Haibun Today

A Quarterly Journal
Jeffrey Woodward, Editor
Volume 5, Number 1, March 2011

Signposts, Milestones and the Haibun Journey

Several common threads run through the critical and poetic works in this issue of Haibun Today. Some of these topics show a continuity with interests addressed here over the past five years while yet others may represent new departures. Let these brief notes, then, stand as signposts to mark our progress in this journey and to point, if you will, to the terrain ahead.

Word and Image

Linda Papanicolaou, in "Ray Rasmussen's Canyonlands Journal: A Brief Case Study of Cinematic Gaze in Multimedia Haibun," closely examines the relation between the haibun and photographs that constitute Rasmussen's website homage to the canyon country of the American Southwest. She is particularly suited, as an art educator and editor of haigaonline, to open a discussion of the wedding of word and image within the haibun genre. Papanicolaou's work of the recent past has focused upon what she has dubbed, in her Haibun Today interview of 2008, as "Graphic Haibun." Indeed, she offers a recent composition of this nature, entitled "The Siren Cup," in this issue.

Two other current contributors, Gary LeBel and Stanley Pelter, are engaged in a similar adventure. In LeBel's ")pEEp(" and "Vox Humana," the haibun conclude with haiga. Their typographical layout lends to the letter itself a pictorial value and multiplies the possible readings of their haiku by disrupting the normative left-to-right, top-to-bottom and line-by-line English reading convention. Pelter, in "Hard Cornstubs" and "Nature Shelf," places his own cursive and typography at the center of his haibun; his formal simplification moves the "written word" yet closer to common identity with the image and recalls, in that respect, the aesthetics and practice of the international movement of Visual Poetry.

Document and Archive

One cannot hope to comprehend one's present and future without an understanding of one's past. Haibun in English lacks a written history and lacks a comprehensive anthology of its best writers and their finest achievements. The want of such necessities places severe limits upon the progress of haibun and upon young writers who wish to study and master the form. Haibun exists in the perilous moment; it knows no yesterday and can therefore see no tomorrow.

It is particularly rewarding, with the foregoing in mind, to present to our readers Rich Youmans' incisive and nuanced essay, "More Than the Sum of Its Parts: Explorations in Contemporary English-Language Haibun." Youmans has fused two earlier articles, from 2003, into this new and expanded analysis of haibun's principles and of their application in English. His acute observations are descriptive instead of prescriptive and Haibun Today is pleased to assist him in resurrecting his critical writing, undeservedly long available only in limited circulation and out-of-print journals.

"Showing the Shadow: Ray Rasmussen on Haiku, Haiga and Haibun" continues our commitment, at Haibun Today, to the literary interview and to the opportunity that the interview affords to explore the individual subject's background, writing and related interests as well as to document his or her participation within the broader and as-yet-unwritten history of haibun in English. Rasmussen's long engagement as a technical editor for various haikai journals as well as his own practice of haibun and photography invest his interview with real documentary value; his observations offer the reader an intimate look at his particular approach to writing and offer the would-be historian of haibun a capsule chronology of much of the haibun ferment from 2003 to the present.

Electronic vs. Print Media

Haibun's practitioners and followers have multiplied dramatically in the past five years. Much of this activity has been initiated by and centered around electronic media—websites, blogs, ebooks. Traditional print journals, too, have responded recently to this sudden surge in haibun's popularity; some, like Frogpond, have happily doubled the number of pages that they devote to the genre.

Literary circles, and the haikai community is not exceptional in this regard, value their traditions and, above all else, honor the established venue – that is, the printed letter. This is so true that the veneration of the book, as it were, may act as a blinder to the critical sense. In some quarters, if it did not appear in print, then it simply did not appear . . . and does not exist.

The recognition of this circumstance struck me forcibly in 2008 when Gary LeBel's Abacus, a collection of tanka and haibun, was released by MET Press as an ebook. LeBel is not a stranger to tanka or haibun circles; Abacus contained some of the finest tanka and haibun released that year. Much to my chagrin, I seem to have been the only person to review it. I quickly understood that its public neglect had to do neither with the quality of the writing nor with the reputation of its author. Silence greeted Abacus, rather, because of its mode of production—an ebook in lieu of a bound and printed copy.

I broached this topic with Ray Rasmussen in our interview in this issue and invited Linda Papanicolaou to write an essay on Rasmussen's haibun and photography website, Canyonlands Journal. I did so because it occurs to me that the wealth of what is happening electronically is deserving of comment and of study. I did so also because I was confident that while established print journals do afford space for reviews of limited edition and self-published chapbooks and broadsheets, they rarely, if ever, grant space to review full-length ebooks or elegant websites devoted to haiku or haibun.

Everyone, including this editor, appreciates fine binding, tasteful typography and good book design. Is my love of books, however, a sufficient excuse for indifference to the parallel progress of literature in other media? I suspect that it is not, particularly when electronic media now rival, and may soon overtake, the print option in both the quantity and quality of haiku and haibun that they publish. Haibun Today, therefore, will seek to commit itself now and in the future to the review of haibun as it appears in these alternate media.

Conclusion: Five Years Later

I do not want to lose sight, amid discussions of critical and topical issues, of the raison d'etre of this journal—the presentation of good haibun and tanka prose to an informed audience. Haibun Today enters its fifth year with this issue. Some of our present contributors were with us when the journal was launched as a blog in 2007; others are new to Haibun Today or, in one or two cases, are new to the genre and are seeing their first publication of a haibun with this quarter's release. To the excellent work of these poets, both old and new, I would like to dedicate year five of Haibun Today.

Jeffrey Woodward
Detroit, Michigan
21 February 2011


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