We’d like to thank John Brandi who was able to spend some time sharing thoughts on haiku forebears.
M09: Is there an aspect from your keynote address you would like to highlight as a teaser?
It’s a great honor to be speaking at the HNA conference, and I want to use the occasion to pay homage to two poets: William J. Higginson and Nanao Sakaki—both passed away last year. Bill’s vital contribution to worldwide haiku is well known, but many may not be aware of the life and poetry of the Japanese poet-wanderer, Nanao Sakaki, who embodied the “haiku life” to an extreme, and gave us one of the finest English translations of Issa’s work in print. I also want to talk about haiku camaraderie. And, haiku in transition, with attention to a statement by Zen master, Joko Beck: “a good practice is always undermining itself.”
H09: Is there a memory of a HNA conference that you would like to share in particular?
I’m a bit of an outrider, having never participated in any formal haiku conferences. I’ve never sought the academic route, either. As a poet, I’m largely self taught, having learned a lot from solitude, the road, social work in the Peace Corps, meeting common people, listening to other poets, working with my hands. I’m an ardent traveler, and equally ardent homemaker (I reside with my wife, poet and Aikido practitioner, Renée Gregorio, in an isolated northern New Mexican mountain village), who writes poems, prose-poems, haibun, haiku—and paints, renders mixed-media glyph-poems on paper, and issues hand-colored broadsides and chapbooks.
H09: As a poet-painter-traveler, learning is continuous. What’s the newest tip the road has taught you?
So much of the world has become the “same.” It’s the age we live in; nobody’s alone, everyone’s “connected.” To what!? When you venture into the world it’s important to have a pursuit, to regard the journey as a calling, to be spontaneous with sudden turns. I think of a line by Rilke: “Sometimes a man stands up during supper/and walks outdoors, and keeps on walking/because of a church that stands somewhere in the East.” The old masters—poet-seers-investigators like Basho—traveled not for entertainment or escape, but as pilgrims who walked into a kind of psychographic-topographic threshold full of questions and confrontations. A “get-down-low” venture full of sidetracks, bogs, dead ends, luminous heights, social-spiritual-ecological awakenings, etc. To have an exceptional experience, you have to choose an exceptional path, take your time, seek out individuals who are exceptions to the “stay connected” majority. Basho’s approach to travel I hold as a keystone.
Cavafy warned not to hurry the journey: “Pray that the way be long, full of adventure, full of knowledge.” Intrinsic to adventure and knowledge are moments of surprise, ones given to those who journey with the “self” absent, the haiku eye open.
To travel is to let the unpredictability of the road shake your beliefs. Along the way, you become somebody else. You find a new way back, and discover new poems in your satchel—ones you can’t quite believe came from your own hand.
H09: Do you have a particular poem of Wang Wei or another poet that you would like to share with us as a parting thought?
Ultimately, I think all of us haiku writers share a lineage with poets like Wang Wei, or Po Chü-i, or Taoist masters like Chuang Tzu, who said: “Words exist because of meaning; once you’ve got the meaning, you can forget the words. Where can I find a man who has forgotten words so I can have a word with him?”