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’m married to Patricia (whose work you might have seen in Presence, Failed Haiku, and Cold Moon Journal) and living in the South West of England. If I’m not writing, I’m walking or swimming . . . or drinking warm beer in an old pub! One day, when I grow up, I’d like to write at least one novel.
Are you active on social media? How do you think social media affects the writing process?
I’m fairly active on Twitter (@HawkheadJohn) and Instagram (@HaikuHawk). I think Twitter, in particular, is suited to haiku and other short-form poetry. When I see a particularly striking photo or artwork, I’ll often write a haiku or senryu in response to the originator. Most people like it – at least I think they do. For me, there’s an immediacy to writing haiku or senryu that pushes me to be concise and focused – and I hope that’s successful in the interpretation of what I’m seeing.
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 one-line format seems to be the best for a snapshot image that fills the mind with the opportunity to expand that image in the reader’s mind. Here’s something I have seen or thought about . . . what do you make of it? So, for instance, this poem was in human/kind journal:
scrimshaw in the teeth of extinction
I was thinking about the problems we face under the cloud of climate change, and the potential for species extinctions as a result. I remembered how close we came to obliterating the great whales and how scrimshaw—the art of carving whale teeth with nautical scenes—is still a valuable commodity in the antiques world. So the poem almost assembled itself as an image to be considered; a lesson from the past for today – what do we see in front of us?
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?
Generally, it’s the brevity of the piece. I tend to write in long form and then cut away to the finished article. I keep cutting until I think it’s as concise as it can be. If it feels to me that a reader can potentially take an entirely different path to the one I present, then a single-line poem seems the best approach. It feels to me more about the level of multiple interpretations than the more stripped back the better. That seems counter-intuitive, but it seems to work that way.
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. Do you have any tips for aspiring poets of one-line forms?
I’ll use an example from Presence Magazine also discussed in Triveni Haikai to, I hope, explain my method:
by the way forget me nots
This started life as a three-line haiku:
by the way
forget me nots
I struggled with the “fieldside path” as I didn’t think it added much to the poem and probably was telling rather than showing. So I tried other first lines but couldn’t arrive at anything that made the poem stronger. When I took the line away, the final version almost presented itself. I like old country names for flowers so it was good to juxtapose a human condition with this small bud of nature. Once the poem was in one line it also reflected the single track I was walking along – and off it went in a submission.
It doesn’t always work as quickly and successfully as this. Many of my monoku don’t make the final cut of an editor’s choice, but that’s all part of the community. When I get a rejection, I’ll always check to see if it should be resubmitted elsewhere, reworked, or thrown in the bin. It can be all three in a poem’s lifecycle . . . However, if I believe in a poem then I stick with it – it might be better as a longer piece or an even shorter one. I wonder what the process was that resulted in Cor van den Heuvel's famous “tundra”?
John Hawkhead has been writing short-form poetry for over 25 years and has won many international competitions with his work. His new book of haiku and senryu Bone Moon has just been released by Alba Publishing.