Wednesday, December 31, 2008


Call for Submissions
Modern Haibun & Tanka Prose
Issue 1. Summer 2009
You are invited to submit haibun and tanka prose for the Summer 2009 premiere issue of Modern Haibun & Tanka Prose. The submission deadline is March 31, 2009. Submissions will NOT close earlier than the deadline.

Modern Haibun & Tanka Prose is a biannual journal-a print literary journal, a PDF ebook, and a digital online magazine-dedicated to the publication and promotion of fine English haibun and tanka prose. We seek traditional and innovative haibun and tanka prose of high quality and desire to assimilate the best of these Japanese genres into a continuously evolving English tradition. In addition to haibun and tanka prose, we publish articles, essays, book reviews and interviews pertinent to these same genres.

Modern Haibun & Tanka Prose specializes in fine haibun and tanka prose. All selection decisions will be made at the sole discretion of the editor.

Previously unpublished work, not on offer elsewhere, is solicited.

Modern Haibun & Tanka Prose, Baltimore, Maryland USA. Website:
Editor: Jeffrey Woodward. Email up to five haibun, five tanka prose, and five short works to the Editor at MHTP(dot)EDITOR(at)GMAIL(dot)COM . Before submitting, please read the detailed submission guidelines and haibun and tanka prose selection criteria on the website at
Modern Haibun & Tanka Prose looks for top quality haibun and tanka prose in natural, modern English idiom. No payment for publication. No contributor copies. Publishes a print edition (6" x 9" trade paperback), a PDF ebook, and an online digital edition.

Thank you for sharing this call widely.


Jeffrey Woodward, Editor, Modern Haibun & Tanka Prose

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Colin Stewart Jones: WINDFALL

Surprising how a little windfall can change things. Five years of walking the walk can soon become a stagger. Not that I am complaining, for as sobriety and celibacy go hand in hand so does a beer and a good woman. Oh well, I can repent again tomorrow. Can't I?

mother's voice
in my ear

by Colin Stewart Jones
Aberdeen, Scotland

Sunday, December 28, 2008


The Note-taking Habit

Assistant Editor: Patricia Prime

I have been turning the pages of a thick octavo notebook tied with rubber bands and stuffed with photos, rail tickets and other odds and ends. I wrote in it nearly twenty years ago. I was then on a trip to China and Tibet for six weeks with a friend. At one end of the book are notes on various sites we visited: some of these were off the beaten tourist track. My friend and I were both early childhood teachers and our interests lay in seeing various places of education from pre-school to university. At the other end of the book are haiku.

When we returned from our trip my friend published a book of haiku called Caterpillar. I submitted several of my haiku to various journals. The notes lay dormant for several years until we decided to form our notes into haibun which we self-published in booklet form, together with tanka and haiku.

It is only now that I have re-read the notes for the haibun that follows. Had the notes been written last week I would rewrite them now to make the account less clumsy, stilted and repetitive. But since it was written long ago and in order to safeguard the immediacy of the record, I write it word-for-word with all its infelicities.
We are caught for a moment on this narrow rim of road overlooking the Li River. The sheer karst peaks are sewn with saplings, slender roots and half-grown bushes. Weathered cliff faces and rock surfaces are striated in various shades of colour. The wide green waterway idles below.

It is so still, you say, so still—the only moving thing a fisherman’s boat way down there; yet seeing straight away how far from true this is: everything moves, trapped with the two of us in a ripe giddiness of heat which shakes the mountains until they cheat reality. They threaten to collapse and in their downfall fling themselves upon their images floating in the Li—for it already holds them in its sway, rooted in the current.

reflecting river—
mountains shiver
In broad sunlight

And look, see how the river even now will not allow these ancient rocks one moment of repose as our guide tells us the legendary stories behind them. Most are magical and love stories. They have imaginative names that he translates as Elephant Trunk Hill, Pagoda Hill, The Emperor’s Seat and The Three Princesses.

The fisherman releases his cormorant into the water where it dives for fish. When the bird catches a fish it returns to the boat and the fisherman removes the fish from its throat. The secret is that the fisherman places a cord around the bird’s neck to keep the bird from swallowing the fish. When the fisherman stoops to release the fish, the vast pink-veined karst shudders and shakes in the silent river.

the long shadow
of a cormorant’s neck
among reeds
Once these jottings have begun to find their way into sentences, no matter how crude, the mind can find a purchase and trace patterns that gather shape. There’s a long way from the words in a notebook to the shaping of a poem, and thinking about them brings a perception that emerges involuntarily, despite the conscious effort to bring them to completion. They emerge from the untidy notebook where so many images have been stored until they reach the finality of the poem.

The words do not take me back to the reason I made the entry, but back to the felt experience, whatever it was. This is important, for I imagine the significance of the event. It is the instant I catch in a notebook, not the comment, not the thoughts. And this is what I hope to achieve in writing haibun, whether these are of childhood memories, travel experiences, nature, looking at paintings, meeting unusual people or writing about relationships.

by Patricia Prime
Auckland, New Zealand

Friday, December 26, 2008


I have a friend write a note in Chinese explaining that eight days ago I had hernia surgery and the stitches need to be removed. Rather than go back to Shanghai, where I had the surgery, or trek an hour across town to the nearest hospital, I decide to check out a local health clinic.

sodden moonbeams
the smeared arc of dust
on the windshield

My wife and I pull up outside a clinic near a popular restaurant. I’m soon flat on my back behind a small partition, my shirt pulled up under my chin. There’s a video in English with Chinese subtitles about abortion playing on the other side, where two men on IV drips cough weakly and occasionally moan.

winter chill
the ping of stitches
in a metal pan

Within ten minutes, and for less than five dollars, I’m ready for dinner. The pharmacist, who also functions as nurse and cashier, laughs at my Chinese name and tells me to take it easy. The doctor waves goodbye with a pair of scissors.

the waiter’s gaze—
removing fish bones
with chopsticks

by Bob Lucky
Hangzhou, China

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Ingrid Kunschke: LOSE ME AND YOU’RE LOST

Once upon a time —When was it? Ah, when was it not!— there was a young man who roamed the world making his living with stories and songs. One day, it must have been around the eighth month, he happened to hit upon the oddest place. He’d asked for shelter for the night at a little house surrounded by some birches and pines. It turned out to be the home of a tired old man. Obviously somebody looked after him once in awhile, for the touch of a woman still showed around the place. But the old man lived there all by himself, spending his days on a bench under a birch tree. He didn’t care to hear stories, said the night would be short enough and they’d better go to sleep before the moon would rise and keep them awake.
That night the roamer dreamt of a track in a nearby forest, which he followed for a while, now jumping over a puddle, now ducking to avoid the lower branches.
His host however had sneaked out at the dead of night. Sad at heart he sat on his bench, playing on a flute. And in bright moon light a nymph with golden hair stood behind him, her slender arms wrapped gently around his shoulders. In a heavenly voice she sang

when, oh when
did you grow old?
what good
is my youth,
my hair of gold?

Hearing this, the young man awoke with a start, leapt to the window, and saw him sitting on his bench, the old chap. But he couldn’t discern anything else—save a birch, for a cloud had veiled the moon, forcing the nymph to reassume her guise of a tree. Puzzled he went back to sleep.
As soon as day broke, he got up and found some bread and cheese on the table. The little house looked clean and tidy and was perfumed with the scent of flowers in a vase. There it was again, that touch of a woman... And when he tied up his knapsack, he noticed a hand-carved flute had been slipped among his belongings. It bore an inscription, which read
Lose Me and You’re Lost,
Find Me and You’re Free.

Well, I’ve always been free, the reckless fellow said to the flute, but thank you all the same. As he hit the road he waved his hat at the old man on the bench, who barely nodded a vague goodbye. Poor old chap, the young man thought. But what could he do about it?

for the world
must be sung into being
time and again
with songs of longing
and remembrance

Within sight of this place was a forest, where he turned his steps, recalling his dream of that night. Indeed he found a track, which he followed for a while, now jumping over a puddle, now ducking to avoid the lower branches. The young man had walked a few miles, playing his new flute along the way, when he realized something had changed. At first he thought it was the breeze. As he had set out that morning it had been toying with his hat and now there wasn’t the slightest breath of wind, not even in the tree tops. Nor could he hear any birds. But it wasn’t just that: the light had changed as well. Slowly it had become silvery, as if the moon were shining. How very strange, he thought, and when he heard


from somewhere ahead, he was filled with even more wonder. It clearly was a song, sung to a most plaintive melody, though he could make no sense of it. Twice, thrice did it sound, before he traced the singer: a young and slender pine that stood at the edge of a clearing. Well have you ever, he thought, and eager to get to the bottom of it, he attuned his ears to this unfamiliar pitch. And this is what he made of it after a while:

how sad
to bide my time
in frrt—
would he came
to rlt-t me home

I must be dreaming, the roamer said to himself, for even if he made up stories with great ease whenever it came down to earning a meal, he wasn’t the man to believe in miraculous things. Perhaps his imagination played him a trick? Yet he was so much taken in by this simple melody, he couldn’t help but put the flute to his lips and repeat it. To his utter astonishment the flute set words to the tune:

how sad
you bide your time
in woods—
would you were
to follow me home
And before his very eyes the little pine turned into a young nymph. Dropping his flute in awe he stood and gaped at her. Oh, she was beautiful beyond words! Dressed in darkest green and with dew, still fragrant with needles, glistening in her deep brown hair, she looked bashfully at the ground and then dashed off to hide in the thicket. But the young man had caught a glimpse of her amber eyes and was already under her spell. Desperate to get his nymph he ran after her, blundering into every puddle, scratched by countless branches.

oh, those eyes
as timid as a fawn’s,
still deeper
they lure you
into the woods

For such is the nature of nymphs. And had he not been a roamer, accustomed to walk freely off the road, he’d never have caught sight of her. And had he not lost his flute, his fate might have taken a turn for the good. His clothes in tatters, bark growing over muscles that had obeyed him only a moment ago, the poor fellow felt roots shooting from his feet as soon as he got hold of his nymph. In a last effort to cry out his love, he opened his mouth — a hollow, already inhabited by a family of titmice.
The nymph however went around the mighty oak the young man had turned into, caressed its bark and kissed it goodbye. Then she picked a single acorn as a keepsake. A little later at the clearing she found the flute. What a lovely day it was! She heard the birds twitter and was delighted to feel a gentle breeze toy with her hair as she followed the track out of the forest, now jumping over a puddle, now ducking to avoid the lower branches.

oh, those feet
as swift as a deer’s,
so eager
to enter into
uncharted worlds

Within sight of the forest was a little house surrounded by some birches and pines, where the nymph turned her steps. She found out it was deserted. Surely it would make a perfect lodging for a night, once she’d have aired the rooms. But in her ardor to get started she dropped the acorn and a mighty oak sprung up where it had touched the ground. And then, as if on cue, there was this old bench she could place near her tree. All day the nymph sat there, imagining what she’d do with her newly gained freedom.

for life
is fleeting,
a dream
to be lived
to the full

That night the moon peeped through the clouds and found her seated on the bench under her oak. She had put the flute to her lips and was about to play a most bewitching tune.

by Ingrid Kunschke
Porta Westfalica, Germany

Tuesday, December 23, 2008


I assess the shadows beneath her eyes, evident since the first day of this semester. The sandy blonde pelt of her head is as matted as the tricot she wears. The ever-fading pattern, paler than pale, is threadbare on the elbows. The grey of her school shirt etches those elbows, already stripped of baby fat. A smear of food encrusts the right cuff. Pumpkin, turnip, maybe pickle from a birthday Big Mac? She hands me a note, ostensibly written by a father I’ve never met. A slipped stitch shows on her waistband. I edge between the rows of desks, pocketing the latest excuse. The words are sketchy, the ink smudged. Her singed eyebrows whisper of things I’d rather not know. I gather up the class sets, today Larousse.

wintry day
the smell of rain
on a pink sweater

by Cynthia Rowe
Woollahra, NSW, Australia

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Bamboo Shoot: thoughts, words, writing …

… another year
....yet still green
............................ —the ginkgo leaves
.....fall from my notebook …


24.10.97: Kew. A morning of coffee spoons and conversation, a brief Italian extravagance for lunch, and now—the brilliance of a late October afternoon as time ambles itself away into non-existence around The Gardens. The mind floats somewhere between mislaid memory and bright enthusiasm for yet another collection that would be my first; and already a small notebook is fat with coloured leaves, sketches, and some thirty poems that like as not will never see the light of print. Colours and smells of autumn swirl about me as I retrace old steps towards the Pagoda and Chokushi Mon …

.....there in my youth—
.....I can hardly look up at you

Built in 1910—a near life-size replica of a sixteenth century Buddhist temple gateway in Kyoto, Kew’s Gateway of the Imperial Messenger has changed since I saw it last. Time and the English climate have done neither of us favours; but Chokushi Mon has recently been rejuvenated by a team of Japanese master-craftsmen—themselves a dwindling breed. Copper tiles have replaced old lead and cedar shingle, finely carved panels have been repaired or reworked; and set now, jewel-like, in a newly constructed landscape—amongst flowering cherry, bamboo, acer, Kurume azalea and other Japanese cultivars—something like a former magnificence has been restored. Sunlight once again returns enhanced from the lacquers and warm-toned timbers of Chokushi Mon …

.....rain comes through my thatch,
.....and summer sun stings my head—
.....telling me something

Japanese gardens are, in general, more formal than their English counterparts; though not in any regimental sense—no merely mechanical juxtapositioning of plants and artefacts. The aim is always an aesthetic mix of tradition and balance, symbolism and simple beauty; and in designing the Japanese garden at Kew, a prime concern has been to both complement Chokushi Mon and blend in with western botanical surroundings. Old established pines have been allowed to fittingly share the stage with Hinoki—the Shinto-sacred conifer of whose wood Chokushi Mon is constructed; while in future years, the Japanese custom of severe clipping and pruning will be restrained, thus allowing most plants to grow towards their natural shape. Yet overall, a strong spiritual sense of Orient is aroused symbolically by the way the landscape is constructed. Chokushi Mon contains, and is encircled by, a fusion of principles that might seem to embody the nature of all experience.

There is a Garden of Peace that recalls to mind the roji or traditional tea garden—where one can follow stone lanterns, pebbled path and stepping stones to reach a barely audible tsukubai—a tranquil walk to rinse away the weariness of the world …

.....some samurai!
.....… aching ankles
............................forgot my thank you
.....the taste of tea

… whilst elsewhere, a Garden of Activity evokes austere mountain sceneries with clastic rock-flows that tumble incessantly towards a gravel sea—a sea forever raked by unchanging waves and the flotsam from overhanging pines …

.....Chokushi Mon.
.....Please keep off the gravel.
.....… ‘footprints’ all over …

… and linking together tranquillity and action, the constant with the ephemeral, is a Garden of Harmony – an area of general and symbolic planting intended to reflect the natural beauty of the Japanese countryside. As yet this section is some ten years immature; but few will notice when, each spring, the senses are besieged by flowering of the loveliest of trees …

.....and after winter
.....what? The white cherry blossom
.....blowing in my face? …


Beneath a canopy of low-branched flowering cherry, I find the haiku stone of bluish granite. The haiku is by Takahama Kyoshi—written following a visit to Kew made in 1936; the stone itself donated by family in 1979 – some twenty years after Kyoshi’s death. There is a nearby transcript:

.....Even sparrows
.....Freed from all fear of man
.....England in Spring

So expressed, I do not care for these sentiments—they seem to me to have an air of ingratiating formality that I do not attribute to Kyoshi; after all, Japanese haiku are not necessarily treated faithfully by their translations. And then, perhaps, for whatever reason, not all haiku may be faithful to their motivating emotions; and indeed, there is something else that bothers me. For some time I stand brooding over Kyoshi’s stone, thinking about what Kyoshi really felt he meant in his own language, and whether he too … until I am joined by two young Japanese whom I’d noticed earlier. At distance, they had had the chattering full-of-lifeness of bright birds; now—in alien presence—they fall into unfathomable silence. And for a moment, I am incautious of my thoughts—I point …

..... –Not good haiku?
..... –Yeaah! Not good.
..... –It’s by Kyoshi!
..... –Hey, yeaah—He’s dead famous.
..... –But maybe not even true?...

…and I point again—this time to where, not far from the tsukubai, the stripped body of a small bird lies cooling in its last rays of sunlight …

.....near Kyoshi’s stone,
.....the crow pays close attention a crimsoned corpse

.......................................... … old established pines …
..........................................needles and cones fall to the bridge
..........................................twixt crane and turtle …

there is a specimen of Tai Haku
the Great White Cherry—much
valued in Japan. Between the 18th
& 20th. centuries, it is said to have
disappeared from Japanese culture
only to be restored from a new clone
found in an English garden.


........................................… the flowers fade,
........................................pressed between yellowing pages
........................................of an unopened book …

The haibun is about Time and looking for Kyoshi’s haiku stone in Kew Gardens. It records the more or less immediate responses to events on a sunny October afternoon in 1997, and was largely sketched out and written over tea and fruitcake in a nearby Refreshment Pavilion. After the first haiku, the writing is sectionalised by asterisks:

The Pagoda, built in 1761/62 stands at 163ft. The flagstaff—a single trunk of Douglas Fir, 371 years old—was erected in 1959 and then stood at 225 ft; it is not the one I saw in the 1940s (almost as tall). The lifespan of such poles is c50 yrs; and sadly, the 1959 flagstaff (third of the big ones since 1861) was dismantled in August 2007 consequent to the depredations of age and woodpeckers. It will not be replaced (I know the feeling).

In section two, prior knowledge and informational texts for visitors have been reworked and transformed to suit a purpose. The second paragraph might, perhaps, be read as a desirable description of western haiku; while the whole is interspersed with spontaneous reflective haiku conjured up by a stroll around the garden. The first haiku expresses regret; the second, self-distaste at the memory of attending tea ceremony in the wrong spirit (the author blames his aching ankles for social forgetfulness). A tsukubai is a dripping water basin—situated near the tea-house of a roji, it serves a symbolic ritual purpose. The third haiku observes the disobedience of squirrels etc; and the fourth expresses existential cynicism in a section which ends up referencing A.E.Housman.

Section three is plain accurate description.

The fourth and last section foresees the future. It has one haiku and one piece of hand-script. Cranes and turtles have mythological associations with longevity in Japanese and Chinese culture, and angular and rounded islands are common traditional features of Japanese gardens. At Kew, two such islands are linked by a narrow bridge that annually receives the buffets of falling pine cones. In Japanese culture, pine trees hold some sense of good luck or the permanence of human relationships; but in the haiku, I was thinking only of the ultimate destruction of all things, given time. The piece of hand-script is a late contrivance, and imagines some future annotation of the writing. It notes a fortuitous piece of knowledge that might also be read as a metaphor for the origins of haiku in the west—except, of course, that haiku has never disappeared from Japanese culture.
The final haiku is strongly connected to the very first haiku in the haibun, making the whole piece of writing circular; feeling its way through the transient nature of both real and recorded existence—in my ending is my beginning. After all, this is the fate of all writing—it gets recycled; like us. It’s what we’re meant to do—just re-record and fade away … The haiku also references the Bhagavad Gita through T.S.Eliot’s The Dry Salvages (part3 ls.1-5). It occurred to me that these last two disembodied haiku might also be seen as ‘haiku stones’ after authorial demise.

October 2007

by Bamboo Shoot
Salisbury, Wiltshire, England

Friday, December 19, 2008


A chill in the air, a slowing down, the gradual browning of the earth, but first, there is a party, a celebration, a carnival, complete with red and orange lights, ochre and gold, glowing in sunshine and shimmering even through fog and mist, and, like a carnival, the spectacle is too soon over, the performers have packed up and gone, leaving behind only their skeletal remains and memories.

fermenting leaves—
from sweaters on the line
a scent of camphor

by Adelaide B. Shaw
Millbrook, New York

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Ray Rasmussen: HOW IS IT . . .

I hear her voice from time to time on the answering service—a call directed to our daughter. Like a remembered song, her rhythms and tone mirror the strong words uttered during our divorce proceedings. What's not brought to mind are memories of walking together, of shared meals over talk of children and work, of trips taken together, of love making. Instead, there's this ducking away from the phone, the need to escape.

Today, I pick up the receiver thinking the ring was on my line, and hear her voice directly for the first time in two years, asking for our daughter.

"Not home," I say.

"Oh," she says, and after some silence, "My mother has had a fall. It's serious. I wanted her to know."

Silence again ... then, "Why not call back and leave your message. She'll be in later."

How is it that after 25 years together I have no words to share? How can I have failed even to offer commiseration about her mother with whom I spent so many family meals and holidays—this woman who said at our wedding, "I always wanted a son. Now I have one."

November chill
the hammock filled
with leaves

by Ray Rasmussen
Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
first published in Moonset 3:1, 2007

Monday, December 15, 2008

Jeffrey Winke: WHO KNOWS MANLY

Tired. That’s after hoisting her portly 33-pound red and white basset hound puppy up the 13-step flight. The Brute sprained his right front leg while sprinting in cottontail hunting class. Ava doesn’t hunt but if The Brute gets properly trained, she’ll have an excuse to linger at the Hound & Hare Hunt Club, where she’ll meet a proper gentleman… a man who knows manly things like hunting and smoking a briar pipe filled with English Cavendish tobacco. How tough can it be? The Brute is only weeks away from being blue-ribbon certified by The American Hunting Basset Association. Ava figures that her entire future depends on The Brute’s field trials. Her pup is the key.

candle light
her red lips caress
the cognac snifter

by Jeffrey Winke
Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Sunday, December 14, 2008


Packing for a trip to Thailand to celebrate my wife's 50th birthday, I come across my late brother's swimsuit. I've had it for almost five years and never worn it. I'm not sure if he ever did.

on the edge of the bed
wanting to cry—
happy my wife can sleep through
this unraveling of grief

There's a stack of student essays on my desk. Some examine the causes of the Seven Years' War; others explain Russia's isolation from Western Europe prior to 1700. Right now five years seems a lifetime ago.

my late brother's swimsuit—
fashion history
trunks of elephants
point to a joke

If he were alive, he wouldn't be caught dead in this. I certainly won't be. Nevertheless, I roll it up and put it in my suitcase, planning to wrap it around a coconut and throw it into the sea.
by Bob Lucky
Hangzhou, China

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Cherie Hunter Day: LAND’S END

The county road peters out in the parking lot of a lobster pound but the land keeps going, jutting into the bay. To get to the summer cottages visitors travel a double-rutted dirt road that narrows to a single mud-packed path around boulders on the final approach to the mud flats. Beyond a sandy spit granite ledges hold the last accumulation of soil. It’s enough to support the salt-sprayed and wind-pruned sumac and bayberry bushes to the height of a grade school child, not even the tallest in her class.

saving bits of shell
from the beach where we scattered
her ashes
the tint of red in the shale
bleeding iron

by Cherie Hunter Day
San Diego, California

Thursday, December 11, 2008


The Tanka Prose Anthology. Edited with an Introduction by Jeffrey Woodward. Baltimore, MD: Modern English Tanka Press, 2008. ISBN: 978-0-9817691-3-4. Perfect Bound, 6” x 9”, 176 pp., $12.95 USD.

Reviewed by Ray Rasmussen

The Tanka Prose Anthology edited by Jeffrey Woodward features 75 works by 19 good writers whose pieces I selectively read in whichever genre they appear. As someone who is well published in the haibun genre, but not very familiar with or published in either tanka or tanka prose—in short, a ‘non-expert’—I offer my thoughts about the anthology.

Woodward’s 17-page introduction and the bibliography of tanka prose serve as an useful introduction to the history of tanka in Japanese literature and of the present status of English-language tanka. It covers the relationship, historical and present, between haiku, haibun and tanka. Having already published numerous reviews and essays, Woodward is a thorough researcher and is serving in an important educative role for writers in any of the haiku genres.

I started with the suspicion that what the anthology presents as “tanka prose” is simply prose with tanka instead of haiku. However, Woodward clearly states that tanka prose is distinct from haibun prose:

“... In comparing tanka prose to haibun, I stated that it would be reasonable to anticipate that the prose element would be “written in the spirit of tanka.” This implies that tanka prose differs qualitatively from haibun—not only that tanka and haiku differ, but that their prose accompaniment does as well.”

So I read with the thought that the difference between tanka and haibun prose would become obvious as I read through the collection. I’ll begin by examining a few pieces in chronological order to address the difference issue.

Hortensia Anderson’s piece, “Maybe You Can Come Home,” leads off the anthology. Anderson presents either a fantasy based on historical record or a remembered event followed by two 5-line poems and one 3-line poem. While fantasy and remembered events are less usual in published haibun prose, as Ken Jones has aptly pointed out, they have a place in contemporary English language haibun:

“It (the haibun prose subject) may be the vivid recollection of a long forgotten childhood episode. It may even be a dream, a myth, or an imagined story collaged from fragments of our own real life. Such experiences may feel more real, more truthlike, than anything in our mundane daily round. Many fine haibun are poetic fancies, inspired imaginings, and yet the imagery is so direct and fresh and vivid, our imagination is so awakened, our feelings so stirred, that we are drawn into and enriched by the poet’s “reality”. (Ken’s Corner #3, Contemporary Haibun Online, March 2006, vol 2 no 1).

Thus, the fact that the provenience of the piece is ambiguous doesn’t lead to the conclusion that it is not haibun prose and instead might qualify as tanka prose. We can find pieces akin to this in many of the journals that publish haibun.

Marjorie Buettner’s piece, “The Presence of Absence” is a touching account written in present tense about her home empty of children. It wouldn’t be a surprise to find this piece in any of the haiku-genre journals under the haibun section. Strip the 5-line poem of its last two lines and it would be called a haibun. I’m not a journal editor, but I believe that most editors would readily accept this piece as a haibun.

Goldstein’s piece “Tanka Walk” (along with several by other writers) is an example of unusualness for published haibun in terms of its length and form. However this may simply be due to the fact that most editors would prefer to publish a number of small pieces than use a lot of space with several lengthy ones, however compelling. The piece is a mix of Goldstein’s practice of walking written in alternative paragraphs, one in the present tense describing his walk (as is the case with most contemporary haibun), the second containing his thoughts about his practice of tanka-walking practice (some philosophizing is also found in most contemporary haibun). The descriptive paragraphs easily fall into the category of typical haibun prose. It’s unusual to find a published haibun that relies extensively on philosophical meanders. Again, this doesn’t disqualify the piece as haibun prose.

The only difference I can distinguish between Larry Kimmel’s evocative pieces and haibun that I read elsewhere is that each is followed by a 5-line poem. The 5-line tanka form allows much more leeway than haiku in terms of permitting thoughts to be expressed (telling rather than showing) and therein is the key difference.

Perhaps one of the greatest deviations from “the usual” haibun that I read are Gary LeBel’s pieces. For example, in "Sea-change” we see a series of letters from his fictional character Captain William Horton to his wife. But “unusual” doesn’t equate with “not haibun.” This sort of creative work, likely based on LeBel’s imaginings about what it was to be an Englishman living in America in the 1700’s and perhaps based on LeBel’s visits to historical plantations in his region (my guess) does go beyond what I see as an important distinguishing characteristic of haibun from fiction, namely that the reader can sense the presence of the writer and feels that the account is about personal experience. The key here is whether the presence of the writer is found in the tanka used throughout the series of letters. Here I have the sense that LeBel brings us his own experiences.

Bob Lucky, one of my favourite storytellers, is clearly present in his pieces. Again, the key difference I can find is not between tanka and haibun prose, but simply in the presence of a 5-line instead of a 3-line poems. I do think that this series of pieces are among the most inventive I’ve read of Lucky’s work. In some cases, as with the other pieces in the anthology, one might ask the question whether the tanka could as easily be expressed as a haiku. For example:

all night
tick tick tick tick
from the clock—
I can’t sleep
without the tock

Would work as well, in my view, as a more understated haiku, although the haiku I’d suggest below lacks the wit of the more explicitly stated tanka:

all night
tick tick tick tick
from the clock

And so it goes with each writer. My reading of these pieces begs a question not raised by Woodward, namely, does a tanka poem that permits both greater expressiveness and expansiveness than a haiku produce a piece that is so distinct from haibun that it merits its own genre—tanka prose? I think not for reasons I’ll get to below.

Up to this point, I’ve discussed the work of a few of the 17 writers in the alphabetical order presented in the anthology. Skipping ahead, several of Patricia Prime’s and Jeffrey Woodward’s pieces deviate from the typical published haibun in that they offer a series of three or more tanka sometimes interspersed with prose in paragraph style. With respect to the tanka, we might ask the same question of these works that Ken Jones addresses to a haibun writer:

“... try folding it (the haiku) back into prose. If it reads just as well there, then leave it there; better strong prose than a “haiku” which is really no more than three chopped up bits of prose. On the other hand, if your haiku stands out as somehow different from the surrounding prose, then leave it as a haiku. (Ken’s Corner #4, Contemporary Haibun Online, June 2006, vol 2 no 2)

In these pieces I could imagine the tanka as being written in the more typical haibun prose style—as paragraphs. Whether the impact of reducing a series of tanka to one or several prose paragraphs would substantially change the piece is open to question. Certainly there’s a difference between free verse poetry and haibun, in that the line breaks are essential parts of the reading. Similarly, a series of tanka demand more of a reader than a prose paragraph does and the line breaks and two theme structure produce signals for a reader different than prose. A series of tanka, or for that matter of haiku, causes the reader to take a break between each tanka to absorb the individual tanka, but also to consider the relationship between the tanka in the series. Here perhaps more than anywhere else in the anthology, I do sense a difference between the prose typically offered in a haibun and what Woodward calls tanka prose. This begs the question as to whether the editors of journals publishing haibun would accept these pieces as haibun. I’d guess the answer is ‘yes’. And here I am suggesting that in its present stage of development, the arbitrators of what is and isn’t a good haibun are particularly the editors of our good journals who themselves have gotten to their positions by years of successful writing in one or more of the haiku genres. Of course, some of these editors accept more experimental or different work than others.

Elsewhere, haibun has been described as a unique form of poetry and writing, different than free verse poetry, essays, journals and fiction, not just because the prose tends to be whittled down to the bare essentials and descriptive in feel, but also because of the presence of a haiku. In addition, Ken Jones suggests that haibun prose is akin to haiku. I would add that by implication such prose is itself different than these other forms:

“This is the haiku-prose of haibun, where all the work is done by careful and feeling observation expressed in concrete imagery. As in haiku there is little that is superfluous and almost every word has work to do.” (Ken’s Corner #2, Contemporary Haibun Online, Part 2, December 2005, vol 1 no 3)

In my view, it’s not just the distinctiveness of the prose style or the presence of a worthy haiku that makes a haibun. There’s also the break between prose and haiku that causes the reader to shift from one kind of receptiveness (as in reading a short story or account) to being receptive to a presentation of an image, brief like a snapshot, that carries an association with the prose. Reflective time must be spent not only with the haiku (or tanka), but also with the relationship between haiku and prose. In my experience, the shift from one form (prose) to another (short poem) causes a shift in the reader’s mental state. I don’t experience this need to shift when reading free verse poetry or fiction.

Coming back to the present volume, my experience in reading the pieces in this anthology is much the same as in reading haibun in any of the contemporary journals. The need to shift receptive states is strong when the short (5-line) poem is encountered and is not essentially different as I read these pieces than when I read haibun and encounter a haiku. However, I do generally find tanka poems more assessable than haiku poems – perhaps because tanka, as I read them, are often a mix of showing and telling. This is not meant to denigrate the tanka form which I find quite refreshing and in which this anthology has sparked my interest.

I might have suggested that this excellent anthology be labeled “The Haibun with Tanka Anthology” (yes, that’s a very awkward title) so as to avoid adding yet another genre to the collection of works written by today’s haiku-genre poets. Trying to distinguish between the prose found in this collection from that found in any of the haibun journals is a difficult exercise at best and perhaps best left to more scholarly minds than mine. Such speculation might be important in the haibun vs. tanka prose question; it’s just that there’s not been a convincing case made that there is an essential difference. To make the case, I would suggest that Woodward produce an essay that shows similarly themed pieces, one tanka prose the other haiku prose, and let us see the difference (show us) rather than simply tell us. The anthology doesn’t permit this sort of comparison.

This isn’t to suggest that Woodward’s introductory essay is trivial speculation nor that the collection isn’t worthwhile. The essay is not only an addition to the understanding of the history of tanka, haiku and the practice of combining prose and short haiku-genre forms. It also invites an examination of the issue whether there is a difference in the prose found in what this collection labels as ‘tanka prose’ and that found in haibun. The more important question of how haibun/tanka prose differs from the various other genres such as free verse, short stories, flash fiction, personal and travel diaries, essays, etc. is not addressed in the essay, but it has been and will continue to be addressed elsewhere. Speculation about the differences in tanka and haibun prose may eventually lead to a distinction between the two forms that goes beyond “one has a tanka, the other a haiku.” Meanwhile, the number of haibun writers, while growing, remains small and to split that genre into two separate sub-genres is premature at best and perhaps even counter productive. In short, there is a need to grow the readership and understanding of the haibun form whatever the type of short poem is utilized with the prose.

In closing, I do want to congratulate Woodward and his colleagues in bringing out this volume. There needs to be more print and online space devoted to the haibun form for the genre to grow and more critical analysis is needed for the understanding of the genre to grow among haibun writers and people who read the more established forms of poetry (e.g., free verse), but not haibun. This volume contains a collection of creative writing that is unusually good and that goes well beyond the normal descriptive prose found in the great majority of published haibun. One would hope that Woodward would continue to edit and publish similar collections. Perhaps a good reason to call the collection “tanka prose” is that the writers were evidently motivated to submit what Ken Jones calls “literary haibun” or what I’d call experimental or unusual haibun. In short, the anthology breaks us out of the orthodoxy that is already being established in the relatively short life of English language haibun and allows us to consider greater variation in both form and content. That being the case, I’m all for such collections whatever the collection is called.

by Ray Rasmussen
Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Dru Philippou: OFF THE LIP

A day when I pack a sandwich, sit on the beach—a day in which I hypostatize God in a flash of lightning, too far off for sound; in a woman staring as though she’s looking through me; in this wave ruffling at my feet; thro’ the words of Truman Capote: The wind is us—it gathers and remembers all our voices . . . .

into the rip
my pin tail surfboard
sings me to my idols
sings the wind
from Waimea to Piha Beach

by Dru Philippou
Taos, New Mexico

Tuesday, December 9, 2008


It could be that there is a hole nearby, its entrance hidden by untended grasses. And time, like a steady limpid stream, is flowing into its depths never to surface again. The sun no sooner rises, than it yields to afternoon, then twilight hurries into darkness. Our planet, seemingly, spins faster with each year I walk the earth and swim the rising seas.

hermit monks said
be quiet in the moment
slow down—
did they manage hectic days
and myriad things to do?

by Kirsty Karkow
Waldoboro, Maine

Monday, December 8, 2008


Don’t come another inch closer, I mean it. What gall to show up here like this today without an invitation, to steal away my summer (and all my ridiculous dreams): thief! Why, if the Shakers were here, they’d grind you into paint and be done with it.

In years past, I always dragged my feet through autumn, but now I go kicking and screaming—and you with your history, oh, such history, a knee-buckling load you refuse to lift for like a lazy student you make no distinction between Stalin and Gandhi, shooting straight up through the ‘white bones’ we scatter with a cardsharp’s wrist across the blood-soaked meadows of battles,

waving your little heads during executions, thriving in the backyards of killers, and bursting into color outside the firewalls where tired old lawyers and generals change the wording in constitutions and plan wars for post-adolescents to fight, your quiet reason always swaying to a light breeze within sight of their round-tabled bunkers,

an enfant sauvage, eyes at the edge of the wilderness,


field of goldenrod.

Today, Chronos, I laze
and with a death-grip on your robe
refuse to walk: you’ll have to drag me
tooth and nail, slobbering drunk
with Sirens’ wail.

by Gary LeBel
Cumming, Georgia

Note: ‘white bones’ is from a poem of Tu Fu, originally ‘white bones, blue smoke’.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Ynes Sanz: BIG TED

In a recurring dream I am opening a toybox, or sometimes it’s a cupboard, to rummage through mounds of toys that are unfamiliar, though all have the soft contours and faded colour of long use. Have I forgotten them? Perhaps I never owned them at all, but coveted them when they belonged to little friends whose names are lost.

In the gardens of my childhood there were often bomb shelters half buried in the soil. Inside, in the dusty shadows, we children could sometimes find, like family secrets, small traces of the people who tried to rest there night after night. Overhead, flying bombs had made their erratic grinding passage or suddenly cut their engines, to drop in an instant, or drift on, with a faint noise like wind, over the hundreds of hidden upward-gazing heads.

in the air-raid shelter
a plastic brooch.......shot
from a Christmas cracker

In a recurring memory, my father lifts me up to press a button in the blue Police Box at the corner of our road. I am only a toddler but already I know that I must do it right. If my small finger wobbles, the siren sound will not come out in the steady ‘All Clear’ of the test signal, but will make the terrible undulating wail that means an air-raid. I will frighten all the people for miles around, and young as I am, I know they have already been frightened more than enough.

playing on the bombsite
she cradles
a one-legged doll

At the Op shop again, I search with a kind of hunger for the thing that will reveal itself as what I am looking for. Ribbons, a silver christening cup, a walking stick, a cushion with a sentimental verse? A huge square wooden market fruit bin overflows with discarded fluffy toys. I systematically work my way through the pile. Whatever it is, I can’t find it here.
battered photograph
trying to see the face
of the toy in my arms

by Ynes Sanz
Brisbane, Qld., Australia

Friday, December 5, 2008


lift off—
the dash to business class
for empty seats

40,000 feet over Cambodia, heading home. One thing the flight crew neglected in going over safety procedures was how to latch the toilet door. I’ve seen enough flesh on this flight, and from some very unflattering angles, to induce pornographic nightmares.

into tiny seats—
the high cost of fuel

In a few hours I’ll be in Hangzhou sitting in my local restaurant in the alley, cracking sunflower seeds between my teeth and spitting the shells on the table and floor with the rest of them.

loud belch
squabbling for the honor
to pick up the check

by Bob Lucky
Hangzhou, China

Thursday, December 4, 2008


You speak German? She asks while biting her lower lip in faux perplexity while staring at the well-worn splayed cover of Traktat über kritische Vernunft, by Hans Albert. He quickly gathers the volume up and inserts an old St. Louis MetroBus transfer stub to hold his place. She giggles a bit as he deftly unhooks her vintage charcoal pencil skirt, releasing her from her afternoon appointment, while steering her hips to the nearby rolled-arm silk-upholstery white settee.
penthouse view
sound of seagulls

by Jeffrey Winke
Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Stanley Pelter: EXCORIATION

want to listen, want to hear what this chair is saying to that. feel here is a once-in-a-lifetime chance of over-hearing table wood communicating with an old door bleached of suffocating paint.

the Large Glass breaks
and in the right places
the copy also

silent, She isolates.
Her eyes pin me to the crucifix wood of the floor. Randomly probing, they divide into dark estuary shadows, squeeze inside most of my most ecstatic fears. Job done, her eyes close tight, like stitches fusing disconnected bits of skin, like rivets that only flesh in flames can melt. She leaves, taking with her significant particles that belong to me; pieces I miss. I mean, really miss.
i only ever saw her once again. but once again those translucent eyes stripped me bare, even. body runs away but her fixed look remains. unexpected guests, i on one side of the reconstruction, she on the other. Large Glass. ‘The Bride Stripped Bare by her Bachelors, Even’¹. i am pulped, will, through all time, pour through that symbol of a coffee grinder; complex love machine that can never work, that frustrates those who join in, who want more than desire. joined without contradiction, empty of each other, we remain, and forever will, unresolved protagonists. i alone. U alone. we yearn even for what is not ever possible.

even he knows it
iconography of sex
always comes between

again again again U writhe, turn me on a spit of indulgence. again, i bare U stripped bare, smile back grimly, even.

¹ La Mariée mise à nu par ses Célibataires, même.....Marcel Duchamp 1915-23

by Stanley Pelter
Claypole, Lincolnshire, England