It is a privilege for me to share this selection of fifty new American Haibun, as I term them, on the virtual pages of Mudlark. The haibun is a prose passage, followed by a single-line haiku of a varying number of syllables. In the American use of the form, the single line often extends beyond the original boundaries. (Some writers follow the practice of using a traditional three-line haiku at the end.)
For me, the relationship between the prose passage and the haiku that follows is the key to the form. Therein lies a spectrum of kindredness and tension. As discoverer of that relationship, the writer is gifted by surprise as the image starts to clarify within the figurative pan of water being touched to urge forward a kind of small song.
I first became acquainted with the haibun in early 1984. At that time, John Ashbery published "Six Haibun" in an issue of Sulfur. What struck me was the dazzle of American language that stretched and sharpened the form, changing it substantially from the Japanese haibun in translation that appeared in the anthology From the Country of Eight Islands. Those translations seemed to me comforting and quiet, if plain. In fairness, change is inevitable in translation. Clearly, though, the American language seemed to bring forward different possibilities that tempted exploration.
And, predictably enough, I was attracted to the form enough to to try writing one. I discovered that the prose flowed naturally, possibly because the haibun invites acknowledgment of the common. And in that acknowledgment, one is made weightless by the discovery of a deeper layer of reality that (when right) arrives unforced. The sensation resembles that of a harmonic in music, wherein a string is touched lightly to produce a tone of higher frequency than if the string were pressed full force.
My first full-length book, With House Silence (Stride Publications, U.K., 1987) was comprised exclusively of haibun. I have since composed a number of these poems, which have appeared in other collections, including Sad Isn't the Color of the Dream (Stride, 1991); A Clove of Gender (Stride, 1995); and Falling in Love Falling in Love With You Syntax: Selected and New Poems (Potes & Poets Press, 1997).
It is possible that my use of the form has changed over the 13 years I have been loving it. For one thing, the poems arrive quite naturally, along with each delicate surprise that happens at the end when prose is followed by a space that in turn is followed by a line. For me, haibun seem to happen forth in full sound costume as my mind plays in the language only to find what later will be called work.
Sheila E. Murphy
December 27, 1997
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