Meet Margaret Walker
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 am a former teacher, district level special education administrator, school principal, and university professor.
When I moved to Lincoln, Nebraska from the coast of South Carolina, it was to be a two-year adventure. I was 25-years old, and the two years turned into decades. I have four stepchildren, and we have nine grandchildren.
I retired early so my husband and I could travel and spend more time with family. Four years later a surgery resulted in a chronic illness (ME/CFS) and my life was altered beyond anything I had ever imagined. Now, homebound with ME/CFS, I have the opportunity to meet people from across the world as Director of the ME/CFS & Fibromyalgia Self-Help Program.
What is something that people don't know about your poetry or poetry practice, process, or inspiration that you'd like to share?
Most of my work is about human nature. I am fascinated by people and their behavior. They are my inspiration. Recently, I find myself writing more frequently about social issues in our troubled world.
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?
This was a fluke. I had read very few one-line haiku, but a single line popped into my head late one night. I scribbled it on a paper napkin and, just for fun, sent it to Alan Summers. I didn’t know if it was anything, but I was interested in the several interpretations I could see in only five words.
That is what I love about one-line haiku. I believe it leaves much room for the reader to bring their own thoughts and experiences to the poem. I provide the words—it is up to the reader to develop their own interpretation. I am often fascinated by what someone else finds when they read just a few words in a specific order and see something entirely different than what I thought I was writing.
Many poets 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?
If it is more open for interpretation by the reader or if there are multiple cuts, I think it is better as a one-line poem. So much depends on the arrangement of the words. I read it aloud to myself again and again, not only for meaning but for the musicality of the line.
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, regarding how it came to be and/or process.
I wish I could describe my writing process. Often, it is simply that I wake from sleep or almost dozing with a phrase in mind. Sometimes from a social issue that is troubling, or perhaps a memory or a simple interaction witnessed but mostly forgotten. But it almost always happens during times of quiet—often the wee hours of the morning.
Often, I type the words to decide if the line can be made “more” by simply rearranging the word order, eliminating words or adding/deleting an article. If possible, I like to have someone else read it—this is where social media workshopping of haiku is a big plus. Others may easily see something I missed that adds much to the line.
A fascinating activity for me has been writing a sequence with one or two other poets. I find it amazing how one single line sparks a series of thoughts (often seemingly only loosely related) that almost magically comes together as what appears to have been a preconceived poem.
Monoku is one of my favorites of the “short-forms” so it was not easy to select just a few.
64 crayons white the least used
From the “Getting it Wrong” haibun, Babylon Sidedoor Journal, January 2022 and re:Virals 330, January 21, 2022
This haiku simply appeared in my mind one morning. I scribbled it on a nearby piece of paper, but it triggered childhood memories that prompted a haibun.
When I was a young child the “64 Crayons” box from Crayola was a coveted toy. A new box with its unbroken, tips not yet blunted, paper untorn crayons, each with its own special spot in the box. A medley of glorious color! After only a short time it became obvious that the white crayon was the only one not yet blunted, torn or broken. Rarely, if ever, used.
alone tonight a single malt
Bloo Outlier Journal, Winter Issue 2021
This one emerged from a series of seemingly unrelated memories and was just “there” fully formed in my mind. (I refer to it in Question 3 of this interview).
sunrise sea water swirls his ashes at my ankles
whiptail: journal of the single line poem
issue 4 - august 2022
This is a poem that is about the death of a loved one. I tried for years to write it—a plethora of 3-line haiku and/or haibun, several tanka, and even free verse (which I have never written before or since). Nothing “worked.”
Throughout this process I eventually noticed that there were a few words that were included in almost every version. I pulled out those words and wrote them down, changed their order multiple times and finally this one-line poem was “it.” Many thanks to Alan Summers for his help through this entire process and finally Kat Lehmann and Robin Anna Smith for the last tiny tweak.
left unsaid words too loud
The Haiku Foundation, Haiku Dialogue, November 18, 2020
This is another favorite of mine. It emerged as written the first time and said exactly what I wanted. Nonetheless, I was surprised by at least one “cut” I had missed but was commented on by a reader. That is so exciting.
Do you have any tips for aspiring poets of one-line forms?
Read as many one-line poems as possible. Find the possible cuts. Do the cuts add multiple interpretations? Does something about it resonate with you? Is it a poem you will remember or would like to read again and again? How does the poem sound read aloud?
Don’t be afraid to play with the words. Consider setting the poem aside and reading it again in a few hours, days or weeks. It is often amazing what letting it simmer can do.
Margaret Walker (she/her) is a former school principal. Now homebound with ME/CFS, her work has been published in Failed Haiku, Human/Kind Journal, Drifting Sands, #FemkuMag, Stardust Haiku, whiptail, Prune Juice, and Blōō Outlier Journal. She is a Pushcart Prize (haibun), Red Moon Anthology (haibun), and Touchstone Award (haiku) nominated poet.