My Journey with Haiku and Haibun
The sun outside the window is an egg yolk. Oozing from the centre-cut like warmth. Spilling over the dense, if ancient, foliage of the banyan. I sit by this window looking back at the journey of last five years. Thinking about the small café where I chanced upon haiku for the first time. Six disparate lonesome pieces languishing in a slim anthology of poetry. It would take me five months to write my first publication-worthy piece, another seven before I would realise that for the first time in years, I was truly aware of my surroundings: the colour of the sky, the shape of clouds, the hanging promise of drizzle in the gentle breeze, the taste of a wild rose, and the impatient argument of jungle babblers. Haiku helped me see things anew and embrace the world.
But it was haibun that spoke to the story teller within me. Haibun at the very basic level might be seen as blocks of prose interspersed with haiku. And that’s how simplistic it could be. Only it isn’t. A good haibun is the act of juggling prose and poetry. It plays with a delicate balance where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Or at least it should be. The haiku, when used right, links, shifts and leaps beyond the scope of the prose to enrich the reading experience.
This interplay of prose and poetry is what pulls me closer to haibun as a form. If the prose is a meandering path, the haiku are birdcalls. They guide the traveller to reach out for the unexplored. When the prose becomes a room, haiku allows us a window to the scenes unfolding in the street below without ever leaving that room.
Those of us who write poetry believe we see the world differently. And yet all we ever try to achieve is the universality of human condition and emotion. My haibun unfold in the country of my birth and are planted in the soil of relationships. In one way or another they explore the topography, the highs and lows, and the inadequacies of those relationships. They were the stories that wouldn’t take no for an answer.
I believe haibun has also been my preferred form as it crosses path with one of India’s oldest forms of writing - Smriti (literally memory). Some of the most well-known epics of India, including “Ramayana” have been written in this form. The “I” in haibun is thus ubiquitous. Even when the poet writes in a different voice, he/she becomes that voice – the person whose story is being told.
Take my haibun “Ragdolls” as an example. It is based on a story of childhood sexual abuse related over a long-distance call. When I heard my friend, even though she narrated it in an almost matter-of-fact tone, my skin crawled. I lived it for days. I could feel that I was becoming her. I felt a searing anger and yet was powerless to do anything about it. For a while, I was distrustful of everyone around me.
When I finally decided to write about it, wrapped in layers of the imaginary, I took her voice. I would never be able to decode where “I” ends, and “she” begins.
All day long, we sit on the crumbling wall of the cemetery. Our feet, clad in mud-crusted Mary Janes, dangle inches above the wild grass.
There is silence, a blanket of windless heat punctuated by the cawing of crows and the chattering of squirrels, until the first fat bullets of rain lodge themselves on our necks.
We shoulder our bags, put on rain capes and begin the long walk back. We must have looked hunchbacked, the capes bulging over our oversized school bags. Once this would have been reason enough for ceaseless bouts of laughter, we may even have splashed about in the muddy puddles or tried to catch the raindrops on our tongues. Not today.
roar of rain . . .
knowing what she means
by “he touches me"
Previously Published in Open: Journal of Arts & Letters, Jun 17
Poet, artist, and editor Paresh Tiwari has been widely published, especially in the sub-genre of Japanese poetry. A Pushcart Prize nominee, he has two widely acclaimed collections of haibun: An Inch of Sky and Raindrops chasing Raindrops, his latest collection. Raindrops was the recipient of the Touchstone Distinguished Book Awards (2017). Both books are available on Amazon.
Paresh is the serving haibun editor of the literary magazine Narrow Road, a tri-annual publication. He has read his works at various literature festivals, cafés, theatres, galleries and has conducted haibun workshops at venues across India in an attempt to dismantle the boundaries that have kept the various forms of poetry and literature from sharing the same spaces.