Haibun: Not Just a Bready Greeting

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In my rambles around poetry in the past few years I’ve come across a number of interesting forms that allow language to play within their working boundaries. As of late I’m taking another look at the haibun. It’s an old Japanese form developed by Matsuo Bashō, the haiku master. Essentially, the haibun is a poem that combines prose and poetry. It started as a kind of meditative travel journal in the form of a brief prose piece written in the haikai style that is concluded with a relevant haiku. It’s challanging, but a worthwhile exercise to attempt.

In the past I’ve worked with haibun for a chapbook I released privately as part of a poetry seminar conducted by Newfoundland poet Mary Dalton. This chapbook took the form of a long poem in fourteen sections, each a haibun, that explored the strange, yet power influence my grandfather had and still has on my life. The poem is called Below the Spruce, which is, oddly enough, the name of this blog. It only ever made it into the hands of a couple friends and family members.

I started this project after reading Fred Wah’s Waiting for Saskatchewan, which is perhaps my favourite book by a Canadian author. Wah’s book searches for the identity and influence of his father and in doing so a part of the book called This Dendrite Map: Father/Mother Haibun introduced me to the wonders of the form. It’s been something I wish to continue working with in the future.

That said, I’ve recently started on another haibun writing project linked to experiences moving to/living in a small Newfoundland town that is often very insular (many small Newfoundland towns are). Who knows where it will go, but it’s going.

So that’s it this time around. If you haven’t read Wah’s book I highly recommend it. Beautiful work with language, both prose and poetry, throughout.

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