Meet Jo Balistreri
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.
I came from a musical family and continued that tradition when I had my own family (a husband and four children.) We lived on the East Coast while the four children were growing up. There was always music in our home, and I was still performing professionally on the piano. After 1976, I added the harpsichord. I also taught advanced piano performance.
Hobbies are cooking and gardening. I’m also a reader. I no longer play an instrument as I lost my hearing in 2009 in the ICU. Somewhat before that, in 2005, I had begun writing poetry to deal with the death of a seven-year-old grandson. Life was slowly moving in a different, but parallel direction. I was learning how to read and write the music of words.
Are you active on social media? How do you think social media affects the writing process?
I’m not active on social media but did try it for a while. It is different for everyone, but for me, it was too much reading and not enough doing. I realize there are things I’m missing, but believe what should reach me, does.
What is something that people don't know about your poetry or poetry practice, process, or inspiration that you'd like to share?
I begin the morning by listing 13 things I see, hear, taste—for example this morning was 1. wild wind 2. bird nest in the awnings 3. milkweed basket toppled, and so on. I write without comment to awaken my senses. Sometimes it is easy. Other times it takes a while as I usually write from the same place every day—facing a window that looks out onto the yard. (When I can, I write outside on the deck looking at the yard, most times before sunrise.) After that, I read a few poems out loud, some free verse, some haiku. All this is preparation for a 4 mile walk—(a different time every day depending on my work schedule.) I take the same path every day, but it is never the same. Back home, I write two pages in a journal. I write haiku late at night when the house is quiet.
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.
I like to play with haiku. I’m not a prolific writer out of necessity, but also out of temperament. I liked those long hours of practicing: Process is important to me. I experiment with the dilemma of one-line poems versus three-line poems, I go back and forth between the two. I let the haiku sit for a while. In coming back to it,
I often see something else to try. I write bad haiku every day, but I write.
I will give you some examples that will hopefully demonstrate what I’m talking about.
This was one of the first poems I fiddled with:
into the thresher blades...
a chipmunk’s shadow
When I wrote it, monoku did not exist for me. I liked the poem, but it was always rejected even with changes. It was put into a folder and forgotten about until now…
into the thresher a chipmunk’s shadow tumbling wheat
a chipmunk’s shadow tumbling wheat into the thresher
Here we can feel the thresher moving and the close call of the chipmunk as the blades keep cutting. That thresher isn’t stopping. I love the motion of the one line, it has movement and the suggestion of sound and goes beyond just “visual.”
I liked this one as a three line poem but I’m still experimenting with it:
stringing sweet peas
my gramma’s smile
stringing sweet peas into daguerreotype my gramma’s smile
my gramma’s smile stringing sweet peas into daguerreotype
It encompasses past (as real time), then present, then future:
One more example, still not resolved, so a work in progress:
I started with the three-line poem, made a change, went to the monoku and then changed that too. I like the monoku for its visual of a tsunami’s moving force, wild and powerful, it crumbles even the light from a sickle moon—sickle also shows the wiping out, the thrashing upheaval of all that water. When I read the monoku, I feel the helpless thrust of that destruction
the crumbling ruins
of a sickle moon
of a sickle moon
the tsunami crumbling ruins of a sickle moon
tsunami the crumbling ruins of a sickle moon
or even from my explanation:
tsunami it crumbles even the light from a sickle moon
It’s still not there, but I feel we have to share our vulnerability with others, give ourselves permission to share the things that are still in process.
Thank you, Vandana, for inviting me for this interview. I enjoyed thinking about monoku. Each one is chosen for its own reason. I’ll end with this one.
father's whistle in a blade of grass
This monoku has texture, taste, as well as sound, and memory.
Mary Jo (she/her) is the author of three books of poetry. Joy in the Morning, gathering the harvest (Bellowing Ark Press,) Still, (Future Cycle Press,) and a chapbook, Best Brothers, (Tiger's Eye Press.) She is published internationally and has many awards including 10 Pushcart nominations and 4 Best of the Net. Much of her work is anthologized.
In 2014, she began writing haiku and has never stopped. She writes in Japanese forms almost exclusively. Mary Jo has been honored in the publication, A New Resonance 12, 2021— (emerging voices in English-language haiku,) Red Moon Press.
Please visit her at maryjobalistreripoet.com