Ray Rasmussen lives in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada where, in a previous life, he was Professor of Environmental Policy in the School of Business at the University of Alberta and an environmental activist. He currently serves as webmaster for Contemporary Haibun Online and Haibun Today while simultaneously acting as haibun editor for Notes from the Gean.
Beginnings: The Fascination of Haiku and Haiga
How and when, Ray, were you first drawn to haiku and to haibun?
In the late 1980s I took up photography and linked that to an interest in webpage design. I created a website focused on my images of the Kurimoto Japanese Garden.1 I wanted to add Asian poetry to the website, searched the Internet and discovered that strange little beast called haiku. It struck me that haiku composition is akin to photography. Landscape photographers find elements in the chaos of nature that catch the eye and make them stand out visually. Haiku poets do much the same with words.
I next began creating websites that combined photographs and digital art with the haiku of contemporary poets and the Japanese Masters.2 Through this intense interaction, I devoped a deeper feeling for haiku and began to write my own—let's call them "three-liners"—because, alas, the journal editors weren't very happy with my early efforts.
My excursion into haibun began several years later. For some years I had been writing essays about certain events in my personal life and about the environment and politics.3 The haiku form felt too small a snapshot for what I wanted to share and haibun, with its focus on the personal, struck me as a suitable vehicle. British performance poet and humourist Roger McGough4 expressed my need for a more expansive form with this little 5-7-5 ditty:
the only problem
with haiku is that you just
get started and then
The Man Behind the Curtain
You've volunteered your expertise and acted as a technical editor or webmaster for a number of online journals. Your activity, in this sphere, began with the World Haiku Club and World Haiku Review, if I'm not mistaken, and continued, from there, into your involvement with Simply Haiku and Roadrunner. Can you share something of the history of your engagements with these various journals and editors?
When I started learning about haiku through the Internet, it was impossible not to find one's way to the activities of Susumu Takiguchi, chair of the World Haiku Club, an international organization of haiku poets. I noted that the WHC's website was not up to snuff and volunteered to create one that was more effective. Soon after, Takiguchi launched the World Haiku Review which was webmastered by Debi Bender. I helped Bender with special components of each issue. I also participated in the WHC's haiku, multimedia and haibun forums and later became the director of the multimedia forum.
At that same time, Simply Haiku was in its first year of publication under founder and webmaster Rob Mestre and editor-in-chief Robert Wilson. I became aware that SH might fold because Mestre was unable to continue due to personal and health reasons. I wanted to offer something to the haiku community in return for what I was receiving, so I offered to work with Wilson and created a new design and served as webmaster and haiga editor for two years.
Until I took on the design and webmaster services for contemporary haibun online and Haibun Today, the other projects were small in comparison. The Roadrunner Haiku Journal launched it's premiere issue in December of 2004 with a design I created for editors Jason Brown and Scott Metz that centered on sumi-e type painting by Metz. I set up the first few issues after which Brown and Metz took over. I've also redone the websites for Haiku North America and Time Haiku and helped various haijin with their personal websites.
My overall aim in providing web design and webmaster services was to create attractive websites worthy of the lovely haiku-genre poems that they contained. I found it unsettling that so many haiku websites were visual eyesores.
The general reader may possess only a sketchy idea of the time and energy required to produce a literary journal, whether in print or online. A technical editor or webmaster, in particular, is the veritable "person behind the curtain"—someone responsible for much of the heavy work. Because there is little public appreciation or acknowledgement of such personal sacrifice, the rewards, if they exist, must be of a different order. What, in your experience, has made your technical work worth the effort and where, in particular, have you felt challenged or frustrated?
It's true, Jeffrey, that few people—and I'd include the editors of online journals unless they are themselves webmasters—have an appreciation of the time and skill required to set up a well-functioning and attractive online journal. You originally set up and ran the Haibun Today blog. Blog sites are websites-made-easy but are still difficult to administer, so you have a taste for the complexity behind all those nice looking pages. We journal webmasters have a number of issues to deal with while using HTML (Hypertext Markup Language). If you'd like to see the complexity behind a webpage, go up to the "view" menu of your browser and click on "view source"—the source being the HTML computer language behind the website you are viewing. Today, the task is made easier through web design softwares like Dreamweaver. The webmaster's task is also made easier if the journal is focused on a single genre as with Contemporary Haibun Online, Haibun Today, and the Roadrunner Haiku Journal. When journals include multiple genres, the task can be akin to a one day a week job. Bender's webmastering of the World Haiku Review, which was a multi-genre, -language and -region journal, was nothing short of a heroic service to the haiku community. I burned out with the relatively less complex Simply Haiku after only two years.
This isn't to suggest that it's the webmaster who makes a journal work. Simply Haiku, for example, had the recruiting and organizing activities of Wilson as editor-in-chief and the copy and management editorial services of Johnye Strickland and Carol Raisfeld, all very time consuming and essential tasks. However, just as a journal can be lost because the owner-editor has moved on for whatever reason, so can it be lost when it loses its webmaster.
Setting Sail: The Broad Horizon of Haibun
Around 2005, you designed a website for Contemporary Haibun Online and helped launch that publication, probably the first periodical in English dedicated exclusively to haibun. What desire or need inspired the creation of CHO?
After a number of my haibun pieces had been published, I became aware that haibun was the poor relative of haiku. Quarterly print journals like Modern Haiku, Frogpond, Blithe Spirit and Bottle Rockets and the online journals like Simply Haiku were publishing hundreds of haiku, but very few haibun. Other key journals like The Heron's Nest published haiku exclusively. At the time, the only print journal devoted to haibun was Contemporary Haibun, but it's an annual containing haibun that have been published elsewhere during the previous year. Similarly, the Red Moon Anthology which has a haibun section only contains previously published work.
So I approached Contemporary Haibun Editor Jim Kacian and suggested that we create an online quarterly journal dedicated solely to haibun. Jim agreed and brought along his CH co-editors Ken Jones and Bruce Ross. I created the CHO design and became and still am its technical manager (aka webmaster). I'm pleased to see it in it's seventh year of publication.
Far more haibun are now published annually than was previously the case. What, in your opinion, are the positives and negatives of this circumstance? Is there a qualitative as well as quantitative advance? And has anything been lost during haibun's recent expansion?
There has been an obvious quantative advance with the presence of both CHO and HT and the start-up of new journals like Notes from the Gean which now has a haibun section. Does 'quantity' work to the good of the genre? My answer is 'yes' at this point in time for several reasons. Literary editors exercise poetic sensibilities when deciding to accept or reject a piece. Overall, more journals (and editors) means that more sensibilities are at play and, thus, that more diverse pieces are likely to be published, including those that deviate from the orthodoxy that has already gathered around haibun composition just as it did decades earlier around haiku composition. Some haibun editors, as one example, will not accept prose plus tanka (tanka prose), while others will. That writers can experiment with the form and have their work published in a journal with experienced editors encourages development of the genre and of its practitioners. And some editors have greater or even exclusive experience with one genre (e.g., haiku as opposed to haibun or prose composition). Thus some editors will focus primarily on the haiku and on the pronounced rule that 'the haiku must stand alone' while others will focus on the prose and a haiku that is supported by the prose.
In saying this, I have a caveat in mind. Obviously, it takes more than a multiplicity of journal outlets to make a form viable. While the editors will have different sensibilities, they also need to be respected both by writers for their ability to judge and by readers for their ability to present good work. So just anyone hanging out an online haibun journal shingle won't do.
I presume that your commitment to CHO coincides with an increased personal interest in haibun as over-and-against haiku.
One can't have an interest in writing haibun without an interest in writing competent haiku. In my view, it's not just the prose style (succinct, haiku-like, etc.) but also the link to a haiku that makes a haibun something more than a journal entry, a short fictional story, a prose poem or an essay. But it's true that the story that I get to tell via the prose part of the haibun is what keeps me writing and wanting to promote the haibun form.
You were instrumental in founding the Writer's Workshop, Ray, during the same period as CHO's advent. It is fair to observe that the Workshop has played a quiet but significant role in the development and maturation of many haibun writers. Perhaps you would like to reflect upon the Workshop.
Not many people know about the Writer's Workshop, Jeffrey. As a new writer I felt increasingly frustrated by the lack of mentoring and feedback available in various online forums. In my experience, the forums consisted of writers posting work that rarely was submitted for or reached publication and that mostly received what are best called 'attaboys'—diplomatically encouraging responses to the posted work, however good or bad. In short, the online venues tended to be places where people shared, but did not seem to have an interest in developing their work. This isn't to say that sharing isn't an important service provided by such forums. There's a social aspect to sharing poetry and many writers don't aspire to publication. I had also asked various haiku and haibun poets for feedback and learned that most were too busy with their own writing to offer sustained mentoring. I benefited early on through the WHC haiku workshops for new writers, but that was a rare opportunity that no longer exists.
It was with that lack of mentoring in mind that Lynn Edge and I formed the Writer's Workshop in 2004. Initially the workshop consisted of just a few writers new to haibun who wanted to improve their writing and succeed in having it published. Our aim was to provide a developmental forum where candid feedback was the norm, not the rare exception. Since those beginnings, about ten writers have been involved in any given year.
As to the success of the WW, the past and present members appear regularly in all of the haiku journals and it would be tempting to attribute some of their success to the workshop. However, I can only speak for myself as to its value. Whatever personal poetic sensibility sparks a fellow member to suggest a problem with one of my pieces, a door is inevitably opened that I most often enter and use as the basis for revisions. After several cycles of revisions (we also post and receive comments on revisions), I usually feel better about the piece and more confident about submitting it.
The Whole Story: One Approach to Haibun Composition
I want to turn now to a discussion of your writing as against the various aspects of your service, if you will, to the haikai community. Your published haibun are numerous. An attempt to single out one as representative or characteristic would likely be misleading. Instead, I would prefer to quote one of your titles that I know well and simply allow you to place it, for the reader, in its proper context.
"Breakfast without a newspaper is a horse without a saddle."
—Edward R. Murrow
I am six months into my experiment of not reading the daily newspaper at breakfast. Instead I read essays, including one by E.B. White, who, in response to Murrow's metaphor, called breakfast "the hour when we sit munching stale discouragement along with fresh toast." Breakfast is more enjoyable, but I sometimes feel I've missed something important—something others know that I don't but should. Stretching Murrow's metaphor, it's me that's unsaddled—riderless. This morning, as I walk the dog on the berm overlooking the Whitemud Freeway, there's the usual tangle of commuters, all hurrying somewhere.
the cat mews
over her empty bowl
An important aspect of my storytelling is an intent to express the fullness of the human psyche or as Jungian psychologists would put it, the shadow side, as well as the more open or socially acceptable side of the self.6 "Unsaddled" isn't an abstract essay on the pros and cons of retirement. Nor is it a piece about the joys of retirement. Instead it offers a glimpse of how one person experiences post-retirement mornings. Each of my haibun 'outs' the real me as best I know myself. Many contain observations and feelings that would not usually be discussed openly and that might be uncomfortable for others to read. This idea of 'outing' oneself is not very common if I am to judge by the haibun I read in the journals. Nor should it necessarily be. But often I get the impression that for some writers, life is but a walk in a garden amongst flowers and butterflies. "Unsaddled" is an attempt to expose the light and dark sides of retirement as I experience them.
A consequence of writing with this intent is a feeling of vulnerability. What will others make of this true aspect of myself? One test I have of my work is how vulnerable I feel when I send a piece off for publication or when I send it to family or friends. I remember particularly a comment from a member of the Writer's Workshop asking whether I really wanted to publish a piece about a visit to a STD clinic. She felt that it was too personal and revealing. It is very personal and I did feel vulnerable in sharing it, but that piece entitled "Public Exposure" appears in this issue of Haibun Today.
Something else that I've had to come to grips with, Jeffrey, is that storytelling requires embellishment and omission. My aim is to give a feel for a true experience, but not to describe it in such precise detail that it becomes boring to read. Each piece requires judgments about whether the embellishments move the piece too far in the direction of 'unreal' (aka fictional) or incomplete (e.g., lacking significant detail). In short, I see a key characteristic of haibun as involving the obvious 'presentation of self,'7 while telling the story in an enticing and succinct way.
A related concern is how to make the prose 'haiku-like.' When I first drafted "Unsaddled," it had four times as many words. It took nine drafts and copious feedback from my fellow writers to cut it to the bone. Paul Conneally, once the director of the WHC's haibun forum, recommended stripping a first draft down into phrases and leaving out the connective tissue. From that set of haiku-like phrases, one rebuilds the haibun. Some writers have told me that the spontaneity of the first draft creates a spark that can be lost with too much polishing. While this may be true, I think that the natural feel comes back into a piece if the writer works hard enough in the revisions. In my view, spontaneous first drafts often fail because of a lack of well thought-out structure and poor wordsmithing.
Another aspect of my writing is that I've connected my experience in "Unsaddled" to that of writers whom I admire. I like to emphasize that a person's experiences today are common to others writing from the past. When I integrate work from other writers into my haibun, I feel as if that person's voice has spoken directly to me–that we've become better acquainted. In some cases, I will model my haibun on another poet's work.8 I do this because a theme in the poem resonated in me and I wanted to delve more deeply into that theme with my own writing and experience.
Related to this is that I'd like my haibun to offer the possibility of introspection to the reader. While a young person or a non-retiree reading "Unsaddled" will not be likely to identify with my experience, I think that most retirees will. If I share something real about my inner world, perhaps others will find it to be of value.
A final aspect of my writing has to do with the common pronouncement that the haiku must stand alone. I suppose that the haiku in "Unsaddled" can stand alone, but it doesn't matter to me whether it does. The key for me is whether the poem enhances the prose and brings about a mental shift on the part of the reader from the ease of reading of a good short story to the more difficult, almost meditative state, required in reading a haiku.
Dialogue Within, Dialogue Without
Many writers can identify readily a composition that has special significance in their development. I imposed my selection from your work upon you in my earlier question. I invite you, Ray, to make your own selection and to discuss the personal importance of this particular haibun to its author.
I'll pick one that demonstrates some characteristics of my writing that perhaps aren't very common in haibun composition and that will illustrate a few aspects of my writing beyond those I discussed above.
Trying It On9
"I feel so comfortable with you," she says, her hand lightly brushing my chest.
Comfortable? I try wearing the word. It's like my bathrobe that long ago should have been rag-bagged. Soft and warm . . . yet so full of holes. Or like the overstuffed chair that Dad fell asleep in while watching golf on TV.
"Comfortable," I say to her. "Instead how about 'When I'm with you I feel like a baby bird about to make her first leap into space?' Okay, you're not a young chick. Then how about, 'I feel like a matador dancing with a flame-snorting bull?' Or better yet, 'I love the tension I feel when you take off your biker boots revealing the cobra tattoo etched on your big toe nail?'"
passing the tattoo parlor
Her hand is stroking that place just below my beltline, that uncomfortable zone where my stomach bulges more than I want it to, where her dinner rests so comfortably.
a motorcycle catalogue
in the mail
Many of my haibun contain internal dialogues and/or dialogues taken from exchanges with other persons. When I started writing what I call "dialogue haibun," some of the members of the Writer's Workshop suggested that I might have trouble finding an editor who would accept them. But I've gotten a very good reception from a variety of editors. I select a dialogue as a subject for the same reason others might select an outstanding moment in nature or a significant aspect of a travel journey. Something in the dialogue led to an emotional reaction or to feeling unfinished about what transpired.
Paragraph 1 contains part of a dialogue initiated by a woman I had been dating steadily for several months.
Paragraph 2 switches to what I call an internal dialogue—my unspoken musings about her initial statement. These musings aren't what really went though my mind at the time. They're a polished embellishment, hopefully funny, of my associations with the appellation "comfortable."
Paragraph 3 is a gross embellishment of what I replied at the time and is meant to provide a lightness by exaggerating my reaction. As you may guess, Jeffrey, poets like Issa who used humor have influenced my writing. I can't know whether readers will find humor in the piece, but I enjoyed letting my "macho man" have a full fling at the word "comfortable."
Both haiku are embellished. I rode a motorcycle when I was younger and often have the urge to buy a Harley—not the Hell's Angels type, but more the road-trip bike. While a catalogue didn't arrive in the mail, a friend, tired of hearing me express my desire for a bike, gave me a Harley catalogue. Nor did I pass a tattoo parlor three times. The haiku was meant to be a humorous depiction of a man who is, in fact, ambivalent about having a tattoo, but who kind of wants one. That's me. So no, I don't have a cobra tattoo etched on my big toenail or anywhere else.
You published your first haibun in 2003, if I'm not mistaken. What has changed in your writing, in terms of style or content, over that period? And what elements or preoccupations, in your view, have remained fairly constant?
Previous to writing haiku and haibun, I wrote essays and, of course, articles throughout my career as an academic social scientist. So the important transformation was from writing longish, and as I reread them, rather boorish didactic essays. My essay on the World Trade Organization, "Making Sense of Seattle," serves as an example.10 The essay "Anas and the Ice Flow"11 serves as an example of the transformation from the didactic to a haibun style as "Journey to the Far North."12 Another change is now that I have a large body of published haibun, I've begun to focus on putting together themed collections. The first of these is the Canyonlands Journal website,13 which uses a mix of photographs and haibun to depict my explorations of the primitive canyon country of southern Utah.
But perhaps the biggest change has to do with subject matter as opposed to style. Over the last eight years, my writing has shifted from my experiences in exploring wilderness areas to four additional themes some of which I've begun to draft as websites: 1) retirement and aging,14 2) fall romance—the world of dating for those of us who are past middle age and our first marriages,15 3) family issues—memories of parents, marriage issues, divorce, the difficulties of raising children in the era of drugs, sex and the new media, and 4) loss—the death of parents, friends, spouses, children and even pets.
I've also begun writing articles and doing reviews and interviews.16 In your own essays, Jeffrey, you've pointed out that to be viable and to grow a genre needs a body of criticism. Take a look at any journal and you'll note that most of the literary criticism is focused on haiku. Here again, the haibun genre is the poor relative, but that's to be expected at this early stage of the genre's life. Having made a small beginning in this area, I'm now more aware of and impressed by the skill and devotion of those involved in producing competent literary criticism.
Word and Image
Your Canyonlands Journal (2010) combines your interests in writing with photographs of the canyon country of Utah and New Mexico. How does this recent project relate to your previous work in wedding haikai to photography?
Most of my previous haiga-type work was the usual mix of a single image coupled with a single poem or collections consisting of the work of other poets coupled with my photography. The Canyonlands Journal is different in that it's a collection of my published haibun mixed with images that aren't necessarily associated with a particular haibun and that don't have a poem directly attached to them. The haibun and images stand on their own pages. My aim was to give the reader a feel for the visual beauty and variety of Utah's canyon lands through a mix of photography and writing. Because I'm a photographer, I tend to think that words alone can not transmit the exquisite beauty of a landscape like the canyon country of southern Utah. The images provide a visual context for the haibun.
Haiga are still painted by some poets in the traditional manner while other haiga mix watercolor, collage, digital and other media with haiku. Some purists may be dismissive of efforts, like your own, that rely on the camera instead of the brush. How, beyond personal preference, does photography add something to haiku? Or, to pose the question differently, do haiku and photography share an aesthetic principle that argues for the adoption of the photograph as a fit medium for haiga?
Jeffrey, in one of your essays you stated, "if an individual haiku does truly 'stand alone,' why encumber it with prose at all."17 In the context of haiga, we can also ask, why marry a poem to an image? In short, why haiga of any stripe? One reason that some might give is that the early masters like Basho and Buson did so and their work became the foundation for contemporary haiga—the haiga 'bible' so to speak—for the world beyond Japan. These early haiga masters used two elements, ink brush painting and a haiku expressed through calligraphy. It may be true that there are purists who maintain that haiga should be hand-painted art with hand-painted calligraphic text. However, most practitioners and editors seem to accept that two legitimate forms are evolving in contemporary haiga practice. When I was the haiga editor for Simply Haiku, we divided the haiga section into two categories: traditional and new forms that included digital art and photography. Haigaonline similarly divides its offerings into traditional and contemporary haiga.
Pertaining to this business of mixing images and poems, I believe that there are two types of readers. Some respond primarily to words and don't require or may not want a visual supplement. These are people who, for example, may have felt disappointed as was I with the film Lord of the Rings because their mental images of Tolkein's Hobbits, Elves, Dwarfs and Orcs are different, and often preferable, to those offered by the film maker. Others tend to feel helped by visual cues in forming a deeper association with a poem or prose passage. Thus many books contain visual images and many people prefer seeing a film to reading a book. On the other hand, it could be argued that presenting a visual element along with a poem is a kind of crutch that prevents a person from developing the ability to go deeply into the words of a poem. And some have argued that the accumulation of visual detail lessens or even eliminates an ambiguity that is desirable in poetry.
There are several issues that will undoubtedly be discussed with some vigor over the next decades of practice and publication of contemporary haiga. How good does the art or photography have to be? Many of today's practitioners are neither good artists nor good photographers, but then Basho wasn't known as a very good artist either. Perhaps his rather primitive paintings and calligraphy give us a deeper feel for the poet's work or perhaps Basho simply enjoyed exploring his poetry in visual form. Given that fine art is more likely to come from the hand of a person who has been at it for some time and that photographs are relatively easy to make, it's no surprise that there's a reasonable amount of good artwork done by haiga painters and a lot of not-so-great photography offered by haiga photographers. Related to this is whether photography is considered to be fine art, akin to painting, or something less demanding. After all, anyone can produce a reasonable snapshot with today's cameras. In my view, dedicated photographers are producing artwork in a different, modern form. I also believe that the quality of artwork and photography will continue to rise as the number of practitioners and their experience with the form increases.
My personal answer as to the why of an image-poem mix is that I enjoy making images and associating them with a verbal snapshot. The creation of a visual image for a haiku helps me to explore the haiku. Alternatively, the composition of a haiku to marry an image helps me to go deeper into why I captured the image and what I see in it.
And what relation do electronic publications, such as your website journal or e-books, have to the traditional paperback or hardcover poetry volume? Can the print and electronic media coexist?
With respect to print vs. electronic media (webpage, blog, ebook), the issue is an easy one for me. It's very expensive to produce a print book with good photographic quality. An image that looks great on a backlit computer screen won't look nearly as good on paper unless the image, the printing process and the paper are all of very high quality. Try printing one of your own snapshots on plain paper and you'll immediately understand what I mean. Art galleries utilize special lighting to enhance the viewing of photographic prints. While most chapbooks and publications by small poetry houses are at best a break-even possibility, a collection of poetry plus well-done images tends to be very costly and almost certainly won't break even. Most self-publishing poets and small-house publishers of poetry don't have the deep pockets to support such work.
But all is not lost. I am considering turning my collections into ebooks that can be downloaded on a medium other than a computer screen, e.g., on a Kindle or iPad ebook reader. In all cases, website, blogsite, ebook, the images can look very good without the excess costs associated with a print book.
Another issue has to do with durability. I suppose there's an irony that haijin may wish to have their writing endure forever. While an academic, I became aware of the cost problems in preserving books in university libraries. Of course, many have made a transition, first to micro-film and later to electronic storage. Whether electronic media will prove more durable and less costly to store remains to be seen. Websites and blogs tend to disappear when their creators lose interest or pass away. And electronic media is constantly changing which makes the viewing of present works with future technology an iffy prospect. Try, for example, buying a device that will still play tapes.
With respect to the storage of haiku-genre materials, I'm aware that some libraries are now making efforts to ensure that some online materials are preserved. Journals like Simply Haiku, Haibun Today and Contemporary Haibun Online should be stored by some electronic cataloging system. One hopes that an organization like the newly formed Haiku Foundation18 will assume this role. Otherwise our electronic journals may suffer the fate of the World Haiku Review which for now has unfortunately disappeared.
As to whether the two forms, paper and electronic, can coexist, I tend to think that print collections of poetry will continue to exist because many people like the feel of a book, particularly a small collection of poetry, and the look of books in their bookshelves and on their table tops.
Haibun in the Next Decade
One year ago, you joined the staff of Notes from the Gean as haibun editor. Literary editing requires closer contact with contributors than does technical editing. Has this new role altered your perspective on the haibun community? Or has it confirmed your prior opinions?
I've been reluctant to serve as an editor, in part because it's a lot of work to conscientiously read submissions and make a decision, and in part because I hate to say 'No' to any writer who is giving haibun a try. I'm also aware of my biases in haibun composition and feel awkward being a judge of another person's work.
In the end, I said yes to the editors at Notes from the Gean because I admired them as writers and thought that a haibun section would be an important addition. I also felt that I should serve the haiku community as well as receive the benefits of the work of the editors who have dedicated themselves to that task.
The work submitted to Notes often leads me to think that if only the writers were members of a writing workshop, their pieces could be greatly enhanced through candid feedback from other writers and the redrafting process. But there aren't many opportunities for detailed feedback prior to submission for publication. So that leaves the task to the editors. Many editors won't provide feedback because there is often an adverse response from the writers. But like you, Jeffrey, at Haibun Today, and Lynne Rees when she was haibun editor for Simply Haiku, I provide feedback as part of my practice. This makes editing a lot more work. And I've had the predictable mixed reactions, some negative, but mostly positive. A danger is that a writer will feel bound to accept an editor's suggestions as a means of getting his or her work published. A further danger is that an editor's feedback creates an implicit demand for revisions fitting the editor's style. Thus, without meaning to, editors may impose their voices and styles on the writer and variety may be diminished.
What role do you foresee for Notes from the Gean, and for other general short form poetry journals like it, in the future growth of haibun?
I think that the present mix of print and online journals publishing haibun is about right—that is, dedicated writers can now get their work published, particularly if they're willing to accept feedback and the ups and downs of rejection, or as a friend has put it, of 'subjection.' The presence of online journals permits the publishing of long haibun and tanka prose pieces whereas it seems that some print journal editors are either unable or unwilling to devote the space required by a haibun. Corresponding with this recent growth of haibun venues, there are a number of new writers working in the genre. A reasonable maturity in writing comes after what? 5 or 10 years? longer? So the prospects are good that we'll have a polished new cadre appearing in future issues and that the overall quality of writing will continue to improve. I don't know how to fix the lack of mentoring or candid feedback. At CHO, we've taken the "editor's choice" idea from THN and added an "editor's pick" to each issue so that writers can get a glimpse into what one of our editors sees in a piece.
Overall, the genre doesn't need new journals at this point. We need forums with candid feedback processes and literary commentary of published work to help new writers develop their skills. I had the thought that it would be of value to create a publication that shows how a published haibun developed from draft to draft and the kind of feedback that was provided by other writers. I'm tempted to do this as a haibun-genre website. It would be helpful if a beginners' workshop for haibun composition were available. But who will volunteer to lead it?
I want to thank you, Ray, for your patience and participation in this interview. One last question, if I may. How would you compare the haibun scene of today to that of five or seven years ago? What are the prospects for haibun tomorrow?
I like to think that the popularity of haibun—both the reading of and writing of the form—will continue to grow. There's been a parallel growth of the similar forms called flash fiction and prose poems. In part, that's because haibun, flash fiction and prose poems are forms of storytelling and it's easy for the general reader to relate to a well-told story.
I also think that the growth of haibun composition and readership will eventually lead to a further growth in haiku readership and comprehension. Reading a haiku is an acquired skill, just as reading a complex poem with obscure allusions is an acquired skill. So the prose part of the haibun, the more accessible story, serves as the lure to reading and understanding haiku.
In closing, I'll refer to ex-poet laureate of the U.S., Billy Collins who has produced a best-selling collection of poems selected for being reader-friendly.19 His premise is that readership of poetry will grow provided that there are viable pathways into the genre for new readers. In similar vein, I see a need for collections of reader-friendly genres like haibun which, in turn, should lead to a greater appreciation of what I consider to be the more difficult-to-grasp and elusive haiku.
1. Kurimoto Japanese Garden: A website by Ray Rasmussen
2. Haiga websites by Ray Rasmussen: Appletree; Bamboo Rake; Spring Haiku; Haiga-ContemporaryPoets; Japanese Poets; Haiku Dreams.
3. An example of an essay is "Making Sense of Seattle", Folio, University of Alberta Press. Other essays are found at my website "Writing & Poetry."
4. Robert McGough, Famous Poets and Poems website.
5. R. Rasmussen, "Unsaddled," Haibun Today, Jan. 6, 2008.
6. "Shadow Psychology," Wikipedia.
7. See R. Rasmussen, "Characteristics of Contemporary English-language Haibun," Haibun Today, December 9, 2007.
8. See as examples: "Day's End," Modern Haibun and Tanka Prose, #2, 2009 which was modelled on Tu Fu's poem with the same title in David Hinton, The Selected Poems of Tu Fu, New York: New Directions Publ. Corp., 1989. Tu Fu (712–770) was a prominent Chinese poet of the Tang Dynasty; and "Moonlit Trail," CHO, 1:2, Sept. 2005 which was modelled on the William Stafford poem, "A Certain Bend."
9. R. Rasmussen, "Trying It On," Frogpond, 33:1 (2010).
10. R. Rasmussen, "Making Sense of Seattle," Folio, the University of Alberta Press, 2000.
11. R. Rasmussen, "Anas and the Ice Floe," Alberta Magazine, 2001.
12. R. Rasmussen, "Journey to the Far North," Contemporary Haibun Online, 3:3 (September, 2007)
13. R. Rasmussen, Canyonlands Journal Website, 2010.
14. R. Rasmussen, Day's End: Poetry and Photography about Aging.
15. R. Rasmussen, Romance under a Waning Moon: Later in Life Romantic Relationships.
16. See "A Title is a Title is a Title—Or Is It? The Unexplored role in Haibun Composition," Frogpond, Fall 2011; "Haibun Noir: Jeffrey Winke's I'll Tell You So," Haibun Today, 4:2, June 2010; "Graphic Haibun: An Interview with Linda Papanicolaou," Haibun Today, Jan. 22, 2008; "Review of The Tanka Prose Anthology," Haibun Today, Dec. 11, 2008.
17. Jeffrey Woodward, "Thinking It Through or A Few Innocent Questions: One Relation of Haiku to Prose in Haibun," Frogpond 32:3 (2009).
18. The Haiku Foundation
19. Billy Collins (Ed.), Poetry 180: Turning back to Poetry, Random House Trade Paperbacks, New York, 2003.