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A Quarterly Journal
Jeffrey Woodward, Founder & Owner
Ray Rasmussen, General Editor

Volume 12, Number 1, March 2018

Maxianne Berger

Montreal, Quebec, Canada

On Danièle Duteil’s Haibun and Tanka Prose in French

Danièle Duteil lives in Morbihan, in Brittany, France, very close to nature. She writes haiku, haibun and tanka. However, to say only that would be reductive because her actual engagement with Japanese genres in French is more involved and multifaceted. She writes book reviews for several journals, has given numerous presentations at conferences, facilitates introductory-level haiku workshops, and serves as sabakite for renku.

Duteil has authored or co-authored several books, among which is Écouter les heures (Listening to the hours), published by the Association pour la promotion du haïku (the Association for the promotion of haiku), which won the association’s 2013 Prix du livre (book prize). Her 2014 Au bord de nulle part: haïku senryū tanka (next to nowhere), published by Pippa, is illustrated by Ion Codrescu. She edited the anthology of haibun in French, Chemins croisés (crossing paths) published by Pippa in 2014. Her most recent book is a collection of response tanka with Janick Belleau, de Villes en Rives (from cities to shores), published in 2017 by les Éditions du tanka francophone [francophone* tanka publications].

In 2011 Duteil founded, and is still president of the Association Francophone pour les auteurs de haïbun, l'Étroit chemin (AFAH; francophone association of haibun authors, the narrow road).

She also established, and continues to edit, the AFAH’s online journal, L'écho de l'étroit chemin (echo of the narrow road) which publishes tanka prose as well as haibun.

Duteil’s involvement with haibun and tanka prose includes an AFAH partnership with Patrick Simon’s Revue du Tanka Francophone ([francophone tanka revue]; RTF). The winners of the first contest are published in RTF 30 (February, 2017).

The next set of winners of the contest will appear in RTF 33 (February, 2018). The AFAH and RTF partnership seems to be on-going. Also ongoing is her industriousness. As I write this profile she has two more anthologies in the pipes: one of haiku by women, and the other of senryu. Both are forthcoming in 2018.

Note: The terms “francophone” and “anglophone” are used in Canada to distinguish between speakers and writers of the language, versus “French” and “English,” citizens of the countries. For purposes of inclusion, writing organizations in Europe have started to use the term “francophone” as well.

Haibun and Tanka Prose: Some Aspects to Think About

Danièle Duteil

Morbihan, France

(translated by Maxianne Berger)

Frontnote by Maxine Berger: The purpose of Duteil’s article is to provide uninitiated writers with basic information about the two genres – the classical traditions underlying them, and a brief explanation of the poetic tension between prose and poems in the two genres. In reading her article, you will come across some interesting observations that propose thoughtful differences between haibun and tanka prose.

Haibun is a literary composition in which prose and haiku come together as a brief poetic narrative of a real or imagined experience.

Haibun is often, but not exclusively, a travel journal, the most well-known being the major work of the poet Matsuo Basho (1644-1694), Hoku no hoso michi, L’Étroit chemin du fond [the narrow road to the interior], translated and annotated by Alain Walker, published by William Blake & Co, [2008]. Other translations include La Sente étroite du Bout-du-Monde, [the narrow trail at the end of the world], Sur le chemin étroit du Nord profond [on the narrow road to the deep North] and also Le Chemin étroit vers les contrées du Nord [the narrow road to the North lands].

Since I write haiku, tanka and haibun, I consider these three genres to be very different but also complementary. Haiku releases the moment and spontaneity; tanka prolongs experiences by sublimating them much as a song gives voice to emotion; haibun, a mix of prose and haiku-poetry, lays out life in various ways, and in our three-time dimensions. When a haiku appears within a haibun, it introduces a diversion. The gaze, reoriented, suddenly focuses on what is immediate and concrete, “the here and now.” Therefore, it isn’t a trite illustration of the theme: blooming in the folds of prose, it relates to the story very subtly. This unexpected diversion must jump out as naturally as possible, and delight the reader, that is, leave a strong impression. As well, so as not to dull this pleasure, the poet must take care not to sprinkle the haibun with too many haiku, but rather to judiciously time their appearance. The fewer the haiku, the greater their power. Even one can be enough, if positioned at the end.

Tanka prose harkens back to the beginnings of Japanese literature. Over ten centuries later, it continues to be written. It seems that prose and tanka have been together forever. What’s more, tanka held a major place in the letters people wrote each other. Thus, tanka called for a response. The marriage of prose and poetry is found in poem-tales and -stories (uta monogatori), autobiographies, journals, and diaries (nikki). Of note, we find texts of this sort penned by women: they had begun writing in Japanese, while men of the Imperial court were still using Chinese.

No doubt the oldest of these is Ise monogatari Contes d’Ise [The Tales of Ise], likely written at the very beginning of the tenth century. It includes 143 anecdotes and tales interspersed with 209 waka. However, in many of the ancient texts, the purpose of the prose is to annotate the poems that constitute the heart of the text. Such is the case for Tosa Nikki – Le Journal de Tosa [Tosa Diary], by Ki No Tsurayuki. In contemporary tanka prose in English, it is not unusual to read texts that are very brief, composed of a single concise paragraph preceded or (more commonly) followed by a single tanka. In many cases, tanka prose is less than half a page long. (1)

In looking at texts published in French, we find that tanka imposes itself in the prose almost like a narrative within the narrative. At times it plays its part in another dimension, and can produce an interesting spatio-temporal shift. Within prose set in the present, the tanka, past tense or near future (2) ably displaces the setting, creating bridges between the present moment’s experience within the prose setting, and what was or soon will be. When a tanka prose ends with a tanka, there can be an even stronger invitation to thought and reverie upon leaving the text, through that portal contained in its final two lines.

1. Duteil is writing for a francophone readership. The brevity of haibun and tanka prose in English is noteworthy because in French, they are much, much longer. I propose two possible reasons for this: there are far fewer poets writing in French than in English, so perforce fewer excellent submissions to accommodate in the limited pages of a journal. On the other hand, the haibun in the two collections from Ottawa’s Éditions David, which I’ve added to Duteil’s bibliography, are similar in length to what we usually find in English. It is also possible that francophone poets are more comfortable with longer haibun because of their relationship with the personal essay. In France, this form dates to Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592), and excerpts from his Essais are part of sixteenth-century literary studies in the high-school curriculum. MB

2. The “near future” is a direct translation of the French “futur proche.” In French, it is a verb phrase formed by the verb “aller” (to go) followed by the infinitive. In English it can be known as the “going-to” future. MB



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