I consider Jeff Winke a modern master of haiku and haibun. He is one of those writers who has taken the old forms further, in directions entirely his own. (Bashō…in running shoes, if you will.)
Occasionally I ask a writer I wish to feature on this sight to answer a few questions…to think about this…or that. To put it all down in writing so that it may be helpful to readers and other writers. (Writing is teaching.)
I asked Jeff to send me a “brand new”, never before published haibun. And secondly to address both the traditional form, and to take the reader through the personal process of writing “Tilted at a Severe Angle.”
What follows—is pure excellence. A haibun to take to the bank. And an analysis of it combined with replies to my comments which he fashioned into a brilliant little essay that belongs in every handbook and anthology of haiku and haibun. –Norbert Blei
Tilted at a Severe Angle
by Jeffrey Winke
The last set of the night. At this time, the jazz quintet plays for itself. Only the die-hard remnants of the moody club remain as closing time loiters nearby. She walks in. Young blonde with dark roots showing. She sits at the bar next to Lamont. His black fedora tilted at a severe angle. She isn’t here for Lamont. Her snug blouse is open enough at the neck to show part of a spider web tattoo that flourishes behind soft cotton. She lights up a long-filtered cigarette, draws deeply, and swivels her dark-eye gaze to the sax player. With lips slightly parted, she exhales completely. The saxman nods recognition before bending his alto into one last passion sizzler that eventually melts back into a sweaty finale.
in my space
My interest in the haibun form grew out of an interest in haiku and senryu. My travel journals have long been populated with haiku – where the haiku is used like snapshots to efficiently encapsulate an emotional response to an experience or an event. In a sense, my travel journals are long haibuns — poor imitations of the masterpieces produced by Basho. On a more conscious level I did write longer haibuns. These earlier efforts were dry recitations of first-hand experiences that include haiku, which were poetic summaries of the prose.
There are plenty of haibun written today that still follow this formula. From 2002 through 2007, I maintained what I referred to as an Electric Daybook. (The Electric Daybook was created on my computer for my own amusement and was used to clear my head in anticipation of “serious” writing for my day job as a business-to-business PR writer and counselor.
These Electric Daybook entries are fantastical, creative verbal explosions that could pivot midway in a seemingly unrelated direction. To further my amusement I added a handful of pieces of found art to illustrate and add visual puns to each entry. I have generally kept the Electric Daybook to myself, although in a fit of insanity I did display about two dozen entries in a one-person show held in a local gallery coffee shop. Neither the art nor literary communities found any merit in my creative efforts. Yet, the Electric Daybook became the fertile training for my style of haibun – a truly 21st century American haibun.
To me, the haibun form is a vital means of capturing contemporary — mostly urban–experiences, fantasies and emotional states. I treat the prose in my haibun as carefully crafted very short stories – pieces of flash fiction. My intent is to write the prose so that it might stand on its own as a piece of flash fiction. Flash or sudden fiction succeeds when it succinctly tells a story. Just like haiku, there is no room for unnecessary words, redundancies, or colorless language in flash fiction.
In the haiku that punctuates the haibun prose, I capture the emotional tone or feel – rather than directly summarizing or pulling from the imagery in the prose. My American haibun capture human nature both observed and experienced. My topics come from where I live – the cafes, workplace, rush-hour commute, the city, bookstores, airport, and a favorite jazz bar. Topics also emerge from my stresses, imagined alternate lives, and emotional coping with an adrenalin-pumped life, which is, in many respects, no different than anyone else’s life that is lived in North America today. Topics also emerge from what I read, dream, or scribble in my notebook.
Right now I’m reading an Irish mystery, a surrealism-styled novel, a primer on heavy equipment machine control, a non-fiction book on the creative process, several collections of short stories and a bunch of poetry books.
Eastern literature to me is pure writing. Because it is direct, stripped of embellishment, and achieves a prizefighter’s punch without the help of Western devices such as simile and metaphor, it is painfully difficult to write. I’m not sure exactly when it happened, but it was 20-some years ago when I abandoned writing Western-style free-verse poetry. At that point, I was frustrated with reading so much bad poetry and felt that I was only contributing my own share of mediocre poetry to the mounting slush pile.
Haiku appealed to me because I foolishly thought it would be something manageable that I could master. The elusive goal I set was to write one old-pond killer haiku in my life. I’m not there and probably will never make it, but I still desperately cling to the delusion that I might achieve the goal.
The truly wonderful haiku are prismatic in the interpretive meanings. That’s the fun challenge to me–to write haiku that resonate in a reader’s mind. And to me, it’s best if the resonations vary from reader to reader. That’s the really cool part of haiku. I love reading haiku that give me the sensation of biting into a Sweet Tart candy from my youth. It’s the explosion of meaning, recognition and communion with the writer. I like that haiku require effort and participation of the reader.
Some of my favorites are ones that on first reading had me shaking my head and thinking WTF? Then upon my second, third or fourth reading the fog clears and it hits me. I try to achieve this with my haiku. And of course, the whole Zen thing applies in that the harder I try in writing a haiku, the lamer my results are. My best haiku appear to have come to me through direct experience that is captured out of necessity rather than effort. These haiku I consider to be good rarely hit the mark with a hasty writing. I generally need to make certain I have the “just right” wording, without destroying the impact of its “one breath” essence. Haiku either make it or they don’t. There is no margin for error.
“Tilted at a Severe Angle” was literally drafted in the moment on the backside of the take-home schedule sitting on the bar of the jazz bar that I frequent. The band had finished a break after an especially long first set and were into their final set before closing time. It was clear they were playing for themselves. It was pure jazz being played for the passion and delight of the musicians. It was voyeuristically wonderful to watch.
A young, tall blonde walked into the bar at that late hour. She’s unexpected…an oddity at this time and place. She sat down next to Lamont, who mans the door and is also the featured singer on several numbers during the main set. He was wearing a black fedora rakishly tilted at an angle. She did light up a cigarette and acted as cool and aloof as the young saxman she clearly was with.
If I were a filmmaker, I couldn’t have choreographed a better scene. I admit that I added the spider-web tattoo because she pulled those of us still on the scene into her pulchritudinous aura. We were sucked into her web, not knowing whether to pay attention to her or the amazing magic happening on stage. The scene had to be recorded.
Writing “Tilted at a Severe Angle” was easy because of the setting, characters, and mood. The prose came effortlessly because I am familiar with the jazz club, the band, and many of the personalities. With the haiku, I wanted to capture that same sensation when an attractive – dare I say sexy – woman enters a room or walks past and captures attention. In a sense, she violates one’s personal space either by device or unintentionally. I also wanted to pursue the pure fantasy image of a woman’s bare breasts entering a lover’s space – thus, the choice of the word “barely.”
Most of the haibun I write require more effort –mostly in editing. By editing, I mean eliminating clumsy wording or adding an adjective or adverb for clarity. One type of haibun that I’ve been writing is the one-sentence haibun. These are long, run-on sentences that are written hopefully in a way that avoids the obvious fact that it’s a long, big-ass sentence while preserving the immediacy and urgency of the scene. These are fun to write and make me sorry that I didn’t take my eighth-grade teacher, Mr. Leonardelli more seriously. He had a major hard-on for diagramming sentences and was extremely proficient at it. It’d be fun to see him diagram one of my long, one-sentence haibun–especially if I could avoid his tut-tutting over a dangling whatever.
Editor’s Note: Best links for reading Jeff Winke’s haibuns are:
lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in a downtown industrial loft with his wife, two-thirds of his children and a posse of four cats where he plies his skills as a PR counselor, magazine editor and adjunct university professor at the Milwaukee Center of Upper Iowa University.
Jeffrey Winke co-edited the first small press North American haiku anthology, the Third Coast Haiku Anthology, published in 1977. His most recent book, What’s Not There: Selected Haiku of Jeffrey Winke is a 2002 Merit Book Award winner. His motion graphis haiku collection called Chances can be viewed here…and has been designated a “Cool Website.”
Recent books include PR Idea Book: 50 Proven Tools That Really Work (Denver: Outskirts Press, 2006) and the haiku collection What’s Not There (Chicago: Deep North Press, 2002) and Coquette Sensual haiku (Milwaukee:Distant Thunder Press, 2008) which is available now. Photo of Jeffrey Winke by Mike Starling
her shadow falls
into my arms
That Smirking Face
by Jeffrey Winke
a collection of haiku and haibun by Jeffrey Winke featuring drawings by Matt M. Cipov
Distant Thunder Press, 234 N. Broadway, Unit 513 Milwaukee, WI 53202 USA.
A collaborative broadside featuring Jeff’s dark urban haiku and haibun with original art by Matt M. Cipov. “I found his business card on the floor of a coffee shop and was compelled to look up his website,” Winke says. “His direct, edgy style reflects exactly the tone of the haiku and haibun I’m currently writing.”