Simply Haiku: An E-Journal of Haiku and Related Forms
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INTERVIEW: Cor van den Heuvel by Robert Wilson

Also in this issue: Haiku by Cor van den Heuvel

Q. Tell us about your first encounter with haiku at George Stanley's home on Telegraph Hill and how it affected your life.

A. I’m not sure I encountered any actual haiku at George Stanley’s when I was living in San Francisco in 1958. I only remember Gary Snyder and Harold Dull discussing short poems and quoting and comparing notes from their journals. One of the reasons they were discussing short poems was because Harold had read a group of them to the poets who were meeting at George’s. The reading part of the gathering was finished and the poets were now talking and socializing in the living room where the readings had taken place (anyone of the ten or so poets was welcome to read—only I, and maybe one or two others, perhaps even more, chose not to read). Snyder had read a fairly long poem called “A Stone Garden” (it later was published in his first chapbook, Riprap, 1959). His poem had been very well received, so much so that he was requested to read it again. Snyder had recently returned from his first stay in Japan where he had studied Zen Buddhism. He had left San Francisco for Japan in April 1956. The big going-away party for him is vividly described in Jack Kerouac’s The Dharma Bums. So some of the other poets hadn’t seen him for some time. I thought even if Snyder didn’t remember his discussion with Harold Dull that day in 1958, he would at least remember the reception he got from the other poets (including Robert Duncan and Jack Spicer) when he read his poem. But when I talked to him after a celebratory luncheon for the American Haiku Archives at the California State Library in Sacramento in 2000, he had no recollection of that afternoon at George Stanley’s in 1958.

The short poems Harold had read used images metamorphosed from images of different configurations of thrown dice. I remember that the dot on one of the two dice making “snake eyes” became a motorcycle headlight, or perhaps they both became motorcycle headlights. I don’t remember the other poems, though I do think they all may have been close to being as short as haiku. I do remember being favorably impressed by them. I doubt he called them haiku. In the intervening years, I have looked up Harold Dull’s books in the New York City Public Library and I even own a small chapbook of his, but I have never seen or heard those poems since 1958. The chapbook I have is called The Wood Climb Down Out Of (1963, White Rabbit Press, San Francisco). It is one long poem of nine pages with short lines and a hypnotic rhythm about going down a steep trail from the hills down to the sea. It uses repetition and unfinished phrases to create the rhythm and though the poem gives an objectively vivid sense of a real trail there is a strong subjective element: he addresses someone he’s been living with—presumably Dora Dull, his wife at the time—that makes the trail symbolic of how he views their life together.

A longish poem (50-60 lines) of his called “The ‘Door’ Poem” along with a poem by Joanne Kyger were the subject of a letter by Robert Duncan that turned into an essay. The poems and essay were published in a small chapbook called As Testimony (White Rabbit Press, Copyright 1964 and 1966). It’s too bad most of Harold Dull’s work has apparently remained unpublished at least in book form. It would be interesting to know if he ever wrote or published any haiku.

George Stanley has fared much better in getting his work known and a number of his books have been published in Canada where he has been living for several decades. There has been a recent revival of interest in his poetry in the United States. He was here in New York City just last year (2003) to give a reading at the St. Mark’s Poetry Project to celebrate his newly published book, A Tall, Serious Girl: Selected Poems 1957—2000 (Edited by Kevin Davies and Larry Fagin, Qua Books, Jamestown Rhode Island, 2003). It so happens that I live right next door to St. Mark’s church and my kitchen window looks out on its west churchyard (which has gotten mentioned in a number of my haibun over the years—I’ve been here more than twenty). I had only a few minutes to chat with him; he was leaving early the next day for a reading in another city. He did say Harold is still around, living, I think he said, in Vancouver. Perhaps I will yet track down those dice poems.

George Stanley has also written a series of short poems—a bit longer than Dull’s dice poems—that should interest haiku poets. They are called The Pony Express Riders and are also imagistic, but more objective—not metaphorical like Dull’s. I admired them so much when they were first published in 1963 (White Rabbit Press, San Francisco) that I bought two copies of the chapbook they are in (a prose piece, Tete Rouge, was also included—the book is really two chapbooks bound as one). I still admire these poems, there are fifteen of them—and I took advantage of Stanley’s being next door last year to ask him to sign my copies. Here is a sample poem from it:

AT THE EDGE OF THE PRAIRIE

Buffalo ran on the prairie.
One rider waited in the trees,
the other rode out. Sun glinted
on the chamber of his rifle as he put
the bullet in it.

Black backs, black charging heads,
feet driving. He rode
even with them, raised his rifle
to his shoulder, and fired.
One fell, the rest ran on.

He got off his horse and went over
to look at it, and the other rider
rode out and got off his horse.

.....(—Copyright 1963 by George Stanley)

Short simple, objective sentences. The syntax has echoes of Hemingway. The careful focus looks forward (for me) to Allain Robbe-Grillet, whose work I discovered a few years later. The vivid glitter of the images is haikuesque. It stops just short of parody. It gains part of its power by being on the edge of the banal, a cliff-hanger of language.

Stanley’s work is quite varied, and he never, to my knowledge, ever wrote any other poems like those in The Pony Express Riders. All the poems from that chapbook, however, are included in the recent selected poems volume. I would suggest to any haiku poet: search them out and read them. They are textbook examples of the power of simplicity—and direct treat-ment of the object—to transform language into luminous images.

To get back to 1958 and Stanley’s San Francisco living room. The discussion between Harold Dull and Gary Snyder was taking place on the floor. They were sitting there with their notebook/journals spread out in front of them and they were comparing notes. I was in a chair right next to them. I don’t remember speaking—only listening. One image they talked about that stayed in my mind was that of horses swinging their rumps into the wind. They were happily surprised that they had both recorded this same image in their journals. Years later I found where the passage appears in Snyder’s journal and where and when he first wrote it down. It is in Earth House Hold (New Directions, New York City, 1969), which prints sections of his journals from various periods of his life. He was firewatching at the time on Crater Mountain in the North Cascades. The line is under the entry for August 12, 1952 and simply states “Horses stand patiently, rump to the wind.” He had made a visit that day to a sheep ranch in a meadow “across the glacier and into Devil’s park” where there were “A tent under a clump of Alpine fir; horses, sheep in the meadow.” I can’t remember how much of his journal I heard him read to Harold Dull that day on Telegraph Hill in 1958. But it is certainly possible that I may have heard him read part of the entry just before that one. It is for August 10th and starts off “First wrote a haiku and painted a haiga for it . . . ” He does not say what the haiku was, but after the rest of this short first paragraph summarizing what he did that day, he has centered under it:

..........a butterfly
.................scared up from its flower
.....caught by the wind and swept over the cliffs
..........................................SCREE

For August 6th, he had two other similarly centered three-line “notes” that he obviously intended as haiku. One about two butterflies and a clump of flowers and the other about a chipmunk. There is at least one more, on July 9th, about “the boulder in the creek.” It is similar to a haiku written years later by John Wills. Here is the Wills:

where the waters
come together
..... tumble
under the logs

and here is the Snyder:

.....the boulder in the creek never moves
.................the water is always falling
.............together!

This and the other three haiku in Snyder’s journal are among the earliest written by an American poet. (The quotations from Earth House Hold are Copyright © 1969 by Gary Snyder.)

Did I hear him read any of them in 1958? I think I’d remember them if I did. Just as I remember the horse’s rump, Harold’s dice, and Snyder’s long poem. The thing is I came away from that afternoon with thoughts of short poems, the power of simply stated images, and very possibly the word "haiku." I do know that while I was in San Francisco in 1958 I learned about haiku and that reading haiku transformed my life. By the late winter and spring of 1959 I had secluded myself in a small cottage in Wells Beach, Maine, to try and write them. I had by then read Blyth, Henderson, and Yasuda. Whether I went out and found Blyth after hearing Snyder mention haiku or after happening to pick up one of the Peter Pauper books of Peter Beilenson’s greeting-card-verse-styled haiku translations in a San Francisco bookstore, I can’t positively say. What matters to me is that I found haiku. It does seem significant to me that I found it in San Francisco, a place that has been so important in the history of American writing. I would like to think I had haiku passed on to me by Gary Snyder—as he had handed it on to Jack Kerouac in a much more personal way in 1955. And it is certainly possible that it did happen that way.

Since I have John Wills’ book Reed Shadows here at hand from looking up the water and rocks haiku, let me quote a few others that show Wills' simplicity and vividness and the way he can look at the same thing from different angles and sensibilities.

water slides
within the water
down the broken rocks

below the falls
and broken rocks the moon
comes back together

(These and the Wills haiku quoted earlier are Copyright © 1987, John Wills.)

Wills is our uncontested master of simple images from nature. His later work was especially concerned in getting down to the very simplest aspects of the natural world, to the bare bones. He told me he was concerned to follow Basho, who in his later years strived for karumi, or lightness, in his haiku. Wills wanted to explore the “bland,” to push simplicity to the very limit, to reach a point at which to go a fraction of a millimeter more would be to go over the edge into banality, as I’ve suggested is the case for some of George Stanley’s Pony Express Riders. Wills told me he thought he had most fully realized that ideal in the following haiku from Reed Shadows:

the glitter
of the gravel bed
this morning

Makoto Ueda in discussing the concept of karumi quotes Basho as saying, “The style I have in mind these days is a light one . . . , one that gives the impression of looking at a shallow river with a sandy bed.” (Basho and His Interpreters, Stanford University Press, 1992) I wonder if Wills had this in mind when he wrote his haiku. Like a number of his haiku, even essential parts of the image are barely hinted at—the words water and river do not appear, yet you know there is a shallow river there.

Reed Shadows is one of the most important books of American haiku by a single author ever published. I don’t know if it is still in print. It was published in Canada in 1987 and has never been published in this country.

To finish up about 1958: I was ready for haiku and it found me—or I found it, for I had gone to San Francisco that year looking for a kind of poetry like it. In fact, I had been looking for a number of years for an ideal genre that would let me create an image in words that challenged the reality of existence itself. A piece of writing where the words had an ontological thrust.

I first decided to become a writer sometime during 1949-50 when I took a freshman English course at the University of New Hampshire. I’d entered college planning to study to become a scientist. I was interested in learning about the basic elements and organization of existence itself—what it was made up of and how it was put together. I thought the best way to find out about these things was through either chemistry or physics. In that freshman English course three things we read turned me onto the path of writing. One was Bertrand Russell’s essay “A Free Man’s Worship.” It helped confirm me in the belief that, not some hypothetical Heaven, but this world I was in was the only one to examine, value, and celebrate. The second was John Keats poem “On Looking into Chapman’s Homer.” It started me thinking about the power of words and what one may discover through them—discoveries as awe inspiring as Cortez’s (standing in for Balboa) standing on a peak in Darien when he discovered the Pacific Ocean. The third selection was the most important. It was a short story by Irwin Shaw called “The Eighty Yard Run.”

Though the story has an interesting and extremely well-crafted plot, the thing that impressed me most were the small details Shaw put into his description of the football game (actually a practice game) and the incidents surrounding it. One of these that would seem totally insignificant to most readers was the short, yet vivid, description of a piece of white adhesive tape put on a small cut the leading character had received during the game. That small piece of tape, because of its ontological presence in the words, and in my imagination, has been an emblem for me ever since of how the magic of words can create a world almost as real as the one in which I reach out at this moment and touch this table right in front of me.

Because of my love of American sports, the fact that the story was centered around a game of football may also have helped to impress elements of this short story on my memory. The main character, an unsuccessful business man who is losing his wife, stands alone on the field where fifteen years earlier he had made the eighty-yard run and remembers that day as the high point of his whole life. There is a haiku by Jack Kerouac that is also about a man on a deserted football field that evokes a similar mood: “Crossing the football field, / coming home from work, / The lonely business man” [from Book of Haikus by Jack Kerouac, Edited by Regina Weinreich, published by Penguin books, New York, Copyright © The Estate of Stella Kerouac, John Sampas, Literary Representative, 2003.]

After my freshman year and my decision to become a writer, I spent three years in the Air Force during the Korean War. Two of those years were spent on the island of Okinawa. Here was a chance to learn about haiku—but the time was not ripe. I was young and foolish and the only Japanese I learned was enough to go into the city of Naha or the village of Koza and be able to talk to the girls. My interests in literature were tending towards science fiction and fantasy. I remember getting books from the Kadena Air Base library by Ray Bradbury, John Collier, and Isak Dinesen. I was writing doggerel (even rhyming) verse and plotless short stories that long ago deservedly disappeared into wastebaskets.

It wasn’t until I got back to the United States and went back to UNH that I began to find prose and poetry that were revelatory for me in even more intense ways than Shaw’s short story. Now I found this sort of creative magic in the prose of James Joyce and Ernest Hemingway, in Henry Thoreau and Thomas Wolfe. And in the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins. Hopkins showed me new wonders of both imagery and music in words, especially after I took his advice and read him aloud. Now I read Keats, not for a message about poetry, but for the poetry itself—for the sounds of the words and the images they created: the rainbow in a salt-sea wave, bubbles winking at the rim of a glass, even the rippling of a carpet as a cold wind sweeps under it from an open door. This last simple image is what I most lovingly remember from his “The Eve of St Agnes.”

Between my junior and senior years I spent a year living in New York City—1955-56. I worked as a copy boy for the Woman’s Home Companion. A fellow writer named Larry Kimmel (not the haiku poet) also worked there. We were both crazy about J. D. Salinger and looked forward to the appearance of each new work of his. I still vividly remember Larry coming into the office one morning waving a copy of the new New Yorker, shouting that it contained a new story by Salinger. It was “Raise High the Roofbeam, Carpenter.”

It was during this time that I discovered the writing of Samuel Beckett. I went to see the first American production of Waiting for Godot with Bert Lahr. I even went a second time, sneaking in during intermission. It was still possible to do something completely new with words. I also became an even more avid follower of jazz—especially the music of Basie and Ellington, and the cool sounds of Miles Davis. I listened for hours to modern classical music as well: Igor Stravinsky and particularly Béla Bartok were my favorites at this time. Later it would be the music of Claude Debussy, Maurice Ravel, and Frederick Delius that was the most enchanting and transfiguring for me. It still is.

Music has always been an important part of my life. My mother had been a professional singer for a short time and was always singing popular songs or Scottish folk-songs around the house as I was growing up. The American popular song-book has been my constant companion throughout my life. The simple lyrics of popular songs have often provided me with relief from the loneliness that is part of our existence. While walking about the streets of New York City—which I like to do—I will find myself quietly singing Night and Day, Blue Skies, Honeysuckle Rose, My Wonderful One, Moonlight in Vermont, Smoke Gets In Your Eyes, Dream (When You’re Feeling Blue), A Pretty Girl, I’ll Take Manhattan or any one of probably over a thousand songs of which I know at least some of the lyrics. It is likely my love for such simply stated and succinct lyrics was an ingredient readying my heart to welcome haiku. Painting has also contributed to my poetic outlook. I’m sure my love for the work of such artists as Edward Hopper and Winslow Homer has influenced my creative life as a haiku poet.

How much such interests had already contributed to making me ready to discover haiku in 1958 and to be immediately captivated by it, I don’t know. But I’m sure my reading the poetry of William Carlos Williams about the time I was working in New York, or during the next year when I was back at the University of New Hampshire for my senior year, was probably one of the most important literary influences preparing me to appreciate the value of haiku when I went to San Francisco in 1958.

Q. You've said "the magic of haiku defies analysis. In its very simplicity lies its greatest mystery: the mystery of clear water and blue sky, of a petal's tint and a bird's song, of sunlight and shadows." Please expound on this.

A. Most great philosophers and religious thinkers have expressed similar sentiments when considering the value of life and art—the simple life is the best. It is summed up in the popular song, “The Best Things in Life are Free.” Another song with that basic message is the one about finding out that what you’ve been searching around the world for is actually right in “your own backyard.” A good many great artists and poets have agreed that simple things are the best, including simple, plain language. Others might lean to another extreme, to decorativeness, complication, danger, the dark side of life. For the first view I look to Henry Thoreau and William Carlos Williams. For the second, to William Blake, Samuel Beckett, Emily Dickinson and Robinson Jeffers. Simplicity of language, concision and depth combined can be in the service of those who write about the dark side also—the songs of Blake and the short lyrics of Emily Dickinson. Of course great poets will encompass both the bright and dark, however much they may lean towards one or the other.

My little squib about haiku’s simplicity and mystery may seem to leave a lot out, especially that dark side of things—though there is a hint of it in the word “shadows.” Yet mystery in itself is dark and shadowy. When one looks at the color of a flower with “keen perception” one should sense the mystery of all existence, as Blake did with his grain of sand. A good haiku will have latent within it the same depth and richness, the same mystery as these basic elements of nature. Its few suggestive words enable the reader to call up a whole scenario that is only hinted at (and wholly invisible to the insensitive reader). Yet within such a scene may lie the mystery of all of life. This mystery is presented to us, not as a puzzle or something confusing, but as a present, something to wonder at with pleasure; to relate to, not to question. This mystery also is related to the source of the often talked about “oneness” haiku creates between nature and the reader/poet. It is a mystery we love because it unites us with the rest of existence.

The haiku that might, at first, seem left out by my quote about blue sky and flowers are haiku like Michael McClintock’s dead cat in the pouring rain or Alan Pizzarelli’s rusting staples in a telephone pole. Yet they too have this simplicity and mystery. They too can evoke wonder and a feeling of unity. The cat is “open-mouthed” to the life-giving and transforming rain. The staples are going through a similar change, one that is necessary in its own small way to the ongoing growth of life and to the forces that drive the universe.

Why is simplicity so important to haiku? One reason is because it intensifies the mystery. That these few words can magically create so much is itself mysterious. They have a power much greater than such talismanic words as “open sesame” in the story of Ali Baba, or the “abracadabra” heard in countless children’s stories or intoned by magicians before they pull a bunch of flowers out of a hat. Haiku gives you not only the flowers, but flowers still growing in the ground, along with the landscape around them—the meadow, the garden or woods—and the sky, cloudy or blue. And, to top it all off, even a breeze to stir the petals. Abracadabra!—just look on any page of The Haiku Anthology.

Q. How important was it to bring prominent haiku poets to the United States in 1978? What affect did their visit have on American haiku?

A. I think it had a tremendous affect on the haiku community here. We felt a closer bond to the country that had given us one of our most important literary heritages. It was reassuring to know, too, that there were important figures in Japanese haiku who would now begin to notice what we were doing—even if many of them thought we were pursuing a hopeless task. These latter were those who felt only the Japanese had the sensibility and the subtlety of language to appreciate and write haiku. Still a connection had been made that would develop over the years to the point now where American haiku poets and Japanese haiku poets—and haiku poets from many other parts of the world—are joining together in international conferences, international magazines, and international websites to share our haiku and our ideas about haiku.

However, it had no affect at all on the literary mainstream of the United States and very minimal notice of the event was taken by anyone outside of the haiku community.

Q. In the sixties, you read your haiku and translations of Japanese haiku in coffeehouses and other public venues. You were part of a vanguard movement that helped to popularize poetry and make it accessible to a whole new generation. Tell us about this experience.

A. During my first year studying and writing haiku in Wells Beach, Maine, I used to take walks along the two or three miles of beach between there and Ogunquit to the south. In Ogunquit I met a small group of actors, artists and writers, the center of which was an older woman named Jeanne Pfeiffer. The widow of a poet, Mrs. Pfeiffer was a quietly charismatic figure from New York City, where she maintained during the winter months a sort of salon in her modest apartment on the upper west side. I would take part in these New York get-togethers in later years. She loved Rilke and the music of Chopin. She even had a piano in her small cottage in Perkins Cove. I still remember her quoting Rilke’s “Das Karussell:” “Und dann und wann ein weisser Elefant” (And now and then a white elephant).

I fell in love with an artist who was part of Mrs. Pfeiffer’s “circle,” a student from Boston University. She set up her easel in the cove near the entrance to a scenic walk called the Marginal Way, which goes up along the cliffs overlooking the sea. She helped support herself doing portraits of the tourists. She and I sometimes went together to a place on Route One at the edge of town for tea or cider. It was called the Cafe Zen and was like many coffee houses of the period. These creations of the folk music, jazz, and Beat poetry cultures of the time had proliferated from New York’s Greenwich Village and San Francisco’s North Beach to places all over the country—wherever artists and writers congregated.

It wasn’t long before I became the house poet at the Cafe Zen, reading two or three nights a week. I read my own haiku and translations of Japanese haiku to audiences of from three or four people to groups of a couple of dozen or more. It was the first time I’d done such a thing. [The readings at George Stanley’s were informal and involved poets reading in order to discuss their works with each other. At one of them, Jack Spicer kept disappearing into the next room to listen to part of the Giants baseball game. The team had just moved to the west coast. In any case I went to those meetings only two or three times and read my poetry there only once—to mixed “reviews.”] At the Cafe Zen I tried to copy what I had read about the Beat poets or what I’d seen on TV—leaning on a high stool, with a lit cigarette, or a glass of wine, in one hand and a book, or notes, in the other. I also read selections from Ferlinghetti’s Coney Island of the Mind and Gregory Corso’s Gasoline. I remember my copy of Gasoline became stained with colored wax from candles. Candles were always an important decorative element in Beat coffeehouses and bars, usually stuck in the tops of wine bottles. The Cafe Zen was closed by the police before the summer ended. They suspected all sorts of drugs and sin going on—poetry, artists, jazz, and the shadowy atmosphere of candles and beards (yes, I already had a beard by this time) were suspect. There was nothing illegal going on at all—and the police had to use a parking regulation in order to close the place. In later years the building, a large old wooden house, was a restaurant—in the 1990s it was called The Black Swan. It has since been razed to make way for a giant motel complex.

Hugh Romney, the house poet of the Gaslight Cafe in Greenwich Village came up to Ogunquit a couple of times that summer, bringing his conga drum for parties on the beach at night. I would go and hear him and Bob Dylan at the Gaslight a few years later when I lived in New York City and was reading myself at the Tenth Street Coffee House open-readings along with such poets as Carol Bergé, Diane Wakoski, and Robert Kelly. Romney later, during the Hippie era, became well-known as Wavy Gravy.

The following autumn (still 1959) I followed my girlfriend to Boston and got jobs working a few nights a week as a house poet, first at “The Salamander,” (I was told Joan Baez had sung there) and later at a coffeehouse called “The Alhambra.” I also had other jobs to support myself. The pay for a poet reading in a coffee-house was very modest and usually included passing the hat. These other jobs varied from pasting rhinestones on women’s shoes to working as the part-time manager of a pillow store. The Salamander Cafe was located under a bar named The Rock. They were later torn down to make way for a high rise-office building. At the Alhambra I read with a jazz group backing me. The group was lead by a vibraphone player named Al Francis. I wrote a whole series of poems called jazz chants to read with the band, but I also read my haiku with them backing me. At this time I was writing in many different forms. I did some surrealistic-like poems. Here is one called “Rubber Bands Were Dancing”:

Red and blue and yellow,
Purple, green and pink,
Rubber bands were dancing
In the middle of the sink.

Railroad tracks and trolleys,
Telephone wires and poles
Whirled right through the window
And danced in the sugar bowls.

The looping roller coaster
And circling ferris wheel,
With all their crossing braces,
Danced on an orange peel.

Ropes and masts and pilings,
Horizon, nets and pier
Floated along the counter
Then danced in a glass of beer.

The trails of stars and planets,
Rays of sun and moon,
When you said you loved me,
Danced in a silver spoon.

Red and blue and yellow,
Purple, green and pink,
Rubber bands were dancing
In the middle of the sink.

Just a year or so ago—more than forty years later—I met the poet Brendan Galvin, who was giving a reading at the National Arts Club here in New York, and he told me he remembered hearing me read in Boston back in 1959-60. Not only that, but he recited the first stanza of the above poem to me. The poem has never been published. He had memorized those lines after hearing me read them all those many years ago.

Q. A follow-up question: Do you have any tips for haiku poets who are contemplating entry into the arena of performance poetry?

A. I like some of Margaret Chula’s presentations, especially the way she incorporates the ringing of a small chime or bell between haiku or groups of haiku. I tend to care less for the presentation of haiku with photographic or art slides, which she and others have done. A sort of live haiga presentation. Too often the haiku are captions to the art or the art illustrates the haiku, a problem with visual haiga as well. This is a personal preference, or non-preference. Perhaps someone will come up with a presentation along this line that will change my mind.

Nick Virgilio had an effective performing style. He had an unlit candelabra set up on a table (or in at least one instance, a piano), he would enter onto the darkened stage and light seven or eight candles before he started his audio presentation. He would preface each haiku with a few remarks about what inspired it, and sometimes add a comment after the haiku. He always read each haiku twice. Nick had an engaging personality on stage: outgoing, friendly, intense, and he had a good speaking voice. In his early years he had worked in radio as an announcer and disc jockey. However, not everyone would succeed with his approach to reading haiku.

The meditative-style delivery of vincent tripi I found very effective when I saw and heard it in Boston at the HNA 2001. The performance was punctuated by long silences—often with tripi disappearing from the stage—and by shakuhachi solos played by a collaborator. The musician also accompanied some of the haiku, or more usually, sometimes played a short passage after each haiku. This latter was the method used by Jack Kerouac and the two jazz saxophone players Al Cohn and Zoot Sims on Blues and Haikus.

Chuck Easter, who edited a haiku magazine called Black Bough, has an original and effective way of reading haiku. He will take a group of anywhere between ten and, I think, twenty haiku. He will read them once in one order. Then read them again in a different order. Then he will read them a third and maybe even a fourth time in still different sequences. Each time you hear a particular haiku it is in a different context. This and the surprise at the time when you hear it again coupled with the familiarity you have of it from the previous reading or readings combine to give a new resonance to the haiku with each succeeding recitation. He has recorded some of these sequences presented this way on tapes and cds, which may be available. He also leads a musical group that often accompanies these haiku readings. The music gives variety to his performances and his records. The group plays original compositions on its own as well as backing up Easter’s haiku.

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

A. Masaoka Shiki, both from his teachings and his haiku. One of my favorite haiku by him is:

nureashi de suzume no aruku roka kana.

with wet feet
the sparrow hops along
the passageway

Another: rai harete ichiju no yuki semi no koe

as the thunder-storm passes
the evening sun shines on a tree
where a cicada sings

However, my all time favorite is by Taniguchi Buson:

yukaze ya mizu aosagi no hagi o utsu

evening breeze
water laps against
the heron’s legs



Cor van den Heuvel, born and brought up in New England, has been writing haiku since he first discovered the genre in 1958 in San Francisco, where he heard Gary Snyder mention it at a poetry reading in North Beach. Early the following year he was back on the east coast writing haiku in a small cottage in Maine. The fall of that year he moved to Boston where he worked as the house poet in Beat coffee houses reading haiku and other poetry with jazz accompaniment.

By the winter of 1960-61 he was part of the poetry-reading scene at the Tenth Street Coffee House in New York City. In 1971 he joined the Haiku Society of America, becoming its president in 1978. The Society has given him three Merit Book Awards for his haiku. He has published ten chapbooks. The most recent is a book of baseball haiku called Play Ball (Red Moon Press, 1999). He is also the editor of The Haiku Anthology, now in its third edition.

Van den Heuvel was the United State's representative to the 1990 International Haiku Symposium in Matsuyama. At the World Haiku Festival held in London and Oxford in 2000, he received a World Haiku Achievement Award. In 2002, he was awarded The Masaoka Shiki International Haiku Prize in Matsuyama.

[biography source: Haiku International Association]


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