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October 2016, vol 12 no 3

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Editorial: The Times They Are A-Changin

You may have noticed that this issue and the previous one seem like bumper crops of haibun. I feel compelled to comment on this. The primary reason is that we are getting more than the usual number of submissions. And there are reasons for this as well. As Ray Rasmussen commented to me, many of the venues for haibun have packed it in over the last couple of years. Contemporary Haibun, the erstwhile print sister to this publication, ceased annual publication at the time I joined Ray here online. Clearly there is a need for an annual anthology of the best of the year's haibun and tanka prose. Notes from the Gean and A Hundred Gourds have closed their doors. bottle rockets no longer accepts haibun. Modern Haiku and Frogpond carry very few haibun per issue. There are still a couple journals, you know us, that are devoted to haibun and tanka prose. And other journals do accept haibun. tinywords will consider tiny haibun. Akitsu makes room for haibun. And KYSO Flash has been going out of its way to promote the form. Angelee Deodhar is anthologizing haibun in her Journeys series, although the series, while outstanding, is a one off.

But I sense the times they are a-changing. Haibun – in various guises under that name – is gaining the interest of writers not a part of the short form poetry world. And just a quick glance into the depths and shallows of the internet, and you discover there's no shortage of writers who've set up shop as haibunists, but quite a few would be unknown to readers familiar with haibun journals. What to do?

As an editor, I have to make a decision to lean towards the prescriptivist end of the spectrum or the descriptivist end. If Contemporary Haibun Online is to remain vital and relevant, it needs to account for trends in haibun writing or risk becoming a niche publication within a niche. In the last two issues, you no doubt have seen a haibun or two that may not appeal to "traditionalists." I'm still looking for strong prose and that link-and-shift with the haiku, but many of the writers new to the form seem shaky on the nature of haiku, or employ haiku or tanka simply as a continuation of the prose narrative. However, and I know I'm going to regret saying this at some point soon in my life (as in the next reading cycle), if the over-all effect is "haibun-like" – wait, let me get my umbrella before you start throwing things – I'm apt to give it some consideration.

In the current state of haibun affairs, English-language haibun is in a liminal state, somewhere between a loyalty to its Japanese roots and a desire to run free with the pack of prosimetric poems in English literature. As I said above, for Contemporary Haibun Online to remain vital and relevant, the "contemporary" in the title has to be honored. In future issues, you may be seeing more variants of English-language haibun as well as those that adhere to the "rules," written and unwritten, of haibun. I love the rules of several poetic forms, but there's also joy and insight in innovation and in sometimes breaking those rules.

~ Bob Lucky, Editor-in-Chief