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New to Haiku: Advice for Beginners – Mike Rehling, Part 1

This week, New to Haiku is pleased to interview Mike Rehling, co-editor and founder of Failed Haiku. Thanks for sharing your haiku journey with us, Mike.

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, Mike! How did you come to learn about haiku?

That is a very long story, but the first encounter with it was in 1964 when I was buying books for classes at the Michigan State University bookstore. At the cashier’s stand, there was a ‘Peter Pauper’ Book of Haiku. It cost a whole dollar. Poor translations in it and some of the poems were not even really haiku. But I still have that book and it spurred me on to find out more. In the MSU Library, I found a copy of Miyamori’s translations, and that got me going to read the Japanese masters of haiku. Funny how you can find something that steals your poetic heart while buying American History books for college, but that is how it happened. After 30 years of fooling around in the ’90s, remote BBS’s and the Internet were born and the rest is history. I began to write and had published some of my first ‘real’ haiku. So, I am, to be clear, a haiku child of the Internet. I still spend most of my time and publish most of my work in online journals.

Do you have haiku mentors? What advice did they give you? Did someone else’s haiku greatly influence your own?

Well, Francine Porad, Anita Virgil, and marlene mountain all were what I would call ‘kind critics’ of my work. I needed that, but they were matter of fact about it, and always made me feel good about my work, even if the original was far off the mark. I met them all on the Internet as part of the World Haiku Club. An’ya was the haiku coach online and she gave me much encouragement and helped shape my approach to the craft of haiku. William J. Higginson, Michael Dylan Welch, and Charles Trumbull were early influences on me, and they all wrote haiku themselves but also wrote about haiku so clearly. Charles Trumbull is one I point people to all the time for ‘hints’ on the form, his writing style and work as the editor of Modern Haiku are what I aspire to do for others in my endeavors.

That said, Roberta Beary, Alexis Rotella, and Carol Raisfeld were people whose work I have always admired. No one can ‘copy’ their styles, and their unique approach always inspired me to try harder and experiment with my work. They all craft their work so precisely and yet it reads so easily and I admire that greatly.

I tell people you will ‘always’ need a teacher. My current teacher is Michele Root-Bernstein whose Evergreen Haiku classes at Michigan State University keep me from heading off a cliff with my work. Her classes are now done on Zoom and she is a strong teacher who lets the student develop their voice. Whatever you do find a group you can be comfortable with to keep moving your work in a strong direction. These little poems ‘look’ simple when they work right, but it is not a form for the faint of heart. A teacher can also keep you from becoming full of yourself, without discouraging you. Accept as much help as other experienced poets will give you, and when you can help others in the same way. The best teachers turn out as many teachers as they do poets.

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

Have a good perspective, you will not write masterpieces all the time, most of my work is just therapy for me and me alone. Roberta Beary calls haiku her ‘drug of choice’ and she is right. 

I write in my office, hiking in the woods, driving my car (smartphones have recording apps), and even in business meetings when I was working. You don’t need a special place, all you need is to clear your mind and let the poems find you.

Meditation can be a huge help. When you find yourself in the present moment you can just absorb the world you are living in. Now that, for me, is where the inspiration comes from. 

I got into the Buson Challenge many years ago. I write ten poems a day every day. Unless I am very ill I just don’t miss that time of inspiration and poetry. It is not work, and I spend sometimes as little as ten minutes, and rarely more than a half-hour writing every day. Most of those poems are far from great, and certainly not publishable, but I look at my haiku practice as the ‘short journal’ of my life. Many times I review work that I wrote years earlier in my haiku journals and find poems that do get published. I am always surprised by what I find and it keeps me grounded. So my advice to writers is to ‘write’. What else is there to do if you want to be a poet?

Mike is a quiet vegan haiku poet living in the north woods of Michigan.

Julie Bloss Kelsey

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. Seasoned haiku practitioner Mike Rehling, creator of ‘failed haiku’ online journal, offers helpful advice for beginners in Part 1 of this interview. I made sure to read every word. Cannot wait to read Part 2 …

    Julie Bloss Kelsey’s ‘New to Haiku’ column is a wonderful resource.

    Thanks, Mike & Julie!

  2. Thanks Julie Bloss Kelsey for the great interview of Michael Rehling.

    Mike has given so much motivation to all who contribute to FH as also on haiku groups the net.

    i enjoyed reading about his haiku journey. Shall await Part 2.

  3. Many thanks to Julie Bloss Kelsey for this wonderful idea.
    Special thanks to my virtual teacher Michael Rehling for sharing his haiku journey.
    Best regards

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