Donna Fleischer / The American Haibun

The American Haibun

by Donna Fleischer copyright©2008

My ongoing work with haiku, begun in the nineties, led me to the Japanese haibun, an unusual blend of prose and haiku, somewhat autobiographical, and relatively new in the hands of American writers. The first haibun are found in Bashō’s (1644 – 1694) travel diaries in which the great writer recorded his outer and inner journeys on foot throughout 17th century Japan.

To illustrate, I would like to borrow that famous frog from Bashō’s haiku in a translation from the Japanese by R. H. Blyth:

The old pond:

A frog jumps in, —

The sound of the water.

Let’s say that hearing a frog jump into a pond evokes feeling, and that the sound and feeling fold into one another as a gestalt, a whole that is greater than the constituent feeling and sense that came before it, and now experienced as revelatory — a generalized state of heightened awareness, or bliss.

In a swerve to postmodernism, I invoke the French Surrealist writer and artist, André Breton (1896 – 1966), who spoke of the point sublime, a writing site where unlike things meet one another, create instantaneous juxtapositions, which best of all engender some sort of pleasure, only then to careen out of focus and logic. The haibun form is just such a site.

A haibun typically could begin with one or several poetically charged prose paragraphs that make palpable, once more, the interplay of something perceived and something felt. This description in turn deepens into yet a second form, the haiku, that astonishes with a direct, vivid, and almost artless experience of the natural and imaginative realms from which it arises. The haiku is a synergistic leap from the poetic prose environment which sets it up and to which it indirectly relates.

In form and content the composition of a haiku is a practice in restraint. One wants to notice the ordinary in life, and accordingly, to minimize the use of literary devices such as rhyme or metaphor for the sake of creating an implicit poetic experience of mystery and transience. The more or less eleven English syllables or seventeen Japanese onji — the duration of a breath — allow for the silences, too. A season word or suggestion involves the senses and so anchors one in the concrete. Eventually images enlivened by feeling attain a depth of experience and insight. A frog jumps into the water, a haiku bubbles up.

further reading

Find scholarly work on the hokku, the forerunner of haiku, online at .

English translations of Japanese haibun include:

Narrow Road to the Interior, Matsuo Bashō (1689) — Each of the translations by Cid             Corman and Sam Hamill, while quite different from one another, are excellent.

English language haibun:

bottle rockets, a journal collection of short verse

South by Southeast, Haiku and Haiku Arts Journal

word pond at

Frogpond, International Journal of the Haiku Society of America

Journey to the Interior, Bruce Ross, editor

Modern Haiku, An Independent Journal of Haiku and Haiku Studies

Red Moon Press, annual contemporary haibun anthologies,

Jim Kacian, general editor

Contemporary Haibun Online, Jim Kacian, Bruce Ross, Ken Jones, editors

endless small waves, haibun by Bruce Ross, (Ontario Canada: HMS Press, 2008)

indra’s net, haibun by Donna Fleischer, (Wethersfield, CT: bottle rockets press, 2003)

(first publication)
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