Bangor, Maine, USA
Flow of Sensibility and Privileging the Link in Haibun
In my 2004 essay “On Defining Haibun to a Western Readership” I first brought up the two key structural elements of haibun as I understood it at that time (beyond autobiographic poetic prose connected to haiku or tanka and including a title): flow of sensibility and privileging the link.1 I still think these are two key issues in writing and reading haibun. Perhaps a kind of compactness also supports the flow of sensibility and privileging the link (though travel writing going on for pages is a kind of haibun as are poetic diaries if they include a flow of sensibility and privileging the link). I once led an international online haibun workshop and contest. The rules were simple and concise: a title, two sentences, a concluding haiku. Here is one of my haibun I tend to favor which was published in 2012. It has a terseness of structure and depth of emotional content that I at the time regarded as some kind of breakthrough:
In answer one of my graduate students held out her hands. This is how one survives. In the Mexican desert I celebrate my 67th birthday by looking at archaic petroglyphs and pictographs, almost always with hand prints among them.
my hand’s shadow
on the wall
Several days later, no closer to the mystery, I wake a year older.
the pale glow around
The flow of sensibility, what makes a poet the unique poet they are and the haibun the poetic entity it is, in this haibun revolves around the mystery of time, self-reflection, artistic creation, and the energetic field within and surrounding us. The Japanese poetically explored such mystery through the poetics of yugen. This flow should move as a motif from the haibun’s title through its concluding haiku or tanka or prose. The emotional quality in a haibun could move from frivolous (Bashō’s snowball haibun) to serious (Bashō’s cicada haiku section from Oku no Hosomichi). Phrasing and diction would express the given sensibility in the given haibun. Without this consistent flow of sensibility the given haibun could appear disjunctive, uneven, and non-poetic.
Japanese poetic forms are dominated by links. In haibun the link is between the poetic prose and the haiku or tanka that connects with it. A link causes a synesthetic jump to occur in the reader’s or listener’s mind, perhaps reproducing the original link created by the given poet. Bashō favored this quality and, probably, the subtler the link the better the haibun. In my haibun the hand and fingers of the two haiku each, presumably, make a special leap, almost metaphoric, to the student’s hands and the ancient hand prints. This haibun link, after all, may be, after the presumed accomplishment of the given poet’s flow of sensibility, the special quality that makes haibun a special form.
1 Simply Haiku 2:6 (November-December 2004). Reprinted variously.
2 Originally published in Haiku Canada Review 6:2 (October 2012), 21. I so liked the haibun that I included it in my contribution to the recent Romanian/American haibun anthology Călatori prin anotimpuri/ Travelers through Seasons Haibun, edited Valentin Nicoliţov and Bruce Ross (Bucureşti: Editura Societăţii Scriitorilor Români, 2016), 203-204.