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 for this wonderful opportunity! I’m so glad that you started whiptail—I think you are making a major contribution to the haiku world by providing a welcoming and provocative space in which we can all explore the creative potential of the one-line poem.
a whiptail lickety-splits the sidewalk
I live in Arlington, Massachusetts, two towns over from Boston, with my partner, Barbara. We love hiking in national parks, and this past summer we took a wonderful trip to the Grand Canyon, Mesa Verde, Canyon de Chelly, and Sedona. I’m a casual but enthusiastic birdwatcher, but folks probably knew that already, given how many birds show up in my poems. I’m also into crossword puzzles, vegetarian cooking, novels, Monty Python, and funk music. After teaching third and fourth graders in public and independent school classrooms for twenty-five years, I am now working part-time, teaching poetry to elementary and middle school children, and teaching haiku to adults via community education classes and private groups.
What is something that people don't know about your poetry or poetry practice, process, or inspiration that you'd like to share?
I’m cuckoo for haiku, so I write a lot of ‘em—I think I wrote over 3,000 in 2021. Of course, most of them never appear in journals, magazines, or books. But that’s OK by me. I feel like there are two essential aspects of my haiku writing process. The first is what many have called “the way of haiku.” Close observation, recording the haiku moment, noticing the extraordinary in the ordinary, connecting with nature, enjoying the creative process…That’s the most important and rewarding part of haiku writing for me. It’s my version of meditation. The second aspect is the crafting and sharing my work with others via submission and publication. I enjoy that process as well, but it is the cherry on top of the sundae for me. And I believe that writing so many poems makes me a better writer. All of those thousands of haiku meant something to me in the moment, but they’re not all necessarily effective haiku. 90% of an iceberg is underwater. I’m hoping that a few good haiku are resting on top of all my mediocre ones under the surface.
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 was first inspired to try writing monoku by reading Marlene Mountain and Jim Kacian, both of whom are experts at the form. I was intrigued by the minimalism and by the different way that juxtaposition worked in a one-line haiku vs. three-line haiku. My first attempts were pretty feeble—I think it’s taken me years to be able to write a decent one-line haiku. I actually think it’s harder to write a great one-line haiku than it is to write a great three-line haiku. I still feel much more confident in my three-line haiku skills. Here’s the first monoku I ever published:
falling snow joins everything
Acorn 29, Fall 2012
I believe the one-line haiku offers intriguingly different technical and stylistic opportunities than a three-line haiku. There are four reasons why I write a particular haiku in one line rather than three. The first is what Jim Kacian calls “speed rush.” Others call it “velocity.” Reading all the words in one line gains momentum as the reader rushes across the page. It can create effective motion that can enhance the content.
spring for a day until one day spring
bottle rockets 31
Secondly, monoku can take advantage of disjunction caused by a pivot. We often talk about the use of a pivot line in line two of a three-line haiku. In monoku, the pivot is often one word, rather than a whole line. A pivot word can break up the normal syntax of the lines in multiple ways. When I read my one-line haiku publicly, I often read them two or three times, cutting each one differently. As Jim says, monoku with a pivot word are like “cut gems…each slight turn catches the light a bit differently.” (“The Shape of Things to Come,” Modern Haiku 43.3) Sometimes, the pivot, and the resulting alternative cut, can create some unexpected animism or magical realism.
the bed I’m not sleeping in moonlight
Thirdly, I sometimes choose the one-line model because of its shape. The longer horizontal line can mimic or emphasize something about the content of the poem: a line, a queue, or a rectangular shape. So, in this sense, a one-line haiku can become somewhat of a “concrete” poem.
octogenarian swimmer his long long wake
failed haiku, Feb. 2017
And finally, sometimes I use only one line because, simply put, my poem is too short. The poem is very concise, and one line is all I need.
birdsong every now
Under the Basho, Nov. 2019
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?
I seldom set out to deliberately write a one-line haiku. I think choosing the form a haiku eventually takes is an organic process. As I write and edit, I frequently ask myself what works best for this particular poem? It’s a case-by-case approach. I took a poetry class years ago that was entitled, “The Poem Knows More Than You Do.” If you write from the heart and stay true to your haiku, each one will tell you what form it wants to take. That said, here are some of the questions I ask myself that lead me toward the one-line form… Is there a movement or momentum in the poem or the moment that I want to accentuate? Is there one “hot” word that acts as a pivot to create effective ambiguity? (Often that word can serve as a noun and a verb in different readings.) Is horizontality or linearity an important part of the poem’s content? If, after I’ve pared away the redundant and unnecessary, is the poem too short for three (or even two) lines? I also sometimes use some of the questions that Kat and Robin included in their whiptail essay, “Haiku: Walking the Fine Line,” especially the one about listening to the flow of the line. For me, three-line haiku are my default, but some of my poems end up as monoku because they demand that form. Finally, I often think about speed and pauses. If I want the reader to read the poem slowly, with breaks, I usually use all three lines. If I want more speed, or if breaks aren’t as necessary, I’ll switch to the monoku.
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.
I think there are two major ways my one-line haiku emerge. Sometimes, the whole thing just comes to me all at once. We’ve all enjoyed that experience. And there aren’t any tips for that kind of magic except to write it down quickly! At other times, I’ll start with a three-line haiku and pare and pare until I’m left with a one-liner. Once I arrive at a one-line haiku, I always swap the two parts to see which order works best. It might be helpful to examine the genesis of one specific monoku:
all at once millipede
I wrote this one while hiking in Shenandoah National Park. We were climbing a trail along a beautiful brook one morning when I spotted a large, gleaming millipede. It must have been at least four inches long—longer than any I’ve seen in Massachusetts. And all the legs were moving at once as it crawled across the trail! I was in awe. My first draft was three lines long: “its legs moving / all at once / millipede.” I liked “all at once,” because it conveyed both the actual behavior and the awe and surprise that I was feeling as I watched. But three lines slowed the poem down too much. Plus, using fewer words was more likely to sound like something is happening all at once, which was what I was trying to convey. So, I got rid of “its legs moving.” I also considered swapping the two parts so it would read “millipede all at once,” but that sounded too “tellish,” and I wanted the last word to be the surprise of “millipede.” I’m hoping that the final draft four-word monoku is quick and surprising and looks and acts more like a millipede.
Even though I’ve written hundreds of monoku over the years, I still feel like I am a novice. I look forward to reading many more issues of whiptail, so I can learn more about this fascinating form from all the great one-line haikuists in the whiptail community!
Here are a few more of my one-liners.
pond still no punctuation
from my desk inside a cardinal
Modern Haiku 53:2, Summer 2022
show don’t tell saguaros
The Heron’s Nest 23:4
Brad Bennett (he/him) is the author of three haiku collections, a drop of pond (Touchstone Award winner), a turn in the river (short-listed for the Touchstone Award), and a box of feathers (just released!), all published with Red Moon Press. He is a mentor in the Haiku Society of America's mentorship program and currently serves as Haiku and Senryu editor of Frogpond. Brad emails three of his haiku every Monday to anyone who would like to receive them. If you'd like to be added to his Bcc list, please email him at email@example.com.