What is a Haibun?

I was asked recently, in the comments, for a definition of a haibun. The quick answer is that it’s some prose with a haiku. As answers go, that’s accurate, but not particularly useful.

It’s likely, if you look back at old poems, that it doesn’t actually have to have a haiku. However, try convincing an editor of that.

A haiku is a very short poem that, over the years, has attracted a lot of rules. In Japanese it has 17 “on”, which are sound units. They are not the same as syllables, though they were originally treated as if they were. In Japanese “haiku” has three “on”., but only two syllables in English. Originally we were told to write haiku in three lines of 5, 7 and 5 syllables. If you check on the internet, you will still be told that. This is wrong.

We are now allowed to use lines of different length and told that 13 syllables is probably about right. We aren’t supposed to include ourselves or poetic devices in haiku and they are supposed to have a season word, talk of nature and a cutting word to differentiate the two parts of the haiku. They like to have two parts – one being what you saw and the other (usually the last line), something that acts as as a contrast. If they talk of human nature, they are senryu, but for haibun purposes they are much the same. They also have simplicity and various sad, wistful feelings attached to them. As I say, short poem, a lot of rules.

Strangely, a lot of the “rules” started off as guidelines and, in the minds of various editors, become rules.

My Orange Parker Pen

Then you get the prose. It should be terse and haiku-like, because it then mirrors the haiku. Or if you read another well-respected poet, it should be different in style from a haiku, as the same style will make it boring.

The haiku should be different from the subject matter, and should “link and shift”. Or, according to another well-known haibun writer, that’s not correct. and is based on a misunderstanding. No, I can’t explain “link and shift” properly. And considering the experience of all the poets and their different views, I can’t tell you exactly what a haibun is either,

Tanka prose is slightly easier to understand. It’s a tanka (five line poem) and prose. There are fewer rules and less discussion about tanka prose, so it’s easier to write. You can concentrate on the writing instead of worrying about hitting the targets imposed by various, contradictory, rules.

Finally, the poem and prose can be placed in different ways. This can be poem and prose or prose and poem. It can also be prose, poem, prose or poem, prose, poem. Or other ways. As usual, there are Japanese words for all these things. And, as usual, I can’t remember them.

That’s a vey short, simple and not exactly neutral explanation. I’ll post a few poems and links over the next few days.

Orange Parker Pen

14 thoughts on “What is a Haibun?

  1. jodierichelle

    Well, I must thank you for this. These rules remind me of doing my taxes here in the USA. There are a TON of rules, but whether I can figure out how to follow them or not always remains to be seen. (I suspect not, despite my best efforts.)

    I have never learned to enjoy much poetry. But, some of the ones you have shared have just floored me. I want to thank you for letting me know that can learn to enjoy poetry. I have loved them not because I know the rules, or will ever care to. But I loved them because they spoke to me.

    1. quercuscommunity Post author

      Thank you – I will bear that in mind as I carry on writing. I’ve often wondered what you Americans could do if you freed your minds from tax calculations . . . 😉

  2. Pingback: Unknown Stories – a haibun | quercuscommunity

  3. paolsoren

    Thank you. I’m not sure how to use Diane now. That’s what Siri thinks I said. Siri doesn’t understand Australian accent but my fingers are a little arthritic. And now I forgotten what I wanted to say.

  4. derrickjknight

    Now I know why I never progressed much beyond iambic pentameter in my youthful attempts at poetry. That is an amazing description of the Japanese methods that produce such fine poems, but, to me, a bit like understanding what goes into a computer programme. Your poems are always enjoyable.

  5. tootlepedal

    Well, I shall continue to read your offerings with enjoyment and not worry about whether you are conforming to expectations or not. But thank you for the explanations.

    1. quercuscommunity Post author

      That is pretty much my approach to the writing. Despite the reported successes I am currently going through a slump regarding haibun acceptances. I have decided to keep writing what I want and not bother about all the other stuff.

      1. Lavinia Ross

        I agree with Tootlepedal. I will continue to read your work with enjoyment and not worry about whether you have conformed to the “rules”.

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