The panel discussion spent a little time watching a clip of the youtube tribute to Nick Virgilio. Panel was Kathleen O’Toole, Raffael de Gruttola and Michael Dylan Welch. Nick Vigilio died 20 years ago now but the effect he had is still viisble in Camden where his haiku is painted on brick walls and people still know him by name.
Haiku was his life passion. He was an evangelist for it, in the habit of saying to anyone he happened to be near, “hey listen to this. tell me if this is good”. He was a copious writer and letter-writer. He wrote haiku full time for 25 years, in diners and walking around his town. He was a city poet who wanted to capture the life he had around him, such as
He was an American original as de Gruttola pointed out. He was in the same class as Emily Dickinson and WC Williams. He wrote against he myth of haiku as 5-7-5 in the 60s and helped push the English form to new shapes.
He brought to haiku his emotional intensity and among the sensory information, a musicality and rhythm from other forms. When his brother Larry was killed in Vietnam he brought to haiku the war and a grimness that could not be prettified, as Welch put it. (Samples of those haiku of grief are in the youtube video.) Vigilio engaged the world and tried to bring it all into haiku. Paul McNeil recited one of Virgilio’s poems from the linany of the dead,
on the petition
banning agent Orange
the names of the dead
Welch pointed out that many of Virglio’s poems are lacking the turn, or cut, but added Virgilio’s explanation, “I don’t care what you call what I do, haiku, schmaiku or whatever. What I do is poetry.” As Nick Avis pointed out regarding the adhering to haiku’s poetic device, “it only becomes a problem when the technique overtakes the poem.”
Once Virgilio latched onto the form, he tried to consume all that he could find and went into an intensive corresponsance with a number of people including Harold Henderson. Diving in with both feet, he became published in the first issue of American Haiku and won first prize in the second issue.
He thought haiku worthy of study and essays and encouraged others to write essays on his haiku. O’Toole said this was in part because of his nature as a promoter and partly from his desire to push himself, to burnish his poems to get to the purist state possible and wanted all the mentoring he could to learn.
At a reading he gave 12 days before his death he said “I want you people to write haiku because you might have a great poem in you – you never know.”
Pictured is his most well-known poem, which yielded a parody from Pizzarelli,
Out of the water
Out of her suit