Meet Alan Summers
A very warm welcome from the whiptail team. Tell us a little about yourself - your family, your hobbies, your dreams, or anything else you want the readers to know about you, apart from being a haiku poet.
Dreams? I definitely preferred nightmares at one time. I’ve also experienced lucid dreaming to research a novel, though it became too dangerous and disruptive. Current hobbies? I guess my hobby is extending and guiding any vivid dream despite the various waking up stages, as long as possible. I also want to get back to my children’s Christmas novel, and can’t wait for heavy snowfall, and immerse myself literally through the snowstorm into the story!
Are you active on social media? How do you think social media affects the writing process?
I’m active on a few platforms, and sometimes enjoy the prompt challenges: They can be really useful, as I might write something outside what I might plan otherwise.
What is something that people don't know about your poetry or poetry practice, process, or inspiration that you'd like to share?
During my master's degree a tutor insisted we get into writing states, either while sober but in a traumatic manner, or one through alcohol. In my twenties I had experimented, for a novel, and it was a brilliant experience at the time, a different bottle of liquor each night. It was as if I lived inside the science fantasy adventure, though a long-term girlfriend nearly left me, as I was seeing too much of one of the fictional lead characters.
She was only words on paper, but we know how deadly that can be. I prefer a sober dreamlike writing trance now, while dodging and ducking my deep melancholic companion. It’s vital to push ourselves, and I keep being my own toughest critic, determined that a better poem can and will appear out of those early first drafts. I guess I have virtual paper-cuts while composing/writing and we know how they can sting, but it’s worth going through the pain barrier for a better and possibly finer haiku!
What made you decide to try out haiku and/or tanka in one line versus their more popular enjambed formats? How does it feel different to you?
The brilliant and groundbreaking Raw NerVz journal from Canada, edited by Dorothy Howard opened things up for me, and many others: It was like the Punk music era stepping in and ousting all the cosy comfortable music that dominated the pop charts!
I believe this is my first ever one-line haiku:
Raw NerVz (Summer 1995) ed. Dorothy Howard
My first one-line tanka attempt was decried by someone on social media so I just submitted it as a “haiku” but feel it’s a tanka. I was delighted it was picked up by Modern Haiku, and then anthologised!
this small ache and all the rain too robinsong
Modern Haiku vol. 44.1 winter/ spring 2013
Anthology credit: naad anunaad: an anthology of contemporary international haiku
ed. Shloka Shankar, Sanjuktaa Asopa, Kala Ramesh, India, 2016
I was also deeply delighted that Vandana choose it not just once but twice for special features!
Yes, I know it’s very short for a tanka, but it has that signature of poignancy (my term) with “this small ache” and could it go over five lines? Yes, and no.
Many poets still struggle with the dilemma of whether a particular poem will work better as a one-line poem than the enjambed form and vice-versa. What is the deciding factor in your practice?
There’s an old adage that if a one-line haiku can be easily split into a three-line haiku then it’s not a one line haiku. I disagree, it’s about haitatsu! Haitatsu is a term I use, and it’s about “delivery.” It’s about the visual look of a poem, and how we want to be carried along it.
A line is a very powerful medium, and just because we could make it into three lines does not necessarily make it stronger. Sometimes our delivery vehicle, our “haitatsu” is better served splitting up the line, and sometimes the sole or solo line of haiku reveals an inner landscape of white and negative space, and untold story plots. Sometimes we just want to follow an uninterrupted line of haiku all the way across.
It would be a great help to our readers if you could walk us through your writing process from the conception to the eventual birth of a one-line poem. You are most welcome to take a one-line poem or two of yours to discuss how it came to be and/or process.
I wrote this one-line haiku walking through a particular set of fields that Karen and myself use as a non-toxic route to our medical centre, where traffic fumes are replaced…
through the fields the dogs the humans the sky as birdsong
Temple, British Haiku Society Members’ Anthology
ed. Iliyana Stoyanova (November 2021)
The Pull of the Lonely Single Line of Haiku
Japan Writers Conference, October 2021
Tokai University, Hiratsuka, Kanagawa
It looks simple and can be read at “face value” although the “closer reader” as “close reading” is never quite enough, can reap rewards. I won’t touch on them all, but stick to the writing process instead.
A walk can be great for writing fresh haiku, or as a warm up, for when we get back home. The poem came to me as is, though I wanted the definite article “the” and conjunction “as” in faint gray, preferable very faint grey.
through the fields the dogs the humans the sky as birdsong
I love the rapid right and left brain exchanges while editing/revision, this is as much poetry in itself to me as the first and last poem versions that arrive and survive!
The articles and conjunction also become spacers or pauses, and really support and back up the words “through” and “birdsong” and it’s as if it’s really a poem hovering between one or two words!
Of course it can be read as:
through fields dogs humans sky birdsong
Though try reading out aloud the grey parts alone:
the the the the as
Perhaps this mimics a parent/child dynamic of the soothing verbal balm of “there, there, there, aaaah…” when we’ve scraped a knee in a fall. Perhaps the birdsong and the balm are parallel haiku embracing each other across the expanse of the single line.
Do you have any tips for aspiring poets of one-line forms?
When you look into your own one-line haiku, or read one by another author, you might also look to see if it feels like it could start or finish a novel. That can be important.
Alan Summers (he, him, his) lives in Chippenham, England, with his wife Karen Hoy: They run Call of the Page that supports writers worldwide. Alan is the founder of various journals including the new Long Haiku Journal, and photohaijin: the shahai journal. He can be found on Twitter: @haikutec and @haikutec on Instagram. www.callofthepage.org