A while back, I was talking with South Dakota poet laureate David Allan Evans at a writers’ conference at which he had just coached the participants in writing haiku and senryu. He recommended that I interview a poet named Chad Lee Robinson for the blog. So I did.
Robinson was born and raised in Pierre. He holds a degree in English from South Dakota State University. His haiku, senryu and tanka have appeared in over thirty print and online journals, including Acorn, Bottle Rockets, The Heron’s Nest, Frogpond, Modern Haiku, and Mayfly, and in countries such as Canada, New Zealand, Australia, Japan, Romania, the UK and the USA. His work has also appeared in a number of anthologies, including Red Moon Press’ annual Red Moon Anthology each year for the last four years, and most notably in Baseball Haiku: The Best Haiku Ever Written About the Game (W.W. Norton, 2007). He is a member of the Haiku Society of America, the Haiku Poets of Northern California, the Tanka Society of America, and the Skipping Stones Haiku Group. Chad has also been the Plains & Mountains Regional Coordinator for the Haiku Society of America since 2006. He currently lives in Pierre with his wife, and helps his dad run a small grocery/catering business.
After Long Busyness: How did you find your way into haiku?
Chad Lee Robinson: All it took was one haiku, and I was hooked.
The first haiku I ever read was in the Fall of 2002 in a creative writing class at SDSU. The professor, South Dakota Poet Laureate David Allan Evans, put the following haiku on the chalkboard:
settled on a bare branch
Written in about 1680 by Basho, Japan’s first and most famous haiku master, this haiku contains images not unfamiliar to me, but presents them in a new way. It was a revelation to me that this was poetry. I was immediatley drawn to its smallness, to its brevity, to its clear and uncluttered images, and to its impact. After class I went straight to the campus library and checked out every book I could find about haiku. I had to write some haiku as an assignment for class, and I’ve been writing them ever since.
ALB: The Rapid City Journal recently sponsored a haiku challenge, soliciting haiku from readers, and received over 200 responses. What is it about haiku that resonates with people?
CLR: There are so many reasons, and each person’s is probably different. Some might say they like haiku because they don’t like reading longer poetry. Others might say it keeps them focused on their surroundings, on the small details of daily life. For some it may be more spiritual, and for others more for the fun of it. The list goes on and on.
ALB: What is the key to writing a good haiku?
CLR: I don’t know if there is a “key” to writing a good haiku. At the risk of sounding like a text book, here are a number of elements found in successful haiku:
A) immediacy – haiku should be written in the present tense;
B) common language and natural syntax;
C) literal imagery – images should be sharp and clear and should make the reader use one or more of the senses;
D) conciseness – most haiku are written in less than 17 syllables; adding words to reach a certain syllable count is not advised;
E) a sense of season – this can be done by either naming the season (spring, summer, fall, winter) or by using an image that evokes a certain season (ie, pumpkins = autumn);
F) suggestion – readers of haiku don’t want to see the whole cow; show them the cow’s lips or the cow’s udders; also choose words that make sense within the context of the poem but that will suggest more than one interpretation;
G) juxtaposition of images – most haiku have 2-3 images in them; the images you choose for your haiku should add depth to one another and create layers of meaning; the images shouldn’t be thrown together at random;
H) sense of mood – don’t tell the reader how to feel, let the images do the talking.
This is probably far more technical than I need to be. One thing I’ve found to be true about haiku is that haiku are easy to write but they’re hard to write well. Whether you’re writing haiku to publish or just for fun, you should always write about things that mean something to you.
ALB: Name some of the best publications/websites for readers and writers of haiku.
CLR: Keep in mind: what’s listed below barely scratches the surface of what’s available on the internet and in print.
Here are some websites that should provide a way into haiku on the internet without having to sift through the garbage to get to the good stuff:
http://www.hsa-haiku.org is the Haiku Society of America; publishes Frogpond, one of the most well-known English-language haiku journals.
http://www.modernhaiku.org is the website for Modern Haiku, arguably the most prestigious journal in which to have a haiku published.
http://www.geocities.com/bottlerockets_99 is the website for bottle rockets. A huge success story, this is the most Zen-flavored and fun haiku journal out there. Currently celebrating its 10th anniversary.
http://www.brooksbookshaiku.com is home to Brooks Books, a publisher of haiku books as well as Mayfly, a small but powerful little journal that showcases the individual haiku at its best.
http://home.earthlink.net/~missias/Acorn.html is home to Acorn: A Journal of Contemporary Haiku. Another top haiku journal that’s also celebrating is 10th anniversary.
http://www.theheronsnest.com is home to The Heron’s Nest, a quarterly online journal and print annual. Another one that’s celebrating its 10th anniversary. Features a 5-member editorial board. One of the best haiku journals on the market.
http://www.simplyhaiku.com The largest online only haiku journal, Simply Haiku publishes a range of Japanese-style verse such as haiku, senryu, tanka, haibun and many more. Well worth a thorough read.
There are a number (too numerous to mention here) of great haiku collections by individual authors as well as anthologies out there. Here are some haiku anthologies that proved to be helpful to me in getting started as well as ones I go back to again and again:
The Haiku Anthology, 3rd edition, edited by Cor van den Heuvel (Norton, 1999)
The New Haiku, edited by John Barlow and Martin Lucas (Snapshot Press, 2003)
Haiku Moment, edited by Bruce Ross (Tuttle, 1993)
The Haiku Handbook, edited and complied by William J. Higginson with Penny Harter (Kodansha, 1985)
Haiku World: An International Poetry Almanac, edited and compiled by William J. Higginson (Kodansha, 1996)
Haiku: A Poet’s Guide, by Lee Gurga (Modern Haiku Press, 2003)