haibun

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September 2015, vol 11 no 3

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Featured Writer: Peter Newton


Peter Newton is the author of several books in the Japanese short form tradition. His collection of haibun, Welcome to the Joy Ride, won the Haiku Society of America's Kanterman Award for the Best Book of Haibun in 2014. In 2015, a book of tan renga (collaborative poems) with Kathe L. Palka called A Path of Desire was published by Red Moon Press. An editor of the online poetry journal tinywords, Newton is currently at work on a new collection of poems.


Peter Newton's thoughts on the haibun form:

The novelist Don DeLillo said, "Every sentence has a truth waiting at the end of it and the writer learns how to know it when he finally gets there." Good advice for the writer of haibun who is a kind of hybrid writer. A maker of prose and poems. I think a good poet needs to know sentence structure. A good prose writer could benefit from memorizing a favorite poem. Story and song. Key ingredients in a haibun.

What DeLillo says about the sentence can be said about the haibun as a whole. The writer needs to arrive somewhere in the end. From Point A to Point B via teleportation. The reader must be stunned somewhat by his re-entry, the way the writer is also changed.

I was introduced to haibun by Margaret Chula who was leading a workshop in persona haibun. She spread out a variety of portraits from which she asked her students to select one image that spoke to them and write in that person's voice. A generic family portrait. A Hollywood leading man. A circus star from the '50s atop her feathered elephant. Fifteen minutes. Go. Little instruction. Plenty of encouragement. Not a bad place to start for someone new to haibun.

Like others before me, I would add that the haiku has to advance the meaning of the prose in a new way, offering a new perspective. The white space between prose and poem is the x-factor. It is the portal through which the reader enters the piece. Think movie. Do you want a jump cut or a slow dissolve where one image morphs into another. However you decide to get there the haiku must stand on its own just like the prose.

Twenty-first century haibun is more than a travelogue with poems interspersed. It's a journey of the imagination. A spotlight on a significant detail that drew you in during the day. A political statement, however subdued. Some question that needs answering. That means giving yourself permission to not always follow the rules of familiar syntax normal grammatical structure subject verb object STOP: A good haibun has the urgency of a telegram. A message that must be sent. A good haibun makes you stop in the end and want to read it again.


Cold Comfort by Peter Newton

The deer are motionless under the low-hanging pines, easily mistaken for the trees themselves. Their sapling legs thin trunks losing sunlight. I only know to look a few hundred yards past our back fence because they've come here before. For the past few nights they have bedded down under what little canopy young pines provide at the edge of the woods. One deer reaches up to nibble a loose piece of bark. How could this ever be enough? Forecasters say single digits. The neighborhood is quiet. Everyone's inside standing over their stoves. Through bird binoculars I can see one deer fold in on itself, front legs first as if kissing the earth. Then the hind. It's like watching the closing scene of a play. No music. No dialogue. All slow, intentional action. The central character coming to terms with the gradual dark.

tracking their every up and down ridgeline coyotes

Originally published in Frogpond 38:2, spring/summer 2015


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