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.
Firstly, thank you for the interview, Vandana. I was born in 1978 in the east coast town of Great Yarmouth (UK). By day, I’m a professional ecologist working for the government. By night I’m a haiku poet! I was first drawn into the world of short-form poetry over 10 years ago. I’ve been interested in poetry from my teenage college days when enthusiastic lecturers instilled a love of verse, particularly that of Dylan Thomas and Philip Larkin. While I stepped away from poetry to pursue a career as a scientist researching the ecology and conservation of insects such as bumblebees, butterflies, grasshoppers, and glow-worms, gaining a doctorate, I returned to it in 2011 during a tumultuous period of my life. I found haiku an outlet for my bipolar emotions due to the sparseness of language and brevity of the form. It’s really a case of what you haven’t said, less is more. I also weave a love of nature into my haiku poetry; there is plenty of overlap between my role as an ecologist and poetry. In 2020, I combined my love of punk rock and haiku to begin editing the Turning Japanese haiku column in Suspect Device fanzine after a stint as co-editor of Haibun Today’s tanka prose section.
Are you active on social media? How do you think social media affects the writing process?
I’m active on social media, especially Twitter where I was first introduced to haiku. Initially, I would tweet poems in the 5-7-5 format, before my writing developed into something resembling publishable quality. This led to haiku being published in 2013 before I joined the British Haiku Society (BHS) in 2014. I now only share published haiku on Twitter as there is a tendency for plagiarism of verses on the platform. Social media is a distraction, too. I would encourage new poets to try for publication rather than sharing on social media sites like I did. You learn more from a good editor, even with a rejection, than from social media feedback which tends to be uniquely positive from friends rather than constructively critical.
What is something that people don't know about your poetry or poetry practice, process, or inspiration that you'd like to share?
I write only because there is an emotional trigger. Much writing serves no purpose and lacks authenticity because it is produced without any meaning or emotional depth. If you want to be a writer for the sake of it, then there’s a problem. As Bruce Lee said in Enter the Dragon, “Don’t think–FEEL.” After the initial thought and emotion which sparks the haiku into being, you can refine and edit your work. The late Stuart Quine once told me, “Haiku is the art of the instantaneous.” He’s not wrong.
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 attended a workshop at a BHS conference in the Peak District (UK) in 2014 where Stuart Quine ran a workshop that introduced one-line haiku. In that workshop, I learned that in many cases, the breaks dividing up haiku into three lines make little sense where one line is sufficient. We argued over the importance of the kireji and whether monoku become a mere sentence without it. I think we concluded that monoku can work well without a kireji or at the very least a subtle one. It was a stimulating induction to one-line haiku. I mostly write in that style now.
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?
If in doubt, take the line breaks out! Many haiku read perfectly well as a one-liner. It also forces the reader to interpret the kireji and it can be quite subtle in comparison to a three-liner with punctuation to demarcate the cut. I also find the rhythm of a one-line haiku easier to follow when the poem doesn’t work when chopped into three seemingly arbitrary lines. Monoku seldom have punctuation which helps with the flow of words. A kigo can also be important, although I find my monoku drift towards senryu or haiku/senryu hybrids without a clear seasonal reference.
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.
One of the first monoku I had published was written while at the 2014 BHS conference in the Peak District. I was walking along Baslow Edge with the steep drop of the rocks into forest when I wrote:
descending into mountain ash the path ends
The monoku was subsequently accepted for publication in Presence (#51) by Stuart Quine which was a lovely outcome from the conference. I think the poem is suited to one-line format as it flows gently into the path disappearing among the trees. In three-line format, it loses that sense of rhythm:
into mountain ash
the path ends
The issue of punctuation in monoku is a matter of debate. I’ve always loved Marlene Mountain’s:
so, who do you think fucked it up, caterpillars
Pissed Off Poems and Cross Words (1986)
Without the punctuation, I don’t think the monoku conveys the same level of irony and sarcasm. There are also different layers of meaning that the punctuation opens up.
And finally, the value of one-word haiku has been discussed for several decades. My best effort at a one-word haiku is simply:
Blithe Spirit #30.3, 2020
Do you have any tips for aspiring poets of one-line forms?
The best advice I can give to new poets is to not be afraid of experimenting with one-line haiku. You can still retain the traditional elements of haiku such as kireji and kigo.
Dr. Tim Gardiner (he/him) is an ecologist, editor, essayist, poet, and children’s author from Manningtree in Essex, UK. He has been widely published in poetry journals and anthologies. He is a former co-editor of the tanka prose section of Haibun Today and now edits a poetry column for the punk fanzine Suspect Device.