Haibun Guidelines by Roberta Beary

After having received dozens of haibun for the MeToo+ anthology, and regretting those pieces I could not accept because the haiku was too closely related to the prose, I asked Roberta if I could share her excellent piece on the subject. As you may or may not know, Roberta is haibun editor for Modern Haiku. I myself have learned so much from her.

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The Lost Weekend: An editor’s brief perspective
on haibun submissions as viewed through
the prism of film noir titles

by Roberta Beary
D.O.A

Failing to submit your best work may make your submission dead on arrival. If you feel your haibun lacks a certain something, and you hope an editor will supply whatever is missing, you are mistaken. Even editors who are willing to provide comments will not do this as the norm but as the exception. Keep polishing your haibun until it glows in the dark. Then submit it as your best work.

Sorry, Wrong Number

In haibun, the wrong title is like a wrong number. It makes the reader want to hang up the phone. A haibun’s title should be strong enough to draw the reader into the prose and make the reader want more. Let the title be a link to the prose and the haiku, not give away the rest of the piece. After reading the entire haibun, the reader should be able to look at the title and see more than one meaning.

Nightmare Alley

The present tense and short sentences work best for the prose of the haibun. Simple writing is also the most effective. Avoid rambling sentences and hyperbole. You don’t want to make the reader feel as if he or she has stumbled into nightmare alley. Do not confuse the prose of haibun with poetry. They are not the same.

Spellbound

A good haibun should leave the reader spellbound. If you cannot quite get to spellbound, try for mystery. Do not set everything out in black and white. Leave a bit of gray so there is room for the reader to maneuver among the written words. The title should set the stage; the prose should show but not tell. The haiku should reflect or expand the prose, not repeat it. When your haibun read in its entirely is subject to more than one interpretation, you are on the right track.

Notorious

Your reputation as a haibun writer is something to be valued. Failing to keep track of your haibun submissions makes you look bad when two editors accept the same work. “Not previously published” means just that. It does not mean, “I don’t remember submitting it anywhere else.” Similarly, “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery” does not apply to haibun submissions. The work you submit, whether it places the reader squarely on Mystery Street or puts the reader into The Big Sleep, must be your own.

Farewell, My Lovely

Finally, before you press send or drop the envelope in the slot, read the rules for submission. Doing so will ensure the editor will give your work a thoughtful reading.

—Previously published in frogpond (34:3, 2011); appears here with author’s permission

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