by Robert D. Wilson
of nowhere, Andrew, you are posting haiku and senryu on several Japanese
short form poetry forums. Your poetry is top notch. The meter, excellent.
And your style, classical, calling to mind the influence of the old
Japanese haiku masters.
stir the fog
What poet or poets have influenced you the most and why?
AR: Thank you, Robert. The first poet to open my eyes was the American
poet and novelist Jim Harrison. He was a regional poet who had gained
international acclaim for his novels and screenplays, Legends of the
Fall being the biggest. A friend of mine had loaned me Harrison's New
Poems. It was then that I entered into the realization that I had become
desensitized to my own calling, my own quest to seize myself within
the confines of my own mortality. Harrison's poems, which are consistently
layered with self doubt and a mythical adoration of the natural world,
moved me in a way I had not thought possible. If one had to label him,
I suppose "zen nihilist" would suffice. For years he was my
beacon; still is. Sometime in the nineties, he released a book of poems
titled After Ikkyu, which consisted of his own suffocated approach to
"Our minds buzz
like bees but not the bees' minds. / It's
just wings not heart they say, moving to another flower."
Ikkyu, by Jim Harrison, © 1996.
by arrangement with Shambhala Publications, Inc., Boston, www.shambhala.com]
The poems speak for themselves. They do not attempt to wear the cloak
of attainment; rather, they rely on the questions much more than the answers.
This was my introduction to an "Asian" approach to poetry. Shortly
after I picked up a copy of the Penguin Book of Zen Poetry. The poems in
that book immediately had an impact on me:
Come, / see
real flowers / of
this painful world
Year's end, / all
corners/of this floating world, swept.
I had not thought it possible to say so much in a single breath. I was
astounded by Basho's ability to be so logical about an existence so seemingly
illogical. This element in Basho's poems, along with the brevity, would
eventually influence my own writing greatly; because after years of studying
and composing longer forms of poetry that attempted to dissect the world
into its parts, I had begun to feel as if I were covered in a thick film
of metaphor, which had apparently lost touch with what it was trying to
represent. Then it dawned on me, that the more one says, the less they are
actually saying. This is because words lock moments away into denotative
capsules of understanding, which limits a moment's natural tendency to whirl
about the world as it would. With haiku you have quite the opposite. That's
why I still believe it's so important to have some sort of nature reference
in a poem: it carries with it a whole backlog of associations, and those
associations are what gives a poem its legs to stand on. Then there is Issa:
One bath / after another-- / how
Issa's playfulness brought tears to my eyes on many occasions, literally.
The whole idea that life could be so tragic and comical at the same time
made much more sense to me than the usual Occidental manner of having to
choose one over the other. The amazing thing that struck me about Issa's
poems was that I didn't have to think about them in order to experience
their relative truth.
From the bough / floating
down river, / insect song.
This is truly a haiku moment; and yet it is a moment anyone can see, smell,
hear and feel. This is the mastery of Issa, in my opinion: to sell everyone
the world in which they are already living. In the following months I went
as far back as the Tang period and became quite enthralled with Tu Fu. I
found that while Tu Fu's poetry was quite simple and accessible, it seemed
to have no boundaries, which made it rock on the edge of the ethereal. This
is where I really began to understand the use of juxtaposition; to take
something solid and place it next to a phantom. This, for me, defined the
essence of the universe, and my own poems started to reflect this formula.
Soon I came across contemporary Asian poets like the Korean Ko Un. As far
as I'm concerned, this is as good as it gets:
Hey! With the clay you dug out
I fashioned a Buddha.
The Buddha turned back into clay.
Clear skies after rain are pointless.
Self: 108 Korean Zen Poems (1997) by Ko Un.
with permission of Parallax Press, Berkeley, California, www.parallax.org]
This is the sort of transcendental doubt that makes Buddhas out of all
of us. It is also a skin that my own poems fit into quite comfortably. It's
cutting edge, and yet it is as ancient as the wind. Ko Un has become one
of my cornerstones. His poems defy anything that anyone can throw at them.
Wherever I go you will find his book, Beyond Self, in my bag. Then, of course,
there are a few contemporary haiku poets who move me greatly, though I try
to avoid haiku that has been completely urbanized.
What do you look for when composing a haiku?
AR: There is much to be said for immediacy, and I value the many writers
who seek out what's in front of them, as I do the same. However, I also
tend to believe that immediacy alone does not make a haiku moment. In
my opinion, a haiku moment is comprised of many elements, one of the
biggest being resonance. Resonance, for me, is the element that introduces
to its own expansiveness, the thing that keeps it from lingering too
long within the deception of its own gravity. I enjoy haiku that develop
mood through imagery. In my own, I try to present the kigo as an inevitability,
which it truly is if you think about it; and then from there I often
use what might be called an emotive juxtaposition based off of this
and try to utilize the kigo to enhance a particular mood, often through
conflict. I'm all right with conflict, so long as it is true to the
nature of the moment.
The haiku path is . . .
AR: The haiku path is the path that runs between the universe and the
self. It is the path where one willingly steps into the natural affinity
the inherent complexity that is laid in front of us by existence itself.
It is the path that will lead through all the bright pastures and dimly
lit corridors of our world, and, if given the chance, eventually lead
right back into ourselves.
Tell me a little about yourself and how your past influences
your now as a haiku poet.
AR: Being from the northern part of Michigan, I have almost always lived
in a rural setting. Even before I started composing haiku this had a big
influence on my writing. I practically lived on the shores of Lake Superior
for the first fifteen years of my life. In 1999 I moved with my wife,
Lori, to the beautiful state of Oregon; we lived there for a couple
of years at
an intentional community called Alpha Farm, which is located in the coastal
mountains, about twenty miles from the Pacific. I think that perhaps my
interest in haiku and my wanting to move to a more communal setting were
both attempts at some badly needed simplicity. It was there in Oregon
that I had really started to expand my writing into the Asian forms
that I had
grown to admire so much. In 2001 my daughter, Issabella, Issa for short,
was born. Parenthood alone can really change the manner in which one perceives
and approaches the world. Throw in the events that unfolded during 9/11
and you have another story altogether. No one was really quite sure what
was going to happen; all we knew to do was to hold on to our loved ones
a little closer, which is exactly how I spent much of that year. Other
than writing, one of my hobbies has been sewing hand stitched bags out
and leather. I love bags. I think perhaps it is the same feeling that
both Snyder and Kerouac had when they would refer to the "rucksack
another gesture toward simplicity, I believe. I've also been quite the
avid reader of non-poetic works. Many writers have influenced not only
but my life as well, including Emerson, Joseph Campbell, and the German
philosopher, Arthur Schopenhauer. Ralph Waldo Emerson is one of the most
brilliant minds that one can encounter. One of the quotes that has become
one of my templates is by Emerson: "Step out of the house to see
the moon and it is mere tinsel; it will not please as when its light shines
upon your necessary journey." One can begin to see how this idea
is very much rudimentary in composing haiku.
A poet who thinks he or she has arrived will end up a stagnant
pond. Do you agree with this statement?
AR: Indeed. Life itself must continually unfold itself out of the forms
it has already shaped itself into. I have so much to learn within this
genre of writing, and I hope the day never comes where I feel I want
the path because I've become comfortable with where I am. Every day is
a new day; therefore, I will always be a newcomer. And I think that
not skill alone but skill developed by a mood that will continue to produce
the best haiku in the world.
AR: Since I am rather new to all of this, my goals still consist of attempting
to give that which seems to have very little voice in our world, a voice:
the bond and the distance between humanity and the world in which it
lives. Ultimately we are all moving in the same direction, and yet so
people you meet are willing to acknowledge this fact. I want to continue
to notice and write about the little moments that depict this scenario.
As for long term, I'd like to do what Richard Krawiec does, teach people
how to develop their own voices. There's also a part of me that would
love to help haiku appeal to those who may not be interested in it because
they believe that it conveys that which is already obvious. I would
like to help people recognize that each of us is participating in all
moments, and therefore, each of us has the depth to be able to perceive
them in a manner that no one else can.
week my wife and daughter flew down to Texas to welcome my wife's
brother home from Iraq, where he has served for over a year.
He's twenty-two, and he was in on much of the very heavy fighting.
Often while my wife and daughter were gone, I thought of him,
and how his life would be changed forever. Upon their return,
my wife showed me some photographs she had taken of his unit's
homecoming, I believe at Fort Hood. Looking over the pics, I
noticed that it was early spring in Texas, and the trees were
starting to bud, etc. I made a connection between the spring
and her brother, because, in my mind, he's still in the spring
of his life. But now here's the poem:
home from the war---
flattened grass begins to climb
from the war" is straightforward enough. There's a lot
going on in "flattened grass begins to climb the silence." Again,
the spring connection to youth; the flattened grass. The flattened
grass is the ground trod by combat boots. So now he's home,
and the damage seems minimal on the surface (the grass lifting
again), but then there's the silence: the silence is perhaps
the silent anguish, or the silence of the dead that will be
with him for the rest of his days. It's illusive and unavoidable,
and deadly if not acknowledged and respected. So it's a victory
song, and it isn't, depending on how he chooses to incorporate
it into his life.