Today at New to Haiku, let’s welcome Roman Lyakhovetsky. Roman is the current Data Manager for the THF Touchstone Award for Individual Poems. His haiku and senryu have been published in Modern Haiku, Frogpond, Scifaikuest, Moongarlic, A Hundred Gourds, and failed haiku, among others. Thanks for sharing your haiku journey with us, Roman!
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. You can read posts from previous Advice for Beginners interviewees here.
Welcome to New to Haiku, Roman!
Julie, thank you very much for the opportunity, and I hope that your readers will not regret the time spent with me!
How did you come to learn about haiku?
Poetry has always intrigued me since my childhood. I remember the time I found among our books a small collection of translations of Walter de la Mare’s poems to Russian, and was hooked. The mystery, the beauty and the lightness of his poems were something I carried with me even after this book was lost. I was fortunate to find it again in a used bookshop in Israel some twenty years later (after I started writing haiku). I was surprised to see that Walter’s poems possess something very similar (to my judgement, of course) to Japanese principles of mono no aware and ma – for example, these verses from “The Listeners”:
. . . But no one descended to the Traveller;
No head from the leaf-fringed sill
Leaned over and looked into his grey eyes,
Where he stood perplexed and still.
But only a host of phantom listeners
That dwelt in the lone house then
Stood listening in the quiet of the moonlight
To that voice from the world of men . . .
Or the opening verse of the poem “Winter” — to me, this is very close to a great tanka:
Clouded with snow
The cold winds blow,
And shrill on leafless bough
The robin with its burning breast
Alone sings now.
My fascination with poetry progressed into my keen interest in music as a teenager. Listening to my favorite rock and blues albums, I saw songs with lyrics that are much more than a bunch of words to sing along to. Rather, those are great texts which, in addition to getting a message to the listener, convey almost physical feeling, with clever use of poetic devices, such as consonance, onomatopoeia, etc. Among the examples that affected me, I would mention Bowie’s “Starman”, Kurt Cobain’s “All Apologies”, Syd Barrett’s “Flaming”, Peter Sinfield’s “I talk to the wind”, Tom Waits’ “Time”, and many others.
One day I bought a small book of translations of Japanese haiku masters to Russian, and something clicked with me almost instantly — I liked the way one could experience the whole scene, triggered by such small text of no more than 6-8 words. Moreover, I was pleased to see that haiku frequently use the same devices as other poems and song lyrics, but to a stronger effect, due to their brevity. I proceeded to read some textbooks and anthologies, most important for me are Haiku: A Poets Guide by Lee Gurga and Haiku 21: an anthology of contemporary English-language haiku (edited by Lee Gurga and Scott Metz). With time, I started writing myself, and here we are, ten years later.
Do you have a haiku mentor? What advice did they give you? Did someone else’s haiku greatly influence your own?
The first “contemporary” haiku poet who influenced me was Jack Kerouac. I still re-read the Book of Haikus from time to time, and I am amazed with his mastery. He wrote during times where available information on haiku (in English) was pretty scarce, and still reached a level rarely matched by most. I am very open to new influences, and these are changing, as per what I am focused on now. These days I find myself frequently going back to haiku by outstanding poets such as Scott Metz (I consider his book lakes & now wolves an exemplary work), Jim Kacian, Caroline Skanne, Vandana Parashar, Antoinette Cheung, Maria Tomczak, among others. In addition, I am lucky to participate in a haiku group under the mentorship of Patricia McGuire, and value dearly the feedback I receive from her and fellow poets. Once I expressed to her my concern about having writer’s block, and she told me, “It’s just your mind’s way of taking a break.” Since then, I take advantage of these silent periods to re-charge and gather new experiences, until the words come back to me.
Where do you most often write? Do you have a writing process?
I mainly write on my phone, capturing drafts in a notes app. From time to time, I re-read the drafts, with some revisions, until I feel that no further improvement can be achieved. I compile submissions, and take time to “sleep” over those before sending out, sometimes doing final revisions already in the body of the email. I track my submissions in Gmail, and the published poems in an Excel spreadsheet. This is far from ideal, but so far it works for me.
How do you approach reading haiku?
I do not have a defined reading process, but I do try to read as much as I can, especially the journals that reject my submissions!
For those just starting out with haiku, what advice would you give?
I read interviews with many poets in the “New to Haiku” series (thank you!), with pretty much all of them emphasizing the importance of reading. I agree — of course, reading is crucial. I would add that since early after I started, I enjoy collaboration with other poets, writing renku, rengay and split sequences. For me, this is a way of learning, getting feedback (which might be fresh and unexpected), and an approach to overcome writer’s block. I am not a prolific poet, and I do experience those blocks from time to time. I was glad to see that collaborating helps me to “tune back” and eventually, start writing again. So this is something I would definitely recommend as a working tool, in addition to reading. I would also encourage other poets to give honest feedback, when asked for it. Finally, I think that revising drafts is very important. You may find that when you read an old draft after time passes, you come up with some development that fits much better than what you were originally contemplating.
What are your favorite haiku that you have written? Can you share a story behind one or more of them?
Some poems that I find myself coming back to, are:
smell of rain outlives
For more than the last thirty years, I have mostly lived in the desert, between Jerusalem and the Dead Sea. Rain is a very big deal here, and the most beautiful view I can think of is the desert in winter, covered with green. And the most poignant feeling is this smell, which stays for some time after the rain ends; it is promising that this green will stay longer.
full moon . . .
my shadow playing
the air guitar
Frogpond vol. 38:3, Autumn 2015
This is a perfect example of me lamenting not becoming a musician!
Finally, a pretty recent one:
Tzeva Adom the glow of ceiling stars
Frogpond vol. 46:3, Autumn 2023
While it was written before the recent developments in my country, it still reflects the situation now, as in the past. Sadly, this poem is as relevant these days as it could have been ten or even twenty years ago.
What haiku-related project are you currently working on that brings you joy? What do you like about it?
During recent years, linked verse poetry underwent significant development, with multiple forms evolving. For example, refer to the work of the great late John Carley, whose Renku Reckoner is his parting gift to the world and a comprehensive reference to all things renku.
One form which is particularly interesting to me is the split sequence, invented by Peter Jastermsky in 2017. I have tried writing these myself and in collaboration with other poets, and was impressed by what you can do with it. Split sequence is based on taking a three-line haiku (“seed”), splitting it into separate lines and linking a three-line haiku to each line of the “seed.” (Learn more in Peter’s essay “An Introduction to Split Sequences” available here.)
One day I was looking at a monoku I had just written, and thought maybe we could write poems similar to the split sequence, but using one-line haiku as the “seed.” A nice feature of many one-line haiku is that they can be read in multiple ways, with some words associated with more than one set of neighboring words. This allows you to link to fragments shifting along the poem. I called those “chained monoku” and you can see below the first one written by me and published in Under the Basho in 2023:
And below is the first collaborative chained monoku, which I co-wrote with Vandana Parashar. It appeared in Fresh Out: An Arts and Poetry Collective on December 28, 2023.
I hope people enjoy reading and try their hands at writing chained monoku!
I enjoyed reading your 2015 interview with Bryan Thao Worra for his blog On The Other Side Of The Eye. How did you two cross paths? Tell us more about your speculative haiku. Where can we read your science fiction and fantasy poetry?
I took an interest in scifaiku and sci-fi linked poetry almost immediately after starting to write. For some time I was also a member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Poetry Association, and that’s where I got acquainted with Bryan. After some chatting on Facebook, he generously offered to interview me for his blog, which I gladly accepted, and answering his bold and humorous questions turned out to be a very pleasant experience! I have published speculative haiku, senryu and tanka in journals like Scifaikuest and Horror Senryu Journal. A couple of examples I like to go back to from time to time are:
junkyard gate –
a rusty robot samples
the autumn sky
- Scifaikuest, August 2013
freezing fog –
a hooded shadow descends
Horror Senryu Journal, June 6, 2023
How does your background as a researcher versed in cellular and molecular biology inform your haiku? What do you see as the role of science in haiku?
While science might seem very far from non-quantitative topics as poetry, in fact, some of the greatest scientific discoveries were inspired by circumstances quite poetic in nature. A great example would be the discovery of benzene structure by August Kekulé in 1865. The exact story might be hard to know for certain, but all versions mention him coming up with the structure of the molecule as a beautiful ring-like closed chain of six carbon atoms after day-dreaming about ouroboros. Another example is the discovery of the induction motor by Nicola Tesla in 1886, which was inspired by him reciting a passage from Faust, Chapter 2.
Being a molecular biology researcher, I have learned that you need to invest time and effort in order to acquire skills and achievements. This is of a great help on my haiku journey because this taught me to deal with rejections and look for ways to improve. Certainly, my scientific background shows sometimes, such as here:
i propose to save the world
with glowing worms
- Moongarlic 5
Originally from Russia, Roman Lyakhovetsky now lives in Israel. He holds a Ph. D. in cell biology and works in the field of clinical trials. His haiku, renku, and tanka appeared in various journals including Modern Haiku, Frogpond, Blithe Spirit, Scifaikuest, and A Hundred Gourds, among others.
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