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Definitions of Haibun & Tanka Prose

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 their travel experiences. Innovations in the form include memoirs, fantasy and dreams.

Some have described haibun as a narrative of an epiphany, but many haibun are simply narratives of special moments (recent or memory) 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.

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 argue that the haiku should be able to stand alone, that is, understandable without the prose; others, that the haiku can be understood through the context provided in the prose, that each is necessary to the other.

Titles have become increasingly important in haibun composition. Modern Haiku Editor Roberta Beary has this to say about the importance of titles in haibun:

In haibun, the wrong title is like a wrong number. It makes the reader want to hang up the phone. A haibun's title should be strong enough to draw the reader into the prose and make the reader want more. Let the title be a link to the prose and the haiku, not give away the rest of the piece. After reading the entire haibun, the reader should be able to look at the title and see more than one meaning. (Roberta Beary, in "The Lost Weekend," Frogpond, 34:3 2011)

And even epigraphs are finding their way into haibun. See this article on epigraphs.

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

Online journals that publish contemporary haibun are on this publications page: Haibun & Tanka Prose Journals