KYSO Flash
Knock-Your-Socks-Off Art and Literature
Issue 2: Winter 2015
Craft Essay: 890 words

Layout in Haibun

by David Cobb

There is no consensus about how haibun should be laid out. This is arbitrary. We find them laid out at the whim of fashion, personal fad, or gimmick, perhaps without any real thought about where and how to place the haiku. But also in formats where the author seems to have some more principled method in mind. The same writer can be found to use different layouts for successive pieces.1

I am one of those guilty of doing that. This issue of KYSO Flash alone shows that I submit pieces in a variety of layouts. I always justify the left margin but never the right one. Why? Because I feel this creates a certain air of freedom. It also accords with the haiku which are almost inevitably without right hand justification. I might play around with the position I put the haiku in—on the left, centered, towards the right margin, as seems to me on that occasion pleasing to the eye. Maybe, at least subliminally, the position suggests something about the relationship between the haiku and the prose. Placed to the left margin, or centrally, it might seem the haiku is trying to accommodate itself to the prose. Loosely off to the right, or in the event of more than one haiku, scattered about—maybe then the haiku has a more detached relationship? Emphasising that it represents a “shift” as well as a “link.”

I think the nature of the collection is a factor in determining an appropriate layout. We have to consider the company the haibun is keeping. Here the editor will probably have a legitimate say. If it is a book (or site) dealing exclusively with haibun, he/she may be tempted to adopt a standard layout throughout.

Use of a standard layout can be a pity, resulting in a loss of sensitivity and taste. By “taste” I mean feeling for the text and feeling for the reader. To the eye, a hundred words of justified prose may seem to weigh down rather heavily on one tiny little haiku, more than it can bear. One could of course use a larger point size, or a different font, or italics or bold instead of Roman to establish a stronger presence for the haiku. One sees this done occasionally. Personally, I think I prefer to distinguish the haiku by generous space and position.2

If the haibun is to appear in a collection including not only haibun but also other forms (lyrics, free verse, prose poems, flash fiction, sets of freestanding haiku), other considerations of editorial policy might arise. To what extent might one want to narrow the differences in appearance of haibun and, say, poem? In this issue of KYSO Flash, Clare MacQueen has thought fit to choose not only several of my haibun (of different types, I think) but also a set of lyric poems, e.g., “Boxtel.” Is there any illusion of them belonging together? I leave that to the reader.

Consider that a web-zine page differs from a page in a print magazine. The latter, often as not, is A5; the former is more spacious, the screen offers something like A4. Also, items in a web-zine have a way of being called up and appearing in isolation, there is perhaps less pressure on them to conform. An author might well reconsider the format of a haibun, one that has already appeared in print book form and is now being cached on-line, or vice versa.

Finally, intelligent use of line breaks is a tool used in free verse to create suspense or surprise, or to throw emphasis forwards. It has potential in the layout of haibun prose too, but this advantage is thrown away if haibun prose is presented, like a brick, in a block with justified margins either side.

1 Examples of this randomness can be found in Journeys: An Anthology of International Haibun, a generous and welcome contribution to the form, where the editor, Angelee Deodhar, has respected the format chosen by its contributors. Michael D. Welch (a very well-known writer both of and on the haibun form) has pieces with massive prose sections, right-justified, and with orthodox punctuation throughout, the haiku being set in italics and all three lines aligned with the left-hand margin of the prose. But he also includes a piece, “Oil Slick,” set in a style reminiscent of e e cummings: entirely in lower case letters, no punctuation at all, and thus requiring an effort of parsing from the reader, so as to know where to draw breath.

Jeffrey Woodward, general editor of Haibun Today, also includes examples of both “orthodox” layout and a sort of modified e e cummings style. Modified, because although the prose text consists of a number of sentences, they are all run on together, without full stops. Yet the beginnings of sentences are signalled by capital letters. Personally, I dislike the e e cummings style, because it seems to delay full appreciation and enjoyment of the piece. The immediate impact is lost in conundrum. Others may disagree.

2 Readers may have experienced a similar sort of problem in performing haibun to an audience, of isolating the haiku and giving the audience sufficient time to “process” them. This often results in a decision by the performer to read each haiku twice.

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