I recently finished a collection of haibun, called Wild Birdsong, which will soon be in print – so I was delighted to open American Poet: The Journal of the Academy of American Poets (Spring 2011) to read Aimee Nezhukumatahil‘s essay, “More Than the Birds, Bees and Trees: A Closer Look at Writing Haibun.”
Her essay is poetry in prose. I love her refrains: “Hello honeybee and peacock. Hello whale shark and moon jelly. King snake and pinkletink.” (A pinkletink, in case you don’t know, is a spring peeper — a tiny tree frog. I mention this because I didn’t know, and the word isn’t in the dictionary — but of course, Google knows everything.) I also love the way she mentions her children … and the way she speaks of using haibun as a daily journal to write about her travels, nature, and daily events … or to re-imagine fairytales and examine personae. She writes:
“Now that my husband and I are juggling an infant and a three-year-old, keeping a haibun journal is a refreshing way to get some “day pages” written first thing or last thing at night. Even on the days I feel too zombified from late-night feedings, I can always manage at least a draft of a haibun. I’m amazed when what at first blush can seem like an ordinary week (even if I never leave my house or garden!) becomes wholly new and surprising” (5).
Her reference to day pages reminded me of the book The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. (Everyone who does any kind of artistic work should read this soul-healing book.) Julia advocates writing out by hand every day whatever is in the soul, right away, first thing in the morning as part of a path to freedom from the inner critics that keep us from expressing ourselves creatively.
Aimee places her insights in the wider context of the transformative potential of the haibun genre. Here are three thoughts quoted by Aimee worth remembering:
1) Bruce Ross: ” If a haiku is an insight into a moment of experience, a haibun is the story or narrative of how one came to have that experience.”
2) Jeannine Hall Gailey: “You met the dragon in the garden. Sometimes he flies in circles outside your window. This morning he appeared as a young boy. He shows you a vision of your parents, lying in a barn. With his face so close you smell hay. He bleeds from the wounds of paper birds, from a swallowed curse. Can your healing rice cake keep him from death?” (from “Rescuing Seiryu, the Blue Dragon”)
Lead the horse sideways
across the meadows — I hear
Thank you, Aimee, for as you say, “a poet can use haibun to construct the proverbial birds, bees, and trees into something more complex … a sense of having journeyed in having come home at last” (5).