Simply Haiku: A Quarterly Journal of Japanese Short Form Poetry
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Winter 2005, vol 3 no 4

Interview With Ron Moss
by Patricia Prime

 

Mountain Heart by Ron Moss

 

PP: When did you first become interested in writing?

RM: About four years ago I started scribbling poems in notebooks after digesting haiku and Chinese poetry from an interest spanning ten years in Eastern thought, especially Zen. Most of the books that I was reading were filled with these little gems that I couldn't put down - so much said and felt, from just a few words, and I fell in love with haiku and it has become very much a spiritual practice for me.

 

PP: In what genres do you write?

RM: Haiku is the form I write and I have been the most successful at. I also write in other forms such as tanka and haibun and the wonderful world of linked verse through rengay, renga and recently haiku sequence collaboration, which was a new section in the Australian journal Yellow Moon's International Competition. The contest was presented and judged for the first time by John Bird. Sheila Windsor (UK) and I gained a second placing for our sequence "flurry of snow," as well as several other placings.

 

PP: When did you first begin to write Japanese short verse?

RM: Four years ago I joined the local group Watersmeet. With the combination of social interaction and reading my first attempts aloud, I was able to create something that had the early makings of a decent haiku. Lyn Reeves, editor of the Tasmanian journal Famous Reporter's haiku section, was in our group and with her keen editorial eye was able to help me select poems that worked on some level; a very important thing to learn when starting out. Lyn is also an excellent poet in her own right.

 

PP: When did you first learn about haiku and what did you think about the haiku you first read?

RM: Good question, see if I can think of a good answer (laughs). Sometimes I think haiku "learned me" from reading and more reading of haiku . . . I don't feel I will ever fully learn this wonderful form and I try to maintain a "beginner's mind." I needed to understand the accepted guidelines about writing haiku in English so my attempts are recognisable as that form, but I have never been one for too many rules and I'm not academic in my approach but write haiku from feel. The haiku I read inspired me to also find the moments in my life and let them shine in awareness, and write with the feeling or "resonance," as it is often described.

 

PP: When did you write your first haiku and do you remember it?

RM: The first haiku that I was able to put together came from lots of observing of moments and recording them and then looking for a way to say it until one just came into existence, as true haiku often does without too much of "me" but just the moment:

 

old pine
drops its seed
on freshly cut grass

 

PP: Which traditional haiku poets do you most admire?

RM: Well I must start with Basho. He gave us such wonderful examples of haiku and a life lived on its path, and then the later poets such as Issa and Shiki; Shiki who turned everything upside down, which you've got to love the guy for. Ryokan and Santoka are very much my favourites and reading about those crazy Zen monks and the poetry that came from living a life of practice. Even the famous Chinese poets like Li Po, writing from the heart about being human and our place in nature.

 

PP: Which contemporary haiku poets do you most admire?

RM: There are so many and each adds a distinctive voice. I'm always drawn first to Nicholas Virgilio, whose stunning haiku stay in my mind once read and savoured. There are many haiku poets I admire for what they have given in support to the haiku community in books, essays, websites and publications; a vast worldwide resource of people contributing and nurturing their craft and sharing with others.

 

PP: You have two especially powerful haiku


low tide a child's shoe drains red

paper wasp


and:


fallen snow
bringing the headstones
. . . together

— First Prize, Yellow Moon 12, Summer 2002


Do you remember creating these? Can you say something about the circumstances of their creation and what you feel about the experiences presented in these haiku?

RM: Thanks for choosing these. The first "low tide" comes from a recent winter walk along a local beach and I wrote a sequence of haiku from the impressions I absorbed. I try and write with language that is interesting to read without its being too overly poetic or telling the reader too much without allowing them to feel the essence of the moment (a constant balancing act in haiku). . . . I saw the shoe and being winter it was a feeling of longing and things past, summer and memories - I liked the idea of colour being able to drain away and the wondering about the past owner.

The second was triggered by a scene of cemetery snow I saw in a movie and past observations and impressions just moulded this into words . . . there is a lot suggested without being said that I could turn into an essay, but just to say it was an attempt to show the stages of life and death in a very simple moment. I find the lines can just come out of nowhere and I'm often seen diving around for a notebook to get them down before they are lost.

 

PP: How and when did you become interested in sumi-e?

RM: Once again I became interested in sumi-e through my studies in Zen art and the work of translator and artist Steve Addiss, whom I have been fortunate to know through email contact. There is something wonderful to me about an art that can be expressed in a few deft strokes either in ink or words and what is exciting in the "white space" that is left on the page.

 

PP: How and when did you become interested in haiga?

 

 

RM: It was a natural progression from my interest in traditional sumi-e and then the inclusion of haiku to create haiga, where each complimented the other without either one overriding the other's space - a mark of a fine haiga.

 

PP: Can you tell readers a little about the symbiosis between haiku and art or photography?

RM: It is a very exciting field along with other expressions of modern haiga in all kinds of media. I do enjoy photography as well as painting and I'm constantly trying new ideas and staying creative, as it is such a fine balance bringing words and image together in a way that brings balance and a stimulating result.

I recently collaborated with Martin Hawes (www.imperfections.info), and we also have a portfolio in the Simply Haiku Archives. I worked with Martin's stunning Tasmanian Wilderness images and his photography to create haiku that links from the image - not unlike renku, not seeking to just illustrate the image in a haiku but link in interesting ways without them being too obscure.

 

PP: You edited the haiku section of the Tasmanian poetry magazine Famous Reporter for several issues. Could you tell readers what criteria you had in mind when you chose the haiku that you published?

RM: I selected poems that were well-crafted and fitted in with the general accepted norms of English haiku and that appealed to me as a reader and writer of haiku. The haiku chosen created a resonance of some sort. I enjoyed the editing experience but I would not wish to do it continually at this time as I'm fully into the creative mode at this point in my life, but it is always good to give something back to the community that supports one as a poet and I'm currently the Haiku Oz Secretary.

 

PP: Can you tell readers a little about the writing scene in Tasmania?

RM: It is a very vibrant community of writers and artists in all facets and styles. Our own haiku group is small but filled to the brim with talented folk that are continually published and are editors and writers in mainstream poetry in their own right. We are just completing an anthology of our work, which will be available soon through Pardalote Press: http://www.pardalote.com.au. Look out for that one; it is a beauty!

 

PP: What sort of role has the place where you live played in your life?

RM: Everything . . . I'm fortunate to live in such a stunning place of landscape in a land that is very old where I was born in Australia - fifth generation on my mother's side. I grew up in the island paradise of New Zealand and now I have lived in Tasmania for the last twenty years - a place of dramatic wilderness and a place to "walk with the clouds."

 

PP: How did you become interested in collaborations with other poets? I'm thinking of your success writing with people like Sheila Windsor (UK), such as this poem from the Canadian journal RAW NerVZ:


loneliness
face to face
with a full moon


deep inside me
crows fight for space

Sheila Windsor ron moss

RM: Mainly through mutual admiration for their work and being able to meet and be in contact with them through various Internet lists and email connections. The work I have done with you has been very enjoyable, and it is published in various outlets (including mainstream New Zealand poetry journals). I have written with many poets and always find it rewarding and Sheila Windsor and I have written constantly over a period of years and have a large body of work that is spread around the world in many publications. We hope to get them together in a book one day. Following is a haiku sequence with Sheila that won a Highly Commended prize in the Yellow Moon Contest, Issue 16, Summer 2004:

 

highland sunrise

Ron Moss, Tasmania & Sheila Windsor, England

highland sunrise
casting a fly
into layers of pink

breakfast
a glow-in-the-dark
plastic worm

lake shallows
driftwood bumps into
skimmed ligh

the beam
of dad's torch on snow
my small feet

flooded neon
flashes of street rain
closing in

fireglow
the christmas angel
dances

winter dusk
half in shadow
grandma's letter

candle smoke
then just the moon
and stars

 

PP: Do you think the concept of "I will open my eyes and be given a poem" butts up against the Wordsworthian notion of "emotion recollected in tranquillity"? I'm thinking here primarily of your haibun which, for me, captures the essential essence of Wordworth's dictum.

RM: Well, thank you! For me haibun is an exciting form and I have been writing solo and collaborating with another poet, Kirsty Karkow (USA), writing one each in a sequence on a theme. I am referring to "Twilight Deepens" which appears in the March issue of the American journal Frogpond. We were very happy with that one, as it was on the powerful theme of our hospice work.

Right from the start of my writing I have tried to write about what makes the hair stand up on the back of your neck or things that are incredibly poignant in their simplicity. If that can be associated with Wordsworth's dictum, it is for others to decide.

 

PP: You have also had great success writing tanka. One I particularly admire focuses on your activity as a voluntary fire-fighter:


flames move faster
exploding into colours
orange and red
adrenalin burnt in blackened eyes
the fire-fighter's deep tiredness

— Highly Commended, Yellow Moon 12, Summer 2002

 

RM: Yes, tanka opens a whole new world for the haiku writer and I'm still coming to grips with its wonderful nuances and the room for the use of emotion and longing. I have also published haibun on the very same theme. The emotional experiences of a dangerous activity such as fire-fighting certainly gives one plenty of writing material.

 

PP: What has been your most fulfilling experience in writing?

RM: So far? Well,there are many; winning the Yellow Moon haiku competition three times, judged by three different judges, is a highlight, as are other successes. But they are all relative and seeing the enjoyment my work gives to others, especially something like my poem "Last Visit" about my dying friend, which won the Yellow Moon haibun section. It was the feedback I got from other people about it that helped their own grieving processes that was really special and it was put up in a lovely web page by my good buddy soji at: http://haikupoetshut.com/lastvisit.html

 

PP: Can you say something about the pleasure writing gives you?

RM: As I have said before it is spiritual practice for me, something that helps put me in touch with myself, and the world around me. It has helped me in all facets of life, particularly in being able to face the recent loss of close friends and recently my father, by being able to write my observations and feelings down using the full spectrum of the wonderful Japanese forms.

 

PP: Who has had the most influence on your writing life?

RM: Apart from everything I've mentioned to far I would say other poets - I don't mean by parroting their work. I mean how I'm inspired by their practice of the art and I like the old saying in the East that we learn the arts tradition, "add a little to the mix and pass it on, it is never ours to keep"; for if it was, I guess it would only support our ego and the creativity would stagnate.

 

PP: Have you had any book-length publications?

RM: I feel very fortunate to have had a selection of my work chosen for this year's New Resonance - Red Moon Press Anthology of haiku poets due out before Christmas, and it was very gratifying as this is a very prestigious series of books and the poems that were selected by the editors are among my favourites. Also the recent use of my painting for the World Haiku Review cover was an honour.

 

PP: How do you see your writing progressing?

RM: I hope it will continue to progress, and I want to keep on learning and hone my craft because I think it is true that the journey is the greatest gift and not some allusive goal to be achieved.

Thank you Pat for such thought-provoking questions, and all those that make Simply Haiku the wonderful place it is for our humble art. I would like to sign off in the way a haiku poet likes to . . .

 

wild river
over and over
the sound of white

Commended, Yellow Moon, Summer 2004

 

 

Ron at 13 years of age, taken in New Zealand


Ron Moss lives in Leslie Vale, Tasmania. Tasmania is an island state off the coast of Australia whose rugged beauty and wilderness have inspired his painting and poetry. He has been writing and painting for several years and recently joined the two together.

He lives with his wife, Sharon, and various shapes and sizes of cats and dogs on a rural property on the southern slopes of Mount Wellington. When he's not staring out at the mountain mist he works in the Tasmanian Government Archives and is a volunteer firefighter in his local brigade. He is currently the Haiku Oz Secretary.

Ron has won prizes for haiku and haibun and has had his haiga published on the Internet and in various literary magazines. His haiku have been published in Famous Reporter, Yellow Moon, Stylus, Simply Haiku, Mainichi Daily News, the Japanese Suruga-Baika Literary Festival, World Haiku Review, Heron's Nest and Frogpond.

His paintings have an Eastern feel and he seeks to capture the essence of nature and the seasons. His haiga have been inspired by the great sumi-e painting Zen masters and Ron enjoys the modern exploration of this form.


Patricia Prime has recently retired after 30 years of teaching and is now involved in the reading recovery programme at her local primary school. She is co-editor of the New Zealand haiku magazine Kokako and reviews editor of the online magazine Stylus. She writes short stories, poetry, articles, reviews and interviews and also enjoys collaborating on poems with other poets. Recently she completed a renku called "Saint Brigid's Day" with UK poet John Carley and Irish poet Norman Darlington, which will appear in the next issue of Kokako. One of her haibun appears in the latest edition of Contemporary Haibun, Volume 6. Patricia has worked hard to have Japanese poetry forms accepted in mainstream poetry journals and has been successful in one or two cases.