RW: You've written more than one book of occidental poetry and have
an international following. Your poetry is poignant, with the rare ability to
reach inside a person's psyche, causing that person to react and think.
Take this example from your book, Trust (Fly By Night Press):
"Like an undercooked egg"
the surgeon said the boy
was ready to rupture right
on the table.
They had me in stitches
to keep me from bursting,
scar crossed forever
Back on dialysis and dilaudid.
The nurse brings out
my demons. Christ
kills me. She says she's
As if once weren't enough.
What led you to write haiku? And why haiku?
HA: My first exposure to poetry as a child was rhyming poetry. At 10,
I discovered non-rhyming or "free" poetry. My first writing experiences
in poetry coincided with my reading. I continue to read and write so-
called Occidental poetry, with another book in my editor's hands as I
In 1977, I got into Zen Buddhism which I practice. At some point,
I had procured the four volume Blyth anthology on Japanese haiku and
was hooked. However, I didn't really understand haiku despite my Zen
and Western poetry backgrounds. I'd written a Master's thesis on
haiku and the literature of psychological representation at New York University, yet it took years until I began to get a handle on haiku.
RW: You mention a current book. Tell us about it.
HA: The latest book is another collection of "free" poetry. It will be
very similar to the first - edgy and with twists and turns.
RW: Haiku and Occidental free verse poetry are on opposite poles from
one another. Do you find yourself switching mindsets when going from
one genre to the other?
HA: I prefer to think in terms of "form" versus "free" poetry. The
Eastern forms such as haibun, sijo, tanka and sedoka have increased my
appreciation for Western forms such as triolet and cinquain. I don't
write very much "free" poetry lately so it was strange reading my
If you really want an experiment in switching mindsets, get into
collaborations! There is another set of opposites - your own
verse and having to accommodate your aesthetic to those of
RW: Tell me about yourself: Your education, your youth, the are of
who you are.
HA: I was born and raised in New York City, New York with the exception of a 4 year stint in Los Angeles, California and 6 months in Key West, Florida. I spent weekends and vacations on a bizarre estate on the Orient Point of Long Island and also in a year 'round rustic suite on the Montauk Point of Long Island.
My father was an attorney and a petrochemical engineer and from him
I learned to love nature - astronomy, geology, physics, biology,
chemistry and through my mother, the expression of such love through
craft - poetry, watercolor, tart jams from grapes, bayberry candles by
poured wax into sand, wind chimes from seashells strung with fishing line,
embroidered blooms on blue jeans...There was no science "better than" another and no "art" better than another. These impressions of my world were my
beginnings as a poet.
My education consists of:
BA double in English and Film Studies/Semiotics - Pitzer College
MA in Teaching English as a Second Language - Hunter College
MA in English (Poetics) - NYU
Doctoral coursework in Linguistics - City University NY Graduate Center
Clinical Fellowship (4 year) from Gestalt Associates in Psychotherapy.
RW: An interesting mix of education, Hortensia. English, psychotherapy,
and film studies. Has this diversity helped you as a Japanese short
HA: No. Meditation has. In fact, I often think of haiku as zazen in words. Zazen means "sitting zen" - literally, you sit on a cushion and by simply sitting, cultivate awareness and attention - a no-thingness. Completely opposite from every-thing else in my life! I strive to keep the openness of zazen in other areas of my life.
RW: Your definition of a haiku?
HA: I use the definition set forth by the Haiku Society of America.
"A haiku is a short poem that uses imagistic language to
convey the essence of an experience of nature or the season
intuitively linked to the human condition."
Well, for every "rule" in haiku: no metaphor or simile, must
have two images in juxtaposition, must not be a single line,
must have 17 syllables or three lines; I kept finding haiku
that violated these "rules." And they weren't just "exceptions"
because there were lots of them.
What they all had in common conformed to the HSA definition.
RW: What do you look for in writing a haiku? And how do you know when
the haiku is a finished work?
HA: An "aha" like the "getting" a zen koan or "getting" the other
image in a gestalt picture or "getting" the laugh in a joke!
I want no extraneous words, I prefer juxtaposition (but not in a
formulaic way) and the haiku is finished because it feels finished.
That "finished feeling" comes with craft . . . not because some muse
bungee-jumped onto your shoulder.
Haiku as a practice is the cultivation of awareness. A good haiku
should make me aware of life in a different way - and the simpler,
the better. The response of "oh, I never thought of it that way!"
Or "oh, I have always thought of it this way but never realized
it" makes for a good haiku.
RW: Who have been your greatest influences as a haiku poet and as a
non-haiku poet and why?
HA: The four volume series by Blyth because there was a dearth of
haiku material in English. Blyth taught me that there was a perfect vehicle
for my love of nature. Cor van den Heuvel showed me through his
anthology that the rules can be broken with the "getting" remaining
intact. William Higginson taught me that rules can be broken but not
without learning craft inside-out first.
Others have been disturbed, I suspect, by my unwavering advocacy
of learning craft and not believing in the "relative value" of
poetry. I believe that everyone believes in "good haiku" and "bad haiku." The
best evidence for this is the monthly kukai in which there will be
one haiku that gets almost all the votes. It is so often a "good haiku"
that it gets published by editors of ezines and print 'zines who are also
of the apparent opinion that "good haiku" exist. If you have "good," you
have to have "bad." We've all read them - and written them too. I've
noticed that the most vociferous believers in "art is relative" become
magically quiet when their haiku win the kukai.
The direction I have been heading towards is collaborative poetry -
renku and the more experimental linked forms started by ai li and
alexis rotella. It has taught me new ways of looking at poetry and of
looking at different people and their cultures.
It also shoots the muse and the myth of the muse - if you are doing a
36 stanza renku with 7 other partners and they are waiting because
it is your turn to submit a 3-line stanza #9 with an early autumn kigo that
links yet shifts from stanza #8 but doesn't backlink to stanzas
#3-7, you might try telling them that your muse took off for the Yucatan but
don't be surprised if that is your last collaborative piece.
I have a lot of muses and they are the wonderful poets and artists I
have been blessed to collaborate with!
Hortensia Anderson lives precariously on dialysis in the East Village in New York City with her Bengal leopard cat, Camellia.
Click here to read Hortensia Anderson's poems in this issue of Simply Haiku.