RW: Why are you in Japan?
SM: I'm in Japan as the ubiquitous English teacher. The company that
originally hired me, promised a rural, countryside setting to teach
in, and I promised them I'd wear a tie. I'm on my third and best
job teaching English to children in a public school system.
The main reason I came to Japan, though, was because of my interest
and passion for haiku. I wanted to write haiku in its birthplace. I
wanted to travel to the places where the haiku masters, Basho, Buson,
Issa, Shiki, Santoka, lived and wrote. To go to their houses and rebuilt
huts, their gravestones and the modern museums dedicated to them. To
learn, observe, and absorb as much as I could of ordinary, rural
Japanese life in hopes of improving my haiku and finding a voice.
My anthropology studies at university instilled in me a deep respect and
interest in all cultures and religions. My interests in Buddhism, Zen,
Shintoism, and Japanese art and culture, also had an important
influence on my decision to come here.
The idea of being able to satisfy all of these interests and
curiosities, by coming to live and work in Japan, was overwhelming. I
loved the idea of emerging myself in another culture. The opportunity
to come here arose. The timing was right. I was also feeling a bit
stuck in America, emotionally, spiritually and physically, so I decided
to jump on a different ride and see where it would take me; what I
could learn about myself and the world. It was a conscious decision
to go on a search for many things. To get lost and hopefully find some
RW: Why haiku?
SM: I've found that haiku is the best way for me to express myself
with words; the greatest and highest form of literature and writing there
is. I would rather read a good haiku than anything else in the world.
Haiku can express anything about anything. As short as a haiku is, I
don't feel restricted by it. I enthusiastically agree that a haiku is
whatever the poet makes it, not some set of rules or a definition.
Haiku challenges me. I find that writing and reading haiku makes me live
my life differently. Since finding haiku and its path, I'm more
aware, observant, peripheral, open, watchful, both of the nature
outside of me and the nature inside of me. Religion isn't a good
enough word for haiku because haiku can be found in the heart of all
religions, and the heart of all religions can be found in haiku. Haiku
to me are spiritual. Any time in my life that something has moved me,
has made me light up, I have been able to find each of those things in
RW: What is it about haiku that appeals to you?
SM: I think it's amazing that children can write good haiku. Haiku is
almost like painting, music, or film, in the sense that they can
express anything about anything, and be felt by anyone regardless of
age. One must, of course, know the same language the haiku is written
in, but even with the most basic knowledge, fundamentals, and
vocabulary of English, one can pretty much understand and be affected
by an English haiku. The universality of a haiku is up to the poet.
One can write haiku like Kobayashi Issa or like Paul Muldoon. The
amount of universalism a haiku can have, though, has always greatly
impressed and attracted me to them. I have the utmost respect for the
haiku of someone like Paul Muldoon. I would choose a collection of
haiku by a child or children, or Issa, or Santoka, over his any day
because I am drawn to the simplicity and universalism of haiku. That
is what moves my soul.
Haiku also, I feel, awakens the child inside of me. Haiku can give us
back the child that was once in all of us.
I also love how open and sketch-like haiku are. They have such an
ability to allow the reader to enter them, to draw their own
conclusions, to bring their own life experiences into them, to swim in
the poem with their soul, memories and imagination. I love how I can
read a good haiku by someone at different times and see and feel
something different each time. I like what I can bring to a haiku and
what someone can bring to a haiku I have written.
I'm deeply moved by how haiku makes use of the simple, basic, ordinary
things around us; to "use the commonplace to avoid the commonplace,"
to quote Yosa Buson; to "sketch from life," according to Shiki.
Because a haiku can be written about anything, it reminds me that
every little thing in this world is sacred, has spirit and soul, and
can be written about with love and sincerity. I love how something so
simple (in words and form), which captures only a moment in time, can
be so varied and rich with multiple emotions, images, subjects,
colors, symbols, nature and life; and, again, with such universalism.
RW: You are married to a Japanese woman. Does this marriage between the
two cultures affect your poetry? Why or why not?
SM: No. I will often show my wife haiku I'm working on, for her
reaction and thoughts. For example, I'll occasionally, if I'm stuck,
show her different versions of a haiku to see what resonates more for
her, to see if I'm getting sloppy with words or if I'm unclear. I'm in
a small haiku group, The Skipping Stones, with wonderful poets who
help me with this, so I don't bug her as much anymore. I would share
with her like this, though, if she was from America, Iceland,
Ethiopia or anywhere else. Being married to such a unique,
intelligent, sensitive, creative, caring person is what influences my
poetry, not her nationality. I'm a happier writer and person than
I've ever been, thanks to her. I've written many haiku about her; and I
care deeply whether she likes what I write and whether she understands
what I write. Both my wife and haiku have given me back a lot of my
childhood. But I don't see that as having anything to do with her
RW: Who is your favorite haiku poet and why?
SM: My favorite haiku poet is John Martone. He is the first haiku poet
who has changed the way I read and write haiku since I went from
reading only translations of haiku by Japanese poets to modern English
haiku in journals and magazines. I love the subjects and objects he
writes about and the way he approaches them-the oddity of simple,
everyday things, circumstances, juxtapositions, fleeting moments, and
"sketches from life" he writes about. I can easily understand why some
might be put off by his individualistic, stylistic nuances. I find
those things and his non-traditional methods, to be unique and
challenging. Some say he doesn't always write "haiku". I read, feel
and see them as haiku. They are fresh to me, so awake, enthusiastic,
and aware. He writes about things I don't find myself reading about in
anyone else's haiku. And when he does write about things others have
experienced and written about, he does it in a way that seems new to
me; that gives me energy and inspiration. His haiku taste is spiritual
to me; the ability to say so much, with emotional depth, and few words
(even fewer than most haiku) is astounding. I adore the way he
whittles his poems down to the core, to their heart, often by removing
as many words as possible, but not so many that the reader can't
understand. I feel it makes them stronger, more open and expansive, and
vibrant, instead of the opposite for the reader. In his poetry's case,
much less equals more. I taste Issa and Santoka in his work, but only as
inspirations, never as imitation. He makes haiku his own. When I
recently read his poems in NOON #1, they were without his name, and
yet I was immediately drawn to them and felt that they came from his
hand. I was tickled to see at the back of the journal that I was
Since I've come in contact with his work it takes a lot for me
sometimes to try not to be that boring other half of the melon Basho
warned us about. His poetry and style gets under my skin. I must
consciously not imitate his style sometimes, but instead be inspired
and only seek what he sought and seeks. I believe his poetry makes me
a better writer and observer. He writes about the literal garden and
the garden inside of us. Every time I read Dogwood & Honeysuckle, or
one of his handmade, palm-sized collections, I feel my garden has been
RW: Who was your greatest influence while growing up and why?
SM: My paternal grandmother, Violet Metz, my Grammy, was and still is
my greatest influence. She was the first person to teach and show me
how to appreciate simplicity, nature, drawing and cooking (edible art)
through her own simplicity, attention, care, creativity, and love.
When I was growing up she'd take me for nature walks, through patches
of woods and along streams near my grandparents' apartment. She has a
great love for nature and beauty which she got from spending most of
her childhood on the little mountain behind her family's row home.
Growing up, she told me stories about her adventures. She still does;
and I never get tired of them. My special relationship with her has
given me the privilege of hearing her stories, her secrets, her
dreams, her fears, even her possible hallucinations-all the special
moments in her life. She is an extraordinarily sweet, simple woman,
who touches everyone I've known, that comes in contact with her. She
is the most spiritual person I have ever met. She is the person who
made it possible for me to notice and appreciate haiku when I crossed
its path. That has only increased through the years. She is not just
my grandmother. She is my friend and spiritual adviser. Her
simplistic, ordinary character is deceptive. She is like a haiku. We
write to each other often, but I miss her terribly.
My grandfather, her husband, had a great, wacky sense of humor. His
influence on me, his humor and attitude, were enormously important
while growing up. The two of them were always involved in my life.
They were always around for everything important that happened to me.
I think I have always in some way or another tried to combine the best
of their traits and graft them into my own personality. It wasn't
until a dear friend of mine pointed it out to me though that I realized it.
RW: Any memories that affect you now? Your poetic outlook? And path?
SM: My maternal grandmother was a moon watcher and a drawer of lips
and eyes. As a child, when I would stay overnight and she thought I'd
finally fallen asleep, I'd watch her sitting, sometimes standing, out
on the balcony, smoking a cigarette, watching the moon or the little
mountain she grew up on. That watchfulness and reflection made an
impression on me.
She often took a scrap of paper and made a beautiful eye or a set of
lips lightly with a pencil using a few, simple strokes. I was always
impressed, so in awe. I don't remember her ever completing the rest of
the head or body, but I always thought they belonged to angels. I
think the simplicity of those sketches affected my poetic outlook as
well. Eventually, they made me fall in love with the sketchbooks of
Leonardo Da Vinci. Haiku, in many ways, are sketches. The reader
In a diner once, my grandfather ordered a cup of coffee. After the
waitress left, he took out of his shirt pocket a spoon with the
stirring end sawed-off and placed it in the cup. When the waitress
came back, he lifted the spoon up from the coffee and said, "Gee,
excuse me, Miss, but this is an awfully strong cup a coffee." I've
since, of course, come to know he did this on more than one occasion.
That element of slapstick and surprise, though, has always affected the
way I try to write, think, and often act. His little routine was
almost Zen-like in spirit. I feel surprise is another important note
in haiku and in the poetry I like to read and write, and the path I
wish to take.
RW: What is your goal as a poet?
SM: I write haiku because I must write haiku, not because I can or
want to. I have no ulterior motives really. I want to write about what
I'm inspired by with the best of my ability. I want to sketch, to
write haiku, from my life, imagination and dreams, as naturally as I
can, and to share them with others. I want to do this without being
imitative or contrived. Like most writers, I guess, I sometimes
struggle with writing a haiku; the form, the structure, the order, the
word choice, the creation. My goal is to continue to grow, change,
and make these occasional struggles more natural and smooth. Inspired
by Basho's advice on composition, I want to write a haiku like I'm
cutting a watermelon with a sharp knife, without having to alter or
wanting to alter anything, afterwards; to feel it and write it, and
to be able to let it be. The ability to make inspiration and words
flow naturally and artistically can only come from experience, from
being open, from practice. To write a good haiku, I write a lot of bad
haiku. And I have. And I will. Hopefully, with practice, I'll write
less but with more aim. Haiku has taught me a lot. I want to continue
learning from it, to grow, change, share my poetry, and, hopefully,
make a contribution to the world of haiku, poetry and literature.
To quote Devendra Banhart, one of my favorite musicians:
It's a sight to behold
when you've got small words to mold
& you can make 'em your own
rice fields . . .
the moon paints a path
dog days . . .
the same long glass
chrysanthemums . . .
facing the ocean again
in gravestone vases
first snowflakes . . .
counting the stars
with my fingers
firefly viewing . . .
a few women wearing
the same perfume
squid ink in the lines
of my palms
I can tell he was watching
sparrows in the field
work themselves into
the only fallen leaf
with a dropping
Scott Metz was born in Allentown, Pennsylvania, America, in 1976. He graduated
from Pennsylvania State University in 1999 with a BA in Engish. He became aware of haiku
when he was 17 years old, upon reading J. D. Salinger's short story "Teddy" in
his book Nine Stories. Afterward, he immediately began studying and
practicing haiku. At the moment, he lives and teaches English in Tsuyama,
Okayama, Japan, where he also met and fell in love with his wife. He
has had haiku published in Frogpond and The Heron's Nest. He has haiku
and senryu forthcoming in Frogpond, The Heron's Nest, TUNDRA,
bottle rockets, and Modern Haiku.