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Winter 2008, vol 6 no 4


The Miner School of Haikai Poets – History and Biographies

Pat Nolan and Keith Abbott have been writing various Japanese forms for years now with other poets, and from the 1980s they have been composing haikai no renga via the mail or email. They call their compositions variously renku, haikai, kasen, linked verse, or renga. Their primary sources of information and education in the field of Japanese linked poetry are Earl Miner’s two seminal works, The Monkey’s Straw Raincoat (Princeton University Press, 1981) and Japanese Linked Poetry (Princeton University Press, 1970) as well as Hiroaki Sato’s One Hundred Frogs (Weatherhill, 1983). A renku entitled All Ears was recently published in an anthology, Saints of Hysteria: A Half-century of Collaborative American Poetry from Soft Skull Press (2007). The All Ears poets were Pat Nolan, Maureen Owen, Michael Sowl and Keith Abbott. Pat, Maureen and Keith are widely published writers in other genres, and with Michael have been writing linked verse since the mid-eighties. Their collaborations have been published in various literary magazines not usually associated with haikai or Japanese prosody; they include Hanging Loose (NYC), Jack’s Magazine (LA), and Exquisite Corpse (New Orleans). They’ve dubbed their group by various names, including The Totem Pole School (in honor of Keith’s Northwest origins), but the Miner School Of Haikai Poets is the latest moniker.

Early on, Pat and Keith corresponded with Earl Miner up until his passing in 2003. They have written quite a few renku together; most recently they completed Poetry For Sale, after Basho and Kikaku’s kasen of a similar name (cf. Miner’s version in The Monkey’s Straw Raincoat). Poetry For Sale was the kasen they read and explicated at Jim Wilson’s store, Many Rivers Books & Tea, on May 9th of 2008.

As part of the process of writing haikai no renga and to be fair and equitable, the “Renku Master” honors rotate. Each renku can start with either the master’s original hokku or another poet’s work, the guest hokku poems were by Kikaku, Buson, Basho, Kerouac, etc in the past. They prefer to double the stanzas because it places emphasis on the “linking” and compensates for the fact that Western schooled poetry readers are not in the habit of reading the last link with the next link as a single unit. The renkushi also assigns the succession of poets beforehand and indicates which stanzas will be the flower or moon stanzas. Usually they comply with the haikai rules as laid out in Miner’s Japanese Linked Poetry. Seasonal considerations can be slipshod and/or whimsical. Changing pronouns is permitted as those variations allow a shift of emphasis in the following link that occurs naturally in Japanese renku. Repetitions of nouns/situations are generally avoided. And the three-part renku compositional structure of jo-ha-kyû is acknowledged though often not given much adherence. Mainly the poets of The Miner School of Haikai engage in writing this kind of collaborative poetry for the sheer joy of the form and its challenges, which can be likened to a jazz improvisation or shooting an independent film with a savvy crew. The poets work for a synthesis of poetic disciplines rather than a rote repetition of another culture’s unique prosody. For example, for their method of composing haikai the Miner School adopted the doubling of stanzas that Professor Miner used for illustrative purposes; in English this practice ensures the links are read in sequence and sometimes inspires more creative and allusive qualities. A completed kasen using this scheme will then consists of thirty-five 31-syllable tanka-like poems and one 17-syllable hokku. The haikai poets are encouraged to attempt 17-syllable or 14-syllable stanzas though that is not always possible.

In 1993, while the then Totem Pole School were engaged in writing All Ears, Pat suggested that they add commentary explaining how and why they linked to the previous stanza, and on the completed kasen as a whole. As it turns out, it was a popular suggestion. The writers enjoy learning what is going on in each other’s heads or lives at the moment of writing links. The exercise was primarily for their edification and enjoyment, but now such observations function as an integral part of their haikai composition.

Pat has produced, in limited editions of 36, chapbooks of two of their haikai no renga (All Ears and Random Rocks), which are shared equally among the four participating poets. Each of the volumes is hand sewn with Japanese binding, and silk-screened Japanese endpapers.


Pat Nolan has lived most of his adult life along the Russian River in Northern California. He is an author, translator, editor, and publisher.

Nolan’s poetry and prose have been published in numerous magazines including Rolling Stone, The Paris Review, The World, Big Bridge, Poetry Flash, The American Book Review, and Exquisite Corpse as well as literary magazines in Europe, Asia, and Australia. His work has also appeared in various anthologies including Up Late -- American Poetry Since 1970, Out Of This World, and Saints Of Hysteria.

The Random House Book of Twentieth Century French Poetry and Poems for The Millennium (Vol. I) include his translations from the French of Surrealist poet Philippe Soupault.

Nolan was editor and publisher of The End, a ‘70’s literary magazine. He was also the founder of The Black Bart Poetry Society, and publisher of its newsletter, Life Of Crime in the mid ‘80’s. Currently, he designs and publishes limited edition poetry books.

He is the author of fourteen books of poetry. Fell Swoop Press of New Orleans issued The Nolan Anthology of Poetry: Volume II, The Modern Era in 2003. Also in 2003, Empty Head Press published Thin Wings, a limited edition of Nolan’s original tanka, followed in 2005 by another tanka selection entitled Untouched By Rain. In 2006, Re:issue Press reprinted Fly By Night, Nolan’s 1992 selected poems originally published by Doris Green Editions. On The Fly Press published his most recent poetry selection, Later, in a limited edition in the fall of 2007.


Keith Kumasen Abbott is an associate professor at Naropa University. Publications include the novels Gush, Rhino Ritz, Mordecai of Monterey and Racer, short story collections Harum Scarum, The First Thing Coming, and The French Girl, numerous books of poetry such as Erase Words and a memoir of Richard Brautigan Downstream From Trout Fishing In America. His works appeared recently in an international anthology Rimbaud Après Rimbaud and Richard Brautigan: Essays on the Writing and Life for which he chaired a symposium and contributed an essay. Ziji Productions optioned his story “Spanish Castle”, and he co-wrote the screenplay. His work is translated into five languages, notably German and French, including his novel Racer, short-listed for the Berlinale Film Conference 2007.

He co-translated senryu from The Wine Cask Anthology with Sensei Kaz Tanahashi, noted Zen brush master and translator. From 1972 on he studied both Western and Eastern calligraphy in California and Colorado. He taught a contemplative Naropa brush calligraphy class for many years; one semester he co-taught with his Soto Zen Buddhist teacher, Kobun Chino Roshi. Currently he is a senior student of Xinshi Harrison Tu, a Chinese calligrapher based in Denver and Shanghai and exhibits occasionally with Tu in Chinese and Korean group shows. His Zen art and haiga have appeared in Shambhala Sun and Buddhadharma magazines, among others.


Maureen Owen is the author of ten books of poetry; her title Amelia Earhart won a Before Columbus American Book Award and her selected poems, American Rush, was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. A special selection of poems from her title Erosion's Pull, in collaboration with the stunning art of Yvonne Jacquette, has been published by Granary Books, New York City. Her complete collection of Erosion's Pull was published by Coffee House Press in Spring 2006. She currently teaches at Naropa University in Boulder, CO. Her awards include grants from the Foundation for Contemporary Performance Arts, Inc. and a Poetry Fellowship from the NEA. Andrei Codrescu notes, "Her exuberant style and tremendous energy shine in her strongly feminist works."


Michael Sowl lives in Northeastern Minnesota. He occasionally paints. Interior and exterior. His hobbies include reading brochures and walking in far places. He hopes to catch a rainbow trout before the season closes. He has a cricket someplace in his house. The Chinese may think this is lucky, but he's not so sure.


Related articles in this issue of Simply Haiku:
Bamboo Greeting, a Kasen
Bamboo Greeting, a Kasen, (annotated version)


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