Terri L. French
I recently went back and looked at all of the haibun I’ve written in the last seven years, seeking patterns. How many were in the first person, or in another point of view; how many were sad, melancholy, or even disturbing; how many happy or funny; how many were factual and how many were fictitious? My discoveries got me thinking about how I’ve approached writing haibun in the past, and how I might like to approach writing haibun in the future.
The first thing I noticed was my pieces are predominantly written in the first person. I’m growing bored with my own voice. I come from a journalism background where objective observation and fact gathering are key. A news story approach sometimes works well in haibun. Give it to the reader straight. Let them make their own conclusions. But, too much of that can become dry and insipid.
Lately, I’ve tried to look at events and situations from other points of view, whether its getting inside the head of a homeless woman I met on the street, or the young, southern boy who lives inside my own head. I approach both these real and imaginary people in much the same way—and here is where the journalism degree comes back into play—I talk to them and ask lots of questions. Who are you? Where did you come from? How did you get here? What is your story? And then I let them tell their stories through me. This approach has opened up a whole new world of haibun to me, one that I hope will result in some exciting new work in the years to come.
I’ve written plenty of haibun about me, my memories, my hurts, my disappointments and triumphs and will continue to do so. Some of them have been published and ain’t half bad if I do say so myself. But, I’m ready for a change and eager for a challenge. I’m not of the ilk that believe all haibun must be written from actual experience, but I do think they need to be believable. Even the most fantastical stories can ring true if the writer finds a way to relate to the reader. As Stephen King said in his book, On Writing, “Fiction is a lie, and good fiction is the truth inside the lie.” My dad could embellish a story like nobody’s business and have you believing it until mother said, “Now, Jim, that is not the way that happened.” To which he would reply, “The hell it didn’t!” You see, it was his truth, whether it actually happened that way or not.
Having spent the last four paragraphs telling you how tired I’ve grown with my own voice, I’ve counted no fewer than eleven “I’s,” not to mention the “My’s,” “I’ve’s,” and “I’m’s.” Well, what can I say? “She” is a work in progress.
Heat lightnin’ is what daddy called it. It dances behind the clouds over the mountain, no roll of thunder to accompany it. We sit out back in raggedy lawn chairs swattin’ at skeeters and drinkin’ lemon-ade, just watchin’ the lightnin’ like it was a fireworks show put on special for us, even though the Fourth of July is more than a month away. Me and Betty Ann run around the yard with Mason jars tryin’ to catch fireflies so we can have our own light show up close and personal.
in the fruit cellar
After awhile it starts to sprinkle. Daddy folds up the lawn chairs and mama hollers for us to come inside so the angels can commence to bowlin’. Angels don’t never make no gutter balls neither. It’s a strike every time. You can hear the crack of ball on pins all the way from heaven.
the dog’s tail tucked
between his legs
That night I put my jar on the bathroom counter. I tell mama it’s in case I have to go in the middle of the night I’ll be able to see and won’t pee all over the seat. When I wake up in the mornin’ only the bright sunshine lights the sky. The angels have gone to sleep and alls that’s left in my jar is a mess of dead black bugs that I flush down the commode.
the old see-saw
Frogpond, Vol. 35, no. 1, Winter 2012
Terri L. French lives in Huntsville, Alabama. She is past Southeast Coordinator of The Haiku Society of American and former editor of Prune Juice: Journal of Senryu and Kyoka. Currently, Terri serves on the Board of Directors for The Haiku Foundation. This Spring she will publish her first book of haibun, Keepers. The book combines stories from “fictitious” character, JT Blankenship, haiku by Terri, and illustrations and cover art by Paresh Tiwari.