NATIONAL POETRY MONTH - APRIL 2012 This year, Lyrical Passion Poetry E-Zine interviewed George Swede for National Poetry Month as he is a respected editor and writer. We'd like to share George's creative insight and spirit with other haiku writers and readers.
Raquel Bailey: When did you discover haiku?
As with most others in North America, I first learned about haiku in school. A strong urge to write in the form only began after I read The Modern Japanese Haiku, edited by Makoto Ueda (University of Toronto Press, 1976). The press sent me a copy because I was the poetry book review editor for Cross-Canada Writers’ Quarterly. Thumbing through the anthology and wondering to whom it should be sent it for review, I became intrigued and decided to do the review myself. I soon realized, however, that I had much to learn about the form and its history before I could do a good job. So, I went to the University of Toronto Library and found a surprising number of English-language haiku holdings at the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library (to which I recently donated my papers). The Fisher Library had almost all of the issues of Haiku, a periodical edited by Eric Amman from 1966-1969, the booklet Haiku by Claire Pratt (1965), the four volumes of Haiku by R.H. Blyth (1981-82), as well as a number of other sources. I immersed myself in them and emerged with enough knowledge to write the review.
Raquel Bailey: What intrigued you about this form of poetry?
What intrigued me about the form, when executed as well as it was by the 20th century haiku poets in The Modern Japanese Haiku, was its capacity to say a lot with very few words. Of course, everyone realizes this after reading excellent haiku, but in my case, it was something more. I began to feel confident that I could write well in the form. This belief was likely based on the fact that most of my free-verse poems were more short and image-based than those of my contemporaries.
Although I published three collections of longer poems in the 1970s, the haiku began to take up more and more of my writing time. My first submission publication in a haiku journal (Dragonfly) occurred in late 1976. Thereafter, my work began to appear many different magazines with the result that soon I had enough good poems for a publisher (Three Trees Press) to put out a collection in 1978, Endless Jigsaw. The very next year a different publisher (Fiddlehead Poetry Books) put out another collection, A Snowman, Headless.
Raquel Bailey: Since you have stepped down as the wonderful editor of Frogpond, do you have your heart set on other haiku related projects or venues?
I was the editor from January 2008 to February, 2012 (with my wife, Anita Krumins, as the assistant editor). For me, especially, Frogpond was a daily commitment, a job. Since leaving this post, I have been relishing the freedom to pursue my own interests—trying out new variations on haiku, tanka, haibun and learning about haiga. I’ve also become more involved with developing my social media presence (on Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin).
Raquel Bailey: How often do you write poetry?
Since 1968 when I started publishing poems, I have tried to write something every day. Of course, work demands often derailed this plan: 40 years in psychology as a teacher, researcher, administrator and therapist while, during the same period, spending eight years as an editor for Cross-Canada Writers’ Quarterly, another eight years as an editor for Red Moon Press, plus ten or so years in a variety of administrative roles for several writers’ organizations (e.g. Membership Chair for The Writers’ Union of Canada). Soon following retirement from Ryerson University came my four years as editor of Frogpond. Now, though, I’m in full retirement mode and manage to write almost each day.
Raquel Bailey: Do you write other forms of poetry? Where can our readers find your work?
I began writing free verse and published three collections during the1970s: Unwinding (Missing Link Press, 1974), Tell-Tale Feathers (Fiddlehead Poetry Books, 1978) and As Far As The Sea Can Eye (York Publishing, 1979). I’ve published a number of visual poems that have been included in some collections; both of haiku and non-haiku, and that also have been appeared in art galleries throughout North America. Around 25 or so of my books are available from various Internet booksellers. Likewise, a goodly number of Internet links to my work, both poetry and articles, can be found on my two personal web sites, http://home.primus.ca/~swede/ and http://georgeswede.com, as well as my Twitter site https://twitter.com/#!/GeorgeSwede.
Raquel Bailey: If you had to pick one poem from a prolific writer or from your own body of work, that really touched you during your years as a respected poetry editor, which haiku or tanka poem would that be?
A number of early English-language haiku poets broadened my perspective on the form. One of the most prolific and influential in the 1970s was Foster Jewell (1893-1984). Here is one taken from Cor van den Heuvel’s first The Haiku Anthology, Anchor Press/Doubleday, 1974, p. 65:
That breeze brought it— a moment of moonlight to the hidden fern.
Raquel Bailey: Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts with the haiku community and our readers.
NATIONAL POETRY MONTH - APRIL 2010
This year, Lyrical Passion Poetry E-Zine interviewed Lenard Duane Moore for National Poetry Month as he is another one of Raquel's favorite haiku poets. We'd like to share Lenard Moore's creative insight and spirit with other haiku writers and aspiring writers.
Raquel Bailey: What was it about haiku and Japanese short form poetry that drew you to learn about and write in this particular poetic style?
I like the conciseness, concrete details, contrasts that one must employ when writing haiku. I also like how the haiku form causes me to write about the human oneness of existence with the natural world. I believe that haiku, in some way, enables me to see the beauty of phenomena in the natural world.
When do you feel you write your best work? Could it be a particular mood or a specific time of day?
Perhaps, I write some of my best work when I am inspired by the natural world and/or by other art forms and events such as music, paintings, photographs, dancing, sculptures, sports and traveling. Of course, reading also inspires me. In short, I do not think the time of day causes me to write my best work, though I especially like the quietness of late nights and early mornings.
Upon researching Japanese short form poetry, I notice that there are very talented American haiku and tanka writers. If you could name one modern haiku writer in America that you admire greatly, who would that writer be? Why?
It is difficult to name one modern haiku writer whom I admire greatly in America. There are so many excellent haiku writers in America. Yet, I am moved by the following poets' haiku: Etheridge Knight, Elizabeth Searle Lamb, Peggy Willis Lyles, Raymond Roseliep, and Richard Wright. I also admire the following poets' haiku for different reasons: Roberta Beary and Sonia Sanchez. I appreciate how Roberta Beary employs unexpected subject matter into her haiku. I also appreciate how Sonia Sanchez employs the blues into her haiku.
If you would like to read some of Lenard's fine works, please visit http://www.wordtechweb.com/moore.html to purchase his new book. Sample poems are available for your reading pleasure.
NATIONAL POETRY MONTH - APRIL 2009
Lyrical Passion Poetry E-Zine interviewed Michael Dylan Welch since he is one of Raquel's favorite haiku poets. We'd like to share Michael Welch's creative insight and spirit with other haiku writers and aspiring haiku poets. We've also selected a few of his beautiful haiku to inspire your writing.
Raquel Bailey: As I read in a few of your past interviews, you studied haiku for many years. What was it about haiku and Japanese short form poetry that drew you to learn about and write in this particular poetic style?
I learned of haiku in high school and began writing it (badly) then, and kept writing it (badly) for almost ten years. The twenty-plus years since then have been kinder. Like most students who learn haiku superficially in school, all I knew was the idea of a syllable count. It was a neat little bucket to put poetry in. In the years after I first learned of haiku, I began to read books on Taoism and Zen and encountered haiku in translation. I didn’t quite connect the dots that these poems weren’t in the “prescribed” syllable count, let alone understand why, but I enjoyed reading haiku more and more. Cor van den Heuvel’s The Haiku Anthology (second edition, 1986) was a revelation. I finally saw and internalized the understanding that content mattered more than form, and that the traditional Japanese pattern of counting sounds could not be duplicated in English by counting syllables. The word “haiku” is three sounds, but two syllables. One hundred yen is not equal to one hundred dollars. Yet how many well-meaning teachers and textbooks, and even established poets, have made this erroneous assumption that Japanese haiku count syllables? This revelation about content over form immediately liberated my haiku, and they instantly improved in quality. Quite simply, I was no longer filling a bucket with seventeen apples. If you keep apples in a bucket, they’re pretty useless. But apples are much more enjoyable when you see them on the tree, in your hand, as windfall, or in a freshly baked pie. This was when I started studying haiku more earnestly, buying books devoted to haiku in translation, and then books of criticism, as well as collections of original haiku in English. More than twenty years ago, I repeatedly visited the Oriental Bookstore (now closed) in Pasadena, California, spending several hundred dollars on each visit, buying Blyth books and so much more. But really, I never considered this “study.” Rather, it was a passionate desire to learn more, to explore the history and examples of this resonant poetry down through the centuries. It’s a passion to figure out what makes a haiku tick. It’s an innate desire I would wish any aspiring haiku poet to have.
I was drawn to haiku because I’ve always been interested in writing short poetry, even as a child. As I’ve said before, for me, haiku is an approach to infinity. By focusing on supremely brief or ephemeral moments, haiku somehow captures the rightness of the whole universe. There’s something metaphysical about haiku, yet also something anti-metaphysical and paradoxical in its utter ordinariness. As Kerouac once said, haiku should be as simple as porridge.
For anyone interested in haiku, if it doesn’t come naturally to read haiku and, in balance, to read about haiku, then perhaps haiku is just a passing diversion. But literary haiku demands more of the writer than the superficiality taught—and "mistaught"—in our schools. In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell talks about how experts typically practice their art or profession for at least 10,000 hours before reaching mastery or expertise. How many haiku poets rush in and expect success at a mere fraction of that devotion? I recall Jim Kacian once saying that he wanted to have written a thousand haiku before sending any out for publication. I usually sit on my own haiku for at least a year, sometimes several years, before sending them out. The space in time gives me fresh eyes to look at my own poems objectively, and to be more selective in what I send out. There’s no hurry. One of my favorite quotations on haiku is by French philosopher Roland Barthes, from Empire of Signs. He says that “haiku has this rather phantasmagorical property: that we always suppose we ourselves can write such things easily.” The best haiku requires discipline and patience, and I think some of that discipline and patience comes from a careful reading and study of the genre, from questioning your own assumptions.
Raquel Bailey: When do you feel you write your best work? Could it be a particular mood or a specific time of day?
For me, I don’t think there’s any particular time, or any particular best way. Good haiku, for me, have come in all sorts of ways (I had an essay about this in a recent issue of Haiku Canada Review). Driving to work last fall, I was momentarily surprised to see a bicycle in the ditch beside the road, and wondered if its owner had crashed. Then I saw the cyclist a few feet beyond the ditch, picking bright red berries from a thick bush. Many haiku come from momentary inspiration like that, but really the poem came slightly later, as I reflected on this experience, trying to put it into words. As Wordsworth said, poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful emotion recollected in tranquility. A key word in this definition, which also applies to haiku, is the word “recollected.” Even if it’s just a few seconds later, we have to process experience, to recall and re-form the experience. What matters is not the immediacy of experience, but its vibrancy. Thus good haiku can come from very old memories or from recent ones. All haiku is history. But it’s history brought alive as a sort of “present intense.”
I don’t believe, by the way, that haiku has to be inspired only by personal experience. Within certain limitations, the imagination can be a suitable source of inspiration, too. That’s haiku heresy to some people, but I think what matters most is how authentic the poem feels to the reader, regardless of its source of inspiration. If some people are less prolific with their haiku, it could be that they force an unnecessarily narrow restriction onto their sources of inspiration. Of course, the right process makes for good product, if you want to think of haiku that way. But when we read finished poems, the “product,” it should not matter to us one bit how the poem might have been inspired.
Raquel Bailey: Upon researching Japanese short form poetry, I notice that there are very talented American haiku and tanka writers. If you could name one modern haiku writer in America that you admire greatly, who would that writer be? Why?
It would seem unfair of me to name just one at the expense of others. And at times, I’ve admired different writers because of what I needed to learn at the time. At other times, I may have happened to see more of a particular poet’s work, and grew to appreciate it. But over the years, I would say poets such as Marlene Mountain, Garry Gay, Cor van den Heuvel, George Swede, Ebba Story, Christopher Herold, Fay Aoyagi, and Carolyn Hall have all particularly moved me, and continue to do so with regularity. Even this list of names leaves off poets who I also greatly enjoy, such as John Stevenson, Lee Gurga, Ferris Gilli, Peggy Willis Lyles, LeRoy Gorman, and so many more. In the past, too, I particularly enjoyed Nick Avis, Adele Kenny, and Alexis Rotella. And Jerry Kilbride. I think what makes them all succeed is a sort of authenticity, an honesty that trusts the sharing of the self. Voice comes naturally. Each poet has a way of seeing the world in his or her unique way, and we relate to individual poems where we are able to recognize the same world, or where we are shown the world we know in a previously unknown way. Because each person’s voice and perspective is unique, I believe that haiku will have a never-ending potential for personal self-expression.
Raquel Bailey: If you could describe your haiku / tanka poetry with one word, what would that word be?
I don’t think I could do that, nor do I think it would provide anything useful to readers, to be honest, because it too easily narrows down a person’s poetry. Some poems are pizza dough, others are mushrooms or pepperoni. I consider myself a hopeful and optimistic person, and I’d pick the word “hope” for myself, but not necessarily for my poems. Hope, for me, enables me to feel joy at every turn, and haiku are ultimately a poem of joy, even when they celebrate dark subjects. This joy leads to gratitude, too (I am reminded that Sam Hamill used “Gratitude” as the title of one of his poetry books). In an interview with The Paris Review, former United States poet laureate Billy Collins once remarked that “a very deep strain of existential gratitude . . . runs through a lot of poetry. It’s certainly in haiku. Almost every haiku says the same thing: ‘It’s amazing to be alive here.’”
I’m a closet Taoist, too, and like to feel that the universe is unfolding and flowing as it should. I am reminded of the scene in the movie American Beauty that shows a white plastic bag floating, dancing, in front of a red brick wall (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UDXjnW3nIWg&feature=related). As the character says in the movie, “That’s the day I realized that there was this entire life behind things, and this incredibly benevolent force that wanted me to know there was no reason to be afraid, ever.” After the main character dies, his voice over at the end of the movie says that “It’s hard to stay mad, when there’s so much beauty in the world. Sometimes I feel like I’m seeing it all at once, and it’s too much. My heart fills up like a balloon that’s about to burst. And then I remember to relax, and stop trying to hold onto it, and then it flows through me like rain and I can’t feel anything but gratitude for every single moment of my stupid little life.” That’s the joy—and hope—of haiku.
Raquel Bailey: I am well aware that you have done several interviews about your haiku poetry and many writers and readers study your work. Which one of your haiku poems would you say is your most stunning piece of work? What about your favorite tanka poem?
I would shy away from considering any of my haiku or tanka to be stunning. That’s for others to decide, if at all. That’s such a personal choice, too. What might strike one person as extraordinary might not strike others quite the same way, or at least not at the same time. Rather than thinking of any of my poems to be stunning, I would feel satisfied if a given poem communicates to a few people. As an “unfinished” poem, haiku requires a careful reader, and I think each poem finds its own home. Each haiku, if it’s lucky, finds a unique reader who “finishes” the poem with his or her individual interpretation. That’s how I feel it should be, for readers. We each bring something with us to each poem, balanced with consciously trying to empty ourselves to see what the poem can bring us. It’s a wonderful dance, and each poem is a personal invitation.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Michael Dylan Welch
dense fog— I write your name on the airport window
Frogpond 20:3 (December 1997)
Additional publication: San Francisco Bay Guardian (24 March 1999); A Table for One (broadside, 1999); Open Window (online book, 2000); Haiku for Lovers (MQ Publications, 2003); Vox Populi: 2007 Seattle Poetry Festival Anthology (2007).
first snow . . . the children's hangers clatter in the closet
Woodnotes 23 (Winter 1994)
Additional publication: Dogwood Blossoms #11 (Summer 1995, online); Shreve Memorial Library (Shreveport, La.) Electronic Poetry Network, December 30, 1997; Snapshots 4 (October 1998) 3rd Best of Issue; van den Heuvel, Haiku Anthology 3rd ed. (1999); Open Window (online book, 2000); Barlow and Lucas, eds., New Haiku (Snapshots Press, 2002), Presence #18 (September 2002); First Star (broadside, 2004)
toll booth lit for Christmas— from my hand to hers warm change
Second Place, 1995 Henderson Contest (Haiku Society of America); Frogpond 18:4 (Winter 1995)
Additional publication: Shreve Memorial Library (Shreveport, La.) Electronic Poetry Network, November 19, 1998; van den Heuvel, Haiku Anthology 3rd ed. (1999); Global Haiku (Iron Press and Mosaic Press, 2000); Modern Haiku 30:1 (Winter-Spring 1999), 32:1 (Winter-Spring 2001), and 35:1 (Winter-Spring 2004); Presence 12 (August 2000); Tagged with Ribbons (broadside, 2002)
relaxing my arm butterfly on the bull's-eye
Third Place, 2005 Drevniok Award (Haiku Canada) (published in results flyer, 2006)