John Wills

John Wills

July 4, 1921 - September 24, 1993

John Howard Wills was born in Los Angeles, California, and was raised in St. Louis, Missouri. He received an MA degree from the University of Chicago in 1951, and a PhD from Washington University in St. Louis in 1961. He taught American and English literature for more than 20 years at universities in Ohio, Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota, North Carolina, Georgia, and Tennessee. During that time, he published critical essays on T. S. Eliot, Joseph Conrad, and other writers. After the death of his first wife, he married artist and poet Marlene Morelock (now known as Marlene Mountain). His daughter Diana was born of his first marriage; his son Jason of his second.

One of the first modern practitioners of English-language haiku, he was as much an experimentalist as a traditionalist. His earliest attempts at writing haiku were made in 1968 after discovering the once-popular Peter Pauper Press books. Later that year, a colleague gave John and Marlene some back copies of American Haiku (which had published its last issue that May). He was especially inspired by the work of Nicholas Virgilio that appeared in this publication. This marked the beginning of his serious interest in haiku, and his skills quickly improved. Some early work appeared in 1969 in Haiku West, SCTH, Haiku (Canada), and Haiku Spotlight (Japan). Within that same year, he published his first two books.

In 1970, he spent the summer studying haiku in Matsuyama, Japan, under a research grant from Georgia Southern College, and in 1971, he moved with his family to Tennessee. They lived on 100 acres in the Tennessee mountains and named their land "Sweetwater." Much of his best work was written there and he would be called by some the greatest nature poet writing haiku.

By the end of his life, he had published more than 800 haiku and eight books. That body of work would leave an indelible mark. His haiku appear in articles and essays written by a new generation of haiku poets discovering Wills, as well as by contemporaries who continue to admire his work.

Awards and Other Honors:

Appointed to the first Haiku Society Awards Committee (the Society accepted the committee's recommendations and added awards for Wills' Back Country and river); served on the first selections panel for Frogpond magazine; First Honorable Mention, HSA Merit Book Awards for Reed Shadows; had 21 haiku selected for the 1974 edition of The Haiku Anthology, 36 haiku for the 1986 edition, and 40 for the 1999 edition.

Books Published:

Weathervanes, Statesboro, Georgia: Georgia Southern College (1969); Back Country, [Statesboro, Ga.]: Georgia Southern College (1969); river. Statesboro, Ga.: Herald Commercial Press for Georgia Southern College (1970), 2nd ed.. Elizabethton, Tenn.: Folsom Printing Co.(1976); The Young Leaves: Haiku of Spring and Summer, Statesboro, Ga.: Georgia Southern College (1970); Cornstubble: Haiku of Fall and Winter, photographs by Marlene M. Wills. Statesboro, Ga.: Georgia Southern College, (1971); Up a Distant Ridge, Manchester, N.H.: First Haiku Press (1980); Reed Shadows, Sherbrooke, Que./Windsor, Ont.: Burnt Lake Press/Black Moss Press (1987); mountain, S.E. Publishing (1993).

Selected Work
 
A bittern booms . . . 
     In the silence that follows 
          the smell of the marsh.
 
sunset
kerchiefed women
in the beets
 
 
 
rain in gusts
below the deadhead
troutswirl
 
the old field
throbs with insects ...
summer moon
 
 
 
The hills
     release the summer clouds
          one . . . by one . . . by one
 
autumn wind
the rise and fall
of sparrows
 
 
 
the sun lights up a distant ridge      another
 
November evening--
the faintest tick of snow
upon the cornstalks.
 
 
 
dusk     from rock to rock a waterthrush
 
winter again
my wife’s hair crackles
under the comb
 
 

Credits:

"a bittern booms" - Wills, Weathervanes (1969),18; Haiku 3:1+3 (1969),18; Modern Haiku 1:1 (1969), 34 (review); Wills, Reed Shadows (1987), 87; Frogpond 17:1 (1994), 6 (memorial); van den Heuvel, The Haiku Anthology (1986), 300; van den Heuvel, The Haiku Anthology (1999), 294.

"rain in gusts" - Wills, Up a Distant Ridge (1980), 8; Cicada 4:3 (1980) 34 (review); Frogpond 4:4 (1981), 32 (article); Wills, Reed Shadows (1987), 37; van den Heuvel, The Haiku Anthology (1986), 300 and 340; Wills, Mountain (1993), 14, Introduction; South by Southeast 3:1 (1996), 16 and 18 (article); van den Heuvel, The Haiku Anthology (1999), 295; Haiku Society of America Newsletter 21:4 (2006), 13.

"The hills" - Wills, Back Country (1969), 31; Haiku 3:4 (1970), 23 (review); van den Heuvel, The Haiku Anthology (1974), 227; the here and now haiku (21 haiku greeting cards, 1977); Frogpond 4:4 (1981), 33 (essay); van den Heuvel, The Haiku Anthology (1986), 302; van den Heuvel, The Haiku Anthology (1986), 341; Wills, Reed Shadows (1987), 15; Wind Chimes 23, 39 (review); Frogpond 11:4 (1988), 39 (review); Ross, Haiku Moment (1993), 298; Wills, mountain (1993), 17, Introduction; South by Southeast 1:2 (1994) (article); South by Southeast 3:1 (1996), 15 (article); van den Heuvel, The Haiku Anthology (1999), 296; Noyes, Favorite Haiku 4 (2001).

"the sun" - Wills, Up a Distant Ridge (1980), 16; Modern Haiku 11:3 (1980), 44 (review); Frogpond 4:4 (1981), 32 (essay); Frogpond 5:3 (1982), 44 (article); Modern Haiku 15:3 (1984), 34 (article); van den Heuvel, The Haiku Anthology (1986), 304, 341; Wills, Reed Shadows (1987), 99; Frogpond 11:4 (1988), 39 (review); Wills, mountain (1993), 17, Introduction; Frogpond 17:1 (1994), 6 (memorial); South by Southeast 3:1 (1996), 16 and 18 (article); Frogpond 22:3 (1999), 77 (review), The Japan Times Online, June 29, 1999; van den Heuvel, The Haiku Anthology (1999), 298.

"dusk" - Wills, Up a Distant Ridge (1980), 6; Frogpond 4:4 (1981), 31 (article); Frogpond 5:3 (1982), 43 (article); Wills, Reed Shadows (1987), 31; van den Heuvel, The Haiku Anthology (1986), 307, 340; van den Heuvel, “Concision, Perception, Awareness — Haiku,” New York Times Book Review Section, March 29, 1987 (article); Modern Haiku 18:3 (1987), 34 (article); Wind Chimes 23, 39 (review); Woodnotes 15 (1992) (article); Ross, Haiku Moment (1993); Wills, mountain (1993), 16; South by Southeast 3:1 (1996), 16 and 18 (article); Frogpond 22:3 (1999), 76 (review); The Japan Times Online, June 29, 1999 (review); van den Heuvel, The Haiku Anthology (1999), 301; The Haiku Foundation: Montage, June 28, 2009 (Web).

"sunset" - Wills, Up a Distant Ridge (1980); Wills, Reed Shadows (1987); South by Southeast 3:1 (1996).

"the old field" - Frogpond 8:3 (1985), 19; Wills, mountain (1993); Ross, Haiku Moment (1993).

"autumn wind" - Modern Haiku 18:1 (winter-spring 1987), 77; Rotella, The Rise and Fall of Sparrows (1990); Wills, mountain (1993); van den Heuvel, The Haiku Anthology (1999).

"November evening" - Wills, Back Country (1969); Haiku West 4:1 (1970), 40 (review); van den Heuvel, The Haiku Anthology (1974); van den Heuvel, The Haiku Anthology (1986); Wills, Reed Shadows (1987), 22; van den Heuvel, The Haiku Anthology (1999).

"winter again" – Wills, Cornstubble (1971); Haiku Magazine 5:2 (1971), 36 (review); Wills, Reed Shadows (1987), 47; van den Heuvel, The Haiku Anthology (1986), 310.

Additional Reading:

Amann, Eric W., book review, Weathervanes: Haiku 3:1+3 (1969), 44; Spiess, Robert, book review, Weathervanes: Modern Haiku 1:1 (1969), 34–35; Keyser, Gustave, book review, Back Country: Modern Haiku 1:2 (1970), 38–39; Amann, Eric W., book review, river: Modern Haiku 1:3 (1970), 41–42; Virgil, Anita, book review, Back Country: Haiku West 4:1 (1970), 40-41; Cain, Jack, book review, Back Country: Haiku 3:4 (1970), 22-23; McClintock, Michael, "Eminent Haiku Poets," Haiku Highlights 7:6 (1970), 8-9; McClintock, Michael, book review, The Young Leaves: Modern Haiku 2:2 (1971), 43–45; McClintock, Michael, book review, Cornstubble: Modern Haiku 2:4 (1971), 44–45; Virgil, Anita, book review, The Young Leaves and Cornstubble: Haiku 5:2 (1971), 33-36; Higginson, W.J., "Whatever Happened to Rhythm?", Haiku Highlights 8:5 (1971), 25;McClintock, Michael, "The Liberated Haiku: Part V," Haiku Highlights 8a:2 (1972), 26; Wills, John, "Depth in Haiku," unpublished essay (1974); van den Heuvel, Cor, ed., The Haiku Anthology, New York: Anchor Books (1974); McClintock, Michael, "A Conversation With John Wills," Modern Haiku 7:2 (1976), 6-8; van den Heuvel, Cor, "Haiku Becoming," Frogpond 1:2 (1978), 12; Segers. Michael L., "Sound in Haiku: Some Notes," Frogpond 1:3 (1978), 29;

Willmot, Rod, "The Structural Dynamics of Haiku: Part II," Frogpond II:2 (1979), 15; Willmot, Rod, book review, Up a Distant Ridge: Cicada 4:3 (1980), 33-34; Brickley, Chuck, book review, Up a Distant Ridge: Modern Haiku 11:2 (1980), 44–45; van den Heuvel, Cor, "John Wills and One-Line Haiku - I: A Troutswirl Simplicity", Frogpond 4:4 (1981), 30–33; van den Heuvel, Cor, "John Wills and One-Line Haiku – II: One-Liners", Frogpond 5:1 (1982), 38–45; van den Heuvel, Cor, "John Wills and One-Line Haiku – III: Three in One or One in Three", Frogpond 5:3 (1982), 38–46 [Correction in Frogpond VI;1 (1983), 45-46; van den Heuvel, Cor, ed., The Haiku Anthology, New York: Simon & Schuster (1986); van den Heuvel, Cor, "Concision, Perception, Awareness—Haiku," The New York Times Company, 1987 [reprinted in Modern Haiku XVIII:3 (1987), 32-37]; Harter, Penny, book review, Reed Shadows: Frogpond 11:4 (1988), 39–41; Spiess, Robert, book review, Reed Shadows: Modern Haiku 19:1 (1988), 74–75; Sato, Hiroaki, "Haiku in English: Beyond Assumptions," Frogpond XII:1 (1989), 17; van den Heuvel, Cor, "Nicholas Virgilio and the End of Innocence," Frogpond XII:2 (1989), 28;

St. Jacques, Elizabeth, "The Importance of Rhythm in Haiku," Woodnotes 15 (1992); Swist, Wally, book review, mountain: Modern Haiku 25:1 (1994), 5–7; Willmot, Rod, "Bringing the Window Inside: Psychological Haiku," Frogpond VI:3 (1983) and in A Haiku Path, 217; Haiku Society of America, Inc., A Haiku Path, New York (1994); Kacian, Jim, "Retrospective: up a distant ridge with John Wills," South by Southeast 3:1 (1996), 14-18; Sato, Hiroaki, "One Way of Getting Here" [book review of the 1999 edition of The Haiku Anthology], Frogpond XXII:3 (1999), 76; Sato, Hiroaki, "American haiku now holds its own," The Japan Times Online, June 29, 1999; van den Heuvel, Cor, ed., The Haiku Anthology, New York/London: W.W. Norton & Co. (1999); Noyes, H.F., Favorite Haiku 3 (2000), 4 (2001), and (4) 2002; Lynch, Thomas P., "Intersecting Influences in American Haiku," University of Nebraska - Lincoln, Faculty Publications – Dept. of English [online: http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1035&context=englishfacpubs]; Published in Modernity in East-West Literary Criticism: New Readings, edited by Yoshinobu Hakutani - Madison, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press (2001), 114-136 [copyright 2001 by Rosemont Publishing & Printing Group]; van den Heuvel, Cor, "Nick Virgilio and American Haiku: Creating Haiku and an Audience," http://nickvirgilio.rutgers.edu/htm/scholarship/Virgilio_Cor.htm; van den Heuvel, Cor, Paper prepared for the International Haiku Forum held in Matsuyama, Japan, in 1990 [the paper was not delivered because the author was asked to speak on another subject]; van den Heuvel, Cor, "American Haiku's Future," Modern Haiku 34:3 (2003); Estevez, Efren, "Images of John Wills," Frogpond XXVII:1 (2004), 55-57; Stevenson, John, "Long Shadows," Frogpond XXVII:1 (2004), 81; Estevez, Efren, "Troutswirl: Art in the Nature Poems of John Wills," The Haiku Society of America Newsletter XXI:4 (2006), 12-13.

Sources Biography:

In addition to sources listed above, specific information contained in the biographical section above was supplied by Marlene Mountain via e-mail and in a letter posted on the Internet and from the following sources: Haiku Spotlight #27 (Japan) March 29, 1969; foreword, mountain; Introduction to mountain, by Cor van den Heuvel, 20, 22; Preface to The Young Leaves: Haiku of Spring and Summer; Introduction, Weathervanes, by Eric W. Amann; The Haiku Anthology (1974), 276; Michael McClintock's "A Conversation With John Wills," Modern Haiku 7:2 (1976), 7; A Haiku Path, 45, 295, 323;

Frogpond 1:2 (1978); 1:4 (1978; Biographical Note, Reed Shadows, 112; van den Heuvel, Cor, "Nicholas Virgilio and the End of Innocence," Frogpond XII:2 (1989), 28; Lynch, Thomas P., "An Original Relation to the Universe: Emersonian Poetics of Immanence and Contemporary American Haiku," Ph.D. diss., University of Oregon (1989); Swist, Wally, book review, mountain: Modern Haiku 25:1 (1994), 5–7; Kacian, Jim, " Retrospective: up a distant ridge with John Wills," South by Southeast 3:1 (1996), 14-18; Sato, Hiroaki, "One Way of Getting Here" [book review of the 1999 edition of The Haiku Anthology], Frogpond XXII:3 (1999), 76-77; Sato, Hiroaki, "American haiku now holds its own," The Japan Times Online, June 29, 1999.

Appreciation is also due Charles Trumbull for assistance in gathering representative haiku and publication credits.

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