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Essence #3 (part 3)

Essences explores the roots of the “haiku movement” in North America


Essence #3

(part 3)

By Carmen Sterba

Carmen Sterba’s Interview with Cor van den Heuvel
〜Part 3 of 3〜

Carmen Sterba: Does the fact that you read your early haiku in coffee houses cause you to be more dramatic in your readings? Would you like to see haiku read more often with jazz? Or even hip hop?
Cor van den Heuvel: I’m sure the way I read my work, including my haibun and haiku, has been influenced by my early experience in coffee houses. I think the haiku spirit as I usually try to follow it, with the emphasis on simplicity, can be complemented with many of the sounds and rhythms of jazz. It could be used in the period of silence between two haiku or after a passage of prose to introduce a following haiku. I don’t think hip hop would work for me.
C.S.: In understanding the roots of the haiku movement in North America, I hope to include both those who see haiku as poetry and those who see it as a Zen poem or something in between. Since 1999, when the last edition of The Haiku Anthology came out, the numbers of haiku poets have exploded through online groups, online journals, and instant news through blogs. In New York, you had such a tight knit group to meet with and write with from 1971. Do you have any advice for those whose contacts are only through the Internet?
C.V.: Only that examining how the poem means word for word and how it is structured on the page is only a beginning to finding out if it works. Sometimes the poet sees in the words what he wants to see, even if it is not really present in the poem. Getting others’ reactions is very important to finding out if the poem is really suggesting what the poet wants it to suggest. I think it is much easier to find this out in direct face to face contact then going through the web. Not only do you get a more immediate verbal reaction, you also get clues from facial reactions and other body language.
C.S.: I would be interested in how you interpret your one word haiku, “tundra”. Or is that left to the reader?
C.V.:  It is what it is: “a level or undulating plain characteristic of arctic or subarctic regions.” The important things are to see it alone in the mind or in the middle of an otherwise blank page and to color it with a season, preferably spring when it is blowing forever with grasses, flowers, birds (with their nests and eggs), and insects; or in winter when it is covered with endless drifted snow. To see the vastness of it spreading out from the word across the page and across the world. And to hear the sound of it. The word.
C.S.: May I have your permission to publish the following four haiku?
C.V.: Yes.
on the saddle-bags
snow in the mountains
[Sun in Skull, 1961 Chant Press]  
summer afternoon
the long fly ball to center field
takes its time
[Play Ball, 1999 Red Moon Press]  
a tidepool
in a clam shell
the evening sunlight
[Dark, 1982 Chant Press]  
after the speeches
the honored dead return
to their silence
[A Boy’s Seasons, 2010] (To be published this year by Single Island Press; Originally serialized in Modern Haiku in 1993)

Thanks to Cor van den Heuvel for his generous interview!

It is my hope that Essences will become fluid with new voices and continue in a way that will encourage new research into English-language haiku history. To make this happen, I have already chosen my successor for 2011 from another country.

Meanwhile, I will continue with the Sixties and Seventies explosion of journals, and haiku organizations in North America, while highlighting some of the English-language haiku masters. I hope that other poets will join in with anecdotes about these times.

Which haiku poet would you like to interview if you had the chance? What are some of the interviews or articles that you read in haiku print journals or internet journals that have been most valuable in your personal haiku journey?


Essences began as a column written by Carmen Sterba in the North American Post in Seattle, WA, a bilingual newspaper in Japanese and English. Its purpose is to go back to the roots of the “haiku movement” in North America: the major poets, the individual styles of haiku, the books, the journals and conferences as they evolved from the sixties and seventies onwards. This will be a short version, so feel free to add information and comments as we go along.

This Post Has 37 Comments

  1. Thank you Lorin, for sharing the maps of your indigenous nations and languages in Australia.
    I’ll never forget the opening ceremony for the Olympics in Australia. It started with the history
    of your indigenous peoples and it was extremely

    Our country was first blanketed with a great number of Native American tribes with different languages and still is to a certain extent. Unfortunately most tribes gave up their lands and were relocated.

    Our NW coastal tribes made/make long houses out of wood and still fish salmon in the same waters. The motifs for art are focused on fish and birds. ttp://

    I looked up some maps in America:

  2. “What is Australia’s original name?” – Carmen

    ah, Carmen, a very Zenny question, indeed. 😉

    There is no answer, because there are/ were many languages and each nation/ language group had its own part of country. Not that people stayed in their own country, but there was a system sort of like ‘host/ guest’. Your neighbours held the names of the places and features of their parts of country, so you knew them, but they weren’t yours. We’re talking about a stable culture developed over 40,000 to 60,000 years, based on rights to country.

    Perhaps the original name for the whole of the continent was something like ‘the world’ or ‘Earth’ as we use it in English? I doubt it, though.

    More likely, the ‘name’ is the sum of all of the parts, the features of country (of which Uluru is one) accounted for one by one, the whole song made up of many, many names, which no one nation has in their keeping. I know that ‘this country’, ‘my country’, ‘my mother’s country’ and ‘my father’s country’ (mother’s and father’s country are different areas) do not refer to the whole, but certain distinct areas. The features of the land are named; the total of these names, belonging to the various nations/ peoples is ‘Australia’ before colonial settlement.

    Here’s a map of the many nations:

    and here’s a map of the languages:

  3. Lorin, that is a powerful introduction to Australian culture in your words and the “culture and creation” page of the Australian government site. What is Australia’s original name?

    Here in Washington state, Mount Rainier is our Uluru.
    It was originally known as Tahoma or Tacoma, from the Puyallup word tacobet, or “mother of waters.”

  4. 😉 no, I’m not being esoteric or ‘Californian whacky’, not at all. Just a plain, practical experiment with a bit of plumbing pipe.

  5. Thanks, Michael. Yes, I did intend all capitals, mostly because it’s more than a name in our English-language cultural sense and also because it’s a monolith, well, like a monolith. But it’s also the centre and the heart, literally and metaphorically, traditionally. Any traditional painting of it, you’ll see it as the centre of many radiating circles.

    The name was officially changed back to what it had been for many thousands of years in the 90’s, but international tourism required that it also be called ‘Ayer’s Rock’ as it had been for a little over 100 years.

    We Westerners are different, our connection to country is different, our inherited sense of the sacred is less embodied in every sense (and so is that of Eastern ‘animist’ cultures) to that of these peoples who have inherited the oldest living human culture on earth.

    If you get a piece of 3 inch plastic plumbing pipe about 4 feet long, sit down and cover one end with your hands so you can breathe into it through your mouth and say Uluru over and over again until you get a rhythm going, you’ll hear how it should sound in the open space around you. (Do it outside, not in your bathroom) When your breathing and sound becomes right, you’ll hear the radiating circles around you.

  6. Well, that’s a good point, Michael. I think it would work better if the word were placed at the top of the page. I was also thinking that whereas tundra is a very expansive word/image, precipice is just the oppposite, a quite contractive word/experience.

  7. Yes, I think you’re right, Jack. Being on a precipice would make you aware of the space below. However, that’s why it doesn’t quite work as strongly for me if the poem were in the middle of an otherwise blank page, because the space you’re most aware of on a precipice is below you. Should “precipice” therefore be at the top of the page? What if it were at the bottom? Putting it in the middle of the page seems not quite right.

  8. Without indulging myself, I think if one is at the edge of a precipice, then one has the same feeling of dizzying emptiness below, with nothing to hold on to but the precipice, just as in the example of “shark,” so I think the white page works in conjunction with it. It is certainly not as expansive a poem as tundra is; perhaps, the experiment was to create a word that one has to hold on to with nothing else surrounding it for support; in that way, I think it works. The word rises sheerly above a void or sense of void and one has to hold on to it, or so, me thinks.

  9. As for other one-word poems offered here, some brief comments:


    I suppose, if one is perched on a precipice, one can think of nothing else BUT that, and perhaps that’s what the word forces us to do, too. We sense the danger, and the precipice could be both literal and figurative for its readers. The poem doesn’t go much further than that for me, and doesn’t gain anything (or much) from the whiteness or expanse of a page surrounding it the way “tundra” or “shark” or “oasis” do.


    I’m not sure if the all-capital treatment is part of Lorin’s intent, but it seems important. It hides the proper noun treatment of “Uluru,” which would push some people to realize it’s a place name (I like that that’s hidden in the capitalization of “ULURU,” thus allowing it to be a place name and something more). My parents have climbed Uluru (also known as Ayer’s Rock), and I’ve seen their photos and videos, which make me want to visit it, and be attracted to climbing it too. It’s one of the world’s most famous natural formations. If it were my spiritual place, I wouldn’t mind others climbing it, the same way thousands of people climb Half Dome at Yosemite (or hike up the backside) — a place that I consider very spiritual. After all, isn’t the whole world sacred? But that point aside, just as Uluru is a massive and distinctive natural landmark in Australia, so too is the word upon the page, with the word echoing the effect of the rock formation itself. I believe the formation is famous enough that the word works as a one-word poem.


    To me this piece is too much like many other single words that could be put on a page by themselves. To me it doesn’t quite reach the level of a small handful of other words that work better. Oh, sure, it works okay, the way probably ANY noun would, forcing us to think about it and the metaphorical relationship of the word to the surrounding page, where we apply meaning to its surroundings. But to me that’s too easy to do with many words (and thus relatively superficial). Also, because Cor has already gone here before, and much more successfully, “plague” doesn’t do much for me. In contrast, “core” is vastly more effective, not only because of its own meanings, but because of its homonymic allusion to Cor and thus to his “tundra” poem.


    The word by itself is of course a howl in the “silence” of the white page. But of course, it also refers to Ginsberg’s “Howl,” and that is what gives this piece its depth. Many readers might also see the “owl” in the poem, a bird associated with wisdom. Perhaps such an overtone is a long-shot, but if I noticed it, I suspect others would too — that Ginsberg’s “Howl” is a sort of wisdom, or wise observation, and that any kind of necessary howl to break the silence on any pressing topic might be wise also.


  10. Something to note about “tundra” is that many tundras are essentially considered deserts (defined by lack of precipitation, not sand!). Yet, if you look closely at tundra landscapes, everything is smaller—tiny flowers, smaller scrub brushes, and, below the tree line, even the trees are significantly smaller. So while many people might think of the tundra as barren like a desert, I would say they aren’t looking closely enough. One reason I named my erstwhile (but hopefully one day resurrected) poetry journal Tundra was for this very reason, as a call to notice the value in the small, to change one’s perspective and scale, and to realize that the tundra is indeed an entire ecosystem, as Carmen has mentioned, but that it operates on a more minute level. As writers of short poetry such as haiku, I suspect we all have a refined appreciation for noticing and appreciating the small.


  11. Other one-word poems (haiku?) that I know of are the following, each in the middle of an otherwise blank page:



    sakura [in Japanese]

    I think a few particular words lend themselves to this treatment, making us think more deeply about them if for no other reason than their audacity. The word “oasis” strikes me as simply a visual pun (the word itself being like an oasis in the desert). Maybe words, for poets, are indeed an oasis of refreshment and sustenance in a world of blank canvases. The word “shark” is stronger, I think, because we can sense an ominous feeling from this shark in its vast expanse of ocean. And “sakura” is interesting but, for me, lacks the overtones found in “shark” and emphatically in “tundra.” However, it’s more likely a comment on how often cherry blossoms are written about (“reused, like Gilette razor blades” as E. E. Cummings said, “to the mystical moment of dullness”). So the poet has reduced the subject purely to the act of naming it. If you agree with Roland Barthes, who asserts that haiku don’t “mean” but simply “signify,” then surely “sakura” alone on a page is the ultimate signifier for this particular subject. Thus the poem does have intellectual overtones, but I think I’d prefer deeper emotive overtones as well.

    As for “core,” of course its brilliance is found in the name “Cor” to which it refers, and bravo to John Stevenson for that master-stroke. It becomes an inside joke, as has already been mentioned, but aren’t all allusions a sort of inside joke? Someone once said that “poetry is conversation.” For the haiku community, at least those who know Cor’s “tundra” poem (whether they like it or not, and regardless of whether they consider it a haiku or not), John’s poem presents not only its own meaning (imagine if it had no reference to Cor) but also embraces the meaning on “tundra” (the same way that a season word in a good haiku in Japanese evokes other famous haiku with that same season word).

    I also have a one-word poem that I first published in 1989 in a book, and then it later appeared in Raw Nervz (mid to late 90s?), as I recall. It appeared in two different versions:



    The colon seems too overt and deliberate, as if the reader can’t figure it out. And without the colon, the poem is not much different from “oasis” — a visual pun and not much more, except that, like “tundra,” which implies snow in the white page around the poem, the whiteness around “fog” implies the fog itself (so in that sense it may have a slight less up on “oasis” — or perhaps not if that meaning is too obvious). I now think the poem would be much more interesting as follows:


    And to conclude, as already mentioned, I personally consider “tundra” to be a haiku, albeit on the fringes. Certainly not a haiku for beginners to emulate. It doesn’t really matter, though, whether it’s a haiku or not, because neither haiku or poetry needs to be confined to discrete buckets. Rather, poetry is a continuum, and at the very least “tundra” lies between haiku and concrete poetry. It not is what it is, but I’m very grateful for it.


    P.S. “two trees” doesn’t do anything for me, although it might help to know more of the context. The two words echo the number of trees, and perhaps we see them, and only them in an expanse of prairie. The poem goes no further than that for me, however.

  12. Thanks Sandra!
    “Alan, you might mention your appearance on the Fourth Plinth in Trafalager Square, London, last northern summer.

    For those of you who didn’t see him in action (I watched a webcast), the brave poet stood on the empty Fourth Plinth (which is being used for rotating artworks) and read out single words to watchers and passersby. The idea was that the words were “important” to those who submitted them to Alan for the reading.”

    The experience is now archived by the British Library:

    Antony Gormley, famous for the “Angel of the North” in England, and currently making New Yorkers look up at their skylines, created this 24/7 for around 3 months, where someone each and every hour got up onto this large plinth, no matter the time of day or night.

    Some of the comments will show how much even a single word meant to them.

    The With Words International Online Haiku Competition

  13. An interesting discussion everybody, thanks.

    Scott, I wonder if there’s any way those of who don’t subscribe to Frogpond might see “cobweb”?

    Personally, I don’t have any problem with a single word being classified as a haiku (or even a “regular” poem) – the power of the word will rest with the reader and he/she will then either accept or not.

    Alan, you might mention your appearance on the Fourth Plinth in Trafalager Square, London, last northern summer.

    For those of you who didn’t see him in action (I watched a webcast), the brave poet stood on the empty Fourth Plinth (which is being used for rotating artworks) and read out single words to watchers and passersby. The idea was that the words were “important” to those who submitted them to Alan for the reading.

    It was up to the listener, then, to either dismiss a word as banal or sentimental or to gasp at the force a single word can have.

    And there are words that go to the very heart of our life on this planet, for instance:


    or, as Lorin has pointed out, that have very deep cultural meanings, and we can all up with one of those, I bet.

    As readers we all choose whether we like what we’re reading, whether to skip ahead, whether a poem touches us or bores us … and the reading of a single word on a page is the same.

    Haiku or not? It’s up to the reader!

  14. Lorin said:

    “The Aṉangu are rightfully owners, and appear to humour the rest of us by allowing climbers. ” – Alan

    Alan, actually, the traditional owners have *always* opposed the climbing of Uluru and with growing support from many Australians over the past several decades. They do not, however, have the power to allow or disallow: that remains in the power of the Federal government. The only progress that’s happened is that for some time, tourists have been asked to respect the wishes of the traditional owners by *not* climbing it. More than thirty per cent climb it anyway. It was hoped that finally, this year, the ban might’ve been brought to force, but it didn’t happen.”

    Yes, I know. Perhaps I was being too diplomatic. As you also know, there is a plaque showing just how many people die climbing this beautiful rock that should stay untouched:

    Uluru the cloud formation above list of tourists killed below

    Alan Summers

  15. Uluru –
    barefoot children
    kick at stones

    – 10th ‘paper wasp’ Jack Stamm anthology, Oct. 2009

  16. Thanks, Jack and Carmen.

    No, not adamant that one word can’t be a haiku, just relatively uneducated in the matter and, at present, unconvinced. 😉

    “The Aṉangu are rightfully owners, and appear to humour the rest of us by allowing climbers. ” – Alan

    Alan, actually, the traditional owners have *always* opposed the climbing of Uluru and with growing support from many Australians over the past several decades. They do not, however, have the power to allow or disallow: that remains in the power of the Federal government. The only progress that’s happened is that for some time, tourists have been asked to respect the wishes of the traditional owners by *not* climbing it. More than thirty per cent climb it anyway. It was hoped that finally, this year, the ban might’ve been brought to force, but it didn’t happen.

  17. the one word renku John’s referring to appeared in issue XXX:3, p65-9, of frogpond, “COBWEB: Single-word Shisan” and is by H. Gene Murtha, Paul MacNeil and William J. Higginson. It begins, in homage to Cor, with his “tundra”. I would certainly say that’s it probably one of the most interesting linked verses between authors i’ve come across. The connection i make with it is Hoshinaga Fumio’s Dada-like, word-association game ku:

    squid peppermint
    Red-detective arson

    (trans. Richard Gilbert)

    both the shisan and Fumio’s ku have a large amount of explication. Fumio’s ku being almost a condensed version of the shisan experiment.

    Richard and i have both tried our hands at something like this:

    hungover — ignoble
    Jerusalem — cactus
    pissing   — the cats 

    —Richard Gilbert

    and my own attempt at having fun/playing with the idea:

    sea cucumber — freedom
    foreclosure — umbrella
    mandala — petal rain

  18. Well, Carmen, I do not accept the HSA’s definition of haiku and quit sending any of my work to them for over a decade by now, so I could not venture to interpret one word “poems/haiku” by seeing if they meet the standard set by the HSA; it would be like a sumo wrestler trying to get into a size 6 woman’s bikini.

  19. John, that’s rather charming that there was a renku with one-word verses. Was that Bill’s idea? Do you have a copy of it?

    Would you tell us the story behind “core”?

  20. Jack, I agree with what you said about Lorin’s URLURU

    Though I showed a preference for “tundra” that is a just a personal preference, Jack. As you know, Lorin had brought up some questions about whether “tundra” is a haiku or not, and I mentioned that it has a link with seasons (at least winter and summer) that would provide more images. Alpine tundra has vegetation like moss and bushes and/or animals. Even the frozen tundra has sea birds and some mammals. Certainly it also makes sense to see “tundra” in relation to the white page, as you pointed out. So, there are numerous interpretations; however, whether one-word poems can be called haiku or not is another matter. Perhaps, we could at least say, they are haikulike.

    I know that even some Haiku Society of America
    members have quit over the HSA definition of haiku,
    but if we look at this definition below, would any of these one-word poems fit?

    “A haiku is a short poem that uses imagistic language to convey the essence of an experience of nature or the season intuitively linked to the human condition.”


    I’d like to hear more comments about this from the dear readers.

  21. As someone who has visited Uluru, and now ashamed I climbed it, it did provide a strong spiritual experience for me.

    I can quite truthfully say it changed for me for the better.

    The Aṉangu are rightfully owners, and appear to humour the rest of us by allowing climbers.

    But (now selfishly) I would discourage anyone climbing this amazing edifice as it is vulnerable to wear and tear.

    Uluru sunrise
    mirrors off the sunglasses
    the photographer

    Alan Summers
    “in a heron’s eye”
    ISBN 0 9577925 pub 2000 Paper Wasp, Australia
    Selected from the Paper Wasp Jack Stamm Haiku Award 1999


  22. Sorry, Lorin, I would have taken up Uluru, but I thought you were offering it in an off-hand manner, as your previous remarks suggested that you were adamant that one word could not be a haiku.
    Now, having looked up Uluru on the internet, I find it a fascinating natural formation-its changes of color as the sky changes color, its shape, its relationship with aborigine dreamtime, the fact that more of its immense size is below ground than above.
    Uluru,supposing one word composes a haiku, would definitely be a meaningful one.

  23. ” . . . that words are never understood in isolation, but the mind will immediately create a sequence, a relation even where it is apparently missing.” – Jack

    True, Jack. Words, especially those which represent things, will call up in our minds other things and their relationships. For me, ‘tundra’ calls up ‘frozen wastes in Canada’, probably because I read that somewhere when young. I seem to recall that they are not ‘frozen wastes’ for about half of the year, but become grassy pasture land in warmer weather.I don’t think of Russia or Eastern Europe, as I immediately would if I read ‘steppes’, though I believe tundra and steppes are geologically similar.



    if it followed on the page after tundra, in context of a haiku book. Then consider it as the title of Ginsberg’s far from concise poem. Or is it possible, once we’re thinking about poetry, not to think of Ginsberg’s poem as one association even if we saw the word alone in a haiku journal?

    Plague, imo, is its own ‘season’, as are Fire, Drought and War. In the midst of any of these, as far as humans and animals go, the traditional four seasons are trumped.(Calling one or two seasons when rain doesn’t happen drought, btw, isn’t credible to me. So, many common words in English depend for meaning on culture and experience of place.)

    Though core, plague and precipice have been considered, so far no-one has taken up my offering of ULURU. Is it a matter of culture and experience?


    Nobody has considered my offer of ‘ULURU’, so far.

  24. Carmen:
    I’m not sure I quite agree with your priviliging of “tundra” as a haiku and “demoting” the other single word poems “core,” “plague” and “precipice” as not.
    Actually, there are a number of different types of tundras, just as there are other types of cores, plagues, and precipices, so the multiplicity of meanings associated with these words does not privilege “tundra” as offering a multiplicity of assocations in a way different from the other one-worders.
    Actually, if you take Cor at his word in the interview, what you have is the word, what it is, and it may be a tundra with permafrost or not; the associations will belong to the readers’ understandings and familiarities or not with the word itself. They same, I think, is true of the other one-word “poems.”
    I always thought of a snow covered flat field with no or next to no life growing on it when I read the word “tundra.” So, for me,there was not a juxtaposition of the word and the blank page so much as a correspondence of the word with the blank page: they mirrored one another in my mind and that’s why I appreciated the poem.
    But “core,” for instance, is a homonym, and I believe firstly a homage to Cor; secondly, though, it refers in my mind to the center of things, the core of an apple, let’s say, or even better it refers to the single seed in the center of a fruit: cherry, peach, plum, olive, avocado,etc. Read in this latter way, the one word signifies the beginnings of so many life forms; a whole orchard can stem from it and spread and spread to the confines of the page; it is a word that definitely has seasonal reference, taken in this way, and is compact with fruition.
    As to “plague,” this word may not have a seasonal reference, but then again all haiku do not have seasonal references. The ingeniousness of this one word on a blank page is that after a plague all that remains is the plague: hence, the plague surrounded by nothing else.
    As to “precipice,” it admittedly has a number of meanings, but foremost, I think, is a sheer cliff face and on a blank sheet of paper, it gives the sense of standing on a dizzying height looking down on the vast expanse of emptiness beneath it; it sort of creates a sense of vertigo being inside that one word on the empty page.
    I agree with you that if a seasonal reference is a requirement of a haiku, then the last two examples would not suit the form; however, I do not agree that haiku must contain a seasonal reference to be a haiku. If we demand a cutting for a haiku, then I think each of the one-worders has a cutting as the word itself is understood by the reading mind in relationship,even if the relationship is not spelled out.
    That’s the wonder of it, I think: that words are never understood in isolation, but the mind will immediately create a sequence, a relation even where it is apparently missing.
    As to tundra is “better” than the other examples, who knows. Certainly, it is the first time I ever saw a one-word poem, so my hats off to Cor for creating it!

  25. I recall working with Bill Higginson and others on a version of renku in which each “verse” consisted of a single word.

  26. Personally, I think of “tundra” as an ecosystem with multiple images spreading out on all sides. For some reason, I always think of the geography of Russia when I see the word tundra and that reminder adds an almost unlimited expanse in my mind. As a child of the sixties, I’d have to say, “It blows my mind.”

    I think the other choices: core, plague & precipice
    multiply images for a completely different reason
    than in the word, tundra. There are many definitions
    of core, there are many kinds of plagues and a precipice can be defined in various ways, but I doubt that these words would reverberate with poets in the same way.

    In addition, “tundra” in itself can reflect seasons whereas the other selections cannot. Does this make a difference? The fact that there can be one or more seasons in “tundra” may be a major reason for it to be considered a haiku by many haiku poets who regard seasonal references as very important in a haiku. Since English-language haiku does not need to adhere to the 5-7-5 form, that almost all of Japanese haiku does, I don’t see why we can’t have haiku in a one-word form, but it would be extremely difficult to best Cor’s iconic haiku.

    Is there a one-word haiku contest in the future?

  27. I think that one-liners like “tundra” and “core” come to the heart of listening to the word. They force you to enter and explore the tactile and many layers one word can hold. So often I feel that haiku can skip over the depth haiku can bring and I appreciate these bringing us back to the heart of the matter. Whether or not you label them as haiku??? I expect each will make up his/her own mind on that matter. But I think they are more that witty and humorous…although that too.

  28. To me, John Stevenson’s ‘core’ is a humorous and witty take on Cor van den Heuval’s ‘tundra’, a kind of ‘in joke’, and ‘tundra’ in its original context of word echoing in white space is a good example of a combination of concrete-sound poem. Such were popular here in the 1960s… I recall one:


    in the shape of a vortex, perhaps a comment on Vorticism (Pound, again) which was *primarily* a movement in the visual arts, with the off-shoot of ‘concrete poems’.

    Despite Michael’s sensitive and imaginative reading and despite the impact that one word, one image, in the right ‘frame’ can have, I feel that ‘tundra’ might be more clearly a ‘concrete-sound’ poem’ than a haiku. Though undeniably there is an image and as Pound had it, the image is primary in poetry, the image (as Michael observes) is juxtaposed ” with the field/space around it”. It is unqualified by any other word or image. It inhabits a space, both as image and sound, like a first thing, without relationship. It is word as creative potential.

    Is it important to anyone that ‘tundra’ be seen to be a haiku? If so, I wonder why. I’m serious…I don’t understand. I would *like* to be convinced that it could be, but so far I’m not. Perhaps it was an experiment to see how minimal haiku minimalism could go? As such, I find it interesting and I like Cor’s statement above in answer to Carmen’s question: “It is what it is”

    I grew up in a small country town where the pub and the service station generated their own electricity, and the only outside light to be seen was the big HELL sign glowing in the darkness above the service station…one letter had ‘died’ & the locals thought it was funny, or an appropriate comment on the town, or a way of amusing passers-through, so it stayed that way for a long time. It may well have been a ‘found’ concrete poem.

    I could write:


    in red against a sky-blue background. It has been there a very long time, was part of a sea-bed in more ancient times than tundra was, is resonant in every sense and ‘teases us out of thought’ (Keats)

    But why would I call it a haiku, rather than something else?

  29. Re: tundra, core

    In both cases so much depends upon the visual placement, in the middle of the page, in the middle of the book, that they are akin to concrete poetry in that regard. ‘tundra’ wouldn’t work so well for a haiku reading for instance (though you could give it an aural space), and ‘core’ not at all (relying also on allusion, visual and otherwise). But in their visual contexts I’d say they do what haiku do.

  30. i’m curious as to what others think about Cor’s one word poem:


    (from *the window-washer’s pail*, New York: Chantpress, 1963)

    do you consider it a haiku? why or why not?

    any takers?

    William J. Higginson called it “the ultimate one-line haiku”.

    As as extension, John Stevenson recently published a one word poem (an homage?):


    (*Live Again*, Red Moon Press 2009)

    And then there’s also Robert Grenier’s two word poem:

    two trees

    (*Sentences*, Whale Cloth Press, 1978)

    are these haiku? exquisite minimal poems? pretentious bullshit?

  31. Very interesting to read your comments, Cor, on the “tundra” poem. I’ve always felt it to be an early spring poem, with the word itself being like the first dark rock that emerges in springtime amid a vast expanse of snow (the white page) just starting to melt. The poem juxtaposes the word with the field/space around it, it’s seasonal (at least to me, interpreting the white page as snow just starting to melt), and of course it uses objective sensory imagery (the name for the tundra). And it leaves so much that’s unstated. So to me it hits several of the primary targets for haiku — and I do mean that it’s a haiku. To think that any single word could be put on a page and be tossed off as a haiku is to misunderstand the rightness and genius of treating this particular word in such a way. This poem may be on the edges of haiku, using at least some techniques of concrete poetry as it does, but to me it is definitely a haiku — and one of my favourites. Whatever the case, though, as you say, Cor, it is what is, and I’m very grateful for it.

    Thanks once again for conducting the interview, Carmen.


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