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The backstory to my first book of haiku, What We Find (imaginary press, 2011), is a testament to paying attention and to the detailed process of putting a book together. And in this case, a letterpress. Every letter pressed by human force into the fibers of paper. An ancient art. Not sure I’d do it again because of the cost and time commitment but I love the result. What We Find is a portrait of a man—at least that’s what I see on the cover. And this is his story about beginning.
In the fall of 2010 I drove a batch of poems to vince tripi, a laid-back kind of guy who I regard as a pillar of the haiku community but who maintains a decidedly lower case profile. I’d met vince previously at numerous Haiku Circle gatherings in Northfield, Massachusetts, a place that is nearly equidistant between our two homes in central Massachusetts. He struck me as a kind of haiku guru. Poems are ever-present in his life. He is a giving, open spirit in love with language with an urgent need to sing out in poems. vince was the guy who might help me shape my pile of poems into book form. Originally from Brooklyn, he’d be honest if in a blunt sort of way.
We sat in the front window of the Greenfield Market, a wholesome co-op market where people gather for home-cooked slow-food. I admit to feeling a bit “on display” out front there because people often interrupted our meeting to say hello or even chime in on the poems themselves. Strangers adding their two cents. Were they even poets? I remember thinking. If there was a poem vince liked he read it again out loud for an innocent bystander’s approval. I was a bit embarrassed. If there was a poem that didn’t work he’d say something like “nah . . . off the mark.” Or: “obvious.”
Hours passed. I kept my mouth shut, listening. We were in the heart of a place that radiates with the energies of the cosmos. Bulk grains, beans, noodles, every oil imaginable and undyed dog toys to boot. People in and out all day long. Responsible, green choices everywhere. Even a bumper sticker that read “Love Your Mother” as in Mother Earth. Of course this would be the de facto office space of a haiku poet. Organic everything. Public Welcome.
vince agreed to help me cull the good poems from the bad. Together we would pull the book together and he even gave me Ed Rayher’s phone number over at Swamp Press. Ed could complete the project with his fine letterpress work. The Japanese artist Kuniharu Shimizu would end up providing the original cover art. That’s a whole different story which can be chalked up to the power of the internet. Strangers, again, crossing paths. A happy accident. A haiku in itself.
Little did I know my little orange book would take a full year to complete from my initial meeting with vince. And in the end I did not go along with the final version vince suggested for the book. He wanted me to have somewhere around forty poems. No more. I said I’d spent ten years writing these things and thought there should be more included. Looking back, I would be more selective in a few instances. Humbler. But hey, as it has been suggested to me, a book represents a moment in time. I’d say What We Find is where I was then. And I remember it with gratitude for getting me to now.