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

PIPELINE

Jörgen Johansson
Interview by Robert D. Wilson

 

RW: Most of the senryu you write is of a humorous nature, oftentimes a play on words. It has been said that people who deal with the humorous aspect of life in their writing have had an unhappy childhood. Is that true with you?

JJ: No, I had a happy childhood, though, being a "dreamer", my problems came a bit later in life. And, I remember, during my teens, that I often used one-liners and played with words, in various situations, as a sort of excuse or "weapon", if you like, to handle situations. Not that many understood my, sometimes, strange humour. This applies to both now and yesterday. For instance, I get bored easily, and this "affliction" can be kind of difficult for myself and my friends, as I'm full of wit and wisdom (hmmm) initially, but this usually fades rapidly. Being a "late bloomer" might have something to do with it, plus, I was born a worried soul. Without my enthusiasm, I could never have survived, running a business for almost 25 years.


RW: What is it about senryu that attracts you to this genre more so than haiku, and why?

JJ: For a long time I´ve been fascinated with one-liners, especially those attributed to Groucho Marx, W.C. Fields, Oscar Wilde, and Mark Twain. So, when I stumbled across a Swedish haiku site, in April 2001, I immediately was drawn to the format, as it suited my way of approaching life. My first faltering steps, writing haiku, were very unorthodox; a strange mix of haiku and senryu. It wasn´t until early 2003, when I, after a brief break, happened to log on to an International haiku/senryu site, and began writing in English. And, I haven´t looked back since. As for haiku vs. senryu, I have a leaning towards the humorous and grim aspects of life, as these poems come to me more naturally, compared to haiku.

W.C. Fields:

"A rich man is nothing but a poor man with money."

"Start every day with a smile and get it over with."

Groucho Marx:

"Ice Water? Get some Onions - that'll make your eyes water!"

"Time Flies like an arrow. Fruit Flies like a banana."


Mark Twain:

"Training is everything; the peach was once a bitter almond; cauliflower is nothing but cabbage with a college education."


Oscar Wilde:

"The best way to make children is to make them happy."

 

RW: Define the word, Senryu.

JJ: A close relative to haiku, dealing with the humorous aspects and calamities of life.


RW: Do your senryu come to you in a moment of illumination or are they the result of a gestation period?

JJ: For sure, a flash of the moment procedure. I rarely make notes on the subjects I´m about to "dissect" on my iMac. Being a "late bloomer" has filled my stockroom with ideas. So, it´s only for me to plunge right in, head first! I have no idea how other haiku/senryu poets work, but I guess it´s very individual, though I have a feeling that my method is in minority.

I wrote my first ever poem in October 2000; and, in hindsight, I've been wondering why it happened so suddenly, out of the blue, which was the case. During this period, I was going through some harsh times, which I don´t wanna go into further here, but this "pain" must have triggered something inside me, as I began to write like crazy, producing approximately fourteen pamphlets of poems, in the Swedish language, between November 2000 and February 2001. This period of brainstorming was an incredible experience, as so much "wreckage" came out in the open. My friends reacted in a dazed and confused manner, receiving all these pamphlets in such a short time.

My first poem:

The naked trees.
Timeless monuments.
The leaves on the ground longing
for the summer that was.
Hear how they moan.


And from the same period:

icy cold
warm smiles
snow´s melting

Remember, this was written before I had any knowledge about haiku.


Going back to this period in my life, based on the poems I wrote, this was a dark and brutal time, but soon my writing became more "up-lifting", but still, with a sarcastic touch.

Staring
with wide open eyes
straight into the sun.
The warmth reaches
every corner
of my body



the sudden amnesia
became an excuse
to live on

Also written prior to discovering haiku.


And I published a pamphlet of one-liners in early 2001, in Swedish: Tankebloss—i.e., Thought Sparkles, literally translated.

RW: Who has had the greatest influence on you as a writer of senryu poetry and why?

JJ: I would say myself, ha! Seriously, I'd say, Issa, Alan Pizzarelli, and George Swede are, perhaps, the ones which have influenced me the most. Issa, for his timeless wit and wisdom, Al Pizzarelli, for his superior humour; creating senryu from everyday life situations. As for George Swede, see Al Pizzarelli!

The winter fly
i caught and finally freed
the cat quickly ate
                    —Issa


old married couple
the husband threatens suicide
the wife tastes the soup
                    —Alan Pizzarelli


at the height
of the argument the old couple
pour each other tea
                    —George Swede


When writing senryu, I have a tendency to "bolt away", to overdo my writing; so, by studying the senryu of Issa, Pizzarelli, and Swede, I have learned not complicate things, to stay away from abstract writing.

Non-haiku writers who have influenced me, one way or the other, are Flann O´Brien, James Thurber, Gurdjieff, Marcus Aurelius, and Ambrose Bierce. Here´s some examples from Bierce's 1911 classic, The Devil´s Dictionary:
    SAINT, A dead sinner revised and edited.
    EGOIST, A person of low taste, more interested in himself than in me.
    YEAR, A period of three hundred and sixty-five disappointments.
    FRIENDSHIP, A ship big enough to carry two in fair weather, but only one in foul.

RW: You also write haiku and won 2nd place in The 9th Kusamakura International Competition in Kumamoto, Japan. Tell us about your winning haiku.

unreadable
the firefly's signature
on the night sky

JJ: I was on a walk one hot summer evening, when this haiku came to me. Fireflies are linked to my childhood, visiting forest ponds, and other firefly haunts. Groucho Marx was called Rufus T. Firefly, in my favourite Marx Brothers movie, Duck Soup.

I´m also writing surreal haiku, which I find refreshing, as it allows me to fall headlong into another world. Been published twice with a display in Ban´ya Natsuishi´s Ginyu Magazine.

Pale...
the blood donor back from
Transylvania

A colony
of empty phrases attacking
the soft palate

RW: What do you think about on-line poetry forums? Has participation in them helped you as a poet?

JJ: It´s been rewarding teaming up with such wonderful fellow poets. I´ve also learned a lot by reading their haiku and senryu. Feedback from others is very important, as they help you to become a better poet, and, on a personal note, I've found many new friends. Sometimes I wonder where I would be today without my daily encounter with the on-line forums, as it has become a very nice routine, call it obsession....So, thank God for the internet!

 


Jörgen Johansson was born in 1956 and raised in Lidköping, located in the South-West of Sweden.

He has been writing haiku since early 2001 and has been published in The Heron´s Nest, Ginyu Haiku, Mainichi Daily News and Simply Haiku. He was awarded Second Prize in the Kusamakura 9th International haiku competition, included in the newly published, first Swedish anthology with contemporary Swedish haiku poets.

Johansson has published two haiku books, together with Robert Wilson, Cherry Blossoms and Sakura, both released 2003. The books include the work of haiku poets from around the globe.


Click here to read Jörgen Johansson's poetry in this issue of Simply Haiku.


Copyright 2005: Simply Haiku