Simply Haiku: An E-Journal of Haiku and Related Forms
| Contents | Archives | About Simply Haiku | Submissions |

 

Interview with Graham Nunn by Robert Wilson

Q. What is your approach to writing a haiku?

A. I guess you could say I 'compose' haiku. For me it starts with a sense—a sound, a smell, a taste, an image or a feeling or often a combination of these will trigger something inside of me. Generally I like to sit with this sense for a few days and let it grow into a bigger picture. I play with words that fit the image, repeating them constantly to test out their sound.I go through countless variations until I have something that I think will create the image in the reader's eye. It is only then that I write the haiku down. The writing as such is a very small part of the process. I occasionally record more than one version of the haiku, but most times the haiku is complete before it gets to the paper.

Q. Where did you come up with the title for your book of haiku, A Zen Firecracker?

A. I had actually written a longer poem called 'a zen firecracker' and a lot of people had commented on how much they liked the name of that piece. A very good friend of mine had also commented that my haiku were like 'firecrackers for the mind'. Silent explosions he called them. I liked this description so much that it began to influence the way I wrote and thought about haiku. In the end it became the obvious title for the collection.

Q. How does your heritage affect what you write and how you say it?

My hometown of Brisbane, Australia and its surrounding areas is very important to me. I have lived in the suburb of Mt. Gravatt for 26 of my 33years, so I guess I know my local area pretty well. Many people have commented on the uniquely Australian flavour of my haiku and I only ever take this as a compliment. My family takes great pleasure looking through my book and guessing where the haiku were written. The book has been a bit like a photo album for us. We drag it out, flick through it and reminisce about the time that each of the haiku were written.

The beach and fishing in particular are very common themes throughout the book. Beaches like Rainbow Bay have always been a place that I have used to restore the balance of what is generally a very hectic lifestyle. I am always at my most productive when I am on holiday at Rainbow with my family. I have been going to that beach since I was a toddler when my Great Grandmother owned a caravan site in the old park, so yes. family and place mean an awful lot to me and are important themes in my writing.

I am sure that everyone's heritage affects them in a similar way when they are composing haiku. If I was born in Central Australia I am sure that the imagery and voice of my haiku would be completely different. I am a coastal dweller and this dominates my imagery. It is what I know and love and I feel that this passion for my surrounds makes it easier to compose a haiku that the reader can immediately engage with.

Q. You are a relative newcomer to the haiku world community. What started you on your haiku journey and where is it leading you?

A. During the Spring Holidays of 2000, I picked up a tattered copy of Kerouac's The Dharma Bums. It had these amazing little poems scattered throughout the prose. They were the crystallisation of the images he wrote about. At this time I was just getting serious about writing poetry and found these haiku totally inspiring. Coincidentally I picked up a little street publication in those same holidays that contained an article about haiku. This set me on a knowledge finding journey and before I knew it I had read Higginson's Haiku Handbook, Basho's Narrow Road to the Deep North' and was well into Kerouac's Desolation Angels. Quite simply, I was obsessed with haiku.

It wasn't long before I came across the details for the local group, Paper Wasp. A quick call to one of the members and I was excited to learn that they met once a month at the State Library of Queensland, which was very close to where I live in Brisbane. I went along to the first meeting with my first attempts at haiku and found their comments to be insightful and inspiring. The fact that I now had the inspiration and an audience of knowledgeable haijin was all that I needed to continue to write and develop my craft. The same people are still the greatest source of support and inspiration to me almost 4 years down the track. I still treasure their company and their wisdom and always will.

Q.Who has been the greatest influence on you as a poet and why?

A. I would have to say my greatest influences are nature writers like Jack Kerouac, Gary Snyder and Philip Whalen. It was these authors that introduced me to haiku and a way of thinking that was fresh and exciting. They wrote of their experiences with an intensity that was strikingly beautiful. Their prose and poetry was haiku like in the way that it used words to create immediate images in the reader’s eye without telling the reader what to think. There was a charming simplicity about their writing that I found irresistible. I recently read Kerouac's Book of Haikus and fell in love with his style all over again. Although I look at them more critically now, I still have nothing but admiration for the clarity with which he could capture an image.

Q. How strong and vital is the haiku community in your country? And how do you fit into it?

A. The haiku community in Australia is relatively small I guess, but it is very active. You just have to check out the Haiku Oz website to see that there are many people out there who share an interest in haiku. I am fortunate enough to live in Brisbane where the Paper Wasp haiku group meets every month. This group has been prominent for many years now on both a national and an international level and I have been a regular member for the last 3and a half years. Being a group member provides a real focus for me, as I know that every month I have an audience to share my haiku with. Without this I don't know whether I would write as frequently as I do.

There are also several journals that publish quality haiku in Australia and I am an active subscriber to all of them. Yellow Moon, Famous Reporter and Paper Wasp are reputable journals that publish haiku and related forms and Stylus Poetry Journal is an Australian based online journal that has a haiku and related forms section that is edited by internationally recognized haijin Janice M. Bostok. These journals provide a regular outlet for my haiku and haibun which I think is important for any serious writer. The publication of the First Australian Haiku Anthology is also something that has helped to raise the profile of many of Australia's best haijin. I am now looking forward to the publication of the Second Anthology as I feel that it will build upon the success of the first.

Q. When you were new to writing haiku, you, like all of us, made mistakes. You probably look back at them now and laugh, although at the time, they were nothing to laugh at. Any advice for those new to writing haiku?

A. Read widely--both haiku and how to write haiku; get involved with your local writers group (if there isn't one, form one!); practice your craft and remember that every criticism is something to learn from, not a reason to put down your pencil. Have your 'haiku eyes' on at all times. You never know when you might capture an image