Simply Haiku: A Quarterly Journal of Japanese Short Form Poetry
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Autumn 2006, vol 4 no 3

SENRYU

Featured Poet: Anita Virgil
 

Introduction

Whenever I am asked who my favorite haiku poets are, Anita Virgil is always among the first names I mention. Why Virgil? Because her poems have withstood the test of time and are universally recognized as classics of original English language haiku and senryu. Also because Virgil is wise, wise in the true sense of the word in that she uses her knowledge well — uses it in her poems, articles, reviews, essays and interviews on the subject of haiku and its related forms. Virgil’s poetic wisdom is invaluable to all who seek a true understanding and appreciation of haiku, senryu and other related poetic forms.

Her “Interim” and “Senryu” [See Simply Haiku Archives: Summer 2005, vol 3, no.2 and Autumn 2005, vol.3 no.3 ] are the most insightful and important essays on senryu since R.H. Blyth’s books on the subject. The Interview of her by Robert Wilson [See Simply Haiku Archives: Spring 2005, vol. 3, no.1] is equally enlightening as well as the truest historic account of the original haiku movement in America.

To quote Allen Ginsberg “Mind is shapely, art is shapely” — in other words folks, this broad really knows what she’s talking about. Take heed O readers!

I first met Anita at Asia House in New York City in 1971 when we both studied haiku and its related forms under the tutelage of Professor Harold G. Henderson. Since then, she has been a life-long friend, colleague and mentor.

Anita Virgil is a past president of The Haiku Society of America. She served on the original three-person HSA Committee on Definitions [completed in 1973] with Harold G. Henderson and William J. Higginson.

Her haiku, senryu, essays and book reviews have appeared in all major haiku magazines and anthologies since 1969. Very recently, she has begun publishing tanka. From 2004 to date, her work appears on the Internet.

SOME CREDITS: Simply Haiku, an online journal of Japanese short form poetry, World Haiku Review (August 2005), The Daily Yomiuri (Dec.6, 2005), Roadrunner, Makata.

Anthologies: Haiku (2003, Alfred A. Knopf Everyman’s Library edition), Where Dogs Dream (2003, MQP London) and Haiku for Lovers (2003, MQP London), Global Haiku, Swede and Brooks (Mosaic, 2000), The Haiku Anthology, Cor van den Heuvel (1974, 1986, 1999), Red Moon Anthologies (late 1990s) Haiku Moment, Bruce Ross (Chas. Tuttle, 1993), Haiku (Czeslaw Milosz, Poland 1992) .

Publications online and print: Frogpond, Kokako, and in Yugoslavia, Croatia, Romania, Slovenia, Russia and Serbia/Montenegro

BOOKS : A 2nd Flake (1974), One Potato Two Potato Etc (1991, Peaks Press), on my mind, an interview of Anita Virgil by Vincent Tripi (3rd printing , Press Here, 1993), Pilot (1996, Peaks Press), A Long Year (2002, Peaks Press), summer thunder (2004, Peaks Press, ebook on CD with audio version). Editor of muddy shoes candy heart by Sasa Vazic (2005, Peaks Press, ebook on CD with audio version)

Forthcoming book: Come Dance With Me co-authored with Robert D. Wilson.


From the author:

WHY SENRYU ?

Raised amid bright, witty, complex, hyper-critical people –the one thing my family did share was a common love of language, of word play, double entendre, and rollicking humor [often risqué beyond my understanding]. That was the meeting ground where underlying angst and hostilities — if cloaked in wit — could safely be expressed. The contrast between what people said and what they did provided fertile source material for satirical treatment. And I seem to locate the telling gesture or word that bares the real truth of humans being oh-so-human. It took many decades before I heard of and studied the senryu and found that, for the Japanese living under repressive Tokugawa law, the senryu also met the need for a steam valve.

The very things that fascinated me when I was little are the components for the broad poetic canvas that is senryu: human psychology — people-watching for when the masks slip aside, for the poignant moments and for the hilarious. The unique ‘life’ I read into things, flora and fauna, fish , fowl, frogs — and the bug world — also charms me. Early on, that childlike whimsy made me "animate" all of them and gave me the illusion I could sense exactly what they must be ‘feeling’ and 'thinking’ and so, in some of my poems, I draw correlations between them and human beings.

Wherever I am, I observe what people are up to. In a restaurant I have to force myself to stop staring. Or, head cocked, I eavesdrop shamelessly on the next table and paste together likely stories implied by what scraps I see and hear. From this rude behavior and from my undying fascination with critters, my senryu are snagged, whole and wiggling.

Anita Virgil


SENRYU

feeding the baby
     Grandpa's mouth
         opens wide


a lecture on manners
followed by another
mealtime monologue


eyes roll
as he herds peas onto his fork
with his finger


I offer prunes
to the kids . . . he helps himself
and tells us why


Choking,
     he keeps explaining
how he choked.


tired of waiting for happiness
eating
two cupcakes


calling in sick
wondering if
I sound it


At the Japanese flick
watching seppuku:
"Boy, that takes guts!" *


          dentist's office —
the one who came for the ride
                  whistles

"I hate this!" pants
the trotting toy bulldog.
"He's fat and I gotta exercise, too?"


with nothing to do
the old man says he'll get to it
later


used furniture man
jaw clenched he talks
thru new & old teeth


when the finches fuss
the sound
is sweet


still unsuccessful
the rock singer
dyes his hair


feeding the goldfish
the guest
feels welcome


in the seed flats
one forget-me-not
forgot what to do


at the auction
the little clock in a box-lot
ticks on

Anita Virgil

* The term "hara-kiri" is considered somewhat vulgar in Japan. A more elegant and generally preferred word for ritual self-disembowelment is seppuku. Source: The Japanese Mind by Robert C. Christopher, Charles E.Tuttle Co. Japan 1983, p. 74.

 


Credits:

“feeding the baby”, “Choking”, “calling in sick”, “dentist’s office”, “used furniture man”, “when the finches fuss”, “still unsuccessful”, “feeding the gold fish” and “in the seed flats” are from One Potato, Two Potato Etc, Peaks Press, copyright © 1991 by Anita Virgil; by permission of the author.

“a lecture on manners”, “eyes roll”, “I offer prunes”, “tired of waiting”, “with nothing to do” and “at the auction”, from the ebook summer thunder, Peaks Press, copyright © 2004 by Anita Virgil; by permission of the author.

“I hate this," "tired of waiting" and "At the Japanese flick" appear here for the first time; by permission of the author.

Photo: Jennifer Virgil Gurchinoff.