Meet Bruce H. Feingold
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 readers to know about you, apart from being a haiku poet.
Thank you, Vandana, for the opportunity to contribute to whiptail, and appreciate Robin, Kat, yourself, and the editorial staff for encouraging diverse voices from the haiku community and the openness to different haiku forms.
I have been fortunate to have a satisfying career as a clinical psychologist and discovered my career path in an unconventional way. Although I was an English Literature major in college, I had worked as a teacher and counselor with children and teenagers. On the verge of applying for doctoral programs in English, I had a satori moment that my love of literature, words, and ideas was deeply connected to self-understanding and relationships, so I changed directions and have been a psychologist for nearly fifty years! I have been lucky in love, too, as my wife, Mady, and I celebrated forty-one years of marriage this year, and we share two delightful adult children and their spouses, a two-year-old grandson and another on the way!
I am a product of the 60s and my passions found me early in life: when I was ten, camping under the stars on Mt. Lassen, I had an epiphany about the beauty of the natural world and that there is something more mysterious and grander than our ego. Backpacking, birdwatching, gardening, trekking, yoga, and meditation have been mainstays throughout my life. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that my love of literature and language, being an ardent outdoorsman, a psychotherapist, and a practitioner of the Eastern arts led me to haiku at the age of forty!
What is something that people don't know about your poetry or poetry practice, process, or inspiration that you'd like to share?
Between developing a clinical practice and family life, the opportunity to write was limited. For my fortieth birthday, a friend gave me Basho’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North, and I foolishly thought, “I can write haiku!” With haiku’s emphasis on nature, crystalizing the essence of emotion, being in the here and now, and seeing the heart of things, it was a perfect match for me. My creative process relies on these practices, and nothing is more satisfying than after an inner or interpersonal stimulus a haiku miraculously arises from the unconscious: many of my haiku are relatively unchanged from these inspirational moments. But, haiku is also a craft. There are poems that I have tried to write for decades and only later pinpoint the right words and form. Playing around with order and syntax, editing extraneous words, stretching the boundaries of language, reading a poem out loud for sound and rhythm, and experimenting with a haiku as a one-liner versus a traditional three-liner, are all tools of the trade.
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?
Like many other haiku poets, Cor van den Heuvel’s “tundra” (a single word, concrete haiku), and haiku-like John Wills’ “dusk from rock to rock a waterthrush” were eye-openers, and as more one-liners were being written it was seamless for me to try my hand at them. As practitioners experiment with different forms, I admire their innovation and unique ways their minds work. I’m a big tent haiku advocate and like to stretch my creative self and enjoy the process of experimenting with different haiku forms: it keeps my mind fresh and spirit open. The most fundamental way one-liners are different is that they are leaner and sharper, and fewer words lend themselves to the essential description of a feeling or experience, like a single breath or flash or lightning. In this way, one could say, one-liners are even more true to the early Zen influence on haiku.
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?
I confess some of the decision to write a haiku as a single liner is a “feel” thing: does it look and sound better? Is it more effective? That being said, I do have principles that guide me. First, many of my one-liners are one-breath expressions without a conventional cutting word. They are briefer and through a few words reveal the heart of an experience. Second, many one-liners have a pivot word so to fully appreciate it, one must go back and read the poem a second time whereupon the subtle double meaning becomes apparent which adds to the complexity and pleasure of the poem. Three, I play around with a haiku as both a one-liner and a three-liner to see what works. When you write a three-liner the mind moves from line to line which slows down the reading, but with a one-liner you take one deep breath in to appreciate the poem. Finally, in the three-line form, the juxtaposition is typically explicit, but in a one-liner, the juxtaposition may be more implicit and subtle.
It would be a great help to our readers if you could walk us through your writing process from 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.
The one-liner I have in mind is “a new mountain trail in my chest defibrillator,” which was originally published in tinywords as a three-liner, then converted to a one-liner for my collection, arrhythmia in 2020 (Red Moon Press). After suffering a life-or-death heart event, it was hard to know how I would recover physically, and how many more mountains I had in me! This haiku emerged from who I am: viewing recovery as a challenge and “a new mountain trail,” grounding the haiku in my body and as a psychotherapist helping others turn crises into forging new paths and reaching new peaks. I wanted to convey the way the leads from the defibrillator to my heart were like a trail, the shape of the scar, and the surreal feeling of seeing a fist-sized bulge in my chest every morning in the mirror. I tried this haiku several ways until it came out “right.” At their core, I think that authentic poems emerge from the depth of our lived experiences.
Bruce H. Feingold, Ph.D. (he/him/his) lives in Berkeley, CA with his wife, Mady, and has been a psychologist for nearly fifty years in the San Francisco Bay area. He believes that haiku is an art of the heart which taps our intelligence, creativity, openness, and honesty. Bruce’s haiku have been published worldwide and have won numerous awards including The Ninth Annual Peggy Willis Lyles Haiku Awards, 2021, Haiku Canada Betty Drevnoik Award, 2018, the Haiku Poets of Northern California Chime Award, 2013, the HPNC International Senryu Contest, 2012, and the Individual Poem Touchstone Shortlist, 2011. His haiku have been chosen five times for the Red Moon Anthology of English-Language Haiku. A New Moon (2004), Sunrise on the Lodge (2010), old enough (2016), arrhythmia (2020), and everything with an asterisk (2022) were published by Red Moon Press. Bruce is the Vice-President of the Haiku Poets of Northern California, is on the Board of Director of the Haiku Foundation, and chairs the Haiku Foundation Touchstone Awards. You can find him on Instagram at @haikubruce, and on the web at www.haikubruce.com.