A Haibun Anthology

Oku no Hosomichi (The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Mastuo Bashō [1644–1694]), the seminal work of haibun. Handscroll in ink and color on paper by the poet and painter Yosa Buson (1716–1784), Itsuoh Museum, Osaka, Japan (in the public domain); design elements on each haibun in this anthology are fragments of Buson’s art.

Haibun: Hybridizing Poetry and Prose

In the simplest of terms, haibun is a poetic form originating in Japan that combines prose with haiku. Mastuo Bashō (1644–1694) first used the term to describe his experiments with prose and poetry. Bashō’s travel writings, the best known of these experiments, punctuate narrative essays with haiku. His essay on his long northern journey from Edo (Tokyo), The Narrow Road to the Deep North, remains the paradigm of haibun.

But within 50 years, poets were already redrawing Bashō’s map. Yosa Buson (1716–1784) and Kobayashi Issa (1763–1828), continued to write haibun, and the form began to morph from narrative essay with haiku to lyric essay with haiku to prose poem with haiku. Writers in the 20th and 21st centuries have brought Bashō’s spirit of experimentation to the form, hybridizing prose and haiku into novel shapes and tones.

This anthology of haibun begins where it must, with an excerpt from Bashō. It travels through Issa, then focuses its attention on modern haibun. These include traditional haibun rooted in place and season by Lenard D. Moore, Teddy Norris, and the late Vincent Tripi; haibun of travel—to destinations physical and emotional—by Doris Jean Lynch; and haibun of image and mood by Ian C. Smith and Ed Barrett.

Also included in this anthology: Naoko Fujimoto’s fusion of her own prose poetry with her translations from waka, classical Japanese poetry created from about 8th to the 13th centuries CE; Fujimoto also created two visual expressions of her translated texts. John J. Dunphy and Wafa Nouari blend prose with senryu, a poetic form structured like haiku but devoted to human faults, quirks, ironies, and tragedies. Along the way are many twists and turns—from non-narrative, lyric prose to mono-ku (one-line haiku).

There is good reason to offer this anthology in Cable Street, an e-zine that encompasses all genres of literature and the visual arts. For too long, many institutions of English-language poetry have relegated haibun to a deeply recessed niche, to flourish through the efforts of a dedicated but separate haiku community. Hopefully, this anthology will contribute, in some small way, to bringing this expressive and flexible form into the poetic mainstream.

—Dana Delibovi

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