What is 'haibun'? And how I wrote my first one - nominated in a writing competition.
You Will Succeed, Because You Have Zest
You will succeed, because you have zest. These words echoed in my mind while I stayed with my eyes closed, and tried to keep the dream at the edge of my lids, to memorize it before it escaped permanently.
I am far away in an Asian country to participate in a writers' conference. It is a sunny spring day, and I am alone in the big wooden house. I look around me: I am in a big dark room with long wooden tables and benches that line the window. The room is used both as a conference and a dining hall. I am peering through a window from which I can see the big lake, the bank on which, the house is built. In the distance I can make out some of my fellow writers, too. They walk under the blossoming trees and enjoy the beauty of the lake.
Suddenly, I feel I am not alone in the room. The cook--a tiny Asian woman in her sixties--is there too, preparing lunch. I walk over to her and, because I have nothing else to do, I offer her my help. It dawns on me that this woman is not just a cook; she is a woman of deep knowledge and wisdom. She has the ability to foresee the future. It seems she is able to read my thoughts, too, because she smiles at me and confirms: "Yes, I can see the future and I'll tell you some things that are important to you. First, you will succeed, because you have zest."
I was so surprised by her words that I woke up and did not hear the other important things she wanted to tell me, but at least I remembered that one. I wondered what it meant to have zest and whether I would succeed at life in general, or just in something specifically connected to my dream.
A month later, I was searching for information about different kinds of poems in order to help my son Kristian do his homework for his literature class. I was Googling the word "haiku" when, to my surprise, the first site I opened, announced the Third International Haibun Contest. It was held in Japan and the call for entries just opened. I did not know what "haibun" meant. But what made me stop and take a closer look at the guidelines of the contest was that it was held in honor of Basho, the great Japanese poet and creator of the literary genre "haibun". Basho used to live in a wooden hut on the shore of Lake Biwa in the last years of his life. It's kind of weird, I thought, there was a wooden hut, a lake and a literary event. It sounded so familiar to me. Where did I know all this from? Suddenly, a flash in my mind lit up my memory. There were writers and a wooden house near a lake in my dream. So many coincidences, it couldn't be by accident. It was a sign, I thought. I frantically surfed the web for information on what exactly "haibun" meant. I felt compelled to explore it. I was already sure what the message of this dream was: I had to write a haibun and participate in the contest.
Several days later, I already knew from the numerous websites I visited that "haibun" was a literary form, originating in Japan, combining prose and haiku. I read some haibuns in Bulgarian and English, and began to brainstorm my first haibun.
Every morning when I went to work, on my way to the tube station, I passed by many stray dogs that lived in our neighborhood. They happily wagged their tails when they saw me as they knew me for a long time. Sometimes I brought bones or other scraps to the dogs and I left it near the trash cans. The dogs knew that the trash bins were the usual places where people left food for them. And there always was a dog nearby that immediately ate all the food left. Many people not just fed the dogs but named them, and played with them, too. After all, these stray dogs were the pets of the neighborhood and we had to take care of them.
One day I went to work earlier than usually and decided to try and write a haibun myself. It was not easy as I had to write it not in Bulgarian but in English. I could write about the stray dogs I met every morning, I thought, I knew their habits well. Maybe this was a chance for the Japanese to learn about the stray dogs we had and how we loved them. They were a symbol of our tolerance and love for freedom. I started writing about the stray dogs and was in a hurry to finish my piece before my colleagues appeared in the office. In half an hour the first draft of my first haibun was written. I secretly revised it during lunch time in the next several days. At the end, I had the following haibun:
I mailed it to Japan as an entry in the Genjuan International Haibun Contest 2014. A couple of months later I received a letter. My haibun was one of the decorated works. There was a certificate with my name and the title of my haibun, signed by the three-member jury: Stephen Henry Gill, Hisashi Miyazaki and Nobuyuki Yuasa.
A year later, I held in my hands Genjuan Haibun Contest Decorated Works 2012-2014 book, and my haibun was a part of this compilation. When I began this magical journey that started with a colorful dream and ended with my haibun published, I could never imagine I would have such a first-hand experience with the Japanese culture. I looked at the book again -it was the material proof of the long journey I travelled. I pressed it to my chest and closed my eyes to realize the magic I experienced. And then, the Asian lady from my dream appeared in my mind's eye.
"I told you that you will succeed," she winked, "because you have zest."