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Haibun Poems: Poetic Form

Categories: Poetic Forms, Robert Lee Brewer's Poetic Asides Blog, What's New.

The haibun is the combination of two poems: a prose poem and haiku. The form was popularized by the 17th century Japanese poet Matsuo Basho. Both the prose poem and haiku typically communicate with each other, though poets employ different strategies for this communication—some doing so subtly, while others are more direct.

The prose poem usually describes a scene or moment in an objective manner. In other words, the pronoun “I” isn’t often used—if at all. Meanwhile, the haiku follows the typical rules for haiku.

Here is my attempt at a haibun poem:

“1985″

In the shadow of the Nevado del Ruiz, rice farmers woke as if on any other morning. Their daily pleasures and worries were the same as always. Even the smoke and eruptions that afternoon were familiar—though masked by a thunderstorm—no one aware of the approaching lahars.

not the sound
but drops of rain
scatter ants

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As you may have guessed, a new poetic form challenge is around the corner. It’d probably be a good idea to work on your haibuns today and share them tomorrow.

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Follow me on Twitter @robertleebrewer

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Learn more about poetic forms…

…with The Poetry Dictionary, by John Drury. The book is loaded with poetic forms, poetic terms, poetic schools, poetic history, and poems!

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About Robert Lee Brewer

Senior Content Editor, Writer's Digest Community.

10 Responses to Haibun Poems: Poetic Form

  1. JWLaviguer says:

    A family of deer stroll across the field, fawn and doe and buck. What started out as a beautiful moment could turn ugly in a flash and a crash. Eyes wide open, and precious life goes on.

    He set his sights on
    the large buck
    an epiphany

  2. Misky says:

    Creation: Cycles

    If every departed soul returns to us as a bird, to chirp, to call, to cry, to sing,
    then these fields ploughed under late summer sun are death’s release,
    and we are born to the air and wing to soar.

    Each departed soul
    Returns to us on light wing
    Kohl clouds aflutter

    Marilyn ‘Misky’ Braendeholm

  3. Susan Budig says:

    Robert, I first learned about haibun at baymoon.com’s site. The idea of writing the prose portion without the use of “I” and more objectively was not included. I’m eager to try that idea! I have one haibun I have been working on for several years and have never been happy with. Your idea might be the technique needed to tweak it just right.

    Here’s a haibun I wrote a couple years ago that does not use your idea, but I like how it turned out. Still, I might revise it to remove the “I” in the prose portion and see what I think.

  4. Bruce, there is not a length requirement, and I’ve found several different versions. Some with a paragraph and a haiku; others with several paragraphs and a haiku; and still others with a paragraph/haiku, paragraph/haiku, etc. There appears to be a lot of variation.

    Marjory, Japanese haiku follows the 5-7-5 pattern for sounds, which are different than English syllables. The standard for American haiku is 5-7-5, though many contemporary haiku poets just keep the lines short and follow the other conventions of haiku, including a focus on nature and the inclusion of a cutting word.

  5. Bruce Niedt says:

    Robert, is there a length limit to the haibun? Many of the ones I’ve seen have more than one prose passage and more than one haiku. I just wrote one with two each and a total of ten lines.

  6. Marjory MT says:

    HAIBUN Aug 2012 PA

    As you linger in the land of dreams, the sun will rise to bathe your window-sill before it comes to me, so I sit and watch the moon’s soft flow while keeping the night birds company, waiting.

    thoughts of you
    come to bathe me with
    afterglow.

  7. Marjory MT says:

    I am confused (still) on the form for the Haiku.
    Yours is 3-5-3
    I have heard (seen) it as 5-7-5
    and what was refered to as the American Haiku with 5-3-5.

    Any clariity on Which is “most right”
    Would the ‘real’ Haiku please stand?

    • PKP says:

      Hi Marjory

      Robert’s poem absolutely delightful…
      I counted 3-4-3… I know that now-a-days
      there are many variations on the theme haiku
      but who knew and for contest purposes what to do?

      • Susan Budig says:

        Marjory, I can’t give you the definitive answer, but I understand Japanese Haiku has 17 sounds, not exactly the same as syllables since Japanese and English are quite different languages. But in English, we consider it to be 17 syllables.

        In fact, the line breaks of American haiku are not derived from Japanese haiku, but are….hmm, what’s the word I want…maybe considered an arbitrary convention of the form as translated into English?

        At any rate, English/American haiku is sometimes written 3-5-3 and sometimes 5-7-5. I don’t know why the shorter one is used at times, but it’s an accepted derivation of the form.

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