Guidelines for Our Would-be Contributors
To write a good, publishable haibun is quite a challenge. A childhood reminiscence or a holiday letter may be a promising start, but no more than a start. It's not sufficient to write up an experience as casually as if sharing it with a friend. And then tacking on a haiku just because a haibun has to have one, doesn't make the grade, either.
To start with, it's rarely worth attempting to write a haibun unless you have evidence that you can write a good haiku. One way to determine this is to find out whether your haiku are publishable by sending them off to a haiku journal with respected editors or by joining an online writers group and asking for feedback. And, of course, it's important to develop your sensibilities about haiku – you can do this by reading haiku published in current journals.
Secondly, the ability to write good prose is essential. The most common mark of the amateur is to try too hard, with fruity, overblown writing, sinking under the weight of its adjectives. Haibun are members of the haiku family, calling for a style of prose "written in the spirit of haiku", as Makoto Ueda puts it. The sentences are often short and crisp with an easy-going flow, and may eschew the niceties of grammar to achieve this effect. Abstract ideas and opinions, and anything else that is writer-centric have no place. If you want to write about love or any other such emotion, then the feeling needs to be expressed in appropriate imagery drawn from experience and not by simply expressing your thoughts about the matter or by creating a fictional romance story. Avoid any tendency to heavy-handedness, cleverness, or "making an impression" as the ego throws its weight about. The ideal is a watercolour rather than a painting in oils. As with the haiku, reading successful haibun will help attune you to prose that carries the 'spirit of haiku.'
When you have one or more successful haiku in your notebook, they may well inspire and suggest the prose to complete a haibun. Alternatively, some writers come up with the prose first, and then search their haiku notebook for an acceptable "fit". However, if you have a talent for imaginative recall of past experiences, combined with a strongly suggestive prose narrative, than making up a "desk haiku" may do the job very well.
Thirdly, the haiku and prose are interactive – they must work together and yet should not be too closely related. A haiku that can simply be folded into the prose doesn't work. One that suggests a related theme, but doesn't seem to be an extension of the prose is more likely to capture an editor's attention.
Finally, before you send forth your creation to the editors, in hope they will send it out to the world, please put it in a drawer for a few days to cool off. Then take it out and test it against the above criteria. Consider exposing it to a friend for a critique, or, better still, send (it) to an e-mail group of fellow haibuneers.
At last, send us your text transformed.
For my part, reading a pleasing haibun can lighten my heart and make my evening.