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January 2016 vol 11 no 4

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Thoughts on the Haibun Form

Jeff Streeby

“We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.”
                                                                           ~ Anaïs Nin

What I try to remember when I write…

I try to remember that haibun prose, like all writing, is a representation of spoken language. No matter what I attempt—dramatic monologue, soliloquy, meditation, narrative, reverie, reminiscence— I try to remember the ways speech is used between people, so I can make my diction and rhythms and structures natural in the ear and natural on the tongue.

I try to remember that the carefully crafted voice in the page is authentic, but strictly speaking, it is not my voice; it is rather a representation of my voice whose convenient, narrowly focused personality, with its implied priorities and value positions, imposes the stamp of an honest consciousness on the stream of ideas. Because I can readily conceive countless other completely genuine versions of it, I try to remember that all readers have at least an equal share in constructing that voice.

I try to remember that what the best writing has to offer its audience is no more than a metaphor, no more than an analogy for some small sliver of the human condition. I try to remember that a haibun is a clever simulacrum of experience, a distracting substitute for the readers’ own present moment, built entirely of text. I try to remember that by itself, the haibun is a hollow effigy and that to animate it, readers must supply their own humanity.

I try to remember not to overdo it.

I try to remember that physical reality is an exterior matter and that all the ways we experience reality are interior matters. I try to remember, therefore, that each situation elaborated in a haibun must be consistent with the way most people make sense of their world and that each image I use to commemorate these encounters must be both plausible and striking.

I try to remember that a haiku is the representation in language of a psychical event.

I try to remember that taken together, the two elements of a haibun can pull the trigger of epiphany.

I try to remember that every haibun tests a new hypothesis of reality, a new hypothesis of understanding, a new hypothesis of language.

Sometimes I remember it all.

Jeff Streeby

April 11

Three-quarter moon—
seems like nothing is ever quite enough to suit us.

Sometimes there is no story. Sometimes there is only the fragment to trust in. A remarkable light at the horizon. That hard evening chill, just above freezing. Sometimes there is no narrative arc at all, only the way a certain darkness under the cottonwoods can raise your hackles. An old barn, an early cyclone’s chatter marks through a shelterbelt. There’s no story in that, only a ghost of those other stories you know. The way the plowed ground smells the minute winter breaks up. The sound, the feel of wet gravel under your boots. Sometimes, like now, there is nothing but the excerpt and (if you’re lucky) its tiny surprise of insight, that one lyrical instant when tone has more effect on the way things stand than any tidy resolution could ever offer. That’s the point. An intersection of two abandoned roads. Tuned as we are so acutely to our personal expectations, to what from experience we predict must come next, we probably look for too much story, insist on too much unity or complexity or comfortable conventionality, take not enough stock of the fulfillments available to us in the small frame of any particular moment.

Nesting quail turn their eggs and sit, satisfied. Inside, outside, this is almost equilibrium, an independent fact already complete and historic, an interval uniquely rich with its own threads of resonance and implication that helps make meaning clear. Such a bound interruption usually will mark story with its singular intonation, will divide one string of possibilities from another and lend each a plausible force. We don’t take the hint.

Now a quiver of goldfinches settles among the weeds. A pheasant cock calls from the borrow ditch. Above us on the side-hill, a big dog coyote wakes and stretches, shakes himself and yawns.


From beyond the borders of the world,
never more than we deserve.

Akitsu Quarterly published a version of “April 11”, Fall 2015.