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Robert Clayton Spiess

Robert Clayton Spiess

October 16, 1921 - March 13, 2002

If the term "beloved" could be used for any English-language haiku poet, that poet would likely be Robert Spiess, editor of Modern Haiku from 1978 until his death. Few are mentioned so often by so many as having been an instrumental mentor in their haiku careers. Born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Bob was attending the University of Wisconsin when his plans were interrupted by World War II and he was drafted into the Army Air Force as a cryptographer. His troop ship was part of a convoy attacked in the Western Pacific by five suicide mini-submarines, and some ships in the convoy were lost. Perhaps it was his war experience that helped determine the peaceful path he would follow thereafter. He earned his B.S. degree from the University of Wisconsin, majoring in botany and English, and then received an M.S., with a major in vocational guidance. He became interested in haiku in the late 1930s, through early translations of Japanese haiku. His first haiku were published in 1949 by American Poetry Magazine. In 1963, he purchased the premiere issue of American Haiku and two of his poems were published in the second issue. A few years later, he accepted the position of poetry editor for that journal. The premier issue of Modern Haiku was published in 1969, and ten of Bob's haiku appeared in the second issue. Within a few years, he was appointed associate editor of that journal. In 1977, he published the first of his "Speculations on Haiku" in Modern Haiku, and in 1978, he became that journal's editor and publisher. Bob's countless contributions are integral to the evolution and success of English-language haiku. One poet wrote, "He mentored so many of us. Where on earth did he find that kind of time! And yet he did. Maybe because he loved haiku as much as all of us put together. He passed that love along to us. It is perhaps the central aspect of his immeasurable legacy." [see "additional reading" suggestions below for extensive autobiographical and biographical information]

Awards and Other Honors: [a partial list]: In 1988, Robert Spiess was awarded the Haiku Society of America's Special Recognition Award "for a profound, insightful book about haiku" [New and Selected Speculations on Haiku, Modern Haiku Press,1988)]. In 2000, in Matsuyama, Japan, Bob was presented with the first Shiki International Haiku Award ["His achievement in disseminating and deepening the understanding of haiku in English-speaking countries is without parallel"]. From 2000-2001, he was Honorary Curator of the American Haiku Archives.

Books Published: The Heron’s Legs (American Haiku, Platteville, Wisconsin, 1966); The Turtle’s Ears (Wells Printing Co., Madison, Wisconsin, 1971); Five Caribbean Haibun (Wells Printing Co., Madison, Wisconsin, 1972); The Shape of Water (Modern Haiku Press, Madison, Wisconsin, 1982); The Bold Silverfish and Tall River Junction (Modern Haiku Press, Madison, Wisconsin, 1986) New and Selected Speculations on Haiku (Modern Haiku Press, Madison, Wisconsin, 1988); The Cottage of Wild Plum (Modern Haiku Press, Madison, Wisconsin, 1991); A Year’s Speculation on Haiku (Modern Haiku Press, Madison, Wisconsin, 1995); noddy (Modern Haiku Press, Madison, Wisconsin, 1997); noddy & the halfwit [with Lee Gurga] (Modern Haiku Press, Madison, Wisconsin, 1999); some sticks and pebbles (Modern Haiku Press, Madison, Wisconsin, 2001).

Selected Work
 
Muttering thunder . . .
     the bottom of the river
          scattered with clams
 
Winter moon; 
    a beaver lodge in the marsh, 
       mounded with snow
 
 
 
among these willows:
     and breathing the light that falls
          from leaf to green leaf
 
Lean-to of tin;
   a pintail on the river
      in the pelting rain
 
 
 
     wild roses . . .
tarrying beside one 
     touched by time
 
a life near its close—
     and still foolishly scribbling
          poems of wild plum
 
 
 
Becoming dusk—
  the catfish on the stringer 
    swims up and down
 
relentless heat all day cicadas crying praise
 
 
 
    gently odd 
     a noddy 
  in tumbly digs 
    trying words 
mumble  mumble
 
the field's evening fog—
   quietly the hound comes 
      to fetch me home
 
 

Credits: "Muttering thunder" - Spiess, The Turtle’s Ears (1971); van den Heuvel, The Haiku Anthology 1 (1974); Frogpond 3:2 (1980); van den Heuvel, The Haiku Anthology 2 (1986); Chaba Website; van den Heuvel, The Haiku Anthology 3 (1999); "among these willows" - Spiess, The Heron's Legs (1966); "wild roses" - Spiess, noddy (1997); From a Kind Neighbor (Haiku Society of America Members’ Anthology 1997); The Red Moon Anthology 1997 (Red Moon Press, 1998); Noyes, Favorite Haiku 3 (2000); World Haiku Association Web site (October 2002); Modern Haiku 33:3 (2002); pegging the wind: The Red Moon Anthology of English-Language Haiku 2002 (Red Moon Press, 2003); "Becoming dusk" - Spiess, The Shape of Water (1982); Frogpond 5:4 (1982); Modern Haiku 29:3 (a); van den Heuvel, The Haiku Anthology 2 (1986); Ross, Haiku Moment (1993); Haïku sans frontières (Web); South by Southeast 5:1 (1998); snow on the water: The Red Moon Anthology of English-Language Haiku (Red Moon Press, 1998); van den Heuvel, The Haiku Anthology 1 (1974); van den Heuvel, The Haiku Anthology 3 (1999); Spiess, A Certain Open Secret About Haiku (Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets, 2000); the loose thread: The Red Moon Anthology of English-Language Haiku (Red Moon Press, 2001); "gently odd" - Spiess, noddy (1997); Frogpond 20:1 (1997); South by Southeast 5:1 (1998); Modern Haiku 33:3 ( 2002); "winter moon" - Haiku West 6:1 (1972); Modern Haiku 5:2 (1974); van den Heuvel, The Haiku Anthology 1 (1974); van den Heuvel, The Haiku Anthology 2 (1986); van den Heuvel, The Haiku Anthology 3 (1999); World Haiku Association Website (October 2002); Cor van den Heuvel, Concision, Perception, Awareness Haiku, New York Times Book Review Section, March 29, 1987); Modern Haiku 18:3 (1987); "Lean-to of tin" - Spiess, The Turtle’s Ears (1971); van den Heuvel, The Haiku Anthology 1 (1974); van den Heuvel, The Haiku Anthology 2 (1986); van den Heuvel, The Haiku Anthology 3 (1999); "a life near its close" - Spiess, The Cottage of Wild Plum (1991); Woodnotes 10 (1991); Midwest Anthology; "relentless heat" - Frogpond 5:1 (1982); "the field's evening fog" - Spiess, The Cottage of Wild Plum (1991); Frogpond 14:4 (1991); Ross, Haiku Moment (1993); Haïku sans frontières (Web); The Heron’s Nest 4:4 (2002); World Haiku Association Website (October 2002).

Additional Reading: "A Bit of an Autobiography" [compiled by John Stevenson] and "An Interview with Robert Spiess: The Haiku Gatekeeper" by Michael Dylan Welch, both in Modern Haiku 33:3 (2002), and both available online at http://www.modernhaiku.org/issue33-3/spiessautobiography.html and at http://www.modernhaiku.org/issue33-3/spiessinterview.html, respectively.

Sources Biography: Modern Haiku 33:3 (2002), various online tributes, including the Haiku Society of America/Obituaries, and the American Haiku Archives. Appreciation is also due Charles Trumbull for assistance in gathering representative haiku and publication credits.

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