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, Vandana, for this opportunity to talk with you all. I'm retired from 38 years in a public library, mostly in its technical services department. I live with my wife and little dog in southeastern Wisconsin, but I'm originally from Chicago, from a working-class family, and have lived most of my life in Illinois. I'm a nondenominational Christian and am politically independent. I'm interested, on a lay level, in comparative religion and spirituality, human evolution, psychology, neuroscience, consciousness, physics, small artforms, short prose, poetry generally, and anomalous studies.
Are you active on social media? How do you think social media affects the writing process?
Yes, I am active on social media, particularly Facebook. It's been the source of valuable interaction with other haiku poets, conversationally, through notices of submission periods for magazines, and through NaHaiWriMo. For me, intuition is important for haiku composition, and I think of NaHaiWriMo's prompts as a form of free association, driving both intuition and the pattern recognition that so often happens with me. And apart from a particular social medium, I have found the Internet itself to be helpful, for the same reasons above, but also for research during composition and for epiphanies that happen to me online.
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 began writing the customary tercet haiku in 1990, and my awareness of one-line haiku came not long after that. I read around a lot, starting with translations from Japanese, and first found them in Hiroaki Sato's anthology From the Country of Eight Islands. Shortly after that, I found Sato's collection of Hosai Ozaki's haiku, formatted as one-line in Right under the big sky, I don't wear a hat, which I keep on my “most influential” shelf. Hosai became one of my favorite poets. And then, tangentially, I was fascinated by the use of parataxis in the longer works of some of the Beat poets, particularly Ginsberg and Kerouac. But I didn't begin writing one-line haiku myself until the 21st Century, after becoming excited reading them in Roadrunner Haiku Journal, bones journal for contemporary haiku, and Under the Basho. I believe that one-line haiku have their own specialized characteristics, parataxis being one, but also multiple alternative readings possible regarding the absence of or unique use of punctuation, the spacing between words, the unique pacing that is not dependent on the implicit pauses of the line break, the potential for erasure, and the ability to describe processes.
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?
For me, there is no poem before its embodiment in language. There is no poem waiting for a form. Embodiment is a matter of constant improvisation, as with jazz. And for me, the deciding factors on form are 1) what most excites me and 2) what most advantageously enhances the effect of a version of the poem, which is the resonance, the epiphany, the aha, the chiasmus, to use Marshall McLuhan's term, because that resonance is the heart of haiku. I have to be aware of the effects of the various styles of haiku. Do I really want a line break, and what will be its effect? If I juxtapose certain things in the poem, how clear do I want their connection to be, and why? Each effect I allow into a haiku must contribute to and not conflict with the resonance. I think that if you look at the characteristics of tercet and one-line, you will discover they are different, distinctive, and that will help you to decide how to proceed.
violincello viola violin violet ultraviolet
bones journal for contemporary haiku, March 2018, no. 15, p. 48
One of the principles of nature is that it's often expressed as continua. I wanted to portray a continuum from the solid and observable up into the uncertain and unobservable, and be synesthetic and kinetic, to switch from sense mode to sense mode in an uncontrolled way. In one line, I can hear a musical note sliding upward and disappearing into who-knows-where. How, really, would one introduce line breaks into this haiku and maintain the same effect?
planets around their campfire in the cold
Under the Basho, 2015
One possible characteristic of one-line haiku is the apparently bald or straightforward statement. Such an effect is achieved by contiguous language, rather than being broken into kireji, line breaks, grammatical phrasing, or spacing. Of course, the language here isn't absolutely straightforward, being also charged with the implicit metaphor of people around a campfire. And its quick, terse pacing works well in one line. It has the sense of being spoken in a cold environment.
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.
It’s important for me to keep pen and paper at hand as much as possible. A pocket notebook when I’m not at my desk or at home. A pad and pen on my nightstand, at my desk, and on the end table beside my club chair in the living room. A lot of my haiku come to me out of liminal sleep states, and others from what I can only say feels like spontaneous mental imagery that arises from what I’m thinking and/or feeling at any moment. I may then make a check mark beside those that seem most important or accurate to the experience or that seem to go with others in the list. I don’t decide early on whether a possible poem will be in one line. That will depend on the “happy opportunities” that occur to me, as the late poet William Stafford would say. And I begin to play variously with this list, mixing and matching, trying to pay attention to their effects. I am playing with the language, trying not to have too much focus.
the woods’ doors and windows standing open all night
bones journal for contemporary haiku, March 2018, no. 15, p. 48
It was autumn. This poem could arise from either spring or autumn, but autumn feels more appropriate to the emotion here. I had been reading Emily Dickinson, with her mention of nature being a haunted house, and art a house that tries to be haunted. And I strongly felt that sense for this poem. In a proper, thick wood, when there are no leaves, there seem to be rooms and corridors of unobstructed space, whereas in summer, with leaves, and winter, with much snow, those “doors and windows” appear closed to view. I would advise poets to read widely in areas that interest them. Build a dense intertextual network in mind. Develop a mental practice that encourages lucidity and a loss of control. And play. One of my favorite quotations is from the late psychologist Carl Jung: “The creative mind plays with the objects it loves.”
Michael Nickels-Wisdom (he /him) discovered haiku while working in the poetry stacks at the public library where he worked until 2022. His poems have appeared in Modern Haiku, Frogpond, American Tanka, and several other magazines. He has received Haiku International Association, Tokutomi Memorial Haiku, International Kusamakura Haiku, and Tanka Splendor contest awards and has been variously anthologized, most recently in A New Resonance 12 (Red Moon Press) and Haiku 2021 (Modern Haiku Press).