Sunday, March 30, 2008


(Coeden Ar Yr Mynydd)

as the motor cools
startled sheep voice silence

We sit motionless for quite a while, absorbed in that sense of presence, lively mountain quiet welling up.
kin -
lichened stones
wisps of men

There’s something I want to show him, and no better man to value it as I do. Shorn ewes cry out to scattered lambs as we make our way upward amongst them.

Here on summer evenings in a vanished world we gathered around a windup gramophone. Why do I remember only females present - mother and three sisters, never brothers, nor Da? He would have driven us here, up the long lane, past the tin shack where a Famous Lady stayed, past the standpipe we fetched water from. Curiously little sense of a me, but of a being-suffused with the waft and tang of turf and wood smoke, spicy sweetness of gorse, aromatics of crushed bracken, pine-ooze, oily reek of sheep. And a sense of space deeper, fuller…out of which a new listening:

in the clang of an empty bucket
the mountain rings out
The sound I recall most clearly came disembodied from the horn of that gramophone. Was it a music-hall song? I patch together a few phrases of the lyrics. To my amazement he recognizes them and adds the tune. We cavort, intoning

He walks / the bloody tower /with his head /tucked / underneath his arm / at the midnight ho-our.
sheep stare :
dancing skeletons
shaking with laughter

I’m not surprised by the sorry state the old place is in. I’d heard about the fire and knew the roof had fallen. Too close to the encroaching city now. Cider-drinking youths maybe, jumping the reservation for a weekend under the stars, daring the darkness, awakening to embers, drenched in dew. They also sought eden, some fragment of lost oneness to keep close, like the miraculous medal they go on wearing though faith’s long dead. Blame them. A fire that leapt too high. They brought their own flaming sword. You’re barred.

Pointing out where the stove and the table had been, where we’d slept and so on, I’m conscious that he knows of many such in Wales, with grim stories to tell, and had told them well, tried to keep old names of family and place alive in his writing:

matrimonial bed
rusty and twisted
castors still spinning

But as I do so, I’m realizing that this shell of a house is now less real than those memories revisited when need arose, and which glow rich as stained-glass panels in the shadows. And if they fail me there are fadographs:
the little prince
mounted on a donkey
king for a day
Yet I linger in the actual, looking and listening, while he wanders outside. This is where it started, the call already answered here. Symbol and element alive in one another, indivisible. Ordinary sacramentals. Fire of fire. Water of water.

Nettles have colonized the bedroom. In a corner lies a sheep-fleece yellow as sour cream. Days spent here reading, torrential rain hammering on the tin roof. Then emerging, and in sunlit silence hearing that mysterious roar, and being told its name: O’Toole’s Buttermilk, a thundering cascade of flood-water and foam, and having it pointed out to me, between Maulin Mountain and Ton Duff, across the valley.

Squatting by the hearth in the living room I find a roof-nail lying on a fire-brick, miraculously rust-free. It’s long, square-headed, quite possibly hand-forged. That’ll do.

dreaming still
in the cloud-roofed cottage
a white-haired boy

My companion eyes me as I emerge. Together in silence we gaze down into the vast bowl of the valley, the mountain floating in space on the far side, that benign quiet welling up around us, oceanic. I feel it again as that boy felt it for the first time in this place. Immersion. And in the face of all that has passed between, licence here and now, sanction to let slip the moorings and to simply ¾

“It won’t do, you know”, he says. “Not anymore”. The soft tone belied by his sharp glance. I’m startled, and to my surprise, angered. I’m about to argue. He points to the ground:

Such blue!
flies on sheep-shit

We descend, me rueful, he whistling that tune - with his head/tucked/underneath his arm - to the makeshift gate:

One leg over
a handsome bedstead
corsetted with twine

The hostel gleams whitely in the mid-week quiet. An uncle of mine built it, though I wonder at the grandiose claim even as I make it. It was he loaned us the cottage. Master-tailor to the great and good, half-blinded with a knitting needle by one his three daughters. No sons - was it this drove him to such manly labour? I dimly remember a vigorous irrascible man who swore colourfully and wore well-cut tweeds. A stylish eye-patched buccaneer. From a poor background if I remember rightly, mightily ambitious, with a portly Jewish partner whose daughter seemed to a boy sweating one summer in the factory to be the embodiment of sensual allure. His business thrived, and as the family moved to ever grander and remoter houses, so his wife - my mother’s older sister - sank deeper into melancholia. Remember too a word, sour on my mother’s lips, that came strange to a child’s ear -‘cabbage’ - off-cuts from the tailor’s bench for us poor relations

My ramblings are cut short by the arrival of a camper-van. German plates. A young man carefully reads the notice on the closed gate, approaches us and asks how can he ring Ireland. Pardon? The international country code.

a thousand miles and more
to be right here


We drive on up the valley. I’m not sure what next. A walk is called-for, but I’m still enfeebled from the night before. He, on the other hand, for all his three-score-and-ten plus, is rarin’ to go. Old mountain goat.

What’s that, he asks, as we enter Glencree. See for yourself. Deutscher Kriegs Friedhof. He takes in every detail as we enter - the teutonic gate, the revetment lodge, the casements of its window slanted for raking gunfire - then with sure instinct heads off to the side. Yin to balance so much yang.

the foaming torrent
placid now in summer
dallies in green shade

We walk among the nameless and the named of two world wars…soldiers, sailors, seamen, fliers…officers and common men, and wonder at their being here. On a column is chiselled a poem in rhymed couplets, doggerel but good. I recognize the poet’s name. He was a teacher at our primary school. Did he know my uncle? To each his own labour of love, in this same valley.
scattered in battle
these bones lovingly gathered
my friend the enemy

Sons of the Fatherland, mothered in the soil of three-quarters neutral Eire.

Another fadograph - Da shot by a street photographer with his cardboard suitcase on the way to Belfast, glad of the work, building Lancaster and Stirling bombers, returning in a trilby hat and bogart overcoat, a man about his business.

Closing the formidable gate after us, the latch doesn’t quite engage. It looks of a different make, a simpler device, local maybe. Irritating to some, and cause for condemnation of us sloppy Irish. But he reminds me that Persian carpet-weavers always leave an imperfection in their intricate designs, to save us from a greater error.

Leaving the car, we enter the village on foot. Four houses in the crook of the road, chief amongst, austerely impressive with its cut-granite stone walls and columned door, the former youth hostel. He looks around. “Slightly…spooky, isn’t it?”

Synge thought so. Visiting the area in the early 1900’s, he records: I have seen the people going to Mass in the Reformatory and the valley seems empty of life…the sense of loneliness has no equal…the silence is so great three or four wrens that are singing near the lake seem to fill the whole valley with sound…

What was it Basho said? …the loneliness here / is superior to Suma’s.

Uta-makura - to travel in search of them, little clusters of words, fewer, fuller, only to give up and be found by them, and by those of others along the way, until finally in nothing, all. End of ruminative passage, as that other who roamed these hills, a boy with his father, might have said. Beckett tramped this country without ceasing all his life perhaps, though he got out… And if I went back to where all went out and on from there, no that would lead nowhere, never led anywhere.

Shade and a large sign welcomes visitors to the Reconciliation Centre.

“It’s to do with the North, peace-making, bridge-building”. The North: our fourth green field, their corner of a foreign land forever England’s.

After the confines of the village, the openness of a huge courtyard. “This place could accommodate an army!”

We’re facing a line of modern single-storey buildings, office-like, but behind us is the former barracks, two long narrow blocks built parallel, east-facing, the nearest carefully restored, behind a cavernous ruin. A yellow-breasted wagtail flutters by its crumbling plaster, feeding on the wing. “A barracks? Here?”

Out with halberd/out with sword/on we go for by The Lord
Fiach Mac Hugh has given the word …

I make a fair fist of the tune but most of the words of the old rebel song elude me. 1798, the year of the great republican uprising, last common cause of Catholic, Protestant and Dissenter. The old septs of O’Byrne and O’Toole - not to forget the legendary Michael Dwyer - held out in these Wicklow hills as outlaw rapparees had done for centuries before them, raining fire and pillage on the Dublin Pale. Redcoat troopers and engineers hemmed them and harried them with a network of barracks and roads.

“Tea and a scone, Bombardier?” Stiffly he leads us in, this onetime Artillery man, but with manly fortitude we restrain base appetite and scan the history displays.

From barracks to reformatory. A word to shudder at, in the best of times, and they were not the best of times. Upwards of three hundred boys, frequently cut off from the world by snow, minded by The Brothers. O Mi. After the redcoats, the black. Books of ghastly revelations, presented in evidence. Our very own green gulag. Didn’t happen here, of course. Here the boys, illiterate miscreants, were taught useful trades. Let us now praise virtuous men. They created a self-sufficient community in the wilderness. Even had gaslight. Who is to judge? “The boys reclaimed 100 acres”. Granite and bog.

Kindred -
and the vanished

Once, this area was called Glincry.

Bernard Young aged 13, upon being convicted of Petty Larceny, bare-foot and in rags, escorted by a constable across the Featherbed Mountain from Rathfarnham Jail to begin his sentence in Glencree: the sepia photograph shows a tall cross on a hillside, inscribed with his name and the legend Frozen To Death March 3rd 1870. The frieze-coated, hobnailed constable presumably survived.

delicious devil-cake
afterwards the empty plate
a crumbled serviette

I ask in the tearoom where the cross is situated. She doesn’t know, but knows a man who does. My companion goes off to explore the church . I take a turn around the courtyard while I wait. May Peace Prevail on Earth in half a dozen tongues. Identity’s defined by difference.

Perhaps he’s the caretaker. On the white tablecloth as we speak, the mortice lock he’s carried in with him, complete with keys. For some reason it’s painted red.

“The cross, no, it’s never been found. The Brothers ordered it off the mountain when they left. We can get nothing out of them. We’re still looking though.” He’s trying to piece it together, unearthing stories from locals. “They say that when the boys were filing past, coming or going to the fields, they’d try to put ointment on them.” And tells me that an old man, once a shepherd here, wants to come in and talk.

In the church my patient friend is admiring a dressed granite column. Did I go to Mass here when we holidayed down the valley? No, we went to a sunny hillside church whose name remains, I realize, a murmur of childish delight - Curtlestown. It was my mother’s dying wish to be buried there, but they were not the best of times, either.
I do remember one visit - yes, that’s right! - in the Centre’s early days, what was it called - The Mustard Seed Festival. Grizzled hippies, starry-eyed new-agers, alternative technologists without an umbrella amongst them. It was grim then, pamphlets piled on every pew, anti-birth control, anti-abortion, anti-EEC.
stone cold
the empty water-font :
pouring rain outside

But this is light and airy, beautifully repainted, and not a tract in sight.

In a niche is a statue of the Infant of Prague. It’s mass-produced, conventional plaster, mawkish if you will, but the symbolism…a standing child crowned as a king holds the orb of the world in the palm of his extended left hand, the right raised in a mudra of fearlessness.

“Yes, often in Irish homes, usually in the fanlight above the hall door”.

“Out of sight, out of mind”.

A discussion on religious symbolism and imagination ensues, how such forms as these arise and how differently regarded East and West, whether as solidly real or as rainbow appearances pointing us beyond and back again. And never mistake the pointing finger for the moon. Mostly it’s me blathering on.

He’s looking vacant-eyed yet tensed. I know that look. “Yes!” He snaps his fingers and points to it. “Prague…now I have it . Post-modern novel, the floating world, that sort of thing, no fixed reference points, set somewhere in Eastern Europe, one character a nasty piece of work, STASI trained interrogator, Party hatchet-man before the Wall came down…” He’s pacing up and down the aisle gesticulating - I hope no-one comes in - strides back to the statue and gazes at it - …yes, that’s right, he turns to gangsterism and he’s on the run, cornered, paranoid. Starts getting flashbacks. Remembers raiding a house in the 50’s, an old woman, her son was a dissident in hiding, he slaps her about and as he’s trashing the place he smashes one of those - yes, I couldn’t picture it, us Protestants, we smashed them centuries ago! - but what gets him is the look of pity in her eyes as he smashes it. It enrages him. He kicks shit out of her and leaves her for dead”.

Yeh? So?

“I haven’t finished.. He’s caught, not sure by whom, it’s left unclear, anyway what they do is inject him him up with lsd laced with strychnine so he’ll go mad before he’s poisoned. So he’s in the horrors, jerking back and forth between his childhood and his nights in the STASI cellars stroking dissidents, hallucinating hellishly, you get the picture, he remembers the old woman and then sees this child standing in front of him. It’s holding a flaming coal in its left hand, not holding - the palm is open, and beckoning to him with the right. The pain of holding it is obviously excruciating, but the child bears it somehow, out of compassion for him. Then he realizes - the child is him!”

“It’s the world, isn’t it, the coal I mean”.

“Well obviously”. He’s impatient with my banal interruption.

“Yes“, I persist, “It‘s the Buddhist thin, the Buddha‘s Fire Sermon…how does it go?”

“I’m on a roll here, let me finish…the kicker is he doesn’t die. He’s left paralysed, transformed somehow, yet utterly dependant”. And then he doubts, thinks the whole thing’s utterly grotesque, religious flummery glorifying the perverse love of the victim for its abuser…”

“Extraordinary. But it’s all in the telling. Does he pull it off, the author I mean?”

“Well, did he?” He gives me his sly zen smile.


I promised him a walk, and a walk he shall have to Loch Bray, where Synge was cut off in a white silent cloud…the silence so great and queer, even weazels run squealing past me on the side of the road .

But steps leading down into the gorge delay us a while, by the grotto wherein is displayed a devotional card: The Child of Innocence 1985-1988. It continues. Heroic sanctity at three years of age. It’s too glued together with damp to make out anything else.
tripping -
stump of a stone supplicant
lost in grass
Heading up, we pause to take in the magnificent view down the valley. Primeval oak once covered all this, then it became a royal deer park where troublesome wood-kerne too, were to be hunted. And somewhere down there was St Molin’s Well. Peace be on him and may peace prevail.

And so we go at it again, hammer and tongs, me defending, he the devil’s advocate. You be Di-Di, I’ll be Go-Go.

I scan the skyline as we walk, looking for it but of course in vain, the tree that Beckett saw while tramping up here as a boy, the dead one for a moment bursting into leaf ,
against the buried sky.

icy rain
two thin-shanked wayfarers
We drive back toward the city along the valley’s southern flank at the foot on Maulin Mountain. I look out for a glimpse of Knockree and the cottage but can’t see it for the trees. Rounding a bend on the forest road
mirrored in a puddle
a leaping fawn

Famous Lady: Rea Mooney, renowned Abbey Theatre actress.

Fadograph: From James Joyce‘s ‘Ulysses‘

:Synge, John Millington: Irish playwright, from his travel diaries around 1900.

Di-di and Go-go: Vladimer and Estragon, 2 characters from Waiting for Godot. Beckett walked hereabouts with his father with whom he had a very close relationship. Many references to these landscapes appear in his work, and it’s thought that the tree in Godot was one he’d noted near Glencree. The phrase ‘buried sky’ is also his.

Uta-makura: So far as I know, this Japanese phrase literally means ‘poem-pillows’. I came on it in a commentary on Basho’s Narrow Road to the Deep North, the original haibun. On his travels, Basho clearly attached great importance to visiting not alone shrines and beauty-spots but also places where others had written haiku, a sentiment I share, whatever form the writing has taken.

Coened-ar-yr-Mynnyd: I have given the Welsh translation of the title of this haibun in acknowledge of the work of my companion in this piece, particularly his admirable collection ‘Stallion’s Crag’ which is the source of the haiku matrimonial bed/rusty and twisted/castors till spinning quoted herein.

Troublesome wood-kernes: Rebellious Irish

Deutscher Kriegs Friedhof: German War Cemetery

Mudra: Gesture, from the Sanskrit.

O mi: The Order which set up and ran the Reformatory were the Oblates of Mary Immaculate - OMI. The man I’ve called the caretaker told me of anecdotal evidence which suggests that abuse occurred and that one case had been taken against the Order locally but was settled out of court. The Oblates closed the Reformatory in 1940 and set up another in Daingean Co Offally.

Green gulag: The widespread abuse which occurred in reformatories, industrial schools and residential homes throughout Ireland, both religious and state-run, is currently being investigated by a Tribunal of Enquiry. So many are the claims coming forward that it is estimated it may take ten years and more to complete its work. Allegations about the regime at Daingean and other institutions run by the Oblates feature prominently.

by Jim Norton
Dublin, Ireland

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Roberta Beary: visiting day

high on my da's shoulders i was no more than five into the bar we went and i carrying the beer bucket the barman calling out the barman filling it overflowing what a head on her can you imagine 5¢ for all that beer can you imagine that and da and I laughing all the way home he carried me

overheated room
a scent of mothballs
from the open drawer

for Patrick Beary (d. 16 Jan 05)

by Roberta Beary
Washington, D.C.
first published in Contemporary Haibun Online, V 1 N 1

Friday, March 28, 2008

Richard Straw: DOLOR

"I have known the inexorable sadness of pencils…"
Theodore Roethke *
I have a job, but am sometimes out of work. I try to sit patiently then in silence, without grimaces, expecting nothing. Work will eventually arrive to be edited, to dissolve the time away. Without it, I'm lost in broad daylight, prone to sort and re-sort my pens, pencils, and schedules. I'll even brush my teeth and straighten the telephone cord so its one loop turns toward the green banker's lamp, a gift from my parents. Or I'll stack my snack change by year near my coffee cup, arrange my reference books alphabetically by author, and clean the computer keyboard. Sometimes, I'll daydream of the drive home, with the radio tuned to jazz.

gone one evening
the black, brown, and sorrel
thick tousles of grass

* From the poem of the same name in The Collected Poems of Theodore Roethke (New York: Anchor Books, 1975, p. 44).

by Richard Straw
Cary, North Carolina
first published in Lynx XXIII:1, February 2008

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Chris Burdett: PROFESSOR

After two semesters of graduate school I haven't gotten a single date with any of the smart, pretty young women who I correctly assumed would be in my classes, but I have learned a great deal about modern literature. In both respects this is the opposite of how I had expected things to turn out.

under the feeder
the squirrel with half an ear
gathers the other's crumbs

Five years later, M.A. tucked into the inside pocket of my tweed sport coat, I begin my college teaching career. I expect to have intelligent, motivated, engaged, hard-working young men and women as students. I am correct in one respect: I do have young men and women as students.

scolded by the finch
on the empty feeder ―
paralyzed with ennui

Shortly after I leave the small university where I first taught to take a job at a community college ― where, I am happy to report, the students may not all be so young, but most often they are motivated and hard working ― I learn that one of the students from my very first semester has changed her major from Business to English, and I feel a note of triumph.

outside my window
fledgling titmouse on a twig ―

by Chris Burdett
Loganville, Georgia

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Mary Mageau: OUTBACK

The Great Dividing Range rises straight ahead from the valley floor. That abrupt counterpoint of rugged mountain tops leads us through Cunningham’s Gap into the dry lands. Green surrenders now to brown – subtle shades of tan, caramel, rich sienna and deep red ochre.

‘Come along,’ you said. ‘This place is a photographer’s heaven.’ Trees disappear from sight, shrubs wilt and droop. Soon only large tracts of barren earth are visible, crosshatched by deep cracks. The featureless landscape is carved into two parts by the road we travel on – a continuous ribbon carrying us straight ahead toward the centre of this vast, timeless land.

dry seeds
the blueprint for new life
wind scattered

by Mary Mageau
Samford, Qld., Australia

Tuesday, March 25, 2008


I’m grating onions for latkes and the tears are streaming down my face and I know that despite my best efforts tears have been falling into the grated onions, and I’m wondering if tears are kosher, especially goy tears, when I hear my wife give a yelp. Our son runs into the kitchen.

“What is it?” he asks.

She shows us the tip of her right thumb and it’s all red and raw where she grated it along with potato. All three of us peer into the bowl but there’s no sign of blood.

“That’s enough,” I say, wiping tears on my shirtsleeves. “Fry this up and we'll go out for Chinese food later. Hanukkah gelt and fortune cookies for everyone.”

rainy day
cooking up a pot
of Japanese curry
I start to wonder how much
the directions matter

by Bob Lucky
Hangzhou, China

Monday, March 24, 2008


The fusion is near seamless. Around the mouth and eyes is where I first detect it. Then when she nervously flicks a long slender tongue in a half-sensuous, half-menacing way her lizardness comes through. Reptilian mutants are fascinating and replete with myths coloring the facts. Most are women. Their allure is intoxicating. There are tons of websites dedicated to lizard women, but in this day of superlative photo retouching and body alteration it’s difficult to know who is authentic, who is a wannabe. That’s why the reptilian woman sitting across from me in this bus terminal has my full attention. I’m trying not to stare, but as I look closer I can see hints of scaly skin nearly hidden by make up. It’s likely she has brown-green scales running the full length of her spine. And then there are those engaging, slightly-slanted dark eyes. These lizard-humans fall at the crossroads of folklore and the science of de-evolution. There are so many questions I wish to ask, but how do I approach her? This is such a rare opportunity. I can’t let her get away.

dusty hall light
her shadow disappears
into the wall

by Jeffrey Winke
Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Charlie Rossiter: TOM'S PAD

On a visit to my friend, Tom, I get to see his new apartment for the first time since he split from his wife. It”s a nice two bedroom place with huge rooms in a suburb of Hartford, much nicer than I’d expect of a guy newly "batching it.” He’s got new appliances, garbage disposal, and a view of some pleasant woods out the back windows. The bookshelves all around the edge of the living room, as I’d expect, are filled with his poetry collection.
Of course, there are signs that it’s a bachelor’s pad: the furniture doesn’t match; no art on the walls; rabbit ears on the tv; one bedroom used for open storage is half-filled with unopened boxes of stuff; an assortment of half-empty wine bottles sits on the kitchen table by the micro-wave, but the best detail is in the living room.

bachelor pad,
a blue Igloo cooler
for a coffee table

by Charlie Rossiter
Oak Park, Illinois

Saturday, March 22, 2008


Breezes pick up beach sand, palm fronds, and food-wrappings, smashing them against the walls, poles and billboards. Drivers roll up windows, attacked by tumbling seaweed. Grills blow empty. Ashes sweep drives. Mouths go dry.
not even sweets
without a grain of salt
wharf café

I park at the Fisherman's Wharf, sucking in the fresh stink of the harbor, dash by the Custom House, built in 1848, and go down Alvarado Street, historically full of watering holes. They shoot breeze here. Best street to connect on the gut level -- and John Steinbeck knew it. His ghost is still wherever they shoot breeze. At midnight, the fishing boats throttle into the sea. It’s time to go. Too drunk to drive, I grope with my feet back into my four walls to hole up, trying to write my guts out.
fishing village
stink of the diesel
in the wine glass

by Tad Wojnicki
Hsinchu City, Taiwan
first published in Simply Haiku, Fall 2004

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

insideoutside: Stanley Pelter on Haibun

interview with Jeffrey Woodward
Stanley Pelter, born in London in 1936, attended Wimbledon College of Art and, after a three year interval as a result of being a Conscientious Objector to Military Service, completed three years of post-graduate study at the Royal College of Art. A self-described “apprentice maker of haiku for 12 years and composer of haibun for five,” Pelter has served as Secretary of the British Haiku Society and has published four haiku collections. The third volume of an intended six-volume series of haibun will be released in the very near future.

JW: First, if you do not mind, might we speak a little about your background? Many of the autobiographical and anecdotal haibun in your first book, past imperfect (2004), address your poverty and Jewish roots during the London of the last World War and the post-war period of reconstruction. I take it that you are retired now, but what educational and employment background did you have when you came to maturity and how, if at all, did these later developments affect your writing?

SP: Yes, I am retired. In a different life, an examination was compulsory at 11. Wrong side of the track youngsters were not spectacularly successful. The few that were attended a Grammar School located on the right side of the track.

My choices were between English at University or Art College. Art won! After an enforced 3-year break as a Conscientious Objector, I won a post-graduate course at the Royal College of Art. Fortuitously, I was one of a small tutorial group that included David Hockney and the recently deceased, great artist, Ron Kitaj. Mortgage redeeming years were in Education, reaching the worryingly dizzy height of College Principal! Alongside writing bad poetry, I made numerous black and white scraperboard illustrations. To attract students, I also used mild humour, some of which have since emerged as haibun.

JW: Can you recall when you composed your first haibun and the circumstances of that act?

SP: First haibun? June 2003. ‘That C# Minor String Quartet’ (Volume 2 – & YNot?). For a year or two the County of Lincolnshire, in which I now live, financed a programme of ‘Music in Quiet Places’. This supported recently graduated students who formed Trios and Quartets. Venues were often village churches. From this understated starting point, stimulation was based on the device of juxtaposition that, here, was able to outstrip even its haiku effects: Beethoven’s homogeneity of form and content, supra-consciousness of a late string quartet versus one composed by a Jew who perished in Terezin, a Nazi Internment camp, christian church versus jewish atheist (oxymoron, perhaps?), the resonant acoustics of an ancient, hill-top church versus gale, emotional performance versus their banal departure, cold setting versus just another of many evening performances, the illustration that indicated unity trembling at the edges. With this complexity, how could a haibun not evolve?

JW: You frequently remark that haibun is so novel that it is premature to seek to delimit the boundaries of the genre. More specifically, in the essay “Definitions – & Y Knot?,” you argue that the chief value of a definition or catalogue of norms is to serve as “an aide memoire for those new, or at least less experienced, to an area of activity.” How accurately does that older formulation reflect your current view?

SP: Editors of Society Journals and the like live with constraints; representing their membership, publishing more, not less, which often means selecting a larger number of shorter haibun. But too many judges take the default position and lump haibun into their own recognisable position. Sometimes, there is a veneer of claiming Bashō’s crown of :

do not resemble me
never be like a musk lemon
cut in two identical halves

In practice, this is belied because, however varied may be the content or form, if the ‘appropriate’ characteristics that fix their parameters are not recognised, there is little they would consider positive to comment upon. Despite this, I still hold the view we should work to limit the damage of constraining ‘characteristics’, ‘definitions’, ‘guidelines’, but do so by working outside the box, trying to reach beyond the rapid build-up of their words and practices, which is a consensual middle ground. The problem is how to balance helping less experienced writers from sliding into that follow-my-leader syndrome while retaining constitutionally important aspects of the genre. Despite a lot of huff and puff, those cubic walls of their increasingly cemented solid house simply refuse to be blown down. An outside gale is needed.

Also of interest here are which haiku characteristics barely get a mention in the context of transference to the haibun genre. The present grouping is surprisingly selective, and far from all embracing. It is wiser, with less potential for myopia and more for perceptive innovation, to maintain the pretence of being a closet social being.

JW: In this same essay on the problem of rule and exception in genre, you write, “Usually provides a simple and simplistic yardstick by which Editors and Competition judges measure whether a piece of work ‘is or is not,’ ‘complies or does not.’ Not this side of the wall? Must be the other, usually less acceptable side. Usually slides into a ‘virtually never.’ The harder task of recognising, understanding and accepting exceptions can be avoided.” I find this quite accurate and amusing. How does this relate to Ludwig Wittgenstein’s view of definition, a view you’ve quoted favorably, as an “ornamental coping that supports nothing”?

SP: The application of a broadly interpreted definition does relate to Wittgenstein’s view, but is not so extreme as to be just ‘ornamental coping that supports nothing’. Despite my sometimes exuberant statements in relation to what, for all practical purposes, have become defined parameters, there is still a struggle to understand where present outer limits might lie, what are the far from easy language form and structural problems, in order to close in on or, with hard work, perseverance and dedication, to even move beyond them. Few work in this outreach area. There seems to be a psychological need to define that tends to inhibit and limit possibilities, but open processes imply that, at this beginning stage, less ‘rules’, not more, is a greater aid to creativity. But, faced with so many submissions and so little time, it is tempting for Editors and Award judges to use their own guideline definition as a simple weighing machine. Who can blame them? But it diminishes the genre.

A few years ago I spent 18 months persuading a couple of obdurate British Haiku Society Committee members there was at least one other way to establish a haibun award without it involving financial reward, or gold, silver, bronze gongs. It now exists, its aim educative, analytical, reflective, with an opening for two-way discussion. Selection is not just about ‘the best’ but those that generate open-ended analysis and discussion. The intention is to make haibun a more developmental process, especially at this early stage of its cycle. In 2006, 2 selectors, Ken Jones, who, was supportive, of the aim, and David Cobb, chose 14 haibun. Commentaries were limited, production poor, but it did result in anthology No 1. The second, based on submissions in 2007, saw two different selectors choose 25 haibun. These received fuller commentary and analysis, with a higher standard of production. Readers are invited to respond. Understanding, for some, still reflects a ‘winner/loser’ framework. So, Wittgenstein is apt in his observation in relation to ‘definitely supporting nothing’, but, more accurately, its supports are already, by definition, damaged.

JW: In your introduction to & Y Not? (2006), while outlining such commonly accepted norms of haibun as the expectation that it contain haiku and be in the present tense, you ask: “What can this new genre incorporate into it and call its own? After all, it is haibun, not haiku! It is more than haiku, more than a story.” Implicit in your argument, unless I misread you, is that the path of haibun may deviate widely from that of haiku, perhaps not even run a parallel course. Might you elaborate?

SP: When I read this question, despite being an atheist, the first thing that came into my mind was Calvin’s analysis of the law of Moses. ‘The law’, he says, ‘was political, and since the politics have changed, so have the rules’. Haiku is haiku. Haibun is not haiku. It is a different genre that, while retaining some of the spirit of haiku, is not haiku. Even if in danger of seeming simplistic, a new, different genre has new, different rules.

While incorporating certain characteristics that distinguish it from, say, the short story form, we are, or should be, in that exciting period when ‘the world is our oyster’, when discoveries are made, ground breaking experimental developments tried, where creative process applications defy too quickly established conventions, and the concept of haibun winners and losers is irrelevant. It should be an alchemical bubbling, like that early 20th century period in Art when this or that ‘movement’ flourished, intelligent developments like Cubism evolved from early perceptions into the then unrecognised aims and intentions of, for example, Cézanne, African and Oceanic art. The excitement is still palpable. What was considered revolutionary and outrageous by establishment standard bearers evolved into fluid movements with approaches, not only to content, but to the way creative processes are applied. For haibun makers, it is that time when non-lineal questions galore can be broached and many manner of answers attempted. Presently, too much excitement, too much navel-gazing is going on from within existing parameters. For me, the practical yardstick is that my most innovative haibun would not pass muster, not slip through the buttery mesh of existing, sometimes unconsciously applied criteria. It can be a measure of development, in much the same way Impressionism, Cézanne, Van Gogh, Picasso, Duchamp et. al. failed to fit neatly into their contemporary parameters. Haibun should have no safety net. Better to break a bone or three than never to have attempted the triple somersault.

JW: For haibun in the immediate future, then, what course?

SP: Over and above similarities, whatever haibun can incorporate into itself that distances it from haiku – far more than obvious differences such as the use of semi-colons, narrative, applying mixed times and tenses, fiction, factive fiction, simile, less subtle metaphor, and the ways syntax can extend expressive range, greater perseverance, a more forceful application of analytical and critical faculties, intensive reworking – it should also be disruptive of conventions and consensual practices. In one shape or form, few haiku are not derivative of others. The same applies to haibun; and this is not confined to content. What is not required of haibun is to become tame, civilised. It is easy to turn it into a summer garden for visitors to inspect and buy samples to take home. As 20th century Art mounted a frontal attack on accepted orders, so haibun discussions, and practical outcomes of those discussions, should, in the 21st century, be making a new order, rather than the present heavy-breathing tickling of sensibilities. What is being assembled for haibun in the way of limited devices and must-have attributes can be fragmented and ruptured into a less constrained, more open-ended framework of loose filaments that continue to reshape and reform. I suppose the question to ask is, can we see haibun being different from the way it is viewed now? I see our hold on it being, all the time, tenuous, allowing for, and accepting contradictions, being sceptical about even personal views. This is one way of refuting the concept of an eternal perspective and edifice, looking for sub-structures beyond appearances that are being carved from the haiku model. In addition to areas that seem natural to transfer from haiku to haibun, is a re-presenting of them, seeing the same characteristics both as what they are and as they can be from only a haibun perspective. For example, minimalism is a far wider concept than when lineally interpreted. An attribute of both haiku and haibun, it can be understood as being a limited number of syllables, as in haiku, or, following its pattern, short, simple language sentences inside short prose/poems. An easily assimilated relationship, but is it the-end-and-be-all of the concept? Less directly understood, it can be different from this more easily understood one. Spare, even terse, minimalism can be inside seriously complex haibun, with greater development of juxtaposed situations and other appropriate devices. It is from this more angled perception that we are likely to find the raw materials of great haibun. Unlike other fields, this one is more productive if worked in isolation and not though groups. Perhaps the reasons why should be left for another day. So, back to your question!

JW: Yes, haibun versus haiku: do you perceive their respective paths as parallel or diverging?

SP: Length, the many interrelationships of prose with a variety of haiku forms, areas of content and ensuing structures, language and devices, is sufficient to indicate differences between the two genres. I suppose I should be more specific: Perhaps even more important than minimalism is the haiku and haibun device of juxtaposition. While it can play the same or nearly the same role in both genres, it can serve different purposes, be more wide ranging, appear in haibun in ways that are different from haiku such as tripling or quadrupling images or events or moods within events. By definition of them being different genres, we do not always have to impose existing haiku format and rationales in haibun. For me, the critical factor is the story itself, and it is this that should confirm its literary nature, the shape of language, form of haiku, an alternative or equivalent. A not particularly advanced example is ‘bar-mitzvah photograph’ - Volume 1 ‘past imperfect’. It opens with a scene from the Scottish Island of Arran, remembering 19th century ‘People Clearances’. This juxtaposes with the effect of an ancient photograph of one pair of grandparents celebrating their engagement in another Country on a contemporary family celebration. Most of the attendees are descendents and, so, escapees from the holocaust. Some are survivors of the holocaust. Those, and the millions who died, were forced to wear them as badges of recognition shame and humiliation. Conversely, it became the flag of the Phoenix State of Israel soon after their own war of survival. It seems entirely appropriate to use a row of Stars of Davids and dehumanising numbers tattooed onto bodies and sewn onto concentration camp uniforms as non-verbal haiku. In context, they make at least as much sense as that assumed to be the natural haiku format. In other words, the context, content and aims of each individual haibun is the fuse, the driving force of what is appropriate, whether it works to contrast short with long sentences, is more effective with no ‘and’, no ‘the’ or both, or what linguistic changes are made necessary to achieve intentions.

JW: And what other distinctions do you observe between the two genres, haiku and haibun?

SP: Haiku gains ‘immediacy’ with the use of the present tense, while haibun can move into subtle areas of discovery of Selves by switching tenses from first to third and back again, present to past or vice versa. Haibun can grow out of a drawing or painting, either your own or by another. Haibun can introduce ‘visuals’, whether as complete units or as separate ‘one-liners’, in ways that, in haiku, are less pertinent or effective. Of course, it depends on how they are done. Often, they need to be at least slightly off-centre, sometimes bizarre, with more than a hint of surreal images and/or objects. Haibun can also more readily assimilate ‘found’ prose material, an aspect I, at some length, am incorporating into a future book. In haibun, verbal juxtaposition can be seriously and intentionally more ambiguous.

JW: In what way?

SP: Volumes 1 and 2 introduced a new presentation of haibun – impact haibun. These have proven to be ‘puxxlepuzzles’. Few have commented on them, and those that have do not find them straightforward by any existing criteria. Either they fail in what they are about or indicate that, when faced with a never-before-met-situation, logic is an automatic reflex first approach. They are always single-pagers that incorporate haiku and haiku immediacy, and which, despite a unifying rationale, helps them bypass rationality, bringing into play more sensory areas. In the Introduction to Volume 1, past imperfect, I described them as being ‘more cubic, homogeneity evolving from the total image that appears on the page. By definition, because literary effects are minimal and language patterns run counter to familiar formats, there is a greater need for open-ended reader involvement and understanding’. Yet, in spirit, they are closer to haiku than surface appearances might indicate. It has not yet happened. C’est la vie! But in a way, the presentation of an incomprehensible format is strangely exciting. Another difference between haibun and haiku is that, in haibun, there is the possibility of random pairing of images, situations, ‘ideas’. This negates predictability. Outcomes cannot be known in advance. Pairings can grow, affecting interactions. Many of my haibun are subterranean attempts to claw back dispossession, to make some sense of it by jousting with specific myths and archetypes. This is not suited to haiku. Haibun, better than haiku, can describe fears of living within illegible systems, with a desire for social networking while feeling the full force of intolerable loneliness, make sense of an apparently cohesive society, but in which there is disconnection between escapist lifestyles and, often, a feeling of puniness when confronted with seemingly fanatical beliefs that appear to support killing of ‘non-believers’, in the face of perceived power systems that feel conspiratorial, malign, unstoppable, can be more emphatic, contradictory, lyrical, dissolving, three or more toned. This, too, is less, if at all, suited to haiku. By comparison, haiku can give the appearance of a kind of spiritualised dreamland of fairytale-like innocence. There is, even now, far more to haibun than consensual nods of approval. I have to admit I am excited by involvement in these and the many other possibilities, from both within and beyond the haiku genre, that make up the panoply of creative tools available to haibun authors able to evolve appropriate forms of haiku.

JW: If you do not object, I’d like to single out one of your haibun for discussion. I realize that one haibun can in no way be representative but perhaps it will allow us to focus more directly on the practical problems posed by your writing. The work that I have in mind is “Passacaglia ~ Fêtes Galantes.” On a superficial reading, I find this work of roughly 1000 words readily accessible but if one studies it closely, complications quickly arise. You’ve informed me that this work caused you considerable difficulty. Can you describe its structure or form and explain why the execution was so problematic?

SP: This haibun was a difficult composition. There were more than twenty versions; events placed differently, paragraphs, sentences, phrases rewritten, events added or altered. Hand written, the modifications made it look like an area map suffering a breakdown! The eventual first sentence and second paragraph established the confusions created when time, space, geography spill over into beliefs. A long time was spent reducing language to that most expressive of overlapping and interweaving ‘themes’ with their juxtapositions. It tries to achieve the haiku quality of understatement in a way different from haiku inside being in contrast with ‘believers’, a dwindling church congregation, one who does not belong to ‘this butter group’, who were, together, attending a musical event of French secular music from another Age in the setting of an old English village church, the French aristocracy playing poor for a day and back to rich again, the swings in time, making literary qualities effective without being obtrusive, evolving haiku that flow into the prose, breaking the spell of a churches’ resonant acoustics and religious aura with a child’s spontaneous actions, an interval to stretch muscles, with another throw back to the past opening the door to another story within a story ending with a disappearance that leaves only a doubt about what is remembered in a distant layer of living. Complicated enough? But getting some of the phrases to pitch correctly seemed to take forever. Linking musical timbre of speech helped to unify an evening of secular music played on original instruments in a setting designed for another purpose. At this stage, questions of success and failure are inappropriate. Only what is going on, what is attempted matter.

JW: The prose element in your haibun is quite varied. Some pieces offer a narrative that is relatively traditional and naturalistic. Others offer the reader a prose style that might be termed Joycean with its fragments of literary parody, local dialect, puns and other word-play, as well as the “stream-of-consciousness” technique. Where your prose departs from naturalism, how does the altered prose style affect the quality of any haiku or other verse that is present in the same composition?

SP: Beckett, Pinter, Joyce, Celan, Rabelais, Gurdjieff are influences. They, and my own language formations, direct and sometimes become the ‘music’ of content. I repeat – individual haibun content and intentions dictate formal language, structural needs, shape of undercurrents, and determine and are determined by the devices employed. When language departs from the everyday conversational, it does so because of the haibun’s stringent requirements. It is not wayward or a display, just relevant. Not so relevant is whether they appear as ‘natural’ haiku characteristics. Style and form standardization is debilitating for haibun.

Sometimes, as in 'London slums' (Volume 1), a haiku can ‘stretch’ through the prose, like a theme in a musical score. If the haiku is at a different pitch, or purposely dissonant to the prose, then it either has to have logic integral to that prose or it fails because it jars in the wrong way. For the most part I try to move haiku in line with language formations of the prose. Homogeneity is achieved by this integration with prose patterns. Occasionally, this works in reverse. Examples include 'birth day', 'head cases', (Volume 1) 'first love at first sight –just what is going on', 'pre-postmodernist baby', 'journey into deathland', 'genocide' (where the word ‘genocide’ stretches in red across the page and is repeated three times, one underneath the other, acting as one of the haiku, putting more emphasis on its meaning by being uninterrupted by any other words or sounds) – (Volume 2), Others depend on the power of musicality of word sounds and their repetition, even when, sometimes, content is harsh, as in 'huffypuffy' (Volume 1) and 'insideoutside', 'Bialystok', 'day death in life of', 'inside somewhere outside there', 'land e scape', 'no way to stop it', 'pea-souper' and 'as' (Volume 3).

JW: Your own haibun, like the haibun of others, contain haiku within the prose more frequently than not. Your practice demonstrates an understanding then of haibun as a genre that often joins the two modes of written discourse: prose and verse. Your remarks, in the introduction to past imperfect (2004), raise the specter of the visual element or illustration employed in haibun as “a ‘haiku’ in its own right” or as a third element that joins the prose and verse. You do utilize various “visual aids” in certain of your haibun – satirical pen-and-ink sketches, photographs, cartoons complete with ‘balloon’ dialogue. How successful, in your opinion, have your experiments in this vein been and what future do you see for the adoption of such techniques by others?

SP: To date, I have employed visual elements in 3 ways: 1) as haiku, when this is the most appropriate format; 2) as illustrations that enhance prose and haiku; 3) as the prime vehicle of the story.

1 I have, above, given examples, as in 'bar mitzvah photograph' (Volume 1)

2 There is something about a visual image that not only has an independent life but also immediacy that can both clarify and enhance the prose/poem. When it works it adds a dimension not otherwise available. This has nothing to do with the Eastern image look-a-likes employed in haiga. Inevitably, they are weak versions of the Chinese and Japanese originals and have little to do with either their or our culture.

Volume 1 was a mix of the artist who designed the cover and myself. One, of mine, drawn for 'sisters', seems to integrate with and enhance the haibun by the compositional device and shapes employed. In the drawing, exaggeration and a disconnected head retell the ‘story’ in a less familiar way.

I have exploded this in Volume 3, insideoutside. I would include those illustrations for 'North Meister', the title haibun 'insideoutside', '10 days', 'storm waters', 'a fear of losing our shadow', 'sleep', 'solstices', 'hour in the life and death of', 'juxtaposition', 'nearly 100 – she wants the sea', 'paths lead to Ways', 'ceci n’est pas une haibun – 2', 'inside somewhere outside there', 'sheets of rain', 'camouflage is gd is bd', 'but there can be no guarantees', 'mountain failyer'. Usually, the more literal the less successful they are. Readers will make their own decisions on this.

3 I have, so far, produced only two; 'Family' (Volume 2, &YNot?) and 'evacuee' (Volume 3 – insideoutside), not because I do not believe they can be a different, just as successful form as mass-mode haibun, but because, done as I did, they are SO difficult and slow. They have been absorbing, revealing innovations, and a great learning experience! The family was first published as a run-of-the-mill haibun in the journal of the British Haiku Society. Later, an article on the topic of Japanese Manga and Haiku was due to appear. I was asked to create an English equivalent. In this, two major influences were Art Speigelman’s Maus, and Raymond Briggs, an older Art College contemporary who, among much else, art/wrote The Snowman. The second, 'evacuee', is a twisting, turning single image in a haibun response to a request for ‘visual haiku’. In both instances the ‘straight’ version was also published and seemed to strengthen one of my ‘fingerprint mantras’: when form and structures alter, new requirements emerge specific to those alterations. Bear with me as it goes some way to help clarify my position vis-a-vis each haibun being self-contained, making individual parameters in terms of requirements, characteristics, language and structural complexity (or not). In the Graphic format, new and different space passages occur, and a different range of shape-containing areas into which only so many words, handwritten or typefaces, can be fitted. Sometimes this is the determinant that decides more narrative or internal thoughts have to be used. Being visual also allows a different but increased exaggeration of emotional responses that would be overstatement in the prose. Lettering can change to better ‘describe’ or ‘explain’ an action or reaction. A single image can sometimes do the work more succinctly than a hundred words.

So, a hybrid based on, but different from an already hybrid form, has a shape so different it requires a different perception. It requires a different mental consciousness, in the same way as haibun in its relationship with haiku. Whether or not they make haibun or only a comic strip, I cannot judge. Perhaps, it depends on haiku/haibun processes of concision, beyond-the-literal, literary intent and suchlike.

At the time of publication of 'the family', response from readers was very favourable, probably because of the type of illustration with which they could empathise, and not because it was seen as a haibun. Most, I suspect, require a more stereotypical pattern for that to kick in! Perhaps it will take some time yet before it is recognized haibun is a far more elastic medium than as presently harvested.

JW: Your third book of haibun, insideoutside, is scheduled for release quite soon. How, if at all, does it differ from your previous collections?

SP: My third collection …. Between this and Volumes 1 and 2 the differences are the Introduction’s increased accessibility and the book’s structure. Volume 1 has content unity. Volume 2 works in that way only when broken down into sections. Volume 3 again has a broadly unifying theme – interior and exterior landscapes and Love. Physically and metaphorically, the self-contained, complex Island is Arran, off the Western mainland coast of Scotland. Love is non-sexual, as in the title haibun, or intense, obsessive, sexual, dangerous, that turns in on itself, or is not even yet externally recognised. Some of the haibun are intentionally complex. The 3 volumes retain a connection with thematic juxtaposition of the primal mythic, gently humorous situations and more dark images. Perhaps the ranges of devices to obtain specific effects and results have increased.

JW: Earlier, I quoted your statement to the effect that haibun is neither story nor haiku but something other, a distinct entity, one with important and interesting differences from story or haiku. Is this still a fair summary of your position?

SP: YES. This made me reread the Introductions to Volumes 1 and 2, which, while still a bit OTT and, in parts, difficult to grasp, I would say is, fundamentally, still my position. The Introduction to Volume 3 is more readily assimilated. It does describe the process I often apply that allows me to be in any way creative. Perhaps, separately, a verbatim selection might be of use to haibuneers ready to move on from the definition and judgement-stoked consensual middle ground.

JW: Haibun’s historical provenance is perhaps inseparable from the haikai of Basho and his school, that is, it made its social debut in the company of haiku. Haibun, however, has largely died out in Japan and its reception here in the West, while originally situated strictly within haiku circles, increasingly exhibits symptoms of independence from the strictures of haiku. Some poets practice only haiku, some only haibun. How does the haibun writer, in your view, differ from the haikuist?

SP: To the haijin’s problem of reducing so few words into maximum ‘power’ and, with haibun, the necessity of homogeneously embedding into contents’ appropriate prose (or of using haiku as a juxtaposition device), you add story concision, increased complexity of structural shape and form, and some of the major differences between the genres begin to be seen. Different skills have to be learnt, other mind fixes established. For the most part, a longer gestation period is needed, more modifications, sometimes over years between the first and published versions. (Publication is a dreadful moment! No sooner is it in print than obvious ‘tightening, preferred words, phrases and images appear and have to recognised as being in a closed circuit of one). There is less opportunity for the one-hit flash that starts and finishes in an inspired sitting. Another difference is that in haibun words can become more visual codes of communication: tungewuage, sSs-eEe-xXx, etc. Haibun can invent words to more precisely fit the context, can take a little longer, can more directly relate to music and musicality, can narrate or talk conversations that criss-cross time, this or that side of Death, this Age, this space, this dimension or that, as in 'journey into deathland'.

JW: Before venturing one final question, I want to thank you for your patience and generosity in agreeing to this interview. This last point follows logically from the distinction you have drawn between haiku and story, on the one hand, and haibun, on the other. If haiku and haibun are two distinct entities and if we already see, side-by-side, poets who specialize in haibun and not haiku, and vice versa, do you foresee an eventual “parting of the ways,” so to speak, where haibun and haiku become completely individual disciplines?

SP: Despite what I do and how I do it, and knowing there are those who now write only haibun and those who write only haiku, I do not yet foresee a complete ‘parting of the ways’. Haibun, for many, has to include haiku as beloved over the centuries. Haibun, even at the most cutting of present cutting edges, cannot yet prevent itself connecting to the nature of haiku. What else distinguishes it from the short-story form? When formats emerge that directly relate haiku to non-lineal language, structures and contents of a given haibun, I suspect, haijin would reject it out of hand, and would, by default, be separated from stand-alone haiku makers. It also depends on how rigid are haijin in maintaining the status quo for haiku. Argumentative ‘party politics’ within the world of haiku give an impression of agitation, but the reality paints a more cohesive, flat-plain image.

How I would love to write a haikuless haibun instantly recognised as a cognisable haibun and not a short story. The Philosophers Holy Grail Stone! Thank you for offering me your questions. Even as I think about them, my ‘answers’ seem thin and somewhat wayward. Again, c’est la vie!

Stanley Pelter: insideoutside

sounds detach
empty birds disappear
and buttercups close

so i will wait for U in the garden ~ sit in the garden that has just been watered ~ waiting for a buttercup to close ~ a buttercup on the grass that waits to be cut ~ the grass just watered ~ in the garden just watered where I read ~ last of the sun not ready to go ~ from nowhere a fly ~ a nowhere fly on me ~ a still fly still sits on me ~ the fly from nowhere tickles ~ i look up ~ look up ~ something is up ~ look up for birds ~ fly nowhere ~ not on me ~ birds nowhere ~ sounds of birds somewhere ~ birds not here ~ bird sounds here ~ bird sounds there ~ sounds detach from birds ~ sounds of young oak tree leaves ~ sounds of young oak leaves wave ~ sound that is not bird sound ~ they are not here ~ they are somewhere ~ waiting to attach sounds ~ their sounds in the garden ~ in the enclosed garden ~ i sit here for U ~ alone with sounds scents of breeze ~ wait for U to come ~ enclosed by greens ~ the enclosed garden just watered ~ so many greens ~ so many enclosed by so many shapes ~ enclosed with so many spaces ~ spaces are shaped by waves ~ wavy shapes ~ U live in spaces of shapes ~ i in spaces ~ wavy spaces of insideoutside ~ insideoutside meet out ~ where i wait for U is not inside ~ i go inside to outside ~ wait for U in the garden just watered ~ inside has inside scents ~ outside has breeze ~ inside scents spread outside ~ breeze blows inside scents ~ the evening garden aromas ~ U will be drunk on aromas ~ sun ends day ~ i say ‘yes’ ~ i say ‘yes’ to inside ~ i say ‘yes’ to outside ~ so i will wait for U in the garden ~ sit in the garden that has just been watered.
wait in the garden
wait in the watered garden
wait wait wait for U

by Stanley Pelter
Claypole, Lincolnshire, England
first published in insideoutside (2008)

Stanley Pelter: a rise-and-shine, eyeball-to-eyeball walk

ridge of cloud
beneath softest of hills
hint of fish

Ridges of Beinn Bhreac, Mullach Buidhe, Beinn Bharrain, unsullied by the permanence of high definition, gently shift dawn mist shapes, follow sea edge curves toward Loch Ranza.

as i walked round lochranza bay .................. music. ‘Le Tombeau de
i met a girl with this to say: .......................... .Couperin’. That dance
“old man. slow down. don’t walk so fast ....... .. motif in the ‘Forlane’
you’ll walk a curve into our past” ................. movement. The scale
................................................................descends, settles into a
she said to touch the rowan tree .................. square. Precision into
and not disturb the rats you see ................... what poise. A homage
drink water from the secret burn ................. to Couperin in Ravel’s
until a rainbow starts to turn ........................ own special language.

Draw nothing seen. Should the invitation be accepted, I wonder? Let’s face it, London is one hell of a long way from all this. Do I want to cope with dress-to-impress, manicured, cleansed, multi-coloured, tapered, slick click-heads, less interested in the work than a gaudy display of halo effects?
an artists fast walk
a muscular stags landscape
moves the other way
So why do Duchamp and Léger appear at the same moment as this stag who joins our disparate party in such ways to make it seem one is on the other side of surreal as it passes through where they nearly thought I was going until fast-tracked into my close-up canvas springing alive more vividly than can ever be imagined inside clenching of electric charged fears that change into the monumental shapes of Communist Léger’s impersonal Adam and Eve discharged by a Duchamp randomly selected common object renamed a ‘ready-made’ work of art which can move a bulkily antlered stag from a robust habitat into a masquerade clinging tight to a sea slapping beach?
cutting-edge artist
a hungry stag eats its way
into their canvas
Léger stands majestically still. Duchamp, back to the stag, plays chess with his brother, Villon. I scramble over the stone wall. Watch an aspect. Our vantage points disentangle a few connected innuendoes. Stag, head high, calls abrasively. Waits. Calls again. Deeper throat fills. Paws grass. Turns a strong head. So close! Hold back separating breath. Sniffs air. My thinness palls. Moves on, sounding out the tarmac with a hard hoof. Eats more bits of Magritte’s The Beautiful World. Walks through Duchamp’s Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even, then joins him in his positive retreat, to a profound solidarity. Antlers appear an ingenious solution to his rutting urgency. Senses a somewhere harem. One paradox to resolve before his galvanised day begins. We have slowed down. On the special occasion of a rise-and-shine, eyeball-to-eyeball walk, we meet as a Rowan tree is touched.

Hidden behind a hedged wall, behind a new noise, curtains pull open. Pink-cheeked men, wearing Victorian dressing gowns, see bits of what is happening. Call. Children gather. Point. Shout. Call. A TV flashes blue-whites that, inside speed, reshape.
Like a distant dream of distant events, unconnected stories weave onto a canvas that makes an illogical sense of spaces between them. Differences cuddle down for the night. As curtains close, brothers pull down a game of chess that turn out the light. Léger’s heavy forms squeeze inside canvas thinness. Mists still erase the firmest ridges of Beinn Bhreac, Mullach Buidhe, Beinn Bharrain. I watch rats eat the girl who feeds them. He sees a rainbow turn inside out after drinking from a secret burn. Fears begin to untangle. The stag calls an indifferent sound, ambles to weed mingled grass. Feeds .................. I accept the invitation.

sea covered mist cloud
his oil painted stag stretches
the silence of storks

by Stanley Pelter
Claypole, Lincolnshire, England
first published in insideoutside (2008)

Stanley Pelter: from bialystok* song is to

from bialystok
from bialystok
from bialystok
from bialystok is
from bialystok is
from bialystok is
from bialystok to from bialystok to from bialystok to this railway track to that railway track to that to that to that to that from this from this to that to here from there to back to front to YES to there to there from here from here from there from there from where to where no air no hair so bare to NO to where to noWHERE to now from here from nowhere from no from now from nothing to nothing no thing no never ever to no never ever to never is here is any is where is there is now again is then a ruck then trucks then rucks in trucks then trucks rtattle rtattle rtattle on lines so full so full so bialystok song so bialystok song to where to nowhere from full of from full of from full of to from to from to from tofrom tofrom tofrom tofrom tofrom tofrom tofromtofromtofromtofrom to from to cross tocross tocross to cross a cross a cross to hammer bialystok snow silence again cries a cry a silent cry a silent bialystok song is to
from bialystok
a song is to where nowhere
rtattle of trains

by Stanley Pelter
Claypole, Lincolnshire, England
first published in insideoutside (2008)
*Bialystok: a town about 100 miles North East of Warsaw. One pair of Grandparents fled to escape 19th Century pogroms. During the Second World War a ghetto was built from where, by train, Jews were deported to play their part in the holocaust Industry. This haibun is only obliquely about grandparents, ghetto, holocaust. It is about the specific movements and sounds of the trains that made their journey from life to death.

Stanley Pelter: leaving home?

his boot noise
at the sea edge
silent oyster search
he left home to learn how to.
try as he might
and, some say, even harder than that,

he failed.
others feel he did not.
those who claim he did

are part of the same question:
“why” all silently mouth
“did he leave home to learn how to?”
mid january
DNA of a spider
concocting a web
by Stanley Pelter
Claypole, Lincolnshire, England
first published in insideoutside (2008)

Monday, March 17, 2008

Patricia Prime: PUBLICATION

. . . on the road our ‘dummy’ book in a raffia bag we discuss the photos for our latest collaboration – by the steps of the printer’s house swan plants covered with Monarch butterflies – a caterpillar crushed on the gravel path – between shifts of proof-reading a brief interlude for homemade shortbread and tea among the computers and discarded print-outs – the cardboard we’d bought from the Warehouse too thick to copy we return the ream with several sheets missing – still they change it – bird-like he waves a woman away from his door and returns to his screens – he’s a middle-aged hippie with a scruffy beard and the tail of his checked shirt hanging out – on his hand basin one cake of cracked soap and a notice ‘please after flushing the toilet turn the handle to six o’clock’
his notebook
hard-bound leather cover
slightly dog-eared
hand-written on an inside page
‘love is unnecessary’

by Patricia Prime
Auckland, New Zealand
first published in Lynx XXIII:1, February 2008

Saturday, March 15, 2008


Returning to the city after a spell in retreat, I received a call for help from an old friend. He was going away for five weeks and needed a dog-minder. My duties were to be light – feed and walk Ty in the morning, a longer walk when I returned from work. Some kind of scotch terrier, he rejoiced when I rattled the lead at dawn, spun with delight when I returned at dusk. Nose-feasting and marking at every corner and post, he dragged me on the outward leg, ambled on the return.

sweet the dust
just a few raindrops
and a thousand smells bloom
But he can’t hold his water indoors. Little yellow pools everywhere. Luckily the floors are tiled. We don’t fall out over it. Except once, when I catch him cocking a leg at the bedroom wardrobe!

For the longer evening walk, I take us both off the lead along the canal bank and note little things along the way, to give an account to my friend on his return:
on a slack leash
me to the butterfly bush
he busy below
Descending the steps to the canal, a man sits blocking the way. He’s drinking from a flagon. Gets unsteadily to his feet. “No hurry, take your time“. Is there just a hint of condescension in my voice? Stepping past him, he says ”Your fly is open”.

What better place for drinkers to congregate? Along the water-margins, a thousand empty cans and bottles bob in the wake of moor-hen and coot. Their fluffy chicks zip this way and that along the surface, until recalled by an urgent cheep-cheep. So tiny!

A sleeping form on the grassy bank stirs as we approach. Ty sniffs around him. My gaze innocently takes in the large hole in the seat of his pants, the scratching hand and fleshy buttocks. He’s not an old man, ginger-haired, sun-reddened.

On the far bank, a golden-stemmed Salix overhanging the water brings to mind a poem:

bring to the willow
all the weeping of your heart
motherless chicks
The lead on again, we cross the bridge. By Lullymore Terrace is a patch of highly sniffable grass, which gives me time to read the nearby lamppost. On it is a list of names written in the one distinctive hand. I try to memorize them but by the time we get home I’ve forgotten. Next time. One by one.

Buddleia arches through the coiled barbed-wire which guards the gable-end houses. Butterfly bush – it grows everywhere, little shoots in every crack and crevice, exuberantly out of chimneys, at the feet of drainpipes, under the gutters. Stop and sniff the air – its mild scent is all-pervasive.

so few butterflies
suddenly there’s one
I hardly notice
Though it will rain today, it’s warm enough at 6 a.m. to walk outside in shirt-sleeves. Flocks of pigeons own the side-streets. Amorous cocks with fanned tails and puffed throats coo around indifferent hens. Poplar and willow in the grounds of the maternity hospital whisper in the dawn breeze. In the delivery-rooms at this very moment, lungs filled with fluid are sucking-in their first breath. A ginger cat walks along the ridge-tiles of number 5, stares at us and disappears. Hurrying along in his nose-world, Ty ignores them all.

Abruptly he changes direction, tries to make a beeline across the main road. I drag him back. Such a hangdog look! This must have been one of his ways, a songline from his dreamtime. Over we go.

High railings bar us from a vacant lot. It’s a grove of buddleia, self-seeded in the heaps of broken brick, long arching stems of pale purple flower-heads, a dot of orange at the centre of each tiny floret. Then I remember – this used to be a pub. His previous keeper’s watering-hole maybe. I was here once, though not for pleasure:

so many souls
the length and breadth of the land
combed and counted
The publican had kindly invited me upstairs where his agéd mother lived. “Leave me out of it, I’m gone already”, she cackled. He completed the census-forms in impeccable copper-plate. We chatted briefly. He didn’t envy me my task – the warren of bedsits, corridors and landings of suspicious flat-dwellers. He bemoaned the blight caused by the long-delayed road plans, and as we stand in the doorway, imparts a secret – one of the Liffey’s daughter-streams flows under his cellars. No place on the census form for her:

into the vacant lot
a wishing coin
The riverbank is dense with alder and sloe, but then comes a break, and there she is –

a mountain trickle
now she carries all before her
anna plurabelle
The path is permanently muddied by the clear drip-drip of a tiny spring oozing from the upper bank to join her.

Here on these broad stretches, her circuitous journey almost complete, she gathers herself and pauses before plunging over the weir, into the confines of the city quays and the vast sweep of the Bay, her banks bedecked with wildflowers…rosebay willowherb…balsam with its orchid-like pink flower and scarlet stem, tall, maidenly…

and at the next great bend, the steeples of Chapelizod come into view. What a sight for pilgrim or plundering warrior! Seipeal Isult – the chapel of Isolda. As we approach, the angelus bell rings out for 6 o’clock, a mechanical device but sweet-toned:

that rushing sound
high up in the poplars
shaking silver
Alas, the path is blocked. To reach the village we must take to the busy road. We turn back.
with each teasing breeze
in twos and threes
drifting upriver
The anglers are out. These solitary watchers of slack lines, do they ever carry home a trout for supper, a salmon to feast upon? Yet still they sit, and still the waters of the mirror-world drift by them. The heron watches with them from a withered limb, but no kingfisher to be seen, that rare thrill.

Plaintively a boy asks if I know of a good place. If I knew, would I tell him?

I sit with Ty beside the great-branched poplar. Out of sight something big and fat splashes. For long moments mesmeric ripples radiate, each one a leaf-world. In the shade of a willow, a dash of silver smoothes to glassy green

We walk on. A knot of teenage girls sits on the bank, cat-calling to a youngster fishing on the opposite side. He gives as good as he gets. In the middle of this fussilade of sexual challenge and insult
back arching
out of the mirror
a fisher’s dream
Time to pack. My friend returns this evening. Hoover up the dog-hair, mop the little pools of pee.
heady scent
through the leaky skylight
butterfly bush
The back door is open, its peeling varnish and worn handle, each nail-mark, illuminated by the slanting sun. Ty lies in the doorway at full stretch, cooling on the tiles. He lifts his head, turns it from side to side, pausing a moment in each degree of inclination, the better to listen. A faint breeze makes a barely perceptible rustling in the tiny garden. In the middle range, a child’s voice is just audible. Fainter still, the chiming of cathedral bells. With great attentiveness he listens, then, stretching his head on the tiles, emits a sigh. Not a word, eloquently spoken.
a buddha in the garden
puts out its horns to explore
the garden Buddha
A last walk. We head for the canal. He needs no urging, foraging ahead.

At the lamp-post I note the last name:


Butterflies of Lullymore.

by Jim Norton
Dublin, Ireland

Friday, March 14, 2008


Sharp, dark shadows cut severe edges. Her voice tinkles like a cat collar bell as she minces past, head tilted into her cell phone conversation. A severe sun seems preoccupied with hanging low. It’s a checkerboard of temperatures – warm in full sun, cool in the shade. The declination of time reveals nothing, but hangs a trailing distance behind – like a well-trained PI. Am I where I should be? I wonder.

lone pastel wave
photo of her bikini smile
sits on his desk

by Jeffrey Winke
Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Thursday, March 13, 2008


In the Salinas Valley rivers go upside down, seasons come backwards, and folks first grow old and then turn young.
Fools rush in.
But killer airs hit, thwarting all growth. The valley lies lifeless, shivering in icy sunshine. We drive past gray heads of baby lettuce. Other times, the Salinas River, usually a dusty playground, turns into a roaring brute, crushing cattle, breaking barns, and drowning the fools.

on the road kill
a chicken hawk swoops
deep fall

by Tad Wojnicki
Hsinchu City, Taiwan

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Jim Norton: WINGS

Near Basin Lane, a tethered pony noses a circle of bare earth. Crystals of glass from a shattered windscreen sparkle in the gutter. On the pavement a huddle of boys: one in the middle, his hands cupped.

They crowd in to look, voices hushed, tone awed. What has he found? What has made them leave off tormenting cats, throwing stones at the mad woman’s door, setting fire to skips?

fluttering by
something never before seen
is caught and held

by Jim Norton
Dublin, Ireland


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Jeffrey Woodward
Detroit, Michigan

Tuesday, March 11, 2008


Beyond the drawn curtain of jagged pines, earthen-red rooftops are the stepping stones to a sparkling expanse of cerulean in the near distance; you skitter over the roof tiles as if you were a cat, pausing now and then to eavesdrop on the sounds below, lives ascending in shuffles and whispers up to your sharp feline ears.

And all the while, as if hatched from white boulders, cicadas spin a permanent afternoon out of the sun and heat and stillness: their cries stitch together the rags of a dream within a dream, a fabric torn suddenly by the sound of a drill...and after the filling’s been pressed and sculpted by a mouth full of gloves that could just as easily have learned to play Gaspard de la Nuit, I thank my dentist sincerely for his painlessness, and especially for hanging Cézanne's Vue de l’Estaque in just the right place.

Three conductors,
one concerto:
drills of different pitches
.......w .. h .. i .. n .. e
from the other rooms.

by Gary LeBel
Cumming, Georgia

Friday, March 7, 2008


by Patricia Prime
Jim Kacian lives in Winchester, Virginia and is co-founder of the World Haiku Association and owner of Red Moon Press. He has travelled round the world three times in the name of haiku and his work has been translated into more than 50 languages. Jim edits Contemporary Haibun Online and regularly publishes selections of haibun from the magazine in book form. Red Moon Press also publishes anthologies containing haiku, haibun, haiga and essays.

PP: Can you remember your first haibun and what inspired you to write it?

JK: I do, and it was so modest an accomplishment that you’ll be spared the reading of it here. Yet it was an accomplishment in the sense that it achieved what it set out to do, which was to add additional resonance to a poem that needed a bit more context. Like most writers of haikai (I expect), I believe that less is more and least is best, but there are times when, in order to help the reader find the exact place one has in mind, a few more words may be useful.

PP: Why did you decide to publish a journal, Contemporary Haibun Online, devoted to haibun?

JK: I had already been producing the serial book Contemporary Haibun (which began life as American Haibun & Haiga (AHH) and ran 3 volumes as such) before I came to the online version. What motivated me to create the print series was the obvious: haibun interested me, but there was no public forum where I and my fellow haibun enthusiasts might share our work and learn from one another. I decided, as a result, that the first volume should serve as a bit of a history lesson by including some of the very earliest haibun written in English. I had hoped these volumes would spur greater interest in and production of haibun in English, and I have to say that my hopes have been more than realized. Prior to the creation of AHH one might encounter a couple dozen haibun per year—a few in Frogpond, a few more in Modern Haiku, the odd thing here and there. With the publication of AHH, however, one could find nearly a hundred such pieces culled from the best written that year, so the quality was as high as we could make it.

AHH morphed into Contemporary Haibun (this change in title was intended to indicate that we had grown beyond our original target audience—in fact, more than a third of our submissions were by that point originating outside the United States). Soon after this change, however, it became apparent that enough quality work was being produced to fill more than a single volume per year—in other words, it was time for a journal. As a means of comparison, the first volume of AHH received perhaps a hundred submissions. Today, we see ten times that number. We could no longer publish everything we would have liked to publish. At the same time, there weren’t thousands of people engaged in this enterprise: more like a few score. A print journal would have faced economic and distribution difficulties almost immediately. An online journal seemed the most useful solution.

I have had the good fortune to work with excellent and knowledgeable colleagues throughout this process. I asked Bruce Ross to join AHH for the initial volume, up against the window, and he has been with it ever since. As you know, Bruce has published the best study of English-language haibun we have, Journey to the Interior: American Versions of Haibun (Tuttle 1998). He brings a strong empathetic vein to his appreciation of the genre, and is a cogent voice for the emotive, heart-filled aspect of the genre.

Ken Jones, the most proficient, knowledgeable and well-known champion of haibun in the United Kingdom, joined us for the third volume, summer dreams. He has published the best-selling (by haiku standards, at least) The Parsley Bed: Haiku Stories, and, with James Norton and Seán O’Connor, Pilgrim Foxes: Haiku & Haiku Prose, as well as having contributed many theoretical pieces on the genre to various journals, especially Blithe Spirit. Ken’s particular interests in haibun reside more in the realm of literary accomplishment, and he makes an excellent foil to Bruce.

This team really gels, however, because of the excellent design work of Ray Rasmussen, our Managing Editor. Ray is responsible for the way the journal appears online, and for its timeliness and orderliness. Much of the enjoyment of the reading experience which CHO offers is due to Ray’s efforts.

PP: How would you define those elements common to or required of all haibun?

JK: Ah, well, definitions . . . that’s always a sticking point. I suppose I’d be willing to say that haibun must have some kind of poem embedded in some kind of matrix, and the most usual of these is haiku and “poetic” prose. But we’ve seen (and published) work that employs other kinds of poetry, as the “haiku” and as the “prose,” and prose that would never qualify as “poetic”. So I don’t want to get too dogmatic here. It’s useful to recall that one of Issa’s haibun consists of a date and a haiku. One of Kerouac’s haibun consists of 40 pages of dense prose and a haiku.

PP: What consensus is there, in your view, as to the qualities present in a proper haibun?

JK: I don’t know about a consensus, and not much about proper, either. I would say this: there is a long history of poetry-studded prose, in any literary culture you might consider, but only a tiny proportion of it is haibun. It’s worth asking what creates the distinction. For the most part, prose pieces have employed poetry to illustrate the point the prose was making. The poetry was not an equal partner in the collaboration, but rather a means of displaying the author’s erudition, or the quality of his copy of Bartlett’s Quotations. The idea was to have the poetry line up with the prose, to reinforce it.

Haibun, it seems to me, is not better than this literary device if it attempts to achieve the same ends.

What makes haibun special, at its best, is how it differs from this other collaboration between prose and poetry. There are two critical ways I believe it must be different.

First, the very best haibun create a balance between the poetry and the prose. The one does not overpower the other, the other does not outshine the one. This control of balance is critical to its literary success.

And second, the way the poetry is employed is not in the direct way found in most literature, but rather in a suggestive, oblique fashion. It may seem the poem is about some other subject altogether, but in the hands of the very best practitioners, the reader will discover not only the thread that connects the two parts, but that it is an essential thread, connecting in both directions, providing meaning to both elements. This subtle linking is critical to the work’s success within the genre; that is, as haibun.

PP: What is the relation, if any, of contemporary haibun in Western languages to the haibun of Basho or Issa?

JK: Well, those are the models we have grown up with, and they are important in an historical sense. It’s always important, if one takes one’s art seriously, to know where it has been and what it has done before you. But just as Basho and Issa wrote to their own times and concerns, so do we, and similarly we should employ the modes and techniques that permit us to realize these goals. It would be pointless to ask anyone to write like Basho, though it might well be worth suggesting that one write with his sense of commitment, command and understanding. But there’s never a reason to say this to people who are serious about their work—they already know it.

PP: What difference do you perceive between haibun that is composed by haiku poets and haibun that is composed by authors who come from other backgrounds?

JK: This is an interesting question to me, since I do see some differences.

Haiku poets, for whatever reasons, are not generally great prose writers. This is no great criticism—most humans are not great prose writers, and haiku poets are focused on another form that works in some quite different ways. But a presumption that if one can write the one s/he can write the other is simply incorrect, borne out by thousands of examples.

In my experience writers who have primarily worked in prose and are now coming to haibun generally have a greater command over their prose than their haiku. Despite this seeming strength, nearly all their early efforts founder, and are rejected, because reading and understanding haiku is still a special skill, one which requires experience and tenacity in a way that reading and understanding most prose does not. So for these writers, it is most often the haiku which is found to be lacking.

On the other hand, the work of haiku poets who attempt haibun fail far more often because of the quality of the prose. They often have acquired the special skills of haiku but not necessarily anything more than rudimentary prose skills—that is, often the prose is so undistinguished that the work doesn’t rise to the level of art.

All of which is why there are so few really excellent haibun writers. One needs to master two skills, and they are not all that close in technique or sensibility.

PP: What do you see as the relation of prose to verse in haibun? Should they be closely related or distantly related? Are the two modes of composition equal partners or do you view one of the modes, prose or verse, as more crucial to the success of the haibun?

JK: Though I answered this above, it’s worth reiterating: if haibun is special, it is because it succeeds in finding a balance between its elements, and because the relationship between its elements is not simply corroborative, but suggestive and enlarging.

PP: What is your opinion of the place of tanka or other forms of poetry in haibun?

JK: Any poetry that can stand in equal partnership, and that is not essentially rhetorical or confessional, seems to me to have a chance to perform one of the tasks of haibun, though of course examples are rare. But to give one: I once wrote a haibun which consisted of three distinct elements: the lyrics of a song by Bob Dylan, interspersed with prose commentary, capped with a haiku. (This piece is appended to the end of this interview should anyone care to examine it.) Certainly there are different modes of poetry being employed here, but each aspect is, I believe, an equal contributor to the ensemble effect. So long as this happens, the piece has a chance to cohere and fulfil its aims.

Tanka, because of its somewhat more closed, emotive nature, is more difficult to employ, but I have seen successful examples.

PP: Is a short haibun (i.e. one paragraph, one haiku) more acceptable to you (and other editors) than a longer poem?

JK: In every work of art, the artist makes choices. It makes no difference to me if a haibun is 6 words or 600 pages if the choices the artist has made are compelling. Of course, the longer the work, the more difficult it is to sustain the level of excellence, and at the same time, the more forgiving the reader will be of a dull stretch or two. But it all comes back to the success of the artist’s choices, and the way I judge this success belies the question: when a haibun really has me, I don’t really know how long it is. I’m simply within its power for its duration.

As a matter of taste, I find that I prefer to write short haibun. In fact, I invented a form I call one-bun. The premise is simple: the “prose” (which precedes a single “poem”) can be no more than one sentence long. Of course, that sentence can be a Hemingwayian grunt or a Jamesian excursis, so it’s not really all that limiting. One such example is also appended below.

PP: With your interest in Eastern European haiku, I wonder are you seeing an increase in submissions of haibun from Eastern European countries?

JK: Not so many as amongst the other English-speaking countries. The Aussies and the Welsh in particular seem to have warmed to haibun, to judge by our submissions.

PP: In up against the window (American Haibun & Haiga, Vol. 1, 1999), it was stated that the first formal haibun to be published in USA was Jack Cain’s “Paris” in 1964. Do you know how this came to be written and can you say why you chose to publish it?

JK: Jack Cain’s piece appeared in The Paris Review in 1964, and I believe it has held up quite well. I chose to run it because, as mentioned earlier, I viewed the first issue of AHH as a way to take stock of where we were in the art of haibun in English, and “Paris” is definitely one of the places where it began. Of course we could have also published that long outtake from Kerouac’s Desolation Angels, or another from The Dharma Bums. Any study of the genre that intends to be comprehensive will need to include these as well.

PP: In your opinion, do you think more men than women dominate the genre?

JK: I wouldn’t want to speak of domination in a genre that is so wide open to innovation, and which awaits its avatar. I can speak to my perception of who is writing and in what balance: I would estimate we receive more submissions from women than men, perhaps a 55/45 split. Your question prompted me to look at the breakdown of whom we published in Contemporary Haibun volumes 8 and 9. In Volume 8 there are 25 men and 20 women included; in Volume 9 it’s 24 men and 23 women. This balance feels right to me, and certainly suggests that there is no domination going on.

It’s fair to say that we see more first submissions from women who are coming from prose than the other way round, and most of these are not very successful for the reasons suggested above. Very few first-timers without some experience of haiku have much success writing haibun that I consider to be very accomplished, and I don’t see how it could be otherwise.

PP: Could you give your opinion as to how haibun by men and women differ, if at all?

JK: Once in a while I suppose I might identify a certain kind of content with men or women, but one needs to be careful: it would be no surprise to me to find that William Ramsey had written about childbirth (in the first person) or Hortensia Anderson about the mechanics of steel construction, topics that might at one time have been considered to belong to one domain or the other. The same can be said of style, with the same proviso.

PP: What haibun activities, other than print or digital publication, are you aware of in the USA? Workshops? Readings? University courses?

JK: Not so much activity as for haiku, which makes sense, as that is a much more established and accepted genre. I don’t know of any university courses, nor even of parts of courses, where haibun is part of the curriculum (though of course the fact that I haven’t heard means nothing). I do know that certain enterprising teachers in high school have introduced their students to it, and I would presume a handful of University Professors have done likewise, without making anything official of it. I myself have offered workshops at two Haiku Society of America meetings, and I know of one other such workshop. I presume there have been more. As to readings, Roberta Beary and I will do a reading/performance at the upcoming International Haiku Conference and Festival 2008 in August in Plattsburgh, New York, and I will read my extended piece, “Around the World as Briefly as Possible” as the HSA National Meeting in New York City in September. And of course I’ve read haibun as part of many, many readings over the years, as have many other haiku poets. And online, beside CHO there is now your own online webzine given over to haibun. But I take the point of the question to be: is there a groundswell of interest and activity in haibun. My general response is that there are a few hundred people around the planet who are interested in the genre, but not enough quite yet to reach a critical mass. That may happen in the next few years, and if it does, I expect then we’ll see conferences and books and other such trappings of mainstream success, but not until then.

PP: What do you think about the use of ‘cartoon’ haibun, ‘concrete’ haibun and haibun with haiga?

JK: Every choice an artist makes has an impact on the reception of the work, and if the artist feels these techniques maximize the effectiveness of his or her work, then I’m all for them. A drawback to these particular techniques, however, is that they draw so much attention to themselves that this immediate reaction may overwhelm the effectiveness of the haibun itself. And my experience is that it is very rare to find the elements in such work in balance. But in theory, I don’t have any problem with them.

PP: Do you think there is a place in today’s society of computer technology, cell phones and text-messaging for book-length haibun?

JK: That’s a very loaded question. Is there? Sure. Will there be a market for it? Depends on how good the writer is, I suppose. And I think it’s also worth asking: in this society of computer technology, cell phones and text-messaging, how would it possible to survive were it not for haiku, and it’s easy-context cousin, haibun? I can’t think of a time we’ve needed what these things have to offer more.

PP: You recently published a book-length haibun, Border Lands. Can you say why you chose this form for your book?

JK: Perhaps most importantly, it’s what the material suggested to me. I would say the “story” was more capacious than a short story could afford, and yet less than a novel. So my options were a novella, a long poem, or some kind of episodic serialization. I opted for the last, and as I wanted each “chapter” to resonate beyond its material, building around and toward a haiku and thereby making a haibun of each seemed a justifiable and obvious choice.

Then there’s the matter of audience—I was writing this about and for haiku people. While it isn’t simply a given that haiku must be used in such a case, it seemed appropriate here, especially as much of the trip’s “journaling” was in haiku for me. The translation from notebook to page was the easier for this. This is probably a decision that ensures economic suicide in the larger literary world, but as this was personal and not commercial, I felt I should use the intimacy which haibun affords both me and my readers.

PP: What are the indications for where haibun is heading in the future?

JK: In the short term we will have the same sort of style cycles that haiku and every art endures. For a while it’s a block of prose, one poem. Then maybe somebody writes something studded with poems and that catches the imagination for a while. Then maybe it’s aerated prose for a while. These are all passing fads—what really matters is that the genre remain flexible enough for poets to use it to realize their needs.

As far as long-term trends that matter, I don’t really know other than to say that more people are coming to haibun all the time. This suggests that as poets discover the genre, they are finding something in it useful to their expression, and so long as this is true haibun will continue to grow. I suppose I could predict that other cultures and languages will discover the genre as well, and we’ll see more offerings from Europe in the near future. But what I most look forward to is the time when contemporary Japanese poets rediscover the power of this combination. That will suggest a sea-change in poetic sensibility there, and will constitute a true gift from English-language haikai aficionados back to the country of its origin. In recent years English-language haiku has found some resonance there, but there is a basis of understanding for this. Reclaiming haibun for Japanese purposes will be a milestone in Japanese literature, I believe, and I think we’ll see it in our lifetimes.

PP: Some writers have stated that haibun is neither haiku nor short story but a separate genre with its own laws and expectations. It follows, then, that the haibun writer is neither a haikuist nor fiction writer per se, but something other. Do you share in this view and, if so, do you see a need or likelihood of a World Haibun Society in the near future?

JK: I do share this, but not in an exclusionist, but rather an inclusionist, sense. As mentioned, haibun requires two distinct skills, and it remains uncommon to discover them in the same writer. If we agree that this amalgamation of two skills is itself a new skill, then it doesn’t seem unreasonable to think that those special few who possess it will want a society of their own. But I think we will need to number ten times what we number now for it to happen. Will this occur in our lifetimes? Possibly, but we should always remember—time spent organizing writing societies is time away from writing. I think the priorities for most poets are clear enough to make this a remote possibility for the time being.

Thanks for asking me to do this, and for your time and care in reading.