A Quarterly Journal of Contemporary English Language Haibun
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September 2005, vol 1 no 2

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Ken’s Corner - Part 1

Dear Haibuneer,

Several times a week it’s “Hi, guys -- more grist!” from our ever-cheerful editor-in-chief Jim Kacian, with another e-mail of hopeful submissions. But sadly at least some three-quarters turn out to be just chaff, without sufficient nourishment in them to offer to our readers.

The purpose of this regular column is to reduce the percentage of declined submissions. It is frustrating to have to reject promising work which the writer might well be able to improve, given a clearer idea of what the editors are looking for, and given a bit of encouraging advice. And it’s discouraging for you to have work rejected without being able to figure out why. When you have been enabled to do so you may decide that haibun writing is not really what you thought it was and is not for you. Or you may decide to get down to learning how to turn your experiences into haibun literature. You can do this by studying examples of good haibun and our editors’ columns which will appear regularly.

The first question to ask yourself is whether you can write passable haiku, since these are the nuts and bolts of haibun. Do you find that all your freestanding haiku are being declined by the various editors of different reputable haiku magazines? If so, it may be time to join a haiku group, study books like Lee Gurga’s recent Haiku: a Poet’s Guide, remedy your weaknesses, and get yourself published. Then come back to having a go at haibun.

In about half the haibun we receive the “haiku” appear as little more than three lines of cut-up prose. The basic test is whether your haiku stand out distinctively from the prose. If the three lines can be folded back into line without making a ripple in the prose then that’s where they belong. But try collapsing an authentic haiku back into the prose and it will still show up there as a different animal. Of course, there is much more to be said about the place of haiku in haibun, but let’s first get the haiku into existence.

How about the haibun as a whole, with particular reference to the prose? You may be moved to report your holiday experiences in some exotic place, or tell the readers what happened to you on your way to work, or recount a family anecdote. These are all potential topics, but if they read as little different from the hundreds of holiday letters home, or passages from The National Geographic Magazine, or the thousands of after-dinner anecdotes that are told, then they really do not have anything special for our readers and we cannot accept them. What is being submitted in such cases is the raw material for a haibun that has yet to be crafted into literature. There’s no literary nourishment in it. What does nourish is work which engages our feelings and which stirs our imagination. The writing is rich in striking and original imagery, as well as being concrete and economical. It enhances our experience of the world around us. It offers a little bit of heart-warming humanity and makes a modest contribution to sustaining and enriching our lives. Yes, this is serious stuff, and the more so in being undertaken in the haiku spirit of karumi, of lightness of touch.

I’ll take up from there in the next issue.

~ Ken Jones


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