Thursday, January 21, 2010

Haiku and Haibun (big risk!)

This semester I am taking an independent study with a favorite teacher of mine. I'm studying the haiku and haibun forms of writing, and striving to bring more consciousness and spirituality to my every day life--even the walks to class or downstairs to get some water. Also, and very importantly, I'm writing creatively every day, a task which I've known for a while that I should be doing anyway but which I have had a hard time putting into practice. I think it's a lot easier for my brain, the calculating logical part of my mind, to conceive of writing a haiku every day (strictly, three lines of 5-7-5 syllables) than to vaguely "write" every day.

I have known the basics of the haiku form for a long time, the academic rules that are easy to teach younger kids just learning about poetry. What I'm discovering is that haiku is so much more than "three lines, with 5-7-5 syllable counts, and usually about nature." Although historically these rules were probably true more often than not, in today's modern age there is more freedom--say, for instance, to write in 5-8-6 (syllables) if the individual poem calls for it. And the haiku is not strictly observational, or objective, as I believed. There's a great deal of subjectivity and the author's imprint in the haiku that helps touch the insight of the moment, and not just the "here's what happened/I saw/existed" in the moment.

I'm very new to the haibun form, which is, historically, a travel journal infused with haiku. The best way I have found to explain it is, "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," according to Bruce Ross. I am excited to start reading more about this form so I have a better grasp on the nuances. The haibun is not a short story and it's not an essay--it's lyric prose, condensed, as I've heard, rather like haiku. Usually each entry is closed with a haiku that doesn't necessarily relate directly to the prose before it. It is up to the reader to make the connection between them. Newer forms of haibun often have haiku interspersed throughout the entry and sometimes at the begining. For now, I am following Matsuo Basho's lead, and keeping my haiku at the end of my prose. (Basho is an ancient master of the haiku who, in his later years, implemented the haibun, and these journals have paved the way for the form's popularity.)

Here is my first attempt at haibun:

He and I walk, talk about women. He asks, "If I ask for a girl's number, will she always think I want sex?" I want to tell him no, not all women think that way. But I remember I did. I tell him yes, but I don't know if that is true either. We walk on in silence. I try not to walk too close to him.

Narrow road into--
I do not know--how
pleasing to see nothing


  1. Woot! Well, I think you just wrote part of your academic paper! I like your haibun very much. Small observation: I think you can leave this part out: "but I don't know if that is true either"

    Reason? Because your last line SHOWS us that she knows she's told a lie. And does so powerfully. What do you think?

    The haiku at the end is very mysterious. There is something about it I really like. Usually a haiku will have a strong image, but this one is about nothingness (a Zen idea).

    Great beginning, Monica. I'm glad I happened to catch this on Facebook!

  2. I agree with Theresa, I was actually going to suggest it. I love that last line of the haibun because it makes me so uncomfortable. It's really beautiful. I would suggest writing more. And I think I might give it a shot as well.

  3. Thanks! I agree, I made that change in my notebook. Thanks for the comments!

  4. Great introduction to your haibun journal, Monica! I really enjoyed your readings at Prout last semester - you definitely have a unique style of storytelling. I look forward to more of your haibun entries!