“Zen and the Art of Hybrid Flash” – Review of Haibun, A Writer’s Guide: ed. Roberta Beary, Lew Watts & Rich Youmans

Ahead of the Flash Fiction Festival taking place 14th-16th July, in Bristol, where this book is being launched and where two of the editors are running a workshop on the form, we are delighted to publish Zen and the Art of Hybrid Flash – a review by poet and flash fiction writer, John Wheway, of Haibun; A Writer’s Guide ed by Roberta Beary, Lew Watts and Rich Youmans. Ad Hoc Fiction, 2023. (Available currently at Amazon worldwide and soon on the Ad Hoc Fiction bookshop).

“Zen and the Art of Hybrid Flash”, Review by John Wheway, July 2023

A compelling read – unusual, in my experience, for a book on how to write, Haibun: A Writer’s Guide, the latest addition to Ad Hoc’s valuable Master Class Series, has a no-nonsense tone one might hope for in a manual on a form deriving from the culture that spawned Zen. With no fuss, no effort to be entertaining, no vying of egos for the dominant voice, the three collaborators lay down a direct path to creating your own haibun.

And what a rich and diverse form it turns out to be, a fine balance of tradition and innovation. A haibun, they tell us, should produce sparks in the reader – vital resonances back and forth among title, prose section and haiku, haibun’s three basic components. Then they show, with many astutely chosen examples, each with a brief, acute commentary, how these sparks can be struck.

Further examples demonstrate the many variants and innovations the form has given rise to, none of them gratuitous; on the contrary, each one making a sound artistic point. The basic form itself must be, given this book’s account of it, a healthy provocation to experiment and developmental play.

Let me quote an ekphrastic example by Peter Butler (p.55 in the book), full of lightning sleights of hand.

Instructing Mona Lisa

Relax, Lisa. Not quite facing me, more a half-glance. Nails clean? Then hands on lap, right over left. As to expression, no laughing please without your teeth. Lips together.

Now imagine yourself in a post-coital situation – not with me, of course, nor necessarily with your husband.

That is perfect, Lisa. Hold it if you can, several hundred years.

gallery attendant

checking the time.

to his next break

Currently, I’m in touch with many flash writers who want to try their hand at poetry, poets who want to write flash, and others interested in hybrid writing. To my mind, this manual offers a most practical aid to all of us wishing to extend the range of forms in which we write.

I have one minor cavil, about placing a history of haibun-writing in English as chapter 2, before the detailed teaching on how to practice the form. It must have seemed right to the authors, with their established deep engagement with haibun, but I wanted to postpone it. For newbies like me, it might have worked best as an appendix.

That said, the appendices that are provided look extremely useful, including prompts and exercises, online archives of haibun and essays on the form, resources that include internationally based journals, book publishers, and contests where you can submit your work. Everything you need to start writing haibun. I for one can hardly wait.

John Wheway’s publications include A Bluebottle in Late October, V Press in 2020; Poems in New Measure, Stand, Magma, Warwick Review, Poetry Review, the Yellow Nib, Poetry Quarterly, Compass Magazine, South Word, Agenda, High Window, And Other Poems, three Templar anthologies and The Echoing Gallery from Redcliffe Press; flash fiction in Flash Flood, Ad Hoc Fiction anthologies and Ellipsis-Zine; The Green Table of Infinity, pamphlet from Anvil Press; Poborden from Faber. He has a Creative Writing MA from Bath Spa University.

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