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New to Haiku: Advice for Beginners – Bryan Rickert

This week, New to Haiku is pleased to interview Bryan Rickert, co-editor of Failed Haiku – A Journal of English Senryu and editor at The Living Senryu Anthology.  Thanks for sharing your haiku journey with us, Bryan.

In Advice for Beginners posts, we ask established haiku poets to share a bit about themselves so that you can meet them and learn more about their writing journeys. We, too, wanted to learn what advice they would give to beginning haiku poets.

Welcome to New to Haiku, Bryan! Tell us about your early experiences with haiku. Did you find a haiku mentor? What advice did they give you?

I am fortunate enough to have more than one mentor. After writing for a few years, I decided to actually submit something. This was totally out of character for me at the time. I submitted to Terri French at Prune Juice. She accepted some poems and I was hooked! Terri and I have become friends, and the advice she gave me about individual poems, what to read, and haiku philosophy helped shape me as I was just starting my writing practice. Mostly, her friendship and loving nature coaxed me out of my introversion and actually got me to attend my first haiku conference. 

The second person to mentor me was Ben Gaa. Oddly enough, he and I are from the same small town in southern Illinois. Reading his work in journals always turned my head and struck something deep within me. His poems are always a small lesson on how to better perceive and articulate my relationship with the environment. We live close enough together to make it possible to meet up regularly for discussions, poetry editing, and the occasional beer. I do not have a literary background. I have degrees in studio arts and education. It was through our critiquing sessions that I learned to transfer my art discipline to a more literary one. Truly, Ben could teach classes on how to craft haiku and cut to the heart of the expressive moment. Most importantly, these two mentors taught me how to be humble, roll with the punches, work hard, and edit, edit, edit.

Where do you most often write? Do you have a writing process?

Almost all writing happens outdoors for me, in all types of weather, year around. Most people know that my life is pretty hectic and busy. If I don’t have it on my schedule to write, it just won’t happen. Just like the studio arts, writing is a discipline. In the past, when I went to the studio, I went there to work, to make the art. Now, I have my regimented times set aside daily to go outside and do the work. This seems unpoetic, but it is my disciplined routine. It is within my nature to be structured. Having a routine gives me the stability to know that I will have time to try new things, work on some of the notes I jotted down, act on editing suggestions, to calm down a little and enjoy a tree or a stream — to think about the life I’m living and not just plow through it. I always start my writing sessions by reading. Reading helps to get me into the writing state of mind and out of the state of mind that I use for my job. Plus, I just love to read. I won’t read the whole time, but it helps to grease the wheels. It also slows my breathing, my walk, and opens my awareness. 

What is your favorite haiku that you have written? Will you share the story behind it?

It is hard to pick a favorite but this one has always been one that has meant a lot to me:

daybreak
the workers arrive 
in their mother tongue

Acorn 45

While visiting a more affluent member of my family, who lives in a new housing development, I started my daily writing practice at the crack of dawn before everyone woke up. At the same time, laborers arrived to continue construction on various homes nearby. All Spanish speakers, the men went about their work until the foreman, the only Caucasian, arrived. Instantly the men switched to English and the entire atmosphere of their work environment changed. This made me think of the common practice of code switching that so often happens in our society amongst certain groups of people. But not only that, it reminded me of people who do jobs in our society that others won’t do. I also thought of the hours that they work these jobs while we are warm in our beds or writing poetry. Having married into a family of immigrants whose first language is not English, I am keenly aware of how immigrants navigate America and how hard they work for the American Dream. 

What haiku-related project are you currently working on that brings you joy? What do you like about it?

The only haiku-related project that I am working on right now is being co-editor of Failed Haiku. In months to come, I will have to grapple with the more technical aspects of the journal and get into the mindset of working in the collaborative editorial process. This is a labor of love. Failed Haiku is a journal that is very dear to me, and I find it an honor to now be a part of it. I love reading people’s submissions and to give someone their first publication. I remember how it felt to be published for the first time. The closest I’ve ever come to having that feeling again is when I have done the same for others. Failed Haiku has fostered a great global community and has introduced many people to this poetic genre for the first time. 

You’ve been co-editor at Failed Haiku for about a year now. What do you feel are the key differences between haiku and senryu? Where do you draw the line between the two?

Academics and poets have been discussing the differences between haiku and senryu for quite some time. In my own writing practice, I do not bother to differentiate between the two forms. I simply aim to write good and solid work. In my job as the editor though, I have to draw boundary lines between the forms because Failed Haiku is a senryu journal. I have never been a proponent of any either/or system, or any system that promotes absolutes. If haiku and senryu can be thought of as opposites, then there should be poems that exist along a broad spectrum in-between. No matter how well performed, poems in the shasei style can’t be considered for publication because they lie too far on the haiku side of the spectrum. While editing, I simply look for good works that land closer to the senryu side. To the submitters’ credit, it is rare that I have to think twice about the haiku/senryu nature of the poems I receive. If people are reading the journal, then they have formulated their own opinions and know what to send. 

Information about senryu:

Where to read senryu:

About Shasei:

For those just starting out with haiku, what advice would you give?

My advice for beginners is to read. Read, read, read. Then, write. Reading, for me, fills the knowledge vacuum. Don’t reinvent the wheel. Read how other people have done it. You don’t have to like every haiku, but read it. Start thinking about the ones you like/don’t like and ask yourself why. Don’t just read the new stuff. Read the old stuff. Read ten different translations of Issa or Basho. Figure out which translators you like. I know everyone reveres Basho, but I connected with Issa on the first reading. Some people love Buson. I love Shiki. I know this because I read it. Go to The Haiku Foundation and scroll through their online library and read it. Be a haiku detective, scientist, and historian.

My second word of advice is to make a haiku friend. Traditionally, people in Japan do not write in isolation. They belong to a group or haiku school of thought. To use an art analogy, art movements throughout history were only movements because more than one person was doing it, and they were usually talking. As an introvert, I dreaded this, but it has completely changed my life, and it changed my poetry. 

Bryan Rickert has been published in many fine journals and anthologies. He is the co-editor of Failed Haiku – A Journal of English Senryu and the editor at The Living Senryu Anthology.  His haiku collection, Fish Kite, is available through Cyberwit Publishing. His book of linked verse with Peter Jastermsky, Just Dust and Stone, is available through Velvet Dusk Publishing. His work was also selected for inclusion in A New Resonance, Volume 12.

We’d love to hear from you in the comments. The Haiku Foundation reminds you that participation in our offerings assumes respectful and appropriate behavior from all parties. Please see our Code of Conduct policy for more information.

Julie Bloss Kelsey is the current Secretary of The Haiku Foundation. She started writing haiku in 2009, after discovering science fiction haiku (scifaiku). She lives in Maryland with her husband and kids. Julie's first book of poetry, The Call of Wildflowers, is available for free online through Title IX Press. Connect with her on Twitter @MamaJoules.

This Post Has 7 Comments

  1. I’m a newborn to the species of what I call Haiku Sapiens. One thing I’ve noticed is how the species is wired for empathy, compassion, and willingness to help those, like me, learning to walk upright. How refreshing in a world of selfies! These articles, and Bryan’s descriptions of his own beginner’s mind says it all.

  2. I love this column so much…
    and have been meaning to let you know this, Julie.
    Finally, with this one of Bryan’s, I decided to send a “reply.”
    Thank you Bryan for sharing your experience(s) with haiku in such an inviting way and for sharing this poignant favorite haiku of yours . . . so beautiful.
    Mimi

  3. I love reading your haiku and Senryu! Thanks for this insight into your writing and thinking process.

  4. Thanks, dear Julie for sharing Bryan’s interview.
    I thoroughly enjoyed it and his advice to read a lot is well taken.
    Bryan is a kind guide as Co-Editor of failed haiku and I have learnt much from his responses to my submissions.

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