Thursday, November 12, 2009

Richard Straw: Haibun: It's a Family Thing

A haibun is a family gathering, perhaps a reunion, of young and old and middle aged. Some dads huff prose and some cousins whisper poetry and some sons and daughters do a bit of both or talk gibberish like an uncle through his beer and mustache. All are interacting, replaying old lines, trying new routines, listening to each other, or sleeping in front of the TV, the butt of a face-painting prank. The prose members and the haiku members can say the same lines elsewhere in another setting, such as in a formal gathering of poems or in a critic's selective review. Words voiced separately may even gain some acclaim and applause. Although what's said in nonfamily settings will sound similar to what was said before, it will have a different meaning, a loss usually of context. Outside the haibun family and its relationships, the family members will have different personalities, none perhaps as dynamic as what they share with those who also have similar lips and eyes, tones and intentions.

end of summer
another family
in my old home

So, in a haibun, the prose and the haiku can and will stand alone, just as they can and will stand together, depending on how a reader, the stranger, chooses to experience them. Haibunists can't expect that everything they write will be read in sequence and in its entirety. Novella-length haibun need to be broken up into edible parts, or they may not be read at all. Even some careful readers, such as Samuel Johnson, skim across the page and through a book, much like skaters on a river. The effect of the words that are read, either silently in one's head or aloud in an armchair or on a stage, will also vary depending on a reader's short-term memory and ability to comprehend what the writer may think has been clearly enunciated in black and white. It's all relative so to speak.

by Richard Straw
Cary, North Carolina

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