haibun/ tanabata


Jim Dine Hearts in front of Montreal Museum of Fine Arts

The haibun is a satisfying form. It combines the fullness of story, the various forms of narrative, the objective descriptions of place, the histories and herstories of life, of the world with its wonders, and its sorrows.  But more than that, it edges in, with a haiku, yet another angle to what is happening in the prose.

one jim dine heart/ touches another/July heat

It lets the writer and the reader step outside the prose, do some sideways thinking. It means acknowledging that whatever story we think we know, there are worlds attached that we cannot know. The haiku is an attempt to understand the prose more deeply and to be even more involved in it.

alice puzzledalice steps through/ astonishes/ her self

When we write our own prose intending to create a haibun, it’s a game we play with ourselves. We write ourselves out, then leave what we wrote, sometimes abruptly, and go away for a while. It may be for just a few seconds, but we return with something that might have been floating through our minds, and only reminded of by sitting on cool grass, or when spooning brown sugar, or by an ornament on your mother’s mantel.

northern_cardinal_glamourfrom cardinal’s beak/ to hatchling/ a future

It’s an invitation to join in, to pick the next card, complete the Royal Flush. But is also a reminder that all things in the world are connected; it’s up to us to figure out how. Not that I know what I’m talking about in mentioning a poker term, not everyone knows how to play every game. In a haibun the next card is more a suggestion to consider how it fits, like a puzzle piece, into the larger picture.

A haiku may initiate the prose. It can be like that piece of cloud you pick up first, the one you have no hope of matching up, until something twigs, and Oh yes, that blossom scent reminds me of the lime Jello Aunt Bessie used to fill with pineapple and tiny marshmallows, and that time we went to Paris together... so the narrative begins, perhaps to end with another haiku.

eiffelcaught/ in metal struts/ bits of sky

The free flow between two different ways of thinking, the brain switching from prose mode to haiku mode, is what makes haibun intriguing.

The form can be perplexing. Why stick that last ‘bit’ on, those three lines that seem to have no reason for existing, that are confusing in themselves.  Bits of idea, image upon image. It has nothing to do with the story!  The story is about a temple…Why is the haiku about a dream? And it doesn’t even finish the story!

In haibun, the short poem parts shouldn’t immediately be apparent. A space intrudes between the parts, a space that says Take a moment before continuing this poem, the same function it has in lyric poems. In haibun it also prepares the reader: don’t expect this poem to continue in the same vein as before.

a turtle dove rests/ in an empty bird feeder/ evening light

hiroshige tanabataThe trick is to think about both parts and think about where they both could meet, whether is space, time, commonality, atmosphere, emotion, weather… as if one part has been longing for the other, and each only fulfilled, like the weaver girl and the cowherd, when they have found each other. (The image is the City Flourishing, Tanabata Festival, 1857 woodcut by by Hiroshige)

The Open Mind website quotes Nicolas Tesla: “When wireless is perfectly applied, the whole earth will be converted into a huge brain, which in fact it is, all things being particles of a real and rhythmic whole…” The paragraph is about Tesla describing a cellphone in 1926, but can be taken as another way to think about the haibun creating process: one section of a writer’s brain connecting with another part of itself that can only be accessed through an alternate route.  One part of mind reaching for another, conversing.

typos/ distraction to destruction/ bitter

This senryu from Strange Type, a poem by Malcolm Lowry.

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