First published in Mie Times (an English-language newspaper in Mie, Japan), #30, June–July 1998, page 3. This text also appeared in a shorter version as the About the Author information with my online collection of haiku and photographs titled “Open Window” (Brooks Books, online, 2000). The following text is a combination of both previous publications, with the paragraph beginning “Haiku and photography” being unique to the Brooks Books publication, and most of the preceding five paragraphs being unique to Mie Times. See also How I Came to Haiku, a similar essay.
I’ve always had a sense of poetry. Being named after Dylan Thomas may have had something to do with that! I was born in 1962 in Watford, England, and grew up there and in Ghana, Australia, and the Canada prairies. In college I majored in communications/media and English, and I received an M.A. in English in 1989. I focused my graduate studies on twentieth-century poetry and fiction, and wrote a thesis on Anthony Burgess and his sense of play with words—something akin, I think, to the sense of play that pervades haiku. I delight in the fact that “haiku,” literally translated, means “playful verse.”
My path to haiku began in a high school English class, where Mr. George Goodburn introduced haiku as a seventeen-syllable nature poem. I’ve long preferred short poetry, so I immediately gravitated towards this form. For years, all of my “haiku” were rather ill-formed and ill-informed. About a decade later I bought my first haiku book at a Japanese bookstore [Kinokuniya] near St. Paul’s Cathedral in London—a collection of Bashō’s haiku translated by Lucien Stryk. Shortly thereafter I started buying every haiku book I could find (I now have some 3,000 haiku books and magazines). When I encountered Cor van den Heuvel’s The Haiku Anthology, however, my perception of haiku shifted radically, thanks most particularly to the work of Marlene Mountain. No longer did I see “haiku” as whatever words I could squeeze into an arbitrary cookie-cutter shape. Rather, the poems in Cor’s collection showed the value of content over the form. Something else was happening in these poems, and their magic captivated me. Cor’s book also connected me with the Haiku Society of America and Frogpond, as well as with Robert Spiess’s Modern Haiku. Through Doris Heitmeyer, then secretary of the HSA, I connected with the Haiku Poets of Northern California when I moved to the San Francisco area after completing graduate school.
Since 1989 I’ve been increasingly involved in this poetry, and find great pleasure not only in haiku, but in knowing and interacting with many people near and far who write this rewarding form of poetry. Nineteen-eighty-nine saw me first help edit Woodnotes, which I took over as chief editor in 1991, and I served as an HPNC officer until 1996.
Starting in 1990 I produced five annual haiku anthologies for the Haiku Poets of Northern California (working with various editors). This series of books, published in conjunction with the group’s Two Autumns reading series, has continued until today. I was one of the four featured readers at the inaugural reading. I also helped produce four HPNC membership anthologies: After Shock in 1990 (an anthology of earthquake haiku, edited by Paul O. Williams), The Gulf Within in 1991 (Gulf War haiku, which I coedited with Christopher Herold), Playing Tag Among Buddhas in 1992 (a membership anthology edited by Jerry Kilbride), and All Day Long in 1994 (a membership anthology of haiku based on times of day, edited by Garry Gay). In 1993, I also served as managing editor and wrote the introduction for the Haiku Society of America’s first-ever membership anthology, entitled When Butterflies Come (edited by Jerry Kilbride and Marlina Rinzen).
I believe haiku’s strength is its poets. As a means to help foster increased communication among those who write and enjoy haiku, in 1991 I worked with Garry Gay, Jerry Ball, and David Wright to cofound the Haiku North America conference. This conference met in California in 1991 and 1993, in Toronto, Ontario in 1995, and Portland, Oregon in 1997. In 1999 the conference will be held in Chicago, Illinois (everyone is welcome from around the world!). These conferences are intended as inclusive celebrations of haiku and its readers, writers, scholars, and translators. With Garry Gay, I’m still actively involved in planning and consulting for future HNA conferences. Press Here [my press] has published all of the Haiku North America anthologies since the conference’s beginning—books that I’ve also edited.
In the course of pursuing the haiku art, I have enjoyed judging numerous contests, including the Brady and Virgilio contests for the Haiku Society of America, two haiku contests for the Nature Company, a senryu contest for Atlantic Monthly online, and various other regional and national haiku contests. Reading this work, and the many thousands of submissions I receive yearly for Woodnotes and Tundra, has provided me with an immeasurably valuable haiku education.
My own haiku have been published in most of the leading haiku journals around the world, and have been included in such anthologies as Haiku Moment (Tuttle, 1993), Haiku World (Kodansha, 1996), The San Francisco Haiku Anthology (Smythe-Waithe Press, 1993), and The Midwest Haiku Anthology (Brooks Books, 1993), and my articles and book reviews about haiku have appeared in numerous places also. My perception of the haiku form has evolved from the rigid seventeen-syllable approach I held twenty years ago toward the free-form approach. Now my inclination is toward the so-called “organic” approach to haiku. I prefer haiku that are sharply imagistic, focus on the her and now, and are objective yet intuitive.
Haiku and photography have much in common. Just as haiku are often objective, image-based, and record an instant in time, so too are photographs. Many of the best photographs succeed because of contrast, juxtaposition, colour, subtle shades, or through various compositional techniques. So too of haiku. I first learned photography by seeing my dad’s photographs from his travels around the world. Often, when the whole family went along on trips, as we often did, my brother and I got called into service to carry a tripod or extra lenses—or to contort our arms and bodies to create shadows around a perfect flower so my dad could photograph it against a high-contrast background. I worked on several yearbooks in high school, and was lucky to have a camera of my dad’s to use at that time. I discovered after a few years that black-and-white darkroom work wasn’t my cup of tea, and decided to focus on taking colour slides. I mostly shoot Kodachrome 64, and use a Nikon F3, primarily with a 35–105 and 75-300 Nikon zoom lenses. My photographs have appeared in a few calendars, on the covers of a few books published by Press Here, as well as on a couple of magazine covers. I’m a member of the Peninsula Colorslide Club [now called the Peninsula Camera Club], which is celebrating its fiftieth anniversary this year . It’s a pleasure for me to bring my two favourite forms of artistic expression together here [Open Window], and I’m grateful to Randy Brooks for this opportunity.
I have now enjoyed writing haiku poetry for nearly twenty-five years [since 1976]. I have particularly enjoyed meeting and corresponding with haiku poets the world over. The genre continues to reveal its many hidden faces and I find myself always learning. As I discover more of its Japanese origin, history, and current developments, as well as its worldwide changes and adaptations, I learn the heart of humanity itself, for haiku shows and celebrates the world and its people. Haiku is a window into ourselves. I’m grateful that being named after Dylan Thomas has led me, in a roundabout way, to this window’s vista. It’s a window I look forward to keeping wide open for many years to come.
deep in shadow
counting tree rings
the pull of her hand
as we near the pet store
a withered apple
caught in an old spine rake
. . . blossoms fall