This week’s Poetic Form is Haibun. I hope you all like the reading and try the form on your own. Good luck!
Hello saguaro and barrel cactus. Hello sorghum and wheat field. Hello skyscraper and ballpark. Hello cherry tree and badger nest. Having moved several times throughout my childhood, from Chicago to Phoenix to western Kansas and Ohio and more, I have long searched for a way to write about my travels, which continue even now that I am grown with two wily children of my own. How to write about place when one feels inextricably connected to certain landscapes that shift and change more often than the seasons? Yet, because of my relatively brief time spent in any one location for long, I am like clover—roots plentiful, covering a great area, but short in length—easy to remove and attach again in any given space. How can a poem situate itself without being fully entrenched? How to make the reader travel without getting lost?
Haibun is a poetic form that allows one to answer some of these questions while providing a fresh perspective through a lens that focuses on nature and landscape. Haibun combines a prose poem with a haiku. The haiku usually ends the poem as a sort of whispery and insightful postscript to the prose of the beginning of the poem. Another way of looking at the form is thinking of haibun as highly focused testimony or recollection of a journey composed of a prose poem and ending with a meaningful murmur of sorts: a haiku. The result is a very elegant block of text with the haiku serving as a tiny bowl or stand for the prose poem. A whole series of them in a manuscript look like neat little signs or flags—a visual delight.
Hello honeybee and peacock. Hello whale shark and moon jelly. King snake and pinkletink. Though Bashō coined the word haibun, the form as it is today existed in Japan as prefaces and mini-lyric essays even before the seventeenth century (when Bashō first popularized the form). After his famous journey to Mutsu, he crafted a sort of guideline to the form in order to plunge deeper into the aware (pronounced ah-WAR-ay) spirit of haiku. Thus, another important feature of the haibun is not simply to provide a writer a shape in which to jot mundane musings of landscape and travel but also to evoke that sense of aware—the quality of certain objects to evoke longing, sadness, or immediate sympathy.
Though I am not one to stay close and straight to any particular poetry “rules” (the haibun form especially and brightly lends itself to experimentation if one desires), the poet Kimiko Hahn noted that Bashō himself once criticized works that did not have a palpable sense of aware:”Of course, anyone can keep a diary with such entries as ‘On this day it rained…in the afternoon it cleared…at that place is a pine…at this place flows a river called Such-and-such’; but unless sights are truly remarkable, they shouldn’t be mentioned at all.”
For example, in the haiku of a haibun in Oku no Hosomichi, Bashō writes, “Taken in my hand it would melt, my tears are so warm—this autumnal frost.” A reader could have a literal understanding of this metaphor as a haiku, but its full effect—its aware—is apparent only when one reads the prose of the haibun that precedes it. In the prose of the haibun, the reader clearly sees that Bashō used the word frost to describe holding his dead mother’s white hair. The haiku and prose poem of the haibun rely and lean on each other for a fuller, more resonant experience. In How to Haiku, Bruce Ross writes, “If a haiku is an insight into a moment of experience, a haibun is the story or narrative of how one came to have that experience.” A haibun should have a palpable, inherent sense of aware. Without it, as Bashō warned, the poem becomes just a mundane list of travel and nature observations.
Content Credits: Poets.org