Haibun. Diana Webb, 25th February 2013

A haiku is a breath-length poem. A haibun is prose combined with haiku. Basho wrote haiku as he travelled and he would then write an account of his journey and put the haiku in amongst the prose. The haiku, which were of the moment, were placed in the context of the memory of his prose. Basho's book "The Narrow Road to the Deep North" is all haibun but is considered to be a travel journal. The practice of going for a walk, writing haiku along the way and then writing a prose account of the walk and fitting the haiku into this is one way of approaching a haibun. However life can be seen as a journey through experience and so this gives another approach to the writing of haibun. Diana wrote the prize-winning "Seasonal Lights" as part of her journey while waiting to be a grandmother.

Seasonal Lights by Diana Webb

days of spring rain –
a pattern in rainbow yarn
for an unborn child

Convent educated, I still find meaning in the stories, peace in the sacred places. The women move quietly in corners of various churches, not wanting to disturb me as I light my votive candle. Sometimes, one of them apologises for someone else's chatter.

neonatal care –
feeding my sandwich
to a cygnet

Nobody seems to mind the stranger creeping in from time to time to take a cylinder of slim white wax out of the box, ignite the wick and place it in the dark iron ring among the other flickers.

baby's op day –
a conker gleams
from its shell

So many flames that dance with prayerful energy, send positive healing waves, or just a flare of thankful joy.

first frost –
buying a tiny coat
striped with sky blue

Towards the year's end I tiptoe in as usual. The women are busy with polish and winter foliage. Not yet in full view, waiting in the vestry, ready to be brought out at the appropriate moment, I catch a glimpse of the familiar nativity figurines. Again as I leave, one of the women gently smiles and whispers "I hope we didn't disturb you".

Christmas eve –
amid the coffee shop hubbub
my grandson gurgles

Haibun are akin to islands – there are many of these in Japan and Basho wrote "Preface to Silver River" with Sado Island in mind. The Silver River refers to the Milky Way. Words in a haibun should fall as naturally as leaves. Fred Astaire said "if it doesn't look easy you are not working hard enough" and this can be applied to the writing of haibun. There should be a degree of depth to the work and the poetry and prose need to shed light on each other. There is a place for humour. Stephen Carter, a retired American professor, says "A good haibun is one that is in control of you, a bad haibun is one where you are in control of it." The relationship between the prose and the haiku is akin to the interweaving patterns in Celtic knotwork where everything in creation is connected. This balance needs to be achieved by intuition. In Basho's "The Narrow Road to the Deep North" there are passages of deep sorrow and of lilting humour together with an all-embracing humanity and spirituality running throughout.

"At Home with Mt Fuji" by Nobuyuki Yuasa tells of the relationship between the writer and the mountain over the years – of how he looked at Mt Fuji as a child, climbed the mountain as a student and was now, at a "post-advanced age", able to see Mt Fuji from his apartment. He says that Mt Fuji is a wonder of natural creation. One of the haiku he writes is:

Mt Fuji afloat –
A line of geese above it
Departing in the mist.

Diana then presented a "Desert Island Discs" selection of haibun. These included "Goat's Beard by Jeffrey Woodward, "Observations" by Doreen King, "The Rose" by Peter Butler, "After the Blizzard" by Penny Harter and "Living Things" by Lynne Rees.

Diana's article "Pinpoints 1 – Making a Haibun" describes how the making of a haibun can be seen as being similar to assembling a colour coordinated yet striking outfit. Her "Notes on "Sceptred Isles" describe how a bus stop from her childhood and a present day bus stop were brought together in a haibun which connects memories of the past death of a king with present day awareness of the country's heritage and with nature.

Sceptred Isles by Diana Webb

The bus stop by the roundabout stands out against the dusk, as my mother tells me on the say home from school, "The king is dead". A few months on, a gilded model of the Coronation Coach, complete with footmen and six white horses, nestles in the pile of our front room carpet. I learn the words "anoint" and "orb".

Now on the far side of the Thames, late on a bleak afternoon, I'm waiting for the 465 from Kingston. Ignored by shoppers with bulging bags from Primark, I focus on a stone. Surfaced with lichen, it stands on a plinth, encircled by sharp iron failings, Giving this place its name, it was used in the throning of seven Saxon monarchs.

perched starling –
all the jewels
in St Edward's crown