1. How did you get started with haiku?
I was introduced to haiku by my freshman college poetry instructor, Joan Larkin, who used the infamous Robert Hass book, The Essential Haiku, as a guide. My sophomore poetry teacher, Tracie Morris, introduced us to William J. Higginson’s The Haiku Handbook, and I dabbled with haiku on and off throughout college. I sent some of my initial poems out around 2003 and 2004, and was challenged by Ferris Gilli, who sent me a series of her mini essays about haiku. I argued back and forth with her, writing what I thought were deliberately poor haiku based on her essays. She thought these poems were great, encouraged me along those lines, and I started getting published. Her checklist on haiku really formulated, for me, how haiku work and the best ways to craft them. What keeps me going is that I’m pretty much too old to care anymore about things like “success” or “achievement,” which offers me a sense of freedom to do what I want with my poems. I now write haiku because I know how to do it, and the moments I experience in life still speak to me as haiku.
2. Tell us more about yourself.
I’m a very boring person. I write poems that my mother thinks are pretty, even though she doesn’t read them, and I read books. I live in Cleveland, Ohio, which is one of the greatest cities in the United States, where I drink fancy coffee and collect Pendleton shirts, waiting eagerly all year for the weather to get cold enough to wear them. I used to teach college English and literature, but now I work part-time at a library, which gives me the luxury of being surrounded by books all day. I’ve written a handful of my own books, all of which are either out of print or available for free on various websites. They include Breaths (VanZeno Press, 2008; read online), Intrinsic Night, a collaboration with J. E. Stanley (Sam’s Dot Publishing, 2009), Inhuman: Haiku from the Zombie Apocalypse (Poet’s Haven Press, 2013), Necromancy (Locofo Chaps, 2017; read online), and Origami Lilies (Poet’s Haven Press, 2018), among other books.
[A bit more about Joshua is that he’s a graduate of the MFA program in creative writing at Naropa University, and in 2018 he won first prize in the Brady senryu contest sponsored by the Haiku Society of America. He also just edited The Ohio Haiku Anthology, published in 2020 by Cuttlefish Books. For years he also ran the Deep Cleveland Poetry Hour and is also active with scifaiku and other speculative poetry. And he has a haiku tattoo.]
3. What does NaHaiWriMo mean to you?
I see it as a kind of kukai [a meeting for sharing haiku], where there’s no judging, and the prizes are the internal joy of making something beautiful and the opportunity to share it with like-minded people.
4. What one piece of advice would you offer to those who are new to writing haiku?
Focus on kigo and kire. I cannot stress this enough. Kigo is a seasonal word, and it’s essential for building depth and resonance in haiku, as well as connecting to other haiku with the same or similar kigo. Without this, it’s very difficult for haiku to work because this is one area where the haiku achieves its depth. If I write about “cherry blossoms,” I’m literally reaching back to Bashō’s cherry blossom haiku, and all the cherry blossom poems that have been written since. My haiku participates in that lineage and, hopefully, adds something to that font of imagery and history. Kire is a cut. Haiku almost always have two parts, and the cut between those parts give haiku their energy. It’s this immediate focus and then shift or juxtaposition that creates the power in the haiku and moves it beyond mere observation into the realm of the poetic.
5. Please share three of your favourite or best haiku.
the trio’s slow
My Funny Valentine
Presence #58, 2017
I wander the corn maze
Hortensia Anderson Memorial Contest, Commended, 2020
end of the month
a line of white breaths
outside the blood bank
The Heron’s Nest, December 2018