Simply Haiku: A Quarterly Journal of Japanese Short Form Poetry
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Autumn 2005, vol 3 no 3

Interview with Robert Wilson
by Andrew Riutta


AR: Who was it that first introduced you to haiku, and how old were you?

RW: My father introduced me to haiku when I was in the fifth grade. He was a complex human being. He was deeply spiritual but didn't attend church; a right wing Republican harboring a love affair with poetry and diverse musical styles. More than anything else, he was his own person, even if that meant not having a lot of friends. For some reason, he had a special affinity for all things Japanese. I never knew why.

I have fond memories of my dad taking me to Little Tokyo in Los Angeles to eat udon in a Japanese cafe and watch English subtitled samurai movies afterwards, munching on dried cuttlefish. I was introduced to serious poetry in the fifth grade under Miss Castle. She loved poetry and introduced my classmates and me to a variety of poetic styles. And she read poetry in a way that made the words jump out of the book.

Looking back now, I think she must have been a poet. I remember discussing poetry with my father at the dinner table and him asking me, "Son, did your teacher teach you about haiku?" She hadn't, and he proceeded to introduce me to haiku, first with a quick explanation, then shared with me some haiku he'd written. I thought it was cool, having a dad who wrote poetry and read with the same zeal that Miss Castle did. After dinner, he took me into the study and showed me some haiku books published by Peter Pauper Press. They weren't the best translations, but then again, not much on haiku was available in the English language, circa 1958, in the United States. But primitive or not, it was a start, and I was hooked. My father passed away in 1991. I still have the haiku he'd composed through the years and the Peter Pauper Press haiku books.


AR: Dreams and shadows are reoccurring themes in your poems. What is it about these two themes that inspires you?

RW: I am a creative person. I see and feel what many people don't see or take for granted. Suffice it to say, I've experienced a lot of pain in my life. It has been said that people who have experienced much pain are either very sensitive or insensitive. I learned at a young age to retreat from the pain around me; spending a lot of time alone, talking to animals, interacting with stuffed animals, daydreaming, drawing, writing poetry, playing the guitar, singing, and reading in my father's study. Dreams and shadows became friends, serving as a salve for emotional wounds. Later, when I was in high school, I was an avid painter and won my share of awards and attention. I was influenced by Edvard Kienholtz, Salvador Dali, and Andy Warhol. I graduated high school in 1967, and enlisted in the Navy. I was introduced to marijuana after boot camp. That experience opened up my mind to a surreal spirit world. Six months later I was on my way to the former Republic of South Vietnam.

War is an ugly experience and, when you are 18 years old, you are not prepared for what you experience and see. I was no longer watching horror movies in movie theaters. I was living in one; a movie that played for almost twelve months.

I dove into the world of drugs during my tour of duty there. A lot of people did. I smoked marijuana laced with opium daily and experimented with pills. Fortunately for me, I couldn't relate to the pills and quickly swore off them. Drugs are a door into the spirit world but like any shortcut, without experience and knowledge, one can easily fall down and lose oneself. Only later, after having been to hell and back, did I backtrack and seek the experience and teaching that would make sense of the spiritual world and direct me down a drug free path. And yes, dreams and shadows are a very real part of my past. And in some ways, a part of my now. And as Sam Hamill said recently when I interviewed him, "Too much rational thinking is probably as destructive and limiting as too much irrational thought. Dreams, after all, are also reality, just in different attire."


AR: What are your thoughts on the contemporary standards of haiku in relation to the poems composed by Basho, Buson, Issa, etc.?

RW: I think haiku needs to get back to the basics that made haiku, haiku. Much of what I read in modern English haiku today lacks soul. And depth. A lot of haiku today follows a formula, and rules set up by people far removed from the Japanese mindset, a mindset that in turn, was influenced by poets from China's Tang Dynasty. I am not saying we need to think like a Japanese to write haiku. But we need to do our homework. The haiku by Basho, Buson, Issa, Chiyo-Ni, and Shiki are far superior to most of that written today. And why? They took the time to listen to nature without preconceptions; to see nature through nature's eyes. Most of them were Buddhists. Material possessions and ego didn't play a big part in their lives. And they were rule breakers. All were accomplished poets and had studied under other poets. But as creative people, they could not ride the wave of the time. They pushed past the boundaries; experimenting, questioning, and exploring.

Basho has had a big influence on my life. He was an innovator yet discouraged his students from being little Bashos.

I think of this haiku Basho gave to Emoto Toko (Shido), who expressed a desire to become his student:

don't resemble me
cut in half
a musk melon
          —Matsuo Basho   [translated by Dr. Makoto Ueda]


I get criticism from people who expect me to write and think like they do. Yet, when I read their haiku, I am not moved. I am almost always moved, however, when I read the haiku penned by haiku masters of old. I am also moved by modern poets who write haiku with depth, personality, and human emotion...people who have something to say and say it well. Anita Virgil, Ikuyo Yoshimura, Takeo Fukutomi, Kathy Lippard-Cobb, Dennis Holmes, Debi Bender, Hortensia Anderson, Michael McClintock, Michael Rehling, and you, Andrew, are good examples. Their haiku and yours are fresh, well crafted, with a distinct voice. The people I've mentioned, including you, don't write to show off. They don't think of themselves as having arrived. They continually strive to improve their craft. This is the mark of a great poet. This is the kind of poet I want to be: a bodhisattva, a pilgrim, a learner, and like the indigenous people of this planet, in touch with nature and my feelings.


AR: As an editor, what inherent qualities do you look for in a poem?

RW: Sincerity, freshness of expression, metre, kigo reference, and depth, to name a few. Simply Haiku is a journal of Japanese short form poetry. I look for haiku that adheres to the teachings and spirit set forth in the writings and teachings of those who forged the haiku path in the past.

Take me on a journey, poets. Allow me to see and sense what you have experienced...share with me the "aha!" of the moment. And leave room for my imagination....Nothing turns me off more than a haiku that says nothing or everything. Like with any artistic medium, a person needs to study his or her craft. On a regular basis I get submissions from poets saying they are new to haiku and have been writing for just a few weeks. And below their comments are poems they have submitted for publication. Most of them are not haiku. And most of them are poorly written, displaying little or no understanding of the haiku form. Have they done their homework?

No. Do they know what a haiku is? I doubt it. I suspect many are the product of the American public school system that, more often than not, defines a haiku as a three line poem using a nature word following the 5/7/5 syllable format. Or perhaps they have read some of the formula based, say nothing haiku found in some publications today. A good haiku is not easy to write. They are harder to write than longer poems. The late great classical guitarist Andre Segovia once said, "The guitar is the easiest instrument to play and the hardest to play well." The same can be said for haiku. Haiku is the easiest poem to write but the hardest to write well. Read, study, emulate, practice. And listen to nature.


AR: Which season (kigo) is your favorite to employ in your haiku and why?

RW: I like all of the seasons and have no favorite season to write about. I write haiku every day and record what I see and experience.


AR: What compelled you to write "Vietnam Ruminations," and how long did it take you to complete it?

RW: I am not sure if "Vietnam Ruminations" will ever be complete. Every time I think it is finished, a new rumination surfaces. I saw a lot during the eleven months I was in the former Republic of South Vietnam. I am still digesting what I saw, heard, and experienced. In 2002, I wrote my first rumination. I'd written a haiku about something I'd remembered about the War and posted it online. My haiku generated a lot of attention, and requests for similar haiku followed, coupled with questions. Suffice it to say, I wrote another and another. The rest, as they say, is history. "Vietnam Ruminations" has been translated into the Italian and Japanese languages, thanks to Moussia Fantoli and Ikuyo Yoshimura. Some individual ruminations have also been translated into the French language, thanks to Serge Tomé. The writing of "Vietnam Ruminations" has been a journey; an opportunity to process and understand the naive Bob Wilson who went to South Vietnam in 1968 freshly out of high school and the Robert Wilson who returned to the United States, his inner child clinging to shadows.


AR: How have your experiences in the Vietnam War influenced you?

RW: Nothing prepared me for what I was to see and experience in South Vietnam. It was a culture shock. All I knew about Vietnam came from the newscasts I watched with my family on television. I went from cruising the boulevard, surfing, and hanging out with my friends in Hollywood to a culture that was the antithesis of mine. Poverty and rubble were everywhere. The heat and humidity, intense. Foreign food, foreign language, foreign clothing, foreign music, everything was foreign. I look back now and see the experience as a surreal dream, a dream dreamt while awake. In a situation like this, one either adapts or becomes closed off. I chose to adapt, having a natural curiosity, and prepared in a small way by my excursions with my father to Little Tokyo as a young boy. The South Vietnamese people and their culture fascinated me. I loved their food, admired their Buddhist religion, their spirit, and tenacity. Unfortunately, the majority of those I served with during the war had a different attitude. Many of them called the Vietnamese "gooks," a derogatory racial slur similar in nature to "nigger." They laughed at the people, made fun of them, derided their culture, customs, language. I came to Vietnam programmed to "kick commie butt"; to free the people of this boot shaped country from the evils of Communism.

After awhile, I began to question the reason for my nation's involvement in the Vietnam War. It didn't look as if we were there out of a love for the Vietnamese people. There had to be another reason. I will never forget this comment by an old man I met in the Mekong Delta village of Bien Duc: "We don't want you here and we don't want the communists from the north here. We just want to be left alone to farm and live our lives." That one statement carried a powerful psychological punch. It was a statement that forever changed my perception of the war. The Vietnamese people I met had a value system I was able to relate to...

They were generous, open minded, and more accepting than what I'd been used to in America. I often did the unthinkable in Vietnam.

I visited villages that were off limits, and off the beaten path. I ate in villagers' homes, visited schools, helped orphans, and received instruction in a temple from a Buddhist monk. I held no malice towards the people and displayed a respect for their culture. Perhaps the enemy (they were in every village) saw that in me and decided to overlook or tolerate my presence. Or maybe I was just lucky. I saw a Vietnam few Americans had seen. I also participated in a war. A war that continues to haunt me today. I was shot at, rocketed, and mortared. I've seen what a war can do to friends, civilians, and to a country. Living in a war zone is like being in a violent horror movie, only worse. You never know when the enemy will strike, or who the enemy is...anticipation is heightened.

When I returned home after my tour of duty, I slept 25 hours. Waking up was like waking up from a bad dream...The world around me, the world I'd left eleven plus months earlier, had changed drastically, in the throes of a cultural revolution. Sides were drawn. People questioned American values and our involvement in Vietnam. There were demonstrations and counter-demonstrations, the media making a circus of it all. And I played a part in it. I organized and led all of the demonstrations, rallies, and love-ins in President Nixon's hometown of Whittier, California. I felt as a veteran that I had earned the right to demonstrate against the War. I was engaged now in a new war. The war for peace.

Have these experiences influenced my writing? Yes. They taught me to view life from an Asian perspective; to find meaning and value in things many take for granted. And to be less materialistic. My experiences in Vietnam also taught me an important lesson:
To not believe everything I hear and half of what I see. Not everything is what it appears to be. I learned to question authority; to check things out for myself and not blindly follow the leader. This has helped me a lot through the years.


AR: Do your own memories serve as continuing images for your poems, and do you feel memories qualify as haiku moments?

RW: Yes. Memories are real and therefore relevant to haiku. Memories are something we cannot get away from. They influence who we are and what we become. Basho drew upon memories while writing some of his haiku: memories of Chinese poems he'd read; dreams he'd dreamt; people he'd known. Memories are data stored in our minds. Social context and personal experience help us to interpret that data and to apply it in our lives. Covertly, everything we write is influenced by our memories.


AR: Is personal complacency the enemy of poetry?

RW: An interesting question, Andrew. The enemy of poetry is ego; especially when it comes to the writing of haiku. For some, the haiku world is a political arena. A place to show off, compete, and make a name for oneself. They think they have arrived and have an image they continually cultivate. And they can be mean. In the forums I moderate or participate in, I do everything I can to cultivate an atmosphere of respect. I will not tolerate attacks (flames). People who attack others have no place in a public forum. A forum is a workshop, a place to grow, learn, share, and to receive constructive criticism (c & c).


AR: You seem to derive much joy from composing children's haiku, and I've heard that you are in the early stages of a book. Is it your hope that children might feel inspired to carry on the haiku tradition?

RW: Yes, I am working on a children's book of haiku. What can I say? My inner child is alive and well. But that is on the back burner. I am collaborating on a book with Anita Virgil, entitled "Come Dance With Me." It is a book of linked poetry that is different from anything published today. It will blow people's minds! That's all I will say for now.


AR: What do you feel is the strongest element haiku has to offer to the complexity of our times?

RW: It is....

AR: It is what?

RW: It simply is....The Zen mindset at first seems simple. Deceptively so. Until you come across an answer such as the one I have posited here. Many people in the occidental world define haiku and interpret its rules and structure via western interpretation. Many western churches do the same with the old and new testaments that comprise their sacred scripture. They interpret the scriptures using as a basis for this interpretation their level of experience coupled with an occidental understanding of the words, symbols, and concepts presented therein. The scriptures were written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. The words, symbols, and concepts in these languages are not always in sync with occidental thought.

Most of the early haiku were written by Japanese poets who were into Zen Buddhism, Shintoism, and animism. Eons ago, the indigenous people of Japan, the Ainu, were conquered by China. The Chinese introduced them to writing, the arts, mathematics, etc. The Japanese today have as their heritage a combination of Chinese and indigenous influences. From a social and historical context, they see life differently than do occidental people. To truly understand haiku, its form and rules, from an academic point of view, one needs a basic understanding of the Japanese culture, an understanding of how deeply their relationship to nature affects their lives, infuses their poetry. Yes, eventually it is good to branch out, to experiment, heed your own voice, explore new ways to express it via haiku and related genres. But not without a solid foundation of study! Continue to read broadly, listen, observe.

A good mechanic goes to a trade school or works as an apprentice before plying his trade. To be a good haiku poet, one should seek out a mentor (or mentors, on or offline) if possible, but most important is to familiarize yourself with the poems of haiku's best poets through the ages. The poems that move you, evoke a response in you will serve as your models. And always be open to your everyday world and use it in your poetry.


AR: Your work has received much acclaim in Japan, even being utilized by a college professor as examples for her students. What do you think it is about your poetry that resonates so strongly with the Japanese?

RW: I study haiku written by Japanese Haiku masters on a daily basis. Taking haiku seriously, I study its roots, its form, and unique way of viewing the world.

Here, let me share a few with you:

The piercing cold--
I marry a plum blossom
in a dream

Plum blossoms fall:
turning in the moonlit night,
a water wheel.

I take my leave:
in my dream there is a flow of light--
the River of Heaven.
          —Soseki   [translated by Makoto Ueda]

These haiku are beautiful. They exude soul. Soseki had a love affair with nature. A love affair that dives below the surface, a relationship, so to speak....Many of the Japanese haiku masters, and the majority of modern Japanese poets, have a relationship with nature that is foreign to occidental minds. A kigo is more than a nature word or words. It is a relationship; a part of the social context that permeates Japanese culture.

many sad junctures---
in the end, everyone turns into
a bamboo shoot

a wild duck, ill
on a cold night, falls from the sky
and sleeps a while
          —Matsuo Basho   [translated by Makoto Ueda]

The interrelationship with nature, the equality felt between nature and the poet in Basho's writing, is apparent, and speaks to those reading his haiku. Ah, and the beauty once again of the language, the way it is assembled, the metre and natural rhythm. What Basho says in his one breath haiku is soul-stirring. They literally reach inside me and refuse to leave. The mark of great poetry.

the traveler fixes
the farmer's floating
rice stalks
          —Kobayashi Issa   [translated by David Lanoue]

Issa, here, is describing a touching scene. Describing something he either experienced or saw during one of his journeys. Some rice stalks have become detached from their bedding and are floating on the water in the rice field. The traveler replants the floating stalks. And for no visible reward. The farmer is not nearby. It is an act of compassion, a love between a man and another living entity.

This kind of compassion rarely exudes from a lot of modern haiku. To Issa, what he wrote was more than words; it was a diary of his feelings, a record of his interactions with nature (including humankind), and expression of his religious beliefs (Jodoshinshu Buddhism).

In clear water
a mud snail enduring
the stillness
          —Yosa Buson    [translated by Makoto Ueda]

A full moon!
in the Sacred Fountain Garden
a fish is dancing.
          —Buson    [translated by Sawa & Shiffert]

Yosa Buson was an artist, a Buddhist, and a poet, who felt a kinship with his natural surroundings. He didn't just write down words, cognizant of form minus the soul...he entertained a relationship with nature. He valued life and wanted to learn from it. And like indigenous people everywhere, he had a respect for nature and didn't see himself as a separate entity.

There is a common thread here, in the haiku I have quoted. And that common thread is what makes the haiku by these poets stand out and be remembered hundreds of years later. I could go on and on, but I think you get the point. And it is this thread I have chosen to explore that influences what I write and how I write it.

I also study books written by experts on haiku and other forms of Japanese short form poetry. And almost to a tee, they write about the poetry of those who originated and/or popularized haiku. Take Basho, Issa, Chiyo-ni, Buson, and Shiki, for instance. Their mastery of haiku was light years above what is currently being written, with few exceptions. My favorite reference works include:
  – Basho And His Interpreters, by Dr.Makoto Ueda
  – Haiku Master Buson, by Edith Shiffert and Yuki Sawa
  – Seeds of the Heart, by Dr. Donald Keene
  – Pure Land Haiku, by Dr. David Lanoue
  – Chiyo-ni, Woman Haiku Master, by Patricia Donegan and Yoshie Ishibashi
  – Basho's Haiku, by Dr. David Landis Barnhill
  – Haiku,Volumes 1-4; and The History of Haiku by R.H. Blyth
  – The Path of The Flowering Thorn, by Dr, Makoto Ueda
  – Five Tang Poets, by David Young

When I study the masters, I try to see through their eyes. Doing this has taught me to see things in ways I've never before seen or experienced. Our brains are complex computers. The data we input into our brains determines the output. It is not thinking Japanese or emulating things indigenous to the Japanese culture that makes for good haiku. It is study, hard work, and taking the time to truly understand the form and what it is meant to communicate. The English speaking haiku world has come a long way, since its introduction to Japanese short form poetry in the mid-twentieth century. But, it has not arrived. It would be foolish to think otherwise. University scholars have not written books about English speaking poets and their haiku. There is a reason for this. Haiku is a form that incorporates more than just a systematized, concrete, do-it-this-way approach. There is that invisible factor: the path; the way of viewing the world; that symbiotic relationship between the poet and nature, that cannot be taught in a few words or paragraphs. In Japan, a person wishing to become a sushi chef cannot just take a course or two and voilá, he or she is a sushi chef. One must become an apprentice in a sushi house. The apprenticeship lasts for years. The training is never over, however. A sushi chef must continue to refine his or her art, listening to customers, researching trends, and improvising his or her own signature (style). This is the path I am taking. I will forever be an apprentice, never arriving, always growing and learning.

My goal is not to impress others and to make a name for myself. I simply want to be the best Japanese short form poet possible. The day I think otherwise, my art will stagnate.

AR: Do you think there are any moments that are too big for the brevity of haiku, or is it possible to capture every moment in three lines?

RW: This is an interesting question, Andrew. A haiku was never designed to "tell all". It isn't the sandalwood tree but the smell of the sandalwood tree. When I write a haiku, I like to focus on one thing, and to maintain that focus, searching always for its essence. So yes, a moment can be condensed into a haiku once the essence is ascertained and the "aha!" moment is experienced. A good haiku poem, for the most part, is not something you can whip out quickly. It takes thought, meditation, and inspiration, coupled with knowledge and experience. Haiku, in a way, is similar to sumi-e painting...it necessitates an economy of strokes (words). How to say what you want to say using an economy of words and to say it in a way that is fresh and innovative is where the work comes in. And to do the work well, one needs to have the right tools and the training to use these tools.

No painting, regardless of style, can be an exact duplicate of what an artist is painting. In some way or another it is a representation, an illusion. A haiku poet paints with words. He or she relies on ambiguity, juxtaposition, kigo references, metre, insight, social context, and other tools to say what he or she wants to say. I have yet to see a painter who was ready to exhibit his work after a month's worth of lessons. Why should it be any different for a poet?


AR: Having read dozens of your poems, it is clear to me that poetic vision and its ability to sublimate is more important to you than adhering to the contemporary standards which often strike me as being comprised of little more than a heartless recitation of the scenery. Some of your poems reflect the best intentions of our dreams. How have you managed to avoid being pulled into these trendy approaches to haiku?

RW: Contemporary standards? As defined by whom? College professors? Publishers of haiku books? Journal editors? My father, the late Robert Dean Wilson, introduced me to haiku in 1959. He loved the brevity, the tightness of form, the economy of words, and haiku's ability to say a lot with few words. He wrote haiku and read some of them to me as if they were meditations. My father hated long-windedness in speeches, poetry, and other forms of literature. "Words have to flow," he often admonished. "It is not what is said but how it is said that will touch the most people." I wrote haiku off and on during my life but never understood it save for my father's teaching and that teaching was limited to what he had been taught in school and the poetry he'd read. My big love was for longer occidental poems. I wrote and performed poetry influenced by Bartra, Blake, Ferlinghetti, McClure, Markham, Ginsberg, and Kerouac. I looked at haiku as a second cousin, something to write once in a while when I was "in the mood," but nothing to take seriously. That would come later. I became well-known as a regional poet. My performances on colleges campuses, in coffeehouses, cable access television, and other venues were well received. I was a celebrity among area poets. For years I was the emcee at local open mike poetry readings. I was also co-founder of The Mindprint Review, a nationally distributed poetry journal. I cringed when poets read haiku at the open microphone readings. (Perhaps I was justified because as I look back now, most of the haiku read were not very good, save for a few).

To make a long story short, unsatisfied with the direction I had taken vocationally, I enrolled in a nearby university and earned a teaching credential. I taught elementary school children how to read for several years. In 1994, my reading program was designated by the California School Board Association as the Best Elementary School Language Arts Program in the State (Golden Bell Award). When my District decided to start a community day school for troubled teenagers, I was asked by the Superintendent to sculpt one from the ground up. Loving a challenge and concerned for area youth, I accepted the offer and founded Moccasin Community Day School in the Fall of 1997. Sometime during the 2000-2001 school year, I decided to teach my students how to write haiku. Haiku was short, fairly painless, and easy to write for students with short attention spans. I surfed the internet looking for examples and an easy-to-follow lesson plan. Instead, I happened upon the old Shiki haiku forum. Naive me. I signed up and started to receive haiku several times a day. I thought I was supposed to answer each haiku with a haiku. Which I did.

Needless to say, it made a lot of people mad. This was not the purpose of the forum. It wasn't the write-and-respond forum I'd conceived it to be. Some on the forum thought I was a brash, Johnny-Come-Lately who felt he was God's gift to the haiku world. Fortunately for me, there were some members who saw past the surface, and extended their hands, explaining the forum rules and helping me to gain a better understanding of what a haiku is and isn't. Unfortunately, there were an equal amount of nasty-tempered, arrogant poets who were rude and mean-spirited. They chided me, calling me names, denigrating my persona, and encouraging me to "get lost!" I have no use for people like this. This is the opposite of everything I had learned about haiku and the haiku spirit up until this time. Being a somewhat stubborn man by nature, I stood up to these bullies. I would not cower to them or "suck up" to them like some on the forum did. I stood my ground, listened to the advice of those who took me under their wing, and was more determined then ever to grow and improve as a haiku poet. What started as a search to enlighten my students about haiku ended up as an entrance into what has now become a lifelong pursuit...walking down the haiku path. With study and determination comes a semblance of enlightenment. I read the haiku posted on the forum, digesting them, parsing them, and only a few stood out as exceptional. The poetry of my detractors was oftentimes mundane and, for the most part, forgettable. They spouted rules that were counter to what I had seen in poetry penned by Basho, Buson, Issa, and Chiyo-ni. They fancied themselves as Shiki's heirs, critiquing everyone's haiku except for their own and their forum clique.

I am reminded of something I read recently in Donald Keene's excellent reference book Dawn To The West, regarding the state of haiku during the Meiji Restoration period in Japan: "The haiku poets of the day, occupied with petty matters, were not aware that their art had become stagnant and even meaningless. They rejoiced in the undiminished number of pupils and in the respect that they still commanded, despite the change of regime."

It was during this time that Masaoka Shiki, an astutely intellectual, well-read poet and critic from a samurai family, came upon the poetic scene and literally upended the status quo, determined to clean up what he saw as a stagnant pond and to infuse it with freshness of spirit. And that he did. He was stern, sometimes rude, and had little patience for the petty lords of haiku who stood above the populace like tiny gods, dictating what was good and what wasn't good haiku. Dr. Keene says Shiki "almost single-handedly restored haiku to an important place in Japanese poetry after subjecting it to devastating attacks." And although risky, Shiki, during this tumultuous time, took chances with his own poetry. He studied the works of other poets. And via a love for Buson, saw a close correlation between haiku and painting. States Keene, "Shiki believed that haiku poetry was the closest of all literary forms to paintings. In other forms of poetry the emphasis is on time, rather than on space, but the haiku is too brief to go beyond the present moment, and must therefore evoke space instead." And like paintings, Shiki saw haiku as a canvas with multiple layers: "...a surface under which lay hidden deep flavors that could be appreciated only after careful savoring."

See how low it flies,
That locust on the paddy walk---
The sunshine weakens.
          —Shiki

Oh, for a depth of haiku like what Shiki and the masters before him wrote! This is my goal, my dream; to pave new roads, to become a poet whose poetry will be remembered and forge a legacy. All of which takes determination, work, and deep study, coupled with experience and a close relationship with nature.

Needless to say, it was a baptism by fire for me. I eventually left the forum and discovered other online forums that were supportive and didn't allow flaming (name calling and arguing). In this environment, I began to grow. I purchased books on haiku and related genres. I read, I studied, I wrote on a daily basis, taking the study of Japanese short form poetry as seriously as anything I had studied in college. I began to develop my own style, honing and reworking, reading more, studying more, determined to be the best haiku poet I could be. Maybe I am a dreamer. But without dreamers, the world would be a bland place. I am a bikku, a person traveling down a path without an end. I continue to pick up leaves and marvel at their simplicity and complexity, and even, like a madman, allow them to speak to me in their own voice. I do not have a sense of importance. I do not see myself as a great poet. I belong to no haiku organization. I hold no office. I have no book in print. And, although Simply Haiku reaches more people worldwide than all other English language Japanese short form poetry journals, I have yet to be asked to speak at haiku conferences and conventions. I continue to sit at the feet of Japanese haiku masters via reading and studying their books, waxing metaphysical, imagining the world through their eyes. In addition, I keep in contact with a few occidental poets whom I have the greatest respect for regarding their poetry and their views on Japanese short form poetry. Living part of the year in Southeast Asia has also been a big influence.


AR: I once read that poetry, at its best, is a magical spell. Do you believe this to be true?

RW: Yes, it is a magic spell. And addictive. I cannot imagine a day going by without thinking about and writing at least one haiku. Ah, and when you write an especially good haiku, one with the "oh ho" and the "aha," it is even more magical: an orgasm of the mind.


AR: How does a poet maintain the virtue of humility while honoring his or her personal experiences?

RW: There will always be better poets and lesser poets. That is the nature of life. And who defines what is better and what isn't? I have no desire to be the next this or that, to hover over others as a poetic god. I can only be the best Robert Wilson possible.

full moon---
cherry blossoms
turn into butterflies

turning butterflies
into wheat blossoms,
the harvest moon

memories
floating in a tea cup---
autumn moon

empty swing---
hornets cast shadows
over the playground

day's end---
a prostitute puts rouge
on her cheeks

day in
and day out,
flies eat shit!

star watching
with crickets in
a bamboo world

birds lift my spirits
in the rafters
of an old church

this childless village---
even the flowers are bent
at the waist

no leaves left
to catch the wind---
my bones!

grazing in
slow motion,
the cow and i

your web, spider,
dances
without you


Robert D. Wilson is a 56 year old father of two sons, Levi and Eriq; and three daughters, Leah, Krystal, and Bobbie. His wife, Gigie, is from the Philippines. They have a home in Northern California near Yosemite National Park, and another in the Philippines. Robert served in South Vietnam in 1968, with the US Navy, and was stationed in Dong Tam in the Mekong Delta.

Currently, Robert is the director and head teacher of a community day school serving students who get expelled from the district's two high schools, and writes a column for Teacher Librarian Magazine. He is the owner and managing editor of Simply Haiku, an online literary journal showcasing Japanese short form poetry. He is a painter, and the author of an as yet unpublished mystery novel entitled "Late For Mass."

Robert is also a performing poet, who reads and performs his poetry on cable television, radio, college campuses, in bookstores, and in saloons.Robert's work has been included in Ikuyo Yoshimura's college textbook, The Internationalization of Japanese Poems; the World Haiku Review, The Heron's Nest, In Buddha's Temple, The Mindprint Review, the Union Democrat Newspaper, Nightengale, Midwest Poetry Review, Tempslibres (Free Times), Short Stuff, The San Fernando Poetry Journal, Foothill Peace Forum Newsletter, The Banner, Central Sierra Arts Council Newspaper, Haiku Poet's Hut, Waterblossoms, HaikuHarvest, Midnight Edition, Kusanohana Magazine, Acorn, Simply Haiku, Makata, Mainichi Daily News, Sakura, Cherry Blossoms, The Writer's Hood, Lynx, stylus, SP Quill Magazine, Hermitage, Aozora, Red Moon Anthology 2003, The Haijin's Magazine, Haiku Stvarnost, poeticdiversity, Mountain Echoes, Saruga Baika Literary Festival (Selected Works, vols. 6-7), Full Moon, Canadian Zen Haiku, Senryu Magazine, Frogpond, Haiku Herald, The Roadrunner, Bottle Rockets, Autumn Leaves, Letni casi / Seasons, VI monath, The Road, White Lotus, Kokaku, Mravka, Borba, Ygdrasil, Circle Review, The Daily Yomiuri, paper wasp, and many more.....

Robert is the 2003 winner of the Hoshino Takashi Award, administered by the World Haiku Club Honorable Mention, Mainichi Daily News: "Haiku in English" Annual Selection - 2003, 2nd Place Winner, Mainichi Daily News: "Haiku in English" Annual Selection - 2004 Honorable Mention, Saruga Baika Literary Festival, 2004 and 2005.

Robert Wilson's highly acclaimed e-book of haibun entitled, Vietnam Ruminations, is available for purchase at: http://www.vietnamruminations.com. He is currently co-writing a book of poetry with Anita Virgil.

In July 2005, Robert had the priviledge of dining with the President of the Philippines, Gloria Arroyo, as the guest of Congressman Roldolfo Valencia of Mindoro.


Robert's photograph by Krystal Edman-Wilson
Coulterville/Groveland, CA USA


Copyright 2005: Simply Haiku