Haibun: A Definition

[Haiku Entry Page] [Ray Rasmussen's Homepage]

Haibun is a combination of prose and haiku poetry. A related form is 'Tanka Prose' – a combination of prose and tanka poetry. Modern English-language Haibun is evolving just as is modern English-language haiku. So, the following characteristics portray general patterns rather than hard and fast rules.

The original Japanese haibun style created by the Japanese poet-monk known as Basho tended to focus on his wanderings through Japan. Contemporary haibun prose/poetry tends to focus more on everyday experiences—the journey of the human being living mostly in urban settings as well as ventures into natural settings. Contemporary writers do also continue to write of travel experiences.

Some have described haibun as a narrative of an epiphany, but many haibun are simply narratives of special moments in a person's life.

Haibun prose is largely descriptive utilizing terse, poetic prose and abbreviated syntax to convey a stream of sensory impressions. For the most part, the style avoids philosophical comment. It is involved more with 'showing' rather than 'telling'. Most often [but not necessarily] it is written in the present tense—as if the experience is unfolding now rather than yesterday or some time ago. Some writers do create fantasy and dream sequences, and many beautiful pieces are focused on memories of past people and events.

The one or more haiku that accompany haibun prose are of two types. The first summarizes the feel of the prose, but without repeating words or phrases or images already contained in the prose. The haiku may be a juxtaposition—seemingly different yet connected. The second is a haiku that moves beyond the prose passage taking the reader yet one step further in the narrative. Some argues that the haiku should be able to stand alone, understandable without the prose; others, that the haiku can be understood through the context provided in the prose.

You'll find examples of haibun by many different writers on this examples of haibun web site.

Online journals that publish contemporary haibun are: