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, Chuck! How did you come to learn about haiku?
A high school English teacher suggested my poetry was similar to haiku. A little research inspired me to write a flurry of 17 syllable “haiku” before I lost interest. Several years later, my studies in comparative religion and philosophy led me back to haiku. I discovered many of the aesthetics underlying the Japanese poetic form aligned with my evolving world view. I began to read every book of haiku that I could get my hands on.
Do you have haiku mentors? What advice did they give you?
Robert Spiess, longtime editor of Modern Haiku, rejected my first submissions, but not without guidance on how to improve them. Most of his suggestions revolved around the age-old writing advice, “show don’t tell.” Be in the moment, let the experience speak for itself. Ideas, emotions and all connotative matter are best implied—evoked—rather than stated outright. A year after my first acceptance at Modern Haiku, Bob invited me to be his associate editor, a post I held for six years. Since then, Christopher Herold has become a great friend and mentor, for which I am deeply grateful.
Did someone else’s haiku greatly influence your own?
Early haiku influences include Basho, John Wills, Robert Spiess; non-haiku influences: Robinson Jeffers, Gary Snyder, Cid Corman (who also wrote haiku).
Where do you compose your haiku? Do you have a writing process?
Several years ago my iPhone replaced my notebook. I jot down ideas as they happen, on hikes, in my backyard, down a grocery aisle. Sometimes a poem comes all apiece; other times, it waits until I “free fall” on my word processor, seeing where the original experience will take me.
For those just starting out, what advice would you give?
Be still, be patient, observe. All manner of natural phenomena from your everyday world will become apparent, each detail yielding its unique luster, its own significance in that particular shared moment. Make this, and the craft of expressing it, your focus, rather than the process of appearing in journals, being awarded, and seeing your first book published. Allow your practice to proceed naturally, horse before cart. I would also advise studying the Japanese masters, and the aesthetics of Japanese poetry (sabi, yugen, ma, mu, etc.). That said, remember Basho’s directive: “Don’t follow in the footsteps of the Masters; seek what they sought.”
What are some fun ways that you have used or experienced haiku?
A haiku of mine (see photo) was awarded a Touchstone Award for Individual Poems (2014). The award is an actual stone engraved with my haiku, which I immediately put outside in our garden. Recently I caught a skunk digging under it. A critic, looking for something deeper!
Can you share some favorite haiku that you have written? Are there any stories behind them?
Rather than my favourites, I’d like to share several that illustrate ideas which may prove interesting to those new to haiku.
where he slept
Homelessness is a heart-breaking reality in my two home cities, San Francisco and Vancouver, B.C. Difficult to write about without being sentimental. Note the rhyme. Haiku is literature, and all the techniques of English language poetry are available in haiku, if used judiciously, and for a reason. I view this haiku as being akin to Hemingway’s six-word story.
the firemen too
stand back in the night
How do you express the inexpressible? You don’t. Like most haiku, this has two parts; the second—the most significant—is tacit.
lovers down the beach
turn out to be
I included this in an email to a friend, who wrote back:
driftwood down the beach
turns out to be
I answered, “Well, yes, this is San Francisco (lol). But the original has more existential resonance.”
To form a poem in the shape of its subject merely because it’s about that subject is a novelty that often wears thin. My idea here is to invite the reader to maneuver its syntax, in the same way the bug is traversing the blackberry’s globes, each with its reflection of the sun; in the same way a poet explores our globe day by day, year after year. Yes, that’s a metaphor, a figure of speech often maligned by haiku purists. Metaphor is in the mind of the beholder!
the fence he climbed over
“The moment” stands supreme in haiku lore. But how long is a moment? When does it begin? End? Telescoping and expanding time are among many effective techniques employed in haiku composition.
the bee’s shadow slips
to a lower leaf
Like I say, “be still, patient, observe.” And be willing to write, rewrite, and re-rewrite (this is the fourth version of “last lilac”). Note how the rolling consonants contribute to the sensuality of the experience. As well, how the first line layers in a sense of time passing, even in spring.
left on the bridge
Jisei is the Japanese death poem. While some poets wait to compose them on their deathbed, others work on them throughout their lives. Basho famously suggested all his haiku were jisei. I can relate. To fully appreciate a haiku, mine or anyone’s, I try to view it as being framed by the void. For this one moment, the focal point of existence. The first, and last, poem.
Chuck Brickley is currently on the panel for the THF Touchstone Award for Individual Poems, a judge for the Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival Haiku Invitational, the 2nd Vice President (contest coordinator) of the Haiku Society of America, and a mentor in the HSA Mentorship program. Visit him online at http://www.chuckbrickley.com.