In the midst of new baby, new house, new life, and new writing projects, I decided to enter a haiku contest for the Centennial National Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, D.C. Some people may smirk at the form, but I’ve been seriously reading and writing in the form for a lot of the year and have found a newfound love for it. The more I learn about it, the more I realize how little I knew to begin with.
Anyway, the contest. Well, I won it. And then I wrote for the Washington Post’s blog every day for a week. And then a Japanese newspaper interviewed me. They kindly sent me a copy, but it’s all in Japanese! So below is what may have appeared in the Kumamoto Daily News.
Thanks to Amy Hitt at the Washington Post, Reiko Robertson of the Kumamoto Daily News, and to the poet-judges Venus Thrash and Jose Padua!
Also, thanks to those little blossoms on those trees.
Interview (with Reiko Robertson):
Have you been to Japan?
No, but I would love to go. I am a big fan of Japanese film like Kurosawa and Imamura. I am currently reading the stories of Ryūnosuke Akutagawa and I love the book Woman in the Dunes by Abe Kobo. I’ve listened to traditional Japanese court music and I also like more experimental groups like the Boredoms, the Ruins, and Melt Banana. I enjoy learning about the culture, but I’ve never had the money to travel.
Have you actually seen the Washington cherry blossoms?
I have been to the area, but I saw it in summer and not in the spring.
Do you read or speak Japanese?
No. I would love to have the time to study the language and to study zazen in Japan.
I suppose that you are teaching English at a senior high-school. How long you have been teaching?
I currently teach English at Hewitt-Trussville High School. I have been teaching professionally for 6 years.
When did you start writing Haiku poems and what was the motivation?
I’ve been writing since high school. Around that time, most Americans are introduced to haiku. I’m sure I wrote senryu like most Americans. We call all of these short poem forms haiku. Within the last few years, I’ve really taken an interest in haiku and I intend to read more of the classics of Basho, Buson, and Issa. Many American writers have written interesting versions of haiku. For example, the Beats often wrote haiku in the form of a sentence, rather than a three or four line structure.
Since February, I have attempted writing a poem a day. Many times these come out as haiku or senryu. I have a new baby so I have to really work to find writing time. My motivation for turning to haiku is in one sense practical; it’s short. Even though they are short, haiku are not easy to write, by any means. Writing a good haiku is difficult. The haiku, like zazen, forces us to slow down and I think that is very important for us today. Our society does not appear to like us to slow down, to concentrate, or to be in or experience the world around us.
Are there fundamental differences in writing Haiku and Sonnet, and if there are, what are they?
This is a difficult question! I could write an essay or book on this subject. Or someone more capable could!
It is not easy to write a good haiku, just as it is not easy to write a good sonnet. Because of the brevity of the haiku form, it allows easier drafting. The haiku preserves a revelatory sensory image. The image or moment is all. It’s a photograph. The sonnet calls for metaphorical development leading to a thematic insight. Something more like a short film. This visual art metaphor has probably been used before.
This is an interesting question and I feel my answer may be inadequate!
Is there any group of haiku poets in your area where you can meet regularly and study each others’ works? This is a must in Japan, and haiku poets get support and encouragement from the group meeting.
I am not aware of any haiku groups in my area. Writing groups exist, many with a focus on poetry or fiction, but I am not aware of any with a focus on haiku. I know there are some haiku societies in America, but I’m not sure what their goals are or if they even meet in person. I’ve always loved the idea of a group of writers working together, but I’ve rarely seen it work myself.
Are your high school students making haiku? What is their interest?
I have my students write in various poetic forms, including haiku. Students gain the ability to analyze the forms by writing in them. Hopefully, they also enjoy the creative problem-solving that each form embodies. Most students write senryu that are humorous. A few students see the potential of traditional haiku and write very beautiful and powerful poems.