When I was in my MFA program, I only wrote one small sequence of Haiku poetry. I felt like I was missing the key element of the form because all I remembered about Haiku was the 5-7-5 symbols/stanzas I was taught in middle school.
Through my work with Philadelphia Poets, I found a master of Haiku, Dave Moore. Below is our interview where I pick his brain about the genre and his own writing.
Wittle: What book (books) are you reading right now?
Moore: New York Diaries edited by Teresa Carpenter (Random House, 2012). It’s a book of excerpts from diaries from 1609 to 2009, and features personal thoughts from Thomas Edison, Allen Ginsberg, George Washington, Edgar Allan Poe, Mark Twain, Andy Warhol, and so many more. The book is filled with fascinating accounts of early New York City.
Wittle: For those not real familiar with the haiku form, could you give a down and dirty definition?
Moore: A haiku is a little poem that links us with nature.
That answer may confuse you, but that’s pretty much it. You may have been taught that a haiku is a three-lined poem of seventeen syllables in a 5-7-5 structure. While not totally wrong, it’s not totally correct either. Here’s the thing: haiku is a Japanese art, and they use sound units in their language; we use syllables in English – they’re different. To correct this little problem, many haiku poets writing in English try to keep their haiku around 12 or so syllables. Basically, anything we write in English will only be an imitation to a true Japanese haiku. The best we can do is to keep things short. Now, this doesn’t mean I don’t write 5-7-5′s. In fact, I love a good 5-7-5, but if I find I’m padding a poem just to hit seventeen syllables, I cut down without making it choppy. So, when I wrote:
the rings begin to touch
as they fade
(Ambrosia: Journal of Fine Haiku – Issue 4 – Summer 2009)
…it was fine the way it was. Padding that haiku would have added too much, and would have killed the spirit.
A haiku is a poem balanced on a pause. There should be a fragment and a phrase in the poem, and a slight turning of thought – two parts in a whole. Haiku are not complete pictures, don’t use literary tricks, always keep you in the present, can have deeper meanings than what’s written, and use language so simple a child can understand. Traditionally, haiku reference a season. While many, many English language haiku place you in a season, some haikuists don’t stress it too much. Your job as the reader is to fill in the gaps, and that’s what makes reading haiku both challenging and rewarding.
What about always being written in three lines? Many are written in three lines, but some poets use one, two, even four. And some poets like to blur the lines with concrete images.
Wittle: What poems or books have influenced you the most in becoming a haiku poet?
Moore: The most influential book for me has to be “Seeds From a Birch Tree: Writing Haiku and the Spiritual Journey” by Clark Strand (Hyperion, 1997). Strand is strictly a 5-7-5er, but he uses form as a spiritual practice. I’ve learned more from this one book than any other haiku book, and have re-read it so many times, I basically have it memorized. In fact, since I’ve gone back to it hundreds of times over the years, I felt fine with giving it away, even though it was the crown jewel of my haiku book collection. If you wind up picking it up, the back of the book gives a great list of reads you should check out.
Another important book for me:
“The Haiku Anthology” edited by Cor van den Heuvel (W. W. Norton, Third Edition, 1999).
Wittle: Please discuss your creative and revision process for your haikus.
Moore: Writing can be hard for me. I don’t sit down and crank out poems like some do. For me, a haiku comes from a clear moment of perception so strong I have to capture it in words. Every haiku that comes to me is a real event in life, and it’s not every day these little snapshots appear. When I do experience one of these moments, I often create a basic sketch of words on paper that don’t resemble a poem. Sometimes I’ll write a few words, try to outline a mood, or just write down what’s happening in front of my eyes. From there I often leave those words on the page to stew for a while before I attempt to form something out of that. When I do come back, sometimes months later, I’ll try to craft a 5-7-5, then whittle and polish from there (if I think it works better as a non-5/7/5). But every now and then everything comes together and a poem writes itself on the spot, but that’s rare. I have one of these on-the-fly poems in the latest issue of Frogpond – Vol. 36:2. It was written in a bar in Center City Philadelphia:
end of the night
the karaoke hostess
sings by herself
And another instant Philadelphia moment:
spied by the children
running from their name
(Philadelphia Poets – 2011 – Vol. 17)
And one I kept instead of seashells from Spring Lake Beach, New Jersey:
cleaning our pails
with the incoming tide
(Philadelphia Poets – 2013 – Vol. 19)
Oh, how about the time I was at a…
used car lot
the salesman’s shadow
covers a dent
Prune Juice: Journal of Senryu & Kyoka – Summer 2010)
…and a poem was forming in my mind instead of listening to a car salesman (I didn’t buy anything).
Wittle: What books or materials should one have at the ready when one is interested in writing haikus?
Moore: Just get outside with a little blank (no lines) notebook and something to write with. Use a notebook that’s not too big, something that fits in your back pocket or purse. I try to carry a small notebook with me wherever I go. Using one helps me not only with haiku, but since I’m a radio DJ, I’m constantly jotting things down to talk about on the air. Don’t worry about keeping things neat, just write. When I don’t have a notebook, my notepad on my iPhone comes in handy.
Wittle: What is the one thing you need to have with you when you are writing?
Moore: I do a lot of my writing outside so I need my hiking stick. It’s a gray, weathered piece of driftwood I fished out of the Delaware River a few years ago, and it’s been holding up pretty well. I like to hike Pennsylvania’s state parks and the desolate beaches of New Jersey, and at times my hiking stick helps me when I need to get up a rocky hill or steep dune. I’d like to add an English Setter to the mix one of these days.
Wittle: What is it about the haiku form that attracts you to write in it?
Moore: The simplicity, brevity and airiness of the form all attract me to the form. Haiku say so much with so little, and the most important part is what’s not on the page. Haiku are short, simple, to the point, but also mysterious. They say just enough to conjure up a dream.
Wittle: Have you ever created a sequence or a series from your haikus? If so, could you talk about your experience with creating it?
Moore: I have. This past year’s been very difficult for me personally, and a lot of my poetry from that time echoes it. I didn’t think I was writing much over the year, but after going through notebooks, my iPad, texts, emails, scraps of paper, even margins of books I read, I realized writing was one of the ways I dealt with the weight of life. There are four poems I wrote over this time that I like to keep in a sequence. The whole thing has a title and tells a story of an ebb tide, but it’s too personal to publish now. I’ll get it out there…maybe one day… Moving on…
Wittle: Have you experimented with other poetic forms? If so, which ones. If not, why not?
Moore: Yes. In addition to haiku, I write tanka, kyoka, senryu, haibun, mess around with flash fiction, even experiment with concrete poetry. I dwell in these when my haiku well is dry. Senryu are like haiku in shape and sound, but focus on the world of people, not the nature world. So, these are examples of senryu:
baby’s first steps
(Philadelphia Poets – 2011 – Vol. 17)
he and I
just nod at each other
lost in women’s apparel
(Prune Juice: Journal of Senryu & Kyoka – Summer 2011)
she tells me she’s four
holding up two fingers
(Philadelphia Poets – 2011 – Vol. 17)
the argument resumes
(Prune Juice: Journal of Senryu & Kyoka – Winter 2011)
A tanka is written in 5 lines. Traditionally, this form consists of 31 syllables in a 5-7-5-7-7 structure. Today, many poets don’t follow that rule, like with haiku. Kyoka are also written in 5 lines, and I guess you can consider them a lot like senryu. Most kyoka are playful, silly things. Tanka predates haiku in Japan, and both tanka and kyoka are growing in popularity with English language poets.
pines for the kiss of snow
for only then
will it not be hidden
bound by envy
(Modern English Tanka – Vol. 3, #4, Summer 2009)
the first present
of my 31st birthday
a book of poems
written on deathbeds
(Prune Juice: Journal of Senryu & Kyoka – Summer 2010)
Haibun is interesting because it’s prose with haiku mixed in, or as a cap (some use a senryu). The haiku doesn’t necessarily repeat anything in the prose, but it mingles with the rest of the piece or gives it closure.
Wittle: What are you working on now? What’s your newest project?
Moore: I just started working with someone on a book about the beach and how the beach can heal your wounds. This is something completely different for me since I mainly write short poems, not an entire book, but the idea’s been floating around in me for a while. It may include some haiku to make the reader think a little, to give he or she quick take-aways, but it’s still too early in the process to be sure. Right now the book is nothing more than notes on yellow legal pads with coffee stains, texts and some emails. Hopefully soon those yellow legal pads will have sand between the pages as the co-author and I get it into gear. I’d also like to put out a collection of my published work I call “A Bag of Ants”. I’m not sure if it’ll ever see the light of day, but so far the three people who’ve read the draft can recite their favorites from memory, and that’s a good sign.
Dave Moore Bio:
Dave Moore is the afternoon DJ for Philadelphia’s #1 radio station – B101. His poetry has appeared in Frogpond, Philadelphia Poets, this, Shamrock Haiku Journal, the 140 and Counting Anthology, Prune Juice: Journal of Senryu & Kyoka, Ambrosia: Journal of Fine Haiku, Riverbed Haiku, Modern English Tanka, Mad Rush, Time of Singing, and many other publications. You can find out more about him at http://www.B101Radio.com