Paul David Mena

NaHaiWriMo daily writing prompter for June 2011 and March 2015

1. How did you get started with haiku?
I first started writing haiku a little more than twenty years ago. I was active at an open mic in Albany, New York, where one popular poet read the occasional haiku. I dabbled in the form, sticking to a 5-7-5 syllable count while at the same time seeing its limitations. I decided to explore further by picking up Cor van den Heuvel’s The Haiku Anthology, which—at the risk of hyperbole—changed my life. I was particularly inspired by the simple approach taken by Jack Kerouac, so different from his stylized prose and void of any pretense. It was everything I wanted to accomplish in writing.

2. Tell us more about yourself.
I grew up in a middle-class suburb of New York City, son of a police officer and a homemaker. My childhood was without any trauma that would have predicted an adult life writing haiku. I see poetry as a means of deliberately and briefly escaping a life tethered to technical things, whether it’s my job as an IT professional or the harsh winters of New England, where I moved in 1996. My day doesn’t really start until I’ve written my first haiku. I have a fashionably out-of-date website of haiku galleries and ephemera at Haiku Poet, and post obsessively to Twitter as @pauldavidmena.

3. What does NaHaiWriMo mean to you?
When I first encountered NaiHaiWriMo, I was at the tail end of a lengthy bout of writer’s block. The idea of a daily prompt freed me up of the burden of trying to birth a poem in uninspiring conditions. Instead, I could focus on a single word—or improvise around it randomly—and the process was kick-started. I’ve gone roughly two years where I’ve written at least one haiku per day, and my day often starts with a post to NaiHaiWriMo.

4. What one piece of advice would you offer to those who are new to writing haiku?
To those who wish to write haiku, there’s simply no substitute for reading lots of very good haiku. The aforementioned Haiku Anthology is a good start, as are some of the better translations of the Japanese masters. My list of favorites is too long to share here, but there are many, many good resources available.

5. Please share three of your favourite or best haiku.
My first published haiku, from Brussels Sprout, circa 1992, is also one of my favorites:

staring at
a sheet of paper—
a night without words

A year or two later, I got a little less introspective and began dabbling in political commentary. This haiku was also published in Brussels Sprout:

military jet
carving a white scar
in the sky

And lastly, another favorite from The Heron’s Nest, 2002:

snow mixes with rain—
my mother keeps calling me
by my brother’s name