How to Write a Haibun In English

As many of you already know, I love structured poetry. This includes the Haiku, the Tanka, and the Haibun. I like to think of myself as a student of these poetic forms. Learning to write them correctly is an art form in itself. I think that’s what appeals to me the most, the arrangement of the syllables. Writing a Haibun is a challenge, but with practice, you will soon have no trouble.

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For Colleen’s Weekly Poetry Challenge, we will use the rules below to write our Haibun poems. NatureWriting.com shares how to write a Haibun poem. Please follow the rules carefully.

Writing Haibun

“The rules for constructing a Haibun are simple.

  • Every haibun must begin with a title.
  • Haibun prose is composed of terse, descriptive paragraphs, written in the first person singular.
  • The text unfolds in the present moment, as though the experience is occurring now rather than yesterday or some time ago. In keeping with the simplicity of the accompanying haiku or tanka poem, all excessive words should be pared down or deleted. Nothing must ever be overstated.
  • The poetry never attempts to repeat, quote or explain the prose.
  • Instead, the poetry reflects some aspect of the prose by introducing a different step in the narrative through a microburst of detail.
  • Thus, the poetry is a sort of juxtaposition – seemingly different yet somehow connected.

It is the discovery of this link between the prose and the poetry that offers one of the great delights of the haibun form. The subtle twist provided by an elegantly envisaged link, adds much pleasure to our reading and listening.

Some Common Forms of Modern Haibun

  1. The basic unit of composition– one paragraph and one poem

Idyll
We guide our canoe along the shores of beautiful Lake Esquagama. It is nine o’clock at night on this evening of the summer solstice. As the sun begins to dim the lake becomes still as glass. Along the shore, forests of birch are reflected in its mirrored surface, their ghostly white trunks disappearing into a green canopy. The only sound is a splash when our bow slices the water. We stop to rest the paddles across our knees, enjoying the peace. Small droplets from our wet blades create ever-widening circular pools. Moving on, closer to the fading shore, we savour these moments.

quiet
as a feather
on the breeze
the distant call
of a loon

  1. The prose envelope – prose, then poem, then prose

Echoes of Autumn
I walk quietly in the late afternoon chill, birdsong silent, foliage deepened into shade, a rim of orange over darkening hills.

through soft mist
the repeated call
of one crow

Reaching the gate then crossing the threshold I breathe the scent of slow-cooking, the last embers of a fire, red wine poured into gleaming crystal, the table – set for two …

  1. Poem then prose

(Rather than begin with a single tanka, I wrote a tanka set or sequence, followed by the prose. In contemporary haibun writing, the poems are occasionally presented in couplets or in longer groups).

The Road to Longreach
the coastal fringe
of green and blue
disappears
behind the gateway
to the outback

wheat, sorghum
and cotton stubble
glistens
in the autumn sun
as hawks patrol above

sunflowers
faces to the sky
the last blaze of colour
in the dryland’s
barren outlook

brown soil
of the rural strip
surrenders to
brick red, burnt ochre
of the open range

beyond
and further out –
in orange dust
a single cornstalk
displays its tassel

Days pass as we move through the desolate landscape, carved into two parts by the road we travel on, a continual ribbon drawing us straight ahead into its vanishing point, where only spinifex grass and saltbush lies between us and our destination.

  1. The verse envelope — poem, prose, then poem

Winter Magic
silver light
thick hoar-frost
covers the window

Ice shapes resembling small fir trees stretch across the glass, while delicate snow flowers sparkle around them. Lost in its beauty, I move through this crystal garden as my warm fingers trace up and down, leaving a smudged pathway.
Mother’s voice interrupts, “Susan, come away from that cold window and get dressed or the school bus will leave without you!”

burning hoop pine
scent of a warm kitchen
oatmeal with brown sugar

  1. Alternating prose and verse elements

The Sentinel
I climb round and round close to the outside wall, to avoid the railing where the stair treads narrow about their central post. A semi-circular platform rests high above. Its glass windows provide a sweeping view. Counting the last few steps, I finally reach the top of the Moreton Bay Lighthouse, where I gaze in awe at the ocean below.

the rising sun
an endless pathway
of molten gold

Outside the lighthouse, lamp is rotating. I disengage it as there is no need for its warning light. Now the bold red and white stripes of the lighthouse itself will become the beacon. I study the turbulence of the deep waters churning the rocky shore below. The subtle changes in the wind, waves, and tides are entered in my log book – these brief markers of the ever-transforming seascape that surrounds me.

ebb tide
a foot print shelters
one tiny crab”

Image credit: Writing Haibun – A Guide: Haikudeck.com

Haiku.org offers a PDF that is most helpful in the writing of your Haibun. Download that HERE.

This is an example of a Haibun poem that I have written for my poetry challenge. I am not an authority. I am a student of poetry just like many of you. The best way to learn this form is to research it and write it.

Hope – A Haibun

Image credit: Pinsdaddy.com

I stared into the murky depths of the Harlem River. The breeze blew briskly, and I sniffed the salt in the air. The tide was out, and my reflection wavered on the shallow surface of the harbor emulating my thoughts. Had I made the right decision to leave my home and journey to New York? My only companion, a long-legged loon, stalked his way through the shells and rocks as he poked his beak into the sand. In one swift movement, he had retrieved his lunch, a mussel dangling from his beak. The bird met my staring eyes. The answers to my question were crystal clear. Seek, and ye shall find.

Change is in the air –
fleeing to find our fortunes
our folk stays behind.
Hope is the harbor that binds
and mirrors our Renaissance.

© 2017 Colleen M. Chesebro

Image credit: PCmode.org 1920’s Harlem women

Image credit: Khanacademy.org (The 19th Amendment) 1920’s Musicians

I wrote the above Haibun poem about the Harlem Renaissance. From my prose, you can tell what is happening in that moment because it is written in the first person singular. The Tanka poem that follows is connected but not directly related to the exact experience in the prose. So you see, the poetry is a sort of juxtaposition – seemingly different yet somehow connected.

It is important to follow the rules when writing this poetry form. It isn’t a true Haibun if you don’t follow the directions as closely as possible.

Now lets have fun! Get busy and write some Haibun poetry! ❤

44 thoughts on “How to Write a Haibun In English

    1. I have a form that will debut in the next few days especially for you, Michael. I love the Haibun. It’s that connection part that is so fun. Each form seems to have a twist. I love it! ❤

      Like

    1. Thanks, Charli. These Haibun have become really special to me. The hard part is getting your poetry to enhance the prose so that it is connected without repeating or explaining the prose. I fall short some weeks, but I think this particular Haibun was as close to perfect as I could get. I hope to try a couple of these with the flash fiction. ❤

      Liked by 1 person

      1. That’s such a great “problem” to resolve with the haibun challenge because each time you write one in the prose you find a way to do it, and do it better each time. Then the magic happens. Your brain recognizes the pattern and as a writer you have breakthroughs. I’m so crazy-excited over these breakthrough because I see you and other writers who do challenges making incredible art with words. You can’t learn this from a book, class or mentor. You have to experience it. I’ve learned so much about my own novel writing process through writing flash fiction. Fun stuff!

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Charli, I got goosebumps reading your words. That is exactly what I feel – that creative writing magic! I believe writing poetry makes me a better fiction writer. Thanks so much for sponsoring these amazing challenges. I am loving them. ❤

          Liked by 1 person

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