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Sunday, 16 September 2012

brief history of haiku/haibun

Hi Marvin,
The forthcoming reprint is of my 1990 book, EEL PIE ISLAND: a memoir/haibun. Haibun is considered a form of poetry. Actually haibun is prose, interspersed with haiku. The prose gives the haiku context, something which is generally missing when poets/haijin publish individual haiku.

Basho, the wandering Japanese poet priest, created the haibun form. His classic is THE NARROW ROAD TO THE DEEP NORTH. Sometimes this title is interpreted as THE NARROW ROAD TO THE INTERIOR, which gives a better sense that Basho's journeys were as much internal as external.

The English language haiku movement began in the 1950s, when many Americans stationed in Japan during post WW2 reconstruction learned of the form and attempted to both describe and imitate it. The classic works on this are by RH Blythe.

(The book I recently finished reading, JAPANESE PILGRIMAGE, was also written by one of these Americans stationed in Japan after WW2.)

Early English language haiku were almost always written in imitation of the Japanese form, which decreed a strict syllable count of 5 syllables in the first line, 7 in the second, and 5 in the concluding line. Thus these early haiku have been nicknamed 5-7-5s.

Canadian medical doctor Eric Amann founded a very crucial haiku magazine, titled appropriately, if not very creatively, HAIKU. I believe he founded HAIKU while pursuing medical studies in New York City in the early to mid 1960s. Eric was an early proponent of writing a shorter, more concise style of English language haiku. The rationale for this is the Japanese definition of syllables. Apparently the Japanese language has a different method of labelling syllables than English, and individual letters such as "m" and "n" are counted as syllables. Thus English language attempts to write in 5-7-5 form were much longer and wordier than Japanese haiku.

Eric and others intuited that to be truer to the spirit and essence of Japanese haiku, English language haiku should be written in a more concise form. Eric promoted this with his HAIKU magazine, and over time these shorter haiku have become the established form of English language haiku. This has become true to such an extent that the old 5-7-5 haiku are often not even considered haiku anymore.

I was fortunate in discovering Eric, and his magazine, and Eric's insistence on this shorter format around 1966/67. Poems I had submitted to the college litmag were rejected, but the editor informed me that my brief poems reminded him of haiku. In the back of a copy of THE VILLAGE VOICE in the college library I found a classified ad for HAIKU magazine and wrote for a subscription.

Thus began a mentorship between Eric and myself, prob. for around 2 or 3 years. I was 18 or 19 years old when I began writing haiku, and I am among the first English language haijin (haiku poets/masters) to literally grow up writing (and spiritually living) the form.

Although Basho, the creator of the haiku, wrote haibun, most English language haijin haven't written in this format until quite recently. My EEL PIE DHARMA, published in 1990, is among the first English language haibun. An old friend from my hippie days, Weed, published EEL PIE DHARMA online about a decade ago, and it's one of my 'brags' that EPD is likely the most widely read English language haibun so far.

(Of course Jack Kerouac's books contain haiku, and perhaps Kerouac should be considered the earliest, and most popular, writer of English language haibun.)

I tell most of this background in my introduction to the reprint. I've heard the claim that haiku/haibun has become the most quickly growing genre in English language literature.This is largely due to the success of the internet in providing access and examples of the form (e.g. my EEL PIE DHARMA).

So the reprint of EEL PIE DHARMA (as EEL PIE ISLAND DHARMA) should help establish it as the definitive literary landmark it is, especially in Canadian literature and Canadian haiku.

I'll send you a copy as soon as it's off the presses  :  )

peace & poetry power!
Chris ... and Chase  wrfffffffffffffffffffffffff! and MacDuff wffffffffffffffffffff (Sylvia's cairn terrier who is hanging out with Chase and me for a week or so)


Hi Chris,
   Thanks so much for your quick response.  And thank you for your
elucidation, explanation, and history.  I now have a better
understanding and grasp of the subject.  You certainly played a
prominent role in the field.   I did grow up enjoying Basho's
evocative thoughts and beautiful imagery.  I will be honoured to pass
a copy of your reprint on to the Univ. of  Calgary Library.
     I will keep in touch.
     Regards to Chase and MacDuff.    Wrrrroof.
     I shout love.
     Marvin (Orbach)



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