salisbury, Wiltshire, England

Monday, January 14, 2008

Jeffrey Harpeng: A KNIFE IN THE HEAD

From K Road to the wind-eddied Post Office square, Queen Street is strung like a flying fox cable. In Post Office square a mime is Falcon Scott advancing against a catabatic wind. Amundsen has already reached the pole and returned and caught the ferry home, across the Waitemata to a bungalow in Devonport.

The mime in Post Office square straightens with pneumatic smoothness, shifts gear and bows, elegant as a Musketeer. Children in the front row are tickled by the great feather in his hat. That exaggerated feather duster sweep is the on your mark to me, up on Karangahape Road. There I am reaching for the crossbar of the flying fox wheel that glides the cable’s sagging arc.

Before you get to glide you could get fronted outside a late night café. ‘Would you like to make a threesome?’

Just as the wheel gets up whirr on the theoretical rope, I pass the Theosophical Society and drop ballast from my diving belt. How easily I forgot I was wearing that. From then on I continue passing the Theosophical Society Hall, and don’t quite get past that Edwardian edifice. Did I just see Krishnamurti closing the door? If I let go I will not float, for I did not get past the first joke in the levity handbook. My heart is low on helium.

Theosophical Hall
lights out… its silences
locked in

Just recovered from a dizzy fall, the Fee Fi Fo Fum giant stands, groggily looking south. His feet are in the harbour behind the Custom House Ferry Terminus, across the road from Post Office square. His gaze is toward the crest of K Rd and beyond. Half a sprawling city south the ashes of the travel stop café crest the distant Bombay Hills. The view beyond is foreshortened in a squint. All the sleepy suburbs between have been switched off tonight and Manukau Harbour’s mudflatness is dark as an iris.

the moon clouds over
itself wrinkled
in the harbour

Gazing south, latitudes at a time, one blink to the mesmerised flow of the Waikato: a film of luminous clouds poured over a dark mirror. Huntley power plant, smoking black cigars, puts on a front of cubist indifference. A flutter further, the giant’s remote gazing views a great lake, then winks past a line of snow capped volcanoes pretending to be liner funnels steaming south through an ocean of fog. They struggle through geological time to reach a harbour city where the wind struggles to remember some ancient melody as it rushes tunelessly over hills and across the harbour. Whetukairangi*, wakeful at the harbour mouth, feels the giant’s gaze, and almost turns from the light tattoo of stars on the black skin of night. Then there is water and more hills and clouds.

The giant, back behind the Custom House, gazes and listens for a squawking goose. There are flickers of gold in the far off rivers, as far south as the Shotover where the goose pecked gravel for nuggets. There is not a sound from prospectors buried in rough graves or from all the Chinamen dug up and shipped home for a reburial where the immortals might whisper into their bony earhole and their dry bones be stirred by those sweet nothings. They soak sea water. They were lost at sea, shipwrecked off the Hokianga, far to the north.

mouths full of earth
the ancients

The giant is titanically pensive, attentive for the squawk of his golden goose. He hears only the useless honk of a lone moa among the primeval sprawl of beech forests. Somewhere in Arthurs Pass it seems to be, but his hearing isn’t what it used to be! Other than extinct moa he hears sweet nothing.

A couple of gargantuan paces out under the giant’s gaze the flying fox whirrs through ghostly traffic. Raise your eyes and you can see storm clouds gathering under the giants kilt, which hangs more awesome than any cinema curtain. P T Barnum would turn in his grave and raise himself to draw the curtain for that show.

Behind some door, along some off-street corridor, in a downstairs space, my left ear hears a projector’s clatter. Cinema buffs flicker, watching foreign flicks with characters that run into each other while out shopping, then merge with the shoppers outside on Friday night. Some wander down past Aotea Square where a band is playing anthems for the shaky isles. All the sheet glass around here is nervous, haunted by the ghost of riots past. Farmers enlisted for the occasion and police on horseback advance on watersiders. Tenuous as a few lines of history they get lost in the traffic.

Wind is whistling round my heart, coming down the chimney, between the timbers of this old house. I am not a house. There is a house, there are houses in me, large as life and small as memory. What does it mean, that there are untrue ways of saying true things. Somebody is knocking at the door.

I glide the flying fox cable, past the chemist shop built into the back of a palatial cinema constructed in an Art Nouveau cum Arcadian blend. Indian gods nap in alcoves in the foyer, Baghdad balconies are halfway to the starry ceiling above the stalls. When Bruno Ganz, on the silver screen, enters the building where he gets a knife in the head, he is entering the back room of the chemist shop to get his script filled: a knife in the head for the irritating memories, and a powder for the headache. For the rest of the film he’s trying to piece together what happened, and where his life was when he went. The chemist slipped a tincture of drama in Bruno’s script, a tincture of unknown danger, and a deep amnesia at the facts we’ve passed and haven’t arrived at yet.

after the movie
coffee steam drifts
to nirvana

Tributaries of streets and lanes feed down to Queen Street, a witching hour dry gulch prone, by day, to flash floods of traffic that wash memories and dreams away. Dipped headlights ride the gleaming tarmac.

Up Vulcan Lane a bluesman slide fingers a gleaming Dobro and chugs through ‘Jezuz is on thee main lion, tell him watch you want. My Jezuz is on the main lion, tell him watch you want. You can call him up and tell him watch you want.’

summer afternoon
in the pubs long shadow
we listen to the blues
drink shandies
drink coke on ice

There’s an archaeology, comatose below the bitumen and concrete floors, the wreck of a sunken shop, pylons of old wharves under a tide of landfill. An unsprung bell from over a haberdashery door is mute with mud. Unglazed bricks are leached by time’s runoff seeping down into the forgotten. Even with your feet firmly on the ground, the memory of that does not seep up into you.

Finally I glide to an exclamation mark in front of the Custom House. After that long glide, that migratory flight, my thoughts have lost their equilibrium. Nothing new there, but worse than that, now I want to squawk, to honk, to lay golden eggs. I need a word with Freud about all this.

Two great hands descend. One plucks me up, and places me in a pouch in the other hand. At that handy altitude I spy a glance of beanstalk at the giants back, then scan all the vertigo around.

post office
clock face and the moon
yellow with time

Swaying in the soft leather pouch I constantly pinch my nose, purse my lips and blow to depressurise, and struggle against the drug of memory, that other knife in the head.

a street mime
climbs a rope of air finds
there is no more

by Jeffrey Harpeng
Macgregor, Queensland, Australia
first published in Quarter Past Sometime (PostPressed), 2007

Note: Whetukairangi – Star Gazer

Sunday, January 13, 2008


I am talking you away from the lover who promised to be faithful – that isn’t a typo, and that lover’s still me. Get into the car. That’s all that it takes. You’re being talked

to the place where nothing you choose will determine what happens. For haven’t you wanted to ride in the rain with the top down ever since watching the wind blow the spume

off those waves at the cliff house? I tell you we are going to go fast. That way the windshield’s a fending umbrella, and your thin cotton shirt will not start to reveal you. I don’t

have to know. It’s your adventure, not mine, and right now you don’t care what is under your clothes. Right now you are watching the streak of these wipers for that dry explication

that lies between lines. And this corner we are turning – this corner that’s maybe no more than a bend – puts behind you any notion that anyone who knows you

still has you under tabs. For now you are my sweetheart. In this grip our world’s glove turns the wheel that will steer us. In this fist our palms lie palm to palm.

by Charles Hansmann
Sea Cliff, New York
first published in Ink, Sweat & Tears, August 10, 2007

Charles Hansmann: NOON

Time again, each morning when we wake – and place too – us, then me, you – separate

sides for swinging out our legs, a day taking place (we say, though meaning

taking time) as approach succeeded by withdrawal, as if the highlight were

exactly that, our lives meridian-centric, a countdown

to a moment – the gunfight in the western street, the church

bell, the firehouse whistle – and then a count away from it.

in the clock-tower shade
eyeing their wrists

by Charles Hansmann
Sea Cliff, New York
first published, in an earlier version, in Lynx XXII: 3, October 2007

Saturday, January 12, 2008


Several months ago, as a response to some of Jeffrey Woodward’s more nascent ideas about haibun sans haiku, I decided to try one. I began with great skepticism. To my mind, haibun was a mixed medium. Without the spacious leap from prose to haiku, the final effect, for better or worse, would be different than the effect of a haibun.
The hardest part of the project was coming up with a basic concept that would convey haibun sensibilities in and of itself. Since the original haibun were basically travelogue, I thought exploring similar material might bear fruit. More importantly, I sought a premise that would have internal contrast, something that I hoped would imply the kind of shift that the haiku provides in a haibun.
In composing this experiment, I attempted to contrast the depictions of two "worlds" through prose style. I chose to "pad" what I’ll call the rustic sections and "pare" the modern sections. In other words, I made extra observations of the rustics, using many adverbs and clauses. In contrast, I glossed the modern world prose, did not make careful observations, chose action verbs, even strung a bunch of short declarative sentences into one long sentence with semicolons to underscore the lack of clarity and distinction amongst the speaker's observation in that “world.”
Below is my attempt. My analysis follows it.

On a Hill Over Haifa
The click of our seatbelts silences the pleasant but insistent chime. The company rep at the wheel fusses with the climate control. 37c. What does that mean, I wonder. I need to check my guidebook, do the conversion. It’s something like 100 degrees out there. Somehow, shuttled from limo to limo, I hadn’t quite noticed.
He slides the BMW into a purring third gear and we begin our climb. What we are about to see, he tells us, will change the way we think about life. I hold fast to the handrail.
As we round yet another sharp, steep bend, a small herd meanders into the road. There are gray sheep with clumps of uneven wool, some brown, some mottled, and a few goats, all tended by a lightly robed and heavily turbaned man. In a movement unconscious of its efficiency and grace, he catches the rear foot of one brown sheep with a long stick and, with the other hand, the tail of a goat, somehow bringing all the animals to a simultaneous halt.
Our driver scarcely brakes as he swerves past. This is what I would like to ask about – this man, these animals – but I cannot wedge in a word. “Electron microscopy,” our driver is saying, “recombinant,” and “nanotube array,” and “plasma elector feresis.”
I turn in my seat to watch the shepherd move his flock. His robe flutters in our wake as he shields his eyes with his long brown hand.
Our driver is saying “Intel”; he is saying “Merck”; he is saying “W.H.O.”; he is saying “Citibank,” and the valley opens before us.
Across the wide, sloping, expanse several camels pick their dusty way. They are piled high with multi-colored burdens and driven by a small robed group of people, several with bundles atop their heads. One small figure lurches from side to side with every slow step. Vaporous whirls of heat shimmer and dissipate.
Our guide pauses to pull on his Diet Coke. I seize the opportunity.
“These people,” I say, gesturing toward the valley, “Who—"
“Ach,” he replies. “Bedouin. Nobody care about.” Then “Ach,” again as he shoves the shift into second to take a turn so sharply that we are thrown onto the narrow shoulder.
The laboratory comes into view. It appears the German team is already there to meet us. “Neo-natal,” the rep is saying. “The possibility to perfect even in the womb, even the zygote, we can make correct.”
As the road gives way to dusty gravel I spy, in the shade of an ancient gnarled fig, a woman. She is squatting and with one hand, using a rock to pound something. We come closer and I see that her other hand supports a baby. She is nursing. We pass so close I could call to her, so close I think, for a moment, that our eyes meet. But then I remember that I am looking at her through one-way glass.
First, let me say that I am glad to have tried this exercise. It solidified my thoughts about haibun, helping me to distinguish which of my ideas might best be cast in this format. Ultimately though, it simply retrenched my original notion: haibun requires haiku. The crux of the form is the precipice preceding the poem. In a piece like the one I’ve offered above, syntactical logic conveys the reader safely across that precipice, protecting her from ever having to leap.
So what have I written? I would not call the result a prose poem. There is no heightened language, no "turning" and no metaphoric development. (I invite you to read my short essay defining prose poem in Triplopia.)
Nor would I call the result a flash fiction. Though this is largely fabricated (I did once see Bedouins on a drive to a high tech company in Haifa, but the "occasion" was entirely different. For one thing, there was no driver.) there is no change in the protagonist by the end of the piece, which, in my opinion, is the litmus test of short fiction.
Certainly it is a piece of "flash" writing: fully realized in fewer than 500 words (the generally accepted maximum length of a flash) it both begins and ends in the middle of something, presenting a glimpse but basically leaving a feeling of openness, similar to a sketch. As a reader, I might call this "flash travelogue" though as its writer, I know it is largely contrived and fictitious.
On the other hand, perhaps what I’ve written is simply the prose portion of a haibun patiently awaiting its complementing haiku. So, favoring result over experiment, I offer it now:
switchback ―
our tires throw dust
on cactus blooms

by Tracy Koretsky
Berkeley, California

Friday, January 11, 2008


Waiting in line at the supermarket checkout late at night, I find myself listening to a woman at the next till who’s just paid for her groceries. She smiles at the cashier and says, ‘thank you for all your help’, still smiling as she tucks her receipt and change into her purse. And the smile remains as she pushes her trolley towards the door.

She’s still with me while I drive home. Her pale blue coat, how her shoulders were a little hunched. And the way her eyes and cheeks, not only her lips, carried her smile, how it seemed rooted below her skin.

Today, I am still thinking about her. Thinking I should smile more. Thinking about softness.

winter sun
the shadow of a leaf touches
my shadow

by Lynne Rees
Kent, England
first published in Roadrunner, Feb. 2007

STEPPING STONES: An Interview with Janice M. Bostok

by Sharon Dean

CELEBRATED Australian haijin Janice M. Bostok has written haiku and its related forms for more than thirty years. She lives on the far north coast of New South Wales, where she judges national and international literary competitions, and edits anthologies and magazines, including Stylus Poetry Journal and paper wasp.

In this short interview, Sharon Dean talks with Janice about the release of her fifteenth book:
Stepping Stones, an ‘extended haibun’ about her early experiences as the mother of a severely disabled son, Tony.

S: Tony is deaf, mute, mentally retarded, cerebral palsied and autistic. Why did you feel compelled to tell his story in haibun?

J: Many people have written about their handicapped children. If you have a handicapped child it is quite good to be told, you know, ‘There is a book about autistic children and how they develop; you might like to read that.’ But I didn’t want to produce another medical-type story; I wanted to write my feelings. So in the prose sections I described what happened and what we were doing and where we were going and seeing doctors, but in the other parts I wrote poetry, which, for me, is the truth.

S: That’s where you get into what you call ‘pure creative writing’?

J: Yeah. That’s why I did it that way. But I found it was hard to get published because publishers of prose, or non-fiction, said it had too much poetry in it – which is non-fiction to me, but fiction to them! – and publishers of poetry said it had too much prose in it. So, eventually, nice Mr John Knight at Post Pressed published it for me, for which I’m very thankful.

S: Stepping Stones strikes me as feminine narrative, mainly in the sense that the focus is on what you’re feeling, rather than on a linear kind of story telling.

J: Yes, and I also found my husband, Silvester, didn’t influence my writing. As soon as he knew Tony had something wrong with him, he thought we should put him in an institution, and he didn’t want to be involved in his development because he didn’t think it was going to work. So that was the only male side I knew, which was practically nothing. Maybe why it sounds so feminine, because it was just me.

S: When you wrote the pieces in Stepping Stones, were you drawing on all those feelings at the time, or did you write some of the haibun long after the events occurred?

J: I actually had, oh, about 120,000 words I wrote in the 1970s, when I was going back and forth between Brisbane and our farm in NSW with Tony, and when I thought I was going to write the sort of book on having a handicapped child that everybody else wrote. But then, after years of mulling it over, I decided to cut away most of it. I was left with Stepping Stones, and I’m quite happy with that.

S: In the haibun called 'Pullulate' on p.8 of the book, there’s a line that runs: ‘first light touching the body of the boy my words dappling the softness of indistinguishable gurgling sounds coming from his throat … ’ To my ear, that reads like a long one-line haiku. What do you like about writing in that non-punctuated, stream-of-consciousness style? Does it remind you of one-line haiku?

J: Yes. I don’t like to stop my thought. That might sound egotistical …

S: But aren’t you giving the reader a certain amount of freedom – mainly in terms of where to pause for effect, of how to glean meaning from the prose?

J: Yeah, freedom! That’s what I mean.

S: So you’re not imposing one particular way of reading on the reader?

J: People will work out where they’ll want to stop. And I think part of the idea with the stream-of-consciousness technique is that you can read backwards and forwards; where you think there’s a stop, you can read on or you can stop. It’s like a pivot, rather than a full stop. I don’t know whether that’s one of the ‘rules’! Some people have lots of rules! But it does work for me that way. Have a pivot instead of a full stop.

S: Do you think stream-of-consciousness writing is particularly suited to haibun?

J: Yes … if you don’t make it too long. If you have shorter paragraphs.

S: In the haibun entitled ‘Polarised Light’ on p.11 of Stepping Stones, you describe watching Tony ‘running along the path flapping his arms for balance’. You write: ‘… he almost seems to be in flight which compensates for his awkward gait giving him a lightness and ease of movement which he would not otherwise attain …’ Then, in the haiku that follows, your gaze returns to the ‘slow beating of butterfly wings/upon the window sill’. In terms of your description of movement, there’s a lovely correspondence between the prose and haiku. Do you see such associations in the moment and write descriptions based on experience, or do you strive to come up with a resonance like that?

J: It actually happens. It’s not imagination.

S: There literally would have been a butterfly there?

J: Yes, but people would probably think I made it up. With Tony being so autistic and having so many different types of retardation, we never had eye contact. He never came to me and looked at me. What does the last part of that haibun say?

S: ‘… his face expressionless he bypasses me each in our own world …’

J: Yeah, we both go about our own ways. He’d run straight past me and never look at me. And I’d watch him walk on his toes, and flap his hands.

S: I suppose it’s that kind of thing, if you’re really perceptive, and you’re really aware of Tony moving like that, you would naturally see other things in nature moving like that.

J: Yeah. I’ve actually written a tanka that says something about the crow’s awkward sideways gait reminding me of Tony, which probably isn’t so unnatural after all … because Tony would sort of hop. Perhaps the crow is autistic.

Note: Stepping Stones is published by PostPressed, Teneriffe, Queensland, 2007, and can be ordered online.

Thursday, January 10, 2008


'All in the April evening' ― 'By the banks of green willow'

Our chosen cherry tree the one most open to the blue evening sky, some flowers fully open, others budding. A patch of grass with daisies and a single dandelion.

'Under the blossom that hangs on the bough' ― Sake

We pour the wine into tiny cups. A jogger jogs by.

Small girl, reaching up to the pink blooms, dancing ― man in a wheelchair calling back his dog ― child, cerise-trousered, trotting on a pony ― man in the field, bare-chested, training a horse.

The jogger jogs back. We drain the wine.

on a throw of petals ―
crow calls to crow

by Diana Webb
London, England
first published in Presence 33, Sept. 2007

Note: 'All in the April Evening,' a song by Hugh S Roberton,1874-1952. 'The Banks of Green Willow,' idyll by George Butterworth, 1885-1916 ( killed in World War 1).

Wednesday, January 9, 2008


A natural man trap, it haunts my dreams. These few square miles in the lap of Cadair Idris – the mountain of the Giant Idris. Ankle breaking rocks and holes lie in wait under the deep heather. Boots fill with bog water. Even the sheep avoid this place. Why I am drawn to it I do not know. Within an hour it has taken my camera and broken my walking stick.

But somewhere in the middle, hidden among white crags, I stumble upon a tarn. It is fringed with reeds, and pond skaters sport on its surface. My watch stops at ten minutes past three. I don’t know how long I sit there. Waiting.

But still
the bog cotton
ripples in the wind

by Ken Jones
Aberystwyth, Wales

Tuesday, January 8, 2008


It capers as if the law of gravity permitted one streamlined exception—so bewildering is this creature’s apparent weightlessness, you start looking for the space between its paws and the ground.

Every joint swings as if oiled by a deity whose passion is wheels. The Egyptians loved them as did Alexander, these hounds once decreed by British law to be the property of the nobility alone.

Its nimble, floating stride only accentuates the specter of a lean gray ghost, for what room can there possibly be in its tight little teardrop of a ribcage for organs?

A greyhound retired ...
ah, still that shadow-racing mind
Attic Greeks had wired

by Gary LeBel
Cumming, Georgia


night-long vigil ―
the glow of red
on his cheeks

Three days later I walk into my valley. The ash is warm, a deep pile carpet under my feet. It blows up around me at each step, in swirling puffs. I breathe it in. It settles on my hair.

A sprinkling of fine grey covers the landscape, transforming it to monochrome. This bush I’ve walked a thousand times is alien. The cladding gone. It is naked. I look into the heart of bushland — at its skeletal structure — into the anima of earth.

I tramp lower into the gully, following the twisting contours of the creek bed. Rocks of all sizes flaunt the smoothness of their curves, variety of outline, the splendour of invulnerability. They rise, like Phoenix, from the ashes, tombstones to a million yesterdays.

In time my bush will dress herself again. But here and now I glimpse her very essence.

bushfire ―
all the shapes
of rock

by Quendryth Young
Alstonville, New South Wales, Australia

Monday, January 7, 2008

Patricia Prime: HOLDING THE SKY

............ sad the haze in the meadow
.............. where I pick young herbs
........................ when I think
.................... how it shrouds me

...................... Saigyo

this spring
this morning
the moon fading
the sun up

I see
at the field’s edge
lying in a furrow
a tiny shoe
once white

it shifts beneath
my touch
like a bulb
dug up
too early

& when
I kneel & pull
it emerges
stiff & cold
as bone

the shade of you fits both sky and earth fades out in the chilly margins the day you lose your shoe faraway time when the cow pasture was rugged bush a path down to the river you and your family gone to swim so much comes down to water in the end brush laden with water with words the topography a repository of living in sepia film the lost shoe a child’s hand the almost lost folds of tissue thin skin

by Patricia Prime
Auckland, New Zealand


Correspondent: Patricia Prime

It’s over two months since Haibun Today began and the site continues to flourish. Haibun Today can only be published if it is supported by a regular and committed readership. The reaction of haibun lovers and poets has been overwhelming and I would like to thank our readers and writers for their support. It would be nice to see more poets publishing their haibun. This does not mean that the editor or staff has to like everything that is published and sometimes haibun and essays may be published that are not to everyone’s taste. But this is part of the fascination of publishing poems from such a wide readership: the sheer challenge and eye-opening experiences provided by poets is reward in itself.

An increased interest in the form may have been driven by poets’ access to Internet sites. Even so, and as so often the case, it is surely fed and nourished by timely publications such as we’ve seen recently from Australian poets: Graham Nunn’s Measuring the Depth, Julie Beveridge’s Home Is Where the Heartache Is, Jeffrey Harpeng’s Quarter Past Sometime, and Janice M. Bostok’s Stepping Stones and Silver Path of Moon. The world-renowned poet and editor of Jacket Magazine, John Tranter, recently published a collection of his poetry, Urban Myths, which includes several haibun and the Aboriginal poet, Samuel Wagan Watson, includes haibun in his poetry collection, smoke encrypted whispers.

New Zealand poets fall behind with publication of their haibun, although several poets, mainly those from haiku groups, have published haibun in their collective works. These include Listening to the Rain, edited by Cyril Childs and Joanna Preston, shadow-patches, edited by Bernard Gadd, and Richard von Sturmer’s A Network of Dissolving Thread.

These books have had the impact of introducing haibun to a wider readership in Australasia.

Japanese subjects appear with some frequency in New Zealand poems, and forms such as haiku, tanka and haibun are being adopted and increasingly adapted to a New Zealand medium. The ‘Japanese effect’ in contemporary poetry does not only refer to style, but to the various unpredictable ways in which Japan has shaped poets’ imaginations. Often, our poetry has been informed by reading. We have also absorbed Japanese culture at a non-verbal level. This is especially true of a growing interest in the visual arts, ink calligraphy and haiga. New Zealand has an ongoing association with the Japanese Embassy and the Japanese Tourist Board, which has supported Japanese poetry and, in particular, haiku.

Our shared experience as readers and writers of Haibun Today will bring new and exciting innovations to the way we write, as we explore modes of thought, feeling and imagination, within or in terms of the medium, and discover and disclose aspects of existence and experience. Any art form that avoids or denigrates innovation is bound to fall victim to a notion of ‘tradition,’ which is both complacent and absurd. This is not to deny tradition; but tradition loses itself to becoming unprogressive when it is not open to new possibilities. This openness is absolutely crucial to the strength of haibun. On the other hand, I don’t believe that haibun has to be formally innovative in order to be significant. The questions of what is being explored and opened up, and what we as poets can bring to the haibun form are important and will no doubt lead to many discussions in the future. The richness and diversity in the history of haibun should lead us to a wider range of haibun writing that is both challenging and singular.

by Patricia Prime
Auckland, New Zealand

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Ray Rasmussen: UNSADDLED

Breakfast without a newspaper is a horse without a saddle.

....................................― Edward R. Murrow

I am six months into my experiment of not reading the daily newspaper at breakfast. Instead I read essays, including one by E.B. White, who, in response to Murrow's metaphor, called breakfast "the hour when we sit munching stale discouragement along with fresh toast." Breakfast is more enjoyable now, but I sometimes feel I've missed something important – something others know that I don't but should. Stretching Murrow's metaphor, it's me that’s unsaddled – riderless. This morning, as I walk the dog on the berm overlooking the Whitemud Freeway, there's the usual tangle of commuters, all hurrying somewhere.

winter morning –
the cat mews
over her empty bowl


Note: both the Murrow and White quotes are taken from E.B. White, Newspaper Strike, The New Yorker, December 12, 1953.

by Ray Rasmussen
Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

Vasile Moldovan: PASCHAL LAMB

Home again at last. My father is welcoming me at the yard's gate. On his lips, cracked by the spring's winds and yellowed by the tobacco, a faint smile. Suddenly huge snowflakes, looking like bedsocks, begin to fall.The last snow of the ending winter. As if in concert with the heavens, the apple tree near the road is carelessly shedding its petals. The aged host and the young guest dress themselves, in an eye blink, with transparent cloaks embroidered with white threads.

all around is white
even the father's moustache ―
the winter's last snow

A child-like whimpering. Parted from the ewes, the lambs bleat all day long, Their baas smother the sound of bells. Their grief resounds throughout the entire valley. The whole family has gathered to catch the paschal lamb.

The lambs can't even bleat properly any more. Their voices are hoarse. And their throats seem drained. Baaa...! A prolonged sound, interspersed with moments of silence, their bleat resounds like a broken piece of metal.

My father stays apart, with a cigar placed in the corner of his mouth. He lets the younger ones run. At once, a lamb stumbles. And it isn't the most feeble. Maybe due to a dark premonition, it is the most restless. Its belly is pressed towards the earth. It tries to rise but manages to do so only partially. It remains kneeling for some seconds. As if crying out for God's mercy. However, does it really know about the existence of the Divinity? It should rather cry out for the mercy of the humans who, according to its understanding, are like gods, if not the gods themselves.

A youngster, with his shirt unbuttoned to the belly-button, grabs the kneeling lamb by the leg. I come nearer. The white fur of the kneeling lamb is wet. Might it be dew?. Might it be sweat? I catch a glimpse of two blue fax flower coloured eyes. I think that they hold two colourless and odourless tears, like two dew droplets. A tormenting silence all around. The uncaught lambs hush up. The people who have ended their hunt are also quiet.

Easter Eve ―
around the sheepfold
the lambs' silence

After a time, my mother calls me. The entire family is gathered for the Easter Eve party. My father prays out loud. All the others are praying quietly with him. When he finishes, no word at the table. Only the clicking noise of the forks and knives fills the dining room. The steam rises to the lampshades, looking like the aureoles of the saints. The smell of steaming lamb flesh mixes with the aroma of spices. There is a knot in my throat. From the laden plate, two faded blue flax flowers stare at me: the eyes of the lamb. I drop the cutlery. For me, Easter is already over.

people and lambs
so close, and so far away ―
like the Earth from the sky

by Vasile Moldovan
Bucharest, Romania
first published in Yellow Moon 19, Winter 2006

Saturday, January 5, 2008


The Curious Incident of the Dog and the Birthday Cake: A Wide-Ranging Conversation about Haibun with Janice M. Bostok

by Sharon Dean

An avid haiku apprentice, I often drive north from my home on the Alstonville plateau to visit Janice M Bostok in Murwillumbah. The one-hour journey takes me through an ever-changing landscape of shimmering sugar cane crops, lush valleys pungent with the scent of lantana, newly laid stretches of highway overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Turning inland after the one-pub village of Billinudgel, I pass banana plantations, patches of sub-tropical rainforest, prime grazing country. At the foot of the Burringbar Range – the final mountain crossing before I reach my destination – is the seemingly deserted village of Mooball, where every power pole is painted in black and white ‘cowhide’ patches. Homemade signs implore me to buy a Big Moo Moo Burger at the Moo Moo Café, or browse the vintage wares at a shop called ‘Antiques and Collect-A-Bulls’. The village always seems deserted. As I drive straight through, a farewell sign tells me, ‘There’s no udder place like it.’

There’s little risk I’ll go hungry along the way. Roadside stalls and teahouses sell everything from homemade ice cream and chocolate-coated coffee beans, to rockmelons and papaya. Several kilometres from Murwillumbah is a grass tree that never fails to catch my eye; growing on a rocky outcrop at a bend in the road, it reminds me of one of Janice’s sumi-e paintings. Moments after I’ve spotted the grass tree, Wollumbin comes into view. Also known as Mount Warning, Wollumbin is an extinct volcano, the last refuge of ancient rainforest from a time when Australia was part of the pre-historic super-continent, Gondwanaland. Wollumbin is the sacred mountain of the Bungalung People; its name means ‘cloud catcher’. (Hence the moniker of our local haiku group, cloudcatchers. Every season, we meet for a ginko within view of the revered mountain).

All I have to do now is cross the Tweed River. In Spring, Murwillumbah welcomes me into a mauve haze of Jacaranda trees. Autumn and Winter are green, green, green. On this Summer morning, the town’s dominant hue is Poinciana red. I pass weatherboard houses, a hardware store advertising potted gerberas, Sunnyside Mall, a sushi café. Knox Park with its duck ponds, fountains and skate park. Up a hill, along a ridge and down the other side – past a cemetery and two old people’s homes – all the while drinking in the majestic view of Wollumbin … and suddenly I’m at Janice’s place. A sacred ibis Janice refers to as ‘Minnie the Moocher’ is poking about in the front garden. A family of magpies warbles from the gum trees.

Today I want to talk with Janice about haibun. We settle down with a cup of tea and start by acknowledging the way haibun in the west developed through the direct influence and imitation of Japanese literary forms. I ask Janice if she considers modern haibun to be closely related to these earlier models – such as Basho’s
Oku – or whether it’s developed into something else.

J: I think it’s developed into something else, and that is what is always exciting about something you take from another culture. But when you take something from one culture and put it into another one, it has to be understood. Anyone wanting to learn about haibun should look at its history and follow its development in Japan, but then move on from there. New forms of haibun need to be about experiences that happen in the second culture; they must become part of the culture in which they are created, and that takes time.

S: Almost like transplanting a seed?

J: Yeah. And it has to then become a natural thing, like writing haiku about Christmas. Very few people did it for a long time.

S: Because they were writing about cherry blossoms?

J: [laughs] Yeah. So it has to change. It has to change, whether you like it or not. And how it will change will depend, I think, on what happens in various countries. I mean, we all speak English – like the UK, the USA, Australia and New Zealand – but we also have slightly different cultures. Our countries and our languages have developed differently, so it’s only natural that our haibun will.

S: So you see the style of contemporary English-language haibun deviating significantly from what was happening historically in Japan?

J: Yes. For one thing, it seems to have become common to write one paragraph about something and then a haiku. I know the haibun usually ends with a haiku. Usually! But as this word ‘usually’ implies, it can also mean it doesn’t have to. The Japanese were writing full-length books of haibun. The Year of My Life – that’s a haibun. And Basho wrote short pieces and long pieces. He wrote some very short pieces, but that doesn’t mean that we just have to do that. Haibun can be any length. And then if you go so far as to take Jack Kerouac’s Dharma Bums, well that was a complete novel, and that was a haibun.

S: So do you think writers are sometimes limiting themselves by writing haibun in the one-paragraph/one-haiku form?

J: Yes!

S: Why do you think that model has become fairly common?

J: Well, I don’t know, maybe it’s the way people started out learning haiku, saying that it had to be very short. In these days of not much time, people just read little bits, short pieces, and that’s why haiku is so popular, because it’s short and people can just pick it up and read three lines and just go off to work or whatever. It’s really like reading a couple of verses out of the Bible every morning or something, you know. [laughs] You never get the whole lot! Some short haibun can be very good, but one paragraph doesn’t really give you a lot of time to develop something for the reader. The writer may understand it, but I think you need time for the reader to work through it as well. Unless it’s terribly explicit, and then, you know, it’s not really all that good, if you haven’t got to think about it or there’s no depth to it. So I think you need more than one paragraph to develop the subject.

S: You’ve said that Brisbane-based poet Graham Nunn does the one-par/one-haiku-style haibun brilliantly.

J: Yeah.

S: What do you like about his work?

J: Well, he tells the truth. He’s shopping in the shopping centre and bumps his trolley into a good-looking woman or something, you know, and thinks about following her home. He probably writes about what he’s thinking.

I open a packet of chocolate biscuits and recall this morning’s drive to Janice’s place. If I were to write a haibun about the journey, I’d describe the wide sweep of ocean visible from the highway, the young woman who hitched a ride with me between Teven and Brunswick Heads, the wispy clouds threading around the summit of Wollumbin. Perhaps a haiku would pop into my head to express what I saw as I drove through the streets of Murwillumbah. In these parts, a weatherboard house with large verandas and a tin roof is called a ‘Queenslander’. Murwillumbah is a flood-prone town, so most of its Queenslanders are built high off the ground on stilts.

old queenslander
a heron wades
through the duck pond

A satisfying haibun, however, often traverses inner as well as outer landscapes. What journey was I taking in my mind as I headed north this morning? I remember driving past a friend’s place only minutes after leaving home, which triggered a memory of her recent birthday party. She’d given me a slice of sugar-free chocolate cake, something for which I wasn’t particularly grateful – it tasted revolting! What I did appreciate, however, was that when I surreptitiously offered the cake to her dog, the dog immediately ate it, thus disposing of the evidence. So I guess I’d write a haibun that described not only the tip of Wollumbin poking through cloud, but also my meditations on gratitude, my realisation that I can always find something to be happy about.

Biting into my second chocolate biscuit – packed with sugar, it tastes delicious! – I ask Jan to expound upon the notion of haibun developing into ‘a personal journey through experience’. In particular, does she see haibun as a journey towards some kind of epiphany?

J: Oh, that’s the word of the day, isn’t it!

S: Yeah. The word ‘epiphany’ seems to have that ‘hit by a bolt of lightning’ feeling about it. There’s probably a more subtle word. The deeper meaning of a haibun can involve a smaller realisation, can’t it?

J: Yes. You come to a realisation slowly and then you think, oh yes, that’s what I’ve been going around and around but not quite putting my finger on, sort of thing, and there it is. You find it.

S: On the other hand, could you also see a haibun being a journey towards a question rather than an answer, or do you feel there always has to be some kind of resolution?

J: I don’t think it always has to be an end. Sometimes a realisation is a beginning of something else.

S: In a Stylus interview with Rosanna Licari back in 2003, you predicted haibun would become ‘a very popular form of expression for many writers’.

J: Yeah. And it has become very popular suddenly, hasn’t it?

S: It seems that way.

J: It’s a pure form of creative writing. You really get down to it, you know, and the feelings come out. I think it just needs a little tweak here and there, as they say, to keep it on the straight and narrow. [laughs] Not to a large extent, but so it doesn’t get too far out of line.

S: If you could, right now, have three ‘tweaks’ – like three magic wishes – what would those three tweaks be?

J: [long pause] I think I would like it to be called ‘haiku prose’ rather than haibun, which is the Japanese name. As I’ve said before, ‘haibun’ means ‘haiku prose’. That name sort of brings you back to earth. You write it in a similar way to haiku – the prose is clipped and sparse; you only use the necessary words to convey what is to be said. After all, haibun began its life as diary notes. I found it very interesting too, that haibun was mainly written by haiku writers, so I would like to see that it is written by haiku writers, and not just people who suddenly come out of the blue who may have written a little bit of poetry or a short story or something and suddenly they’re writing haibun, without any knowledge of the history of haiku.

S: So those points would be your first and second tweaks. What would the third one be?

J: Actually, I would like to see that you can continue the haiku within the prose, but they don’t always have to be like in renga, that you don’t have to jump, that you can read on.

S: There have been so many rules, I suppose, in the last ten years, with editors saying the haiku has to create resonance but shouldn’t be a continuation of the narrative.

J: Yeah, well I wrote one where the haiku read on, a part of the whole piece, in about 1972, I think, and someone just found it, last year or the year before, tucked away in an old book, or magazine, and they wrote to me and said, ‘Can I put it up on the website? That is so different!’ So yeah, I think we should be allowed to have the haiku – or whatever type of verse we want to use – read on as part of the prose. Sometimes! That should be one way of doing it. Doesn’t have to be the only way, but it should be an option.

S: Well, in the event that a haiku prose genie comes along, that sounds like three good wishes to me! And you just touched on something interesting in your last comment, when you mentioned the inclusion of ‘whatever verse type you want to put in there’. In your first book of erotic haibun, Silver Path of Moon, the title piece features three stanzas of free verse followed by only three words of prose, and that’s where the haibun ends. So I’m wondering, how do you view prose that incorporates tanka or free verse or other verse forms, and what relation, if any, does such work have to haibun?

J: Well, if it’s written in ‘the way’ of haibun, it’s haibun. I mean, it sounds silly saying all the time ‘going on a journey’ or ‘going through something’, but if you are working something out in your mind or something to do with your life, and you’re writing haibun, I can’t see why you can’t include any kind of poetry. I’ve written haibun with free verse in them, and of course they’ve been considered not to be haibun, but I consider them to be. And with tanka, I mean … at the time when Basho was travelling around, and when he decided to separate the first verse from the renga, the poetry form of the day was tanka. So if anybody were writing their diary, they’d probably be writing tanka in it. So I don’t understand now why people throw their hands up in horror and say, [in a high voice] ‘You can’t have tanka in the middle of a haibun!’ That’s what would have been the natural poem to put in it, at that time. That’s why I think we should understand the history of things. Even if we don’t follow it exactly in the Japanese cultural way, we should understand what the Japanese did.

S: What’s the danger of not understanding or looking back at what’s happened in Japan?

J: You can become too constrictive. People today are making up rules for English writing, and it may be totally different from what the Japanese were writing. And I think we should just understand, even if we don’t follow it. We shouldn’t just go out on a limb and say, ‘Well, I don’t care; I’m doing it my way.’ There has to be some acknowledgement of the cultural attitudes of the time, I think. Even if it doesn’t fit in now, we should understand it.

S: Silver Path of Moon was published in 1996. Had you seen a collection of erotic haibun before that? [long pause] Did you just write one out of the blue?

J: [laughs] Oh yes, I just write things.

S: In that book, the narrator’s desire is strongly linked with nature. In the opening haibun, you describe a storm descending on the mountain, where ‘each crack of lightning tugs at me as strongly as the desire tugging at my insides; each jerk a counterfeit act of pushing inside of me; the rhythm building into the excruciating pain of desire’. Then comes the first of six haiku in that three-page piece:

falling in love
your name becomes
a mantra

J: That happens, doesn’t it? When you fall in love, you just keep saying that person’s name over and over and over.

S: Yes. It’s spot on. And I probably don’t need to ask this question, but how consciously did you work at linking your writing about past loves and lovers to the changing moods and seasons? You weren’t consciously striving to do that, were you?

J: No, that all happened.

S: Recently, I heard you refer to Silver Path of Moon as a book of haibun comprising ‘all the naughty ones’. [both laugh] Were you anxious about that book going out into the public domain?

J: Oh, yeah! I think I nearly had a nervous breakdown. But I thought, ‘No, that is me. I’ve got to put it out there. Why not that? Yeah! It’s part of life!’ And I tried not to make it, you know, crude, or rough, you know … I tried to make it dignified.

S: You could always write an undignified one now!

J: [laughing] Oh yeah, I could!

S: Some of the pieces in Silver Path of Moon inspired Melbourne composer Johanna Selleck to write a symphony, which was performed at the Castlemaine Festival in Victoria earlier this year. How did Johanna come across your work? It was in the library, wasn’t it?

J: Yeah. She just emailed me and she said she’d found that haiku about falling in love, and she said – and I couldn’t understand how she got onto it, an erotic book of haibun, to find one haiku! – but she said, ‘Oh, I’ve been studying haiku and going through books in the library and I really love this one and I want to put it to music.’ [laughs] And I thought, ‘What’s she gonna do? Just sing it over and over and over and over?’ I had no idea what she was going to do. And the music, the piece that she’s written, I think it’s just wonderful. To be able to write music like that! She had a soprano, a tenor, a counter tenor and a bass. I think the bass sung mine! [laughs]

S: And she used the haiku in a visual sense as well, during the performance?

J: Yes. There were huge projections of the words. And she used images of fractals as well – I didn’t realise that they look like flowers! – as well as some of my sumi-e.

S: It’s amazing where your writing ends up, isn’t it? Your real feeling about something expressed in a form that comes naturally to you … someone else picks up on it, and ...

J: What Johanna’s done, without knowing anything about haiku, she’s written a renga! And it goes through the four seasons.

S: She’s just done that naturally?

J: Yeah. So it’s amazing.

S: Speaking of surprises, you’ve occasionally expressed the unorthodox view that haibun can be composed without haiku. Can you expound on that?

J: Well, only in terms of what I’ve read through books written by people who are either Japanese or who are Japanese scholars. Even Bill Higginson, in the rules that he’s got in his handbook, says haibun usually has haiku. Well, ‘usually’ means ‘doesn’t have to’. Similarly, with the American Haiku Society, when they made their definition of haiku, they said the form ‘usually consists of seventeen syllables’ and the emphasis is on ‘usually’. So I imagine Higginson would use ‘usually’ in the same way. And I’ve actually read that any Japanese person would know they were reading haiku prose by just the way it was written – in the style of haiku, you know, very succinct and clipped. They wouldn’t need to see haiku to know it was haiku prose.

S: Are you confident that if you saw two passages of writing in English, that you’d be able to differentiate between which was haibun without haiku, and a piece of writing that was, say, a prose poem? Would you look, for instance, for those characteristics you were just describing?

J: Yeah, and also the other idea that you go through something, whether you’re going through the countryside, whether you’re going through something emotionally, or whether, you know, you come to some decision in the end that you’ve worked through something and you’ve been enlightened, or you’ve been aware of exactly what you were trying to sort out.

S: On a broader aesthetic matter, haiku poets and critics often speak of ‘haikai spirit’ or humour – a certain essence of the genre that can be present but difficult to describe. Do you perceive such a spirit in haibun, or as definitive in haibun?

J: Yes, I think it follows right through. We start with haiku, tanka, renga and haibun. Renga’s slightly different because it can be imaginary, you know, it’s like a game – you play out the game by writing to the rules – but yeah, I think it follows right through all the Japanese forms. That’s what makes them so different. As you say, it’s very hard to pin down, to describe.

S: Can you take a shot at it?

J: Well, it’s a spiritual feeling. On TV a couple of weeks ago, there was a guy talking about how his parents didn’t want him to become a conductor, and he said, ‘But music is a religion to me.’ I think it is a spiritual experience, that’s the only way I can describe it. Like, ‘the way’ of haiku, or ‘the way’ of whatever. I’ve just discovered that in the Japanese culture they have ‘the way’ of everything. With calligraphy, they have ‘the way of calligraphy’. The way you do it. You either do it in the printed style, which people can read clearly, or you do it in the more artistic version, which is sort of rounder and not as square … and Japanese may not be able to read it even, but it’s based on the original characters. So, there’s a ‘way’ of it becoming art, there’s a way of doing some sort of art which I think replenishes you spiritually, and you’re dedicated to it. But ‘the way’ isn’t like turning around saying, like, I’m not going to be a Christian or a Hindu or whatever, I’m going to follow ‘the way’ of haiku. It’s not quite like that, and that’s what people thought the Zen Buddhist monks were doing, following ‘the way’. But ‘the way’ can be anything you’re dedicated to.

S: So if you are reading haibun in a journal, do you get a strong sense of which pieces are infused with that kind of ‘hakai spirit’?

J: If it’s good writing, yes. Yes, I do. I get a strong sense of hakai spirit on an emotional level. And another thing I’ve discovered recently, is that haibun began as a humorous piece of prose, so it should start out seriously, and end up humorously.

S: Many are so serious, aren’t they?

J: Yeah, well I’ve written serious ones myself. And I’ve thought, ooh … but then, you know, I’ve written a few humorous ones … but see, they’re not as acceptable, because people don’t understand that. Apparently, they began just the same as the haiku; haikai-no-renga was humorous linked verse, the haibun was humorous prose. So I think we should have another look at what we’re doing.

S: And be funnier?

J: Yeah. You don’t have to be hilarious. But the haibun with lighter moments can be as rewarding as the sad, emotional ones.

It’s time for another cup of tea, then time for me to go. As I drive north towards Queensland’s Gold Coast, where I’ve arranged to meet a friend for lunch, I pass an avocado farm, fast-flowing rivers, the Condong Sugar Mill with its sickly-sweet smell of burning cane. Half an hour later, I’m stuck in four lanes of slow-moving traffic beside a multi-storey casino. Beachside skyscrapers glint in the sun. Hip hop music blares from a black BMW convertible. I think about my friend’s dog sparing me the indecency of eating that dreadful sugarless birthday cake, and I think of Janice’s advice to ‘lighten up’ when it comes to writing haibun. Who knows, perhaps the next time I try my hand at the form, I’ll produce a novel-length work of ‘haiku prose’ in which a variety of poetic forms ‘read on’ as part of the narrative, the subject matter ranges from sex to death to everything in between, and the ending inevitably involves a dog, a birthday cake and a modest epiphany about gratitude.