from the editor

So for your reading pleasure, a new issue of Haibun Today is out. I was first published in HT nearly four years ago when I didn’t really know what haibun were but thought they sounded cool so maybe I’d try to write some. I have a new haibun in the current issue (it’s called Polar Vortex!), and also I have an editor’s biography, because thrillingly, I am now one of four haibun editors that rock the house over at HT. We’re each editing one issue a year, and I’m up for the next (March) issue. Here’s the submissions page because I know you want to write a bunch of haibun and send them to me to read. You have until Jan. 30, so ready, set, go.

winter evening when you erase it

If you’re wondering what my personal editorial philosophy is, here’s something I wrote about the matter for HT when I was the haibun editor at Multiverses (a journal that sadly lasted only one issue and is no longer available on the web). You have to scroll down a bit to get to me, though it’s worth it to read what all the other editors have to say.

on the tip of my tongue only salt

I’m really looking forward to editing. Shhh, don’t tell anyone, but I might actually like editing better than writing. When you write, you have to come up with all those pesky ideas and the words to express them with. When you edit, someone else has already done all that hard work for you. I love playing with words and if the words have been neatly laid out for me to play with, so much the better. Also, as someone who has been assiduously edited herself in many contexts (and who should probably subject herself to even more editing), I can tell you that good editing is one of the not-so-secret keys to good writing. Sometimes people are afraid of editing because they think that if their work is edited then it isn’t really theirs anymore, but a good editor has the magic ability to take your words and mysteriously divine what you meant to say with them and help you figure out how to say that exact thing, except better. I should probably not claim here that I’m a good editor, let alone a magic one, or that you’ll like my editing, but I can tell you without reservation that I have been blessed with a multitude of good editors in my life and I have never, ever felt that what they did to my writing made it less mine. Actually it kind of seems like alchemy. (Except, you know, for the part about alchemy being totally fake and not actually working at all. Damn, I’m losing my metaphorical touch.)

five golden rings I promise to stop changing

Okay. Enough about me. On to you and the thrilling haibun you’re going to write, the things you’re going to say that no one else could say in a way that no one else could say them. And then I get to read them. What a great gig.

somebody has the last word and it isn’t me


May 12: 2: When it isn’t working

outside hatchlings cry
in the kitchen, hot tea,
bread and butter

This was another one of those days where I tried repeatedly to write a haiku beginning with a particular line, and mostly failed spectacularly. I don’t even like this one very much.*

I never can figure out what to do when this was happening. Should I give up and move on to another beginning line? Accept that the haiku mojo is just not there today? Stop trying to write so many haiku in the first place, and just wait to experience a Zen moment or something?

Sometimes it seems like the thought I’m trying to express is really too large to fit into a haiku in the first place. That I need to either shrink the thought, or find a new thought, or write a different kind of poem. (But I’m not so hot at the writing regular poems thing. I’ve written about one and a half in my life that I actually might consider showing to another human being.)

The spirit of haiku can be elusive. And when you’re trying to churn out at least one halfway decent one a day, you can get all cranky and anxious when it doesn’t seem to be happening. This is also probably not conducive to attaining haiku enlightenment. Must. Curb. Perfectionist. Tendencies. …

What can help is reading large numbers of the haiku of the great masters — they were mostly all extremely prolific, and frankly, most of their haiku is not particularly memorable. For every brilliant flash of insight from Issa:

o snail

climb Mt. Fuji —

but slowly, slowly!

(Issa, translated by D.T. Suzuki)

there are several more Issa efforts that seem uninspired at best. It’s possible (probable) that they’re a lot better in Japanese, but I have heard Japanese-speaking scholars of haiku say the same thing.

And of course, I am not Issa, nor was meant to be. (Apologies to T.S. Eliot, the thought of whom has suddenly made me realize that “April is the cruelest month” might work as an opening line for a haiku.) I’m the humblest of apprentices, and it’s almost arrogant of me to presume that I’ll be able to write a decent haiku more than once in a blue moon. (Blue moon! Also good haiku material. Okay, starting to feel better now.)

People who write haiku — what’s your working method? Do you frequently rewrite your haiku, or do they mostly come to you whole in a flash of insight, or do you think rewrites are destructive to the haiku spirit? (Or can you just not be bothered?) Do you sit down and say, “I think I’ll write a haiku now,” or is that just the form your thoughts take? Do you have to write a lot of them before you get one you’re relatively satisfied with? Share, please, I’m feeling a little isolated at the moment…

(Later note: I had no sooner published this when I saw an edit that would make it better. So I changed it and published it again. And then immediately saw another edit, which I promptly made. Now I’m feeling slightly more cheerful about the whole thing. But only slightly.)

*And a few days later: Okay, how about:

hatchlings cry
fresh bread

I like that better. Still not great. But way too many words in the first one.