Simply Haiku: An E-Journal of Haiku and Related Forms
September-October 2004, vol. 2, no. 5

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INTERVIEW: Rosa Clement by Robert Wilson

Q. Edson Kenji Lura of Sao Paulo, Brazil, once said, "In the heart of Amazonia, where biodiversity is immense, how many beautiful haiku could be written!" Do you agree with Lura?

A. First of all, I want to thank you, Robert, for the invitation and opportunity to be in Simply Haiku. I am honored.

I certainly agree with Edson, who has been our haiku friend for many years. I hope that Amazonia will always be a source of life and a resource for all professions. Our poets have written many poems inspired in our rivers and forests, and so have I. As a haiku writer, I can't do differently. Amazonia is very inspiring but also challenging. So, the "beautiful haiku" mentioned by Edson depends upon if we are lucky enough to capture an image and still include a haiku moment. By taking a canoe at sunset or sunrise, we can see scenery that may be large enough to compose haiku in a snap. They may not always be great haiku, but the images behind them surely are. In one of my trips to Silves, in Central Amazonia, I saw a wonderful scene. We were in a noisy boat and everything around us was only water and quiet green hills. Suddenly, two horses appeared on a hill top looking curious, as if to ask what kind of noise was this. I loved that moment, so I wrote:

noisy boat
two curious horses charge
the river levee

Q. As a follow up question, how has living in this region affected your poetic vision?

A. I am a nature lover and I am grateful for living in such place. As a poet, I feel proud in expressing my feelings about the wilderness that surrounds me. But I also write poems about subjects that are not nature. Not only the Amazon, but the beauty of nature in general, may affect my poetic vision. I have been to Sao Paulo and even among grey buildings we can discover the lovely colors of an Ipê tree. I have crossed Florida's highways to reach the Everglades and along the way I enjoyed the colors of birds, starting with crows and ending with flamingos at low tide. Each place has its own beauty and they all may be wonderful sources of verses.

Q. You are one of the first women to write haiku in Amazonia. Do you consider yourself a pioneer?

A. I can say that I am a pioneer in talking about haiku in Amazonia to an audience in Manaus. Haiku is a relatively new subject in our region. It just blossomed more fully when we started talking about it in our first meeting in 2000, when we created the Sumauma (Kapok Tree) Haiku Club. Of course, we already had a few male writers who knew about haiku, the first being our poet Luiz Bacellar. Recently, I discovered at least two books where female poets had published some poems that they called haiku (haikai). This was very interesting because it changes our haiku history a little. So, I can say that I'm someone who has practiced haiku for a relatively long time and who has some recognition with my writing. Nowadays a few other women are writing haiku and enjoying it.

Q. Are there a lot of people in your country, and specifically, in your region, who write haiku?

A. As I mentioned before, today we have a few more people interested in haiku here in Manaus. However, we haven't reached a critical mass yet, so sometimes the Sumauma Club is active and sometimes not. I believe that there are at least 20 people who are interested in haiku and about 5 to 10 who really practice writing it. I may not be optimistic enough, though. In Brazil, however, we have a few lists where people post their haiku and tell about their love for it. I believe we can count at least 500 people interested in haiku in the whole country. It will take a while to reach the number of writers that are active in the US.

Q. You once gave a talk about women's presence in the haiku world since Basho's time. Could you share with our readers, the short version?

A. I used Jane's Reichhold's book, Those Women Writing Haiku, to support my talk. The idea was to emphasize women's participation in this art form. I mentioned a few women since Basho's time who wrote haiku and participated in anthologies. According to Jane, many women wrote haiku in those days but only very few names are still remembered. I told the audience about Jane's difficulties in publishing her book as a woman, the many barriers she found, how she was able to overcome all of them and deliver this gift to her readers. In my talk, I traced the trajectory of women in haiku writing across time. After summarizing Basho's friends' writings, I talked about the Japanese women, starting with the great Chiyo-Ni, who emerged as a haiku writer when men still dominated the art. I synthesized her main characteristics, as a sensitive person who incorporated in her work a delicate sensuality and Zen simplicity. The next Japanese poet mentioned was Yoshiko Yoshino. It is important for us to know how dedicated she was and how pleasant it is to read her haiku. After that I talked about a few American women haiku writers. They were Adelaide Crapsey, who gave her contribution trying to create a form that had an essence of haiku, that she called the cinquain; Hilda Doolittle and Amy Lowell, who were great imagists. After that, I talked about a few haiku written by modern American women also. I finished the talk mentioning the Brazilian women who have published haiku and how their numbers are increasing. Then, I mentioned two women who had books published: Alice Ruiz and Teruko Oda. Finally, I mentioned the lists of haiku and the participation of women in them.

Q. You work as a translator. What challenges does this present to you in translating haiku written by yourself and others from one language to another?

A. In fact, I work as a translator in my spare time. I enjoy the challenges of translating poetry and especially haiku. Languages are tricky and to find equivalences between them is truly difficult. I try to approach the original idea as much as I can in my translation so the reader can feel the same sensation that I did when I read the haiku. It's not easy! I try to make use of my poetic sensibility to maintain the haiku essence while retaining the haiku form. Sometimes, this is not possible and it leaves a feeling of incompleteness in the translated poem.

Q. What one haiku poet has had the greatest influence on you as a poet, and why?

A. Haiku appeared in my life by coincidence. I entered the haiku world through a newspaper contest. I started writing with some instructions from friends who, like me, had just discovered it. We were all green to the subject. There was a poet, Tom G., who learned faster and told us more about what haiku is. This happened in a CompuServe forum a long time ago. I sought out more information on my own and started buying books to learn more about this magnetizing form. I loved reading Basho's poems, Issa's, Buson's and so on. I had a preference for Issa's haiku, how he considered the tiny beings to be as important as large ones. I discovered Chiyo-Ni, Yoshino, and loved the way they expressed themselves. I started writing haiku in the US and was also influenced by the American way of writing haiku.

Q. How do you know when you have written a good haiku? And what, to you, constitutes a good haiku?

A. I write many haiku, but I do not always feel that they are good. I believe this has happened to the best haiku writers of all times. Other times, after finishing writing a haiku, I think: "It's a haiku!" However, I won't tell you which ones I think are real haiku. Other readers may not agree. For me, a good haiku is the one that I read and get a pleasant feeling from. It is the one that I think: "I wish this haiku were mine."

Q. Any advice for those new to the writing of haiku?

A. I have learned along the years that writing haiku should be about giving pleasure and should not feel like a lesson or challenge. I think that simplicity is its main requirement. The new haiku writer should think of haiku for whatever he/she perceives with feeling in order to pass this feeling to the reader. Not all images we create capture these feelings, so we must keep trying until we can call what we just wrote a haiku. I believe we are always learning about it, always renewing and recycling what we have learned.

airplane lights
the river's width scanned
through pitch dark

Rosa Clement learned to know Amazonia as she grew up in Manaus, a city at the juncture of the two major tributaries of the great Amazon River. Some of her vacations were spent at her mother's home in the interior, and it was there that she got acquainted with the river and the forest.

Clement has practiced the form since 1992 and now is a member of the Grêmio Sumaúma de Haicai, established in Manaus, AM.

She published her first haiku book, entitled Canoa Cheia (Full Canoe), in 2002, but as she becomes more involved with haiku she hopes to publish a second haiku book.

She has published renga with Zane Parks in the Parnassus Magazine and with Jeanne Cassler in Lynx, and haiku in the International Edition of Frogpond, May/2001, and in The Heron's Nest.

Some of her recent and previously published haiku are also found in this issue of Simply Haiku.