Archive for November, 2008

rejections and definitions (and definitions to reject?)

November 28, 2008

I recently had a haibun submission rejected by a well known journal. The rejection itself wasn’t the problem – a bit of a surprise, because they were (in my opinion – still!) good pieces. But there are multiple reasons for rejection that have no relevance to its merit, so “No thanks” wasn’t what bothered me.

What did bother me was the implication that the poems were rejected because they weren’t actually haibun. It wasn’t stated directly, but it was definitely implied. Not least by the fact that the person in question included a link to the official HSA definitions of the genre.

I think it’s worth quoting, because I have a couple of major problems with their definition/s.



Definition:  A haibun is a terse, relatively short prose poem in the haikai style, usually including both lightly humorous and more serious elements. A haibun usually ends with a haiku.

Notes: Most haibun range from well under 100 words to 200 or 300. Some longer haibun may contain a few haiku interspersed between sections of prose. In haibun the connections between the prose and any included haiku may not be immediately obvious, or the haiku may deepen the tone, or take the work in a new direction, recasting the meaning of the foregoing prose, much as a stanza in a linked-verse poem revises the meaning of the previous verse. Japanese haibun apparently developed from brief prefatory notes occasionally written to introduce individual haiku, but soon grew into a distinct genre. The word “haibun” is sometimes applied to longer works, such as the memoirs, diaries, or travel writings of haiku poets, though technically they are parts of the separate and much older genres of journal and travel literature (nikki and kikôbun).


Lets just consider the definition itself. Since when have haibun needed to end with the haiku? I can think of a number of superb haibun that do nothing of the sort. Basho often began with them. Or studded them in the middle. And where does that leave haibun which have more than one haiku?

And “usually including both lightly humorous and more serious elements”?! Sorry, no. Absolutely no. Otherwise you’d have to throw out most of Cyril Childs’ Beyond the Paper Lanterns. Yes, there are good haibun which include both humour and pathos. But “usually including both”?! I don’t thinks so. And I don’t want them to! That makes for bland, gentle, mildly wistful work. Which has its place, but … as the norm? That rules out passionate poems. The screams of outrage. The deep mourning. The passionate love-haibun. The hysterically funny laugh-out-loud haibun. Reduces this wonderfully flexible versatile form into beige puddle poetry. No way. No. Absolutely not.

I’m willing to accept the definition they propose up to the second comma, but no further.

Does anyone actually agree with them?