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.
Thank you so much for inviting me to share my thoughts. I’m originally from the Midwest but I live in San Diego, California with my husband, our two children, and one very spoiled cat. I used to teach Spanish language and literature at the college level but I left academia after the birth of my kids. I’m the author of two traditionally published children’s picture books. I’ve always loved to read but I never dreamed that I would write a book. I used to be a DJ in college. I studied abroad in Mexico and Spain and spent a summer in Japan. I’m currently learning French and Italian and I look forward to traveling and putting my lessons to good use. I like to ride bikes and I practice Pilates and ELDOA. I love to watch movies, do embroidery, and play games, especially word games like Scrabble.
Are you active on social media? How do you think social media affects the writing process?
I would never have started writing haiku if it wasn’t for social media. During the pandemic, I discovered the amazing #haiku community on Twitter. Through the prompts offered by @baffled, I met new and established haiku poets. They, in turn, helped me discover other resources like Asahi Haikuist Network, Call of the Page, The Haiku Foundation, The Haiku Society of America, Nick Virgilio Haiku Association, Seashores, and Triveni Haikai India. Social media also helped me discover print and online journals. If it weren’t for Twitter, I would probably miss all of the deadlines on calls for submissions. I read a lot of great haiku on social media too. The online #haiku community is full of really talented poets and I am grateful to them for being so welcoming and generous with their knowledge. Their creativity is inspiring and the camaraderie is second to none.
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?
I always like to challenge myself and try new things so when Alan Summers at Call of the Page offered The Pursuit of One-Line Haiku course, I jumped at the chance to learn more. As a reader, I enjoy haiku that challenge me, whether they are one-line, two-lines, three-lines or four-lines. I am most engaged when the meaning is slightly elusive and I have to work to puzzle it out. As a beginner, I learned to write three-line haiku, using the fragment and phrase method. It is a great technique but when I discovered one-line haiku, I felt like I gained permission to play and to take risks. A single line feels more open and flexible to me. It allows me to play with structure and language in a way that hopefully creates a more interesting poem. The Japanese write haiku in a single line and I like honoring that tradition by using the single line as much as possible in my own haiku practice.
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?
This is a sensibility that I am still developing. So, let me present a few examples. Please see the next question.
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?
wildfire spreading marmalade on toast
bottle rockets #46, February 2022
Most of my poems begin with a free write. For this particular haiku, I was reading about the wildfires in Northern California while eating breakfast. The picture that accompanied the article was full of burnt trees, black smoke, and brilliant orange flames. I jotted down the following:
the wildfire is spreading, threatening homes, the flames look like marmalade and the trees are burnt like my brother’s toast
This is not a sketch, per se, as my brother lives three states away and wasn’t visiting. Instead, the picture of the fire conjured up the memory of my brother, who has loved burned toast since he was child.
Next, I scanned the prose for concrete images and phrases and tried to put them together to make a poem. The juxtaposition was apparent from the beginning – the danger of a raging wildfire contrasted with a cozy, comforting breakfast scene – but it took me quite a few iterations to figure out the wording. Once I found overlap in the images, I knew the poem needed to be a single line:
the wildfire is spreading like someone spreads marmalade on burnt toast
[the] wildfire [is] spreading [like I am] spreading marmalade on toast
at my writing desk all the words rustling palms
haikuKATHA Issue 8, June 2022
This poem was written in response to a prompt in the Triveni Haikai India community asking us to notice sound. I chose the one-line format because I wanted to provide the reader multiple ways to read the poem. It also more accurately reflects my experience.
I have a tiny writing desk in the corner of my bedroom. It’s near a window and outside the window, there are several trees. My desk is always filled with books and papers. When I stopped to listen, I heard the wind rustling the leaves of the palm trees. I had to clear my desk to jot down notes on my legal pad and the papers I pushed aside also rustled. My mind always goes a mile a minute and rustle is an apt metaphor for the flurry of words in my brain. I wanted to communicate all of these things so I chose the single line. What was rustling in the moment? The papers under my palms? The leaves on the palm trees outside my window? All of the words in my head? All of the above?
at my writing desk/all the words/rustling palms
at my writing desk/all the words rustling/palms
early december a black phoebe calls down the night
whiptail issue 2, February 2022
Some people might argue that this single line haiku reads like a sentence. I’d say that the magic is in the verb, which provides multiple readings.
Prior to writing haiku, a bird was just a bird. Now, when I hear or see one, I try to identify the species. I was at my writing desk one afternoon in December when I heard a shrill, insistent cry. I grabbed my phone and used the Merlin Bird ID app to identify it. I discovered that it was a Black Phoebe, a type of flycatcher that lives in the western United States. It is a small black bird with a fluffy white belly. After jotting down some notes, I did a little research and discovered that in Native American mythology, the Black Phoebe is associated with death, change, magic or mystery. I heard the Black Phoebe during a winter sunset. The more I thought about the symbolism associated with the bird, the more convinced I became that the call of the Black Phoebe sounded like an incantation. I used the single line to suggest that night had fallen like a curtain. The rhythm of the line, especially all of the one syllable words at the end, is meant to mimic the incessant call of the bird. I chose the phrasal verb “call(s) down” because it has two meanings. “Call(s) down” means to cause or provoke someone or something to appear or occur. “Call(s) down” also means to reprimand someone. The Black Phoebe seemed to be doing both – summoning the night and reprimanding it for its tardiness.
The one-line haiku is a great tool in your writer’s toolbox because of its flexibility. It allows you to play with language and structure through a variety of techniques. I like how one-line poems often subvert linguistic expectations and invite multiple readings. And playing with different lineation adds variety to your work.
Marcie Wessels (she/her) lives in San Diego, CA. She is the author of two traditionally published children’s picture books. Her poems have appeared in numerous haiku journals including Blōō Outlier, Drifting Sands, haikuKATHA, tinywords, Heliosparrow, whiptail, Plum Tree Tavern, and Under the Basho. www.marciewessels.com