Haibun: an introduction

My particular interest in the world of haiku has been the writing of haibun and in working to popularise this form and improve its quality and diversity. As a joint editor of the international quarterly journal Contemporary Haibun Online I have been well placed to do so. This page comprises the 'Arrow of Stones' introduction, an interview with Haibun Today editor Jeffrey Woodward, advice on how to write haibun in 'A Haibun Editor Suggests', and an essay entitled 'Writing Reality: Fictional Haibun Stories'.

The haiku prose known as haibun had its in a classic travel journal by Matsuo Basho (1644-1694): The Narrow Road to the Deep North. The haibun subsequently died out in Japan but since the 1990s has developed in the West as an exciting new literary genre. The essential feature is the interplay of haiku and prose. As with haiku, the “haiku prose” should be concrete and economical, free from abstraction, crisp, light-handed and rich in imagery. The haiku serves either to intensify the feeling conveyed by the prose or to take the reader a step beyond it. Either way it provides some kind of shift in the flow of the prose.

Haibun typically range in length from a single paragraph to two or three pages, and are commonly written in the first person and present tense. The writer is usually present in the narrative (directly or by inference) and writes out of his or her experience. Although this is commonly embellished to make it more interesting, it is still rare for the imagination to be extended to a veritable short story. Except in short pieces, the better quality haibun are usually shaped to some extent by theme and metaphor. The range and character of the genre are well exemplified in journals such as Contemporary Haibun Online andHaibun Today.

Thanks in part to a kinship with the short story, my own haibun are characterised by a wide range of themes (including some underlying Buddhist ones), and make for popular public readings. A typical selection can be found in the out-of-print publications section of this site.