Dialogue with a Poet: Jane Reichhold
[I found this in my files and now have no idea who asked the questions. If anyone knows, please let me know.]
- ST: As an American, you have been a true international author. From the perspective of this magazine, World Haiku Review, we call you a “world poet”.
JR: Thank you. That is a high compliment and I praise you for using the word ‘haiku’ and ‘poet’ in the same sentence. I feel that is the way it should be. And thank you for inviting me to converse (shall we do this in verse? I wish we could) with you. I have followed your rise with great interest and admiration for all you have accomplished in a very short time. Sometime you must tell us how you got started on your amazing path.
- ST: Your German connection is strong, especially during the years after you moved to Germany in 1971. What brought you there?
JR: Werner. He had read a letter I had written to someone else and sent me one of his drawings as a thank-you for my words. I sent him a thank-you note for the drawing and the correspondence continued for five years – until I went to Hamburg where we finally married – now 30 years ago.
3. ST: How do your German factor and American factors co-exist within yourself?
JR: Fairly easily. I have Austrian-German ancestors on maternal and paternal sides, was raised mostly in a Mennonite (read German) community, had studied German in college. It was nothing like the leap you have made from Japan to England. What was that like for you? And how did it come about?
4. ST: What are your views on German haiku and German poets?
JR: One day in 1980, I went to the dentist in the village where we lived at the edge of Hamburg where it disappeared into the woods, and he had a new assistant. She was eager to practice her English on me because she was preparing for a trip to America and Canada to visit haiku writers. “What?” I nearly fell out of the chair in my excitement, “there are other people who write haiku?” The dentist had better things to do with my mouth so we arranged to meet when we found our homes were only a short bicycle ride away from each other. Thus I met Sabine Sommerkamp and she informed me of the current activities on the other side of the pond. All these years I thought that I, and my daughter Heidi were the only ones in the world writing these little verses we called haiku. After Sabine returned from her trip seeing Elizabeth Lamb, Alan Ginsberg (she was staying in his apartment the night Reagan was shot), Kenneth Rexroth, and attending meetings of the Yuki Teikei Haiku Society and American Haiku Society she began loaning me books and publications which I greeted like a Lost Continent. I began to take my haiku writing seriously and Sabine became editor of a haiku column in a small journal called Apropos. Even though we were good friends she would refuse to publish my haiku because I refused to count syllables in either my German or English haiku. She would let me do translations for her magazines and through her I was introduced to the Grand Lady of German Haiku - Imma von Bodmershof with whom I corresponded until her death. It was some time after this that Carl Heinz Kurz organized the Deutsche Haiku Geschellshaft (German Haiku Union). For many years, after we had moved to the States, both Werner and I were members. But again, the requirement of 17 syllables was a serious drawback to our cooperation. Actually, my contact has been closer with the Dutch poets because even though they profess in their publications to obeying the rules, many of the women were tanka writers and free enough with their own work and independent enough so that they readily accepted what I was doing. At this point I still have close correspondence with quite a number of Dutch writers and subscribe to their publication Vuursteen (Firestone or Flintstone). The Dutch writers have also been more active in the Internet, so I have broadened and maintained my acquaintances through that method also.
5. ST: Jane, in addition to being a writer, you are also an artist, especially in pottery and sculpture. You are, for example, the first American woman artist who had ever been accepted into Deutsche Kunstlerbund (German Artists' Organisation) -- no mean feat. How has your art background influenced your poetry?
JR: I see both artwork and writing streaming out from the same place; rather on alternating currents. I do not feel I am switching back and forth, though the materials change, but basically I see a continuum. A valid comparison would be for the artist who uses various media and the writer at home in several genres. In both cases it is still the quest for a form for the vision. I guess your connections between your art – sumi-e – and haiku is so much closer (as you have just recently demonstrated with your exhibit of “Floating Stones” [make http: connection]) that it is hard for you to feel how connected art and writing are for me. What comes first for you: the painting or the haiku?
6. ST: What kind of interaction or creative tension do you experience within you between your visual art and your poetry, especially haiku?
JR: I see no negative tension between them. They actually feed each other. Titles for my sculptures were often haiku. In fact I have a series of fibre sculptures done in bottles with haiku as titles and parts of the sculpture which is in the hands of Gunther Westerman of Stuttgart, that he shows when my themes co-join with the themes of the other shows he is organizing. Many of my haiku come through while my hands are busy handling my materials which now are ropes and fabrics
a net is cast
into the sea
7. ST: What made you interested in haiku in the first place?
JR: Like most people, I can remember so clearly my first contact with haiku. I had gone to San Francisco to pick up a load of clay for my studio/store in Dinuba. Too tired to drive the four + hours back home that night, I booked a hotel room and then found it was too early to go to bed. So I went sight-seeing but after dinner most everything was closed except nightclubs and bars where this small-town girl was not at home. I saw a bright place on the sidewalks and there City Lights book store was - still open. I bought a copy of Japanese Haiku translated by Peter Beilenson and printed by the Peter Pauper Press (hardcover, jacketed for $1.25) mostly to pay for all the books I had looked at and did not buy. At the time I was writing and illustrating children’s stories for children in the Mennonite church literature and had just discovered William Everson who was the poet of the San Joaquin Valley. Back home I had the time and space to fall in love with the haiku which I admired from a great distance of a different culture. Then, one day while throwing a pot on a kick wheel, outdoors under a huge pine tree, I had a deep shock. Just as I was pressing my thumbs into the spinning ball of wet, slippery clay, as the walls were just beginning to rise up by pressing against my palms, a mockingbird gave a long, clear whistle. In that second the ball of clay moved into being a walled vessel. I recognized that I was capable of experiencing one of these profound moments these Japanese masters had evidently felt and now all I had to do was to put that moment into a haiku. I am still not happy with any of my many, many versions. Just last week, during a sleepless night, I was working with the latest one.
the mocking bird whistles
up a pot
the mocking bird whistles up
sides of a bowl
the mocking bird whistles up
a clay bowl
8. ST: And what are the main forces which have made it your lasting interest ?
JR: Just that. I am still learning, still trying to do it better. And the universe is still surprising me with these miracles and I show my gratitude by giving the words which are the gift boxes in which I bring my delight and joy of living to you.
the phone rings
it begins to rain
9. ST: To try to see your involvement in haiku and related genres is, in its scope and versatility, like visiting the British Museum or Metropolitan Museum in New York. Can you tell us about perhaps one person who has been one of the greatest and most positive influences in the directions you have taken in your haiku and related poetry?
JR: I have never had a mentor and I have spent all my life seeking a guru, or a teacher for my art, for my poetry and for my spiritual life. I have never been given the gift of having endless admiration for a teacher. Far more than my finding someone to follow, to admire, to worship, I have learned the most the quickest as the result of negative actions by others. When barriers go up I dig in to get over the top. When people in Germany would not publish my non-17 syllable haiku I only dug harder into the Japanese to see why the Masters wrote like they did, why they said what they did and how their poems really were in Japanese. When at last I found someone who would give me word-for-word translations, I finally truly (I think), understood how their poetics worked, what techniques they used, how and why. Working with Hatsue Kawamura, whose middle name is surely patience, has opened up worlds for me. Every time I find out what a Japanese poet has written, realms of meaning are illuminated for me. By the way, Stone Bridge is bringing out our latest book A String of Flowers, Untied – The Love Poems from The Tale of Genji this autumn. My favorite tanka is from the time when Genji has been exiled to the remote Suma coast, where he stands in the moonlight holding on to a robe given to him by his dead father – the one who made him a commoner instead of declaring him crown prince:
a single robe
yet the two sleeves
are wet with tears
on one side bitterness
on the other affection
10. ST: In 1996, you wrote in your article entitled 'I Am Delighted by Haiku', " [I am delighted by] Haiku that open me to a different way of viewing a common thing or belief. It is too easy to have a set or closed mind. Poetry is vision of what is here and now and what it can be.” Haiku itself is a living thing, yet all too often a set or closed mind develops in the haiku community so easily, which hinders its healthy development. You and Werner, while being rooted in tradition of Japanese haiku and related verse also accept, practice and encourage innovation. How do you do it?
JR: I suspect that I just naturally follow the rebel in me. But I am also supported when I read in a letter written, in 1912, by Ezra Pound to Harriet Monroe when she asked for his help with her new magazine, Poetry: “Can you teach the poet that poetry is an art, an art with a technique, with media, an art that must be in constant flux – a constant change of manner – if it is to live? Can you teach him that it is not a pentametrical echo of the sociological dogma printed in last year’s magazine?” I do feel there is something holy about haiku. I feel it is a spiritual practice that is far more valuable then the poems we get out of it. The most important thing about haiku is the way it makes us look at our lives, to be aware of what we are experiencing at each moment. Therefore it doesn’t matter to me whether people value my haiku or not because I do. They are gifts given to me by spirits thankful for the nourishment of my attention. We think we are at the top of the food chain, but I believe we, as people, are maintained on this earth to produce the fine energy-food of our emotions upon which the spirits live. They cannot eat rice and hot dogs so they let our digestive systems work for them. They scoop off our feelings as if harvesting a field or touching a battery. But they are also gracious and give back gifts. Therefore I write the haiku down when they come to me, I honor them by saving them in leather-bound books, I carry them in my pockets, I revise them endlessly and much of my day I often feel I am thinking in haiku.
breath of the sea
in the buoy bell
11. ST: What have been the results [of your acceptance of innovation] so far?
JR: We have seen an explosion of not only new people eager to learn about haiku, but they have very quickly expanded their interest to renga, tanka, haibun, sijo, and ghazals in what often appears to be an effortless swing. I know that this tremendous accomplishment is not effortless, but the ease and grace exhibited by these writers has made it seem so. This just shows you that when you give people information they can absorb it very quickly, run it through their own systems and sensibilities to show us wonders never before conceived. I know people like to sneer at the Internet, but we are in a revolution greater than any before in the history of humans. If you refuse to look at the sex sites and the scams but sink down into the vastness of what has been accomplished already on the web you cannot help be amazed. It used to be galleries and bookstores were the only ways we had to tell our personal stories, but now that we have the Internet, every story can be told! Think of that! And think, if you can encompass the hours, the dollars spent by those who have already made a web page with their heart’s interest, how this enriches all of us. People who could not afford to publish a poetry magazine can and will buy a computer and publish their spirits’ journeys. Never before have we been so close to each other. I am always thrilled when I get poems for Open Mic (http://www.ahapoetry.com/openmike.htm) from India, Sri Lanka, Russia and Africa. The magic we are in is so powerful we barely perceive it. We have to act like this to stay alive, I guess.
12 .ST: Do you know any other ways in which such negativity [in the haiku scene] can be avoided or mended?
JR: Ah, why does it seem haiku writers are so cantankerous? Why do we seem to have the shortest fuses and the quickest fists to grasp the poisoned pen? No other group with whom I associate are as feisty as haiku writers. It seems to take only two people and one haiku for a fight. I have wondered if people who turned to haiku are persons looking for more discipline in their lives and so they love the rules, the gates, the fences, the watch-towers with bull horns. I am also continually amazed how the newest haiku writer is the one most eager to write up a set of rules for the rest of the world to follow. Haiku seems to inspire a missionary zeal and any indigenous people can attest to how cruel and dangerous that can be. But remember, people cannot hurt others unless they have learned hurt from someone else. As writers we tear off some sheets of our skin or get it rubbed off by the abrasion of life, so we feel more keenly the world around us. This sensitivity is at once our sword, tool and a weapon. Still the haiku scene has a special atmosphere which I have wondered came about because when haiku was introduced into the US, it was rather fashionable to be dictatorial and there definitely was a race on for someone to become the haiku pope. I feel this insistence on “My right is the only right.” has scarred a great many people and driven them away from the organized haiku community. Another factor has been this insistence on naming poetry forms, drawing circles to close in some ideas – some work, some people in and others out instead of opening up the ideas and accepting it all as poetry – which it is. There should be enough room in our world for holy haiku, spam haiku, 5-7-5ers, beginner’s haiku, blahku, desk ku, your haiku and my haiku without naming and name-calling. With the coming of the Internet, the stranglehold of small magazines, and small-minded editors has been broken. Suddenly everything is possible and I think this is great! I feel we have proved that we could avoid this harmful aspect with the introduction of tanka. Already you see that tanka writers seem a gentler, more refined breed. I have worked to keep the doors to innovation open while at the same time accepting for publication both the modern and the classical 5-7-5-7-7 authors. I have supported everything except the dictators (and they are out there) but I accept their zeal as giving a richness to the scene which assures that writers of all persuasion will find a place for their ideas, visions and hearts.
a cherry tree
the house where spring lives
14. ST: In that same article, you wrote " [I am delighted by] HAIKU which remind me to be more aware of what I am doing, how I am doing it, and how it touches the world”. The work you are doing now, especially on the Internet through Aha! Poetry is touching the world in a major way. It is probably the richest resources for poets of haiku, tanka, renga and related Asian verse on the Internet today, and all given so freely -- received by countless number of readers at the touch of a fingertip. It contains the magazine Lynx, your Tanka mailing list, a wealth of essays, articles, and poetry, online books and books for sale, not to mention ongoing games and contests. How has the world, conversely, come back to you, and touched you?
JR: Surely the ten-day pinnacle was the invitation (http://www.ahapoetry.com/invitat.htm) to the palace in Tokyo by Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko to attend the New Year’s Poetry Party in 1998. I have not been one to enter many contests, because I see too clearly their drawbacks, but a few of my haiku have been awarded by the Museum of Modern Haiku in Tokyo, Itoen Tea Company put one of my haiku on cans of tea and several of AHA Books have been given Haiku Society of America’s Merit Book Award.
coming of age
with my many years
to an ancient rite
a party for Imperial poetry
and I have been invited
15. ST: You are a doyen and a most celebrated figure in the Internet haiku community. However, we hear negative comments on this community, mostly emanating from those outside it. Quite apart from the hopeless cases of haiku-dinosaurs, techno-phobia and narrow- and mean-mindedness, do you know of any cases where any such comments are justified and worth listening to for our progress?
JR: I see two distinctly different camps which are problematic for the writer who admits to an interest in haiku. The one is on the inside, which I spoke of before, and the other one is on the ‘outside’ which we often call “the mainstream poetry scene”. When haiku first came to America, via Amy Lowell, direct from London, and the Imagists around Ezra Pound, she treated it as a valid poetic genre, one in which she had great delight and understanding as she attempted to adapt it to her own poetry. However, just one year later, Ezra had turned his back on both haiku and tanka, treating them as games to play when half-drunk and had dissolved the Imagists group into his new fad term “Vortex”. With the flack and ridicule that Amy received from the male poets of America, it was no wonder everyone else let haiku die with her. Then after the Second World War, when haiku arrived in the books of translation and education by Blythe and Henderson, it was almost immediately put into a club or society atmosphere. With the first little magazines (like American Haiku) haiku was treated as something outside of poetry. Jean Calkins, (http://www.ahapoetryt.com/twchp2.htm) the very first publisher of haiku resisted this by publishing haiku along with other poetry forms in her magazine. But there were people interested in haiku who insisted (in fact, even as late as the 80s) that haiku was not poetry and should be kept separate. This is pure nonsense as it has been pointed out again and again how poets of this century have taken up the haiku form, mixed it in with the other genres they were using to make poetry out of it all. It is equally odious to maintain that most popular poetry genres in over14 centuries of Japanese culture were not poetry. Groups wishing to inform the world (with the zeal of the newest haiku writer) of what a haiku is and the message that only this one chosen group knew what a haiku was have built more fences, moats and landmines around the form so that the academic poet is happy to stay as far away as possible from this small-mindedness. And this is sad and wrong because if they were allowed to get closer, to do the studying the rest of us are doing, they could be writing better haiku and therefore better poetry. And it seems very wrong that haiku writers are discriminated against simply because they admit to loving just this one genre in all their poetry. This false barrier is so complete it reaches clear out here to the very edge of the continent where the local poets of our tiny but charming non-incorporated town do not consider me one of ‘them’ even though I have written more in other forms than they have. I have been branded a haiku writer and am therefore an outcast. This is not fair.
an hour is a sea
circumference is the bride of awe
herein a blossom lies
perhaps you see me stooping but
a wounded deer leaps the highest
16. ST: World Haiku Club and World Haiku Review champion new talent and little known poets. You also introduced last year, on Aha! Poetry, the popular column, “Poet Profile of the Month” written Ty Hadman. The purpose is "to introduce poets who are not known to the many newcomers of haiku and to give praise to those haiku poets who have often been over-looked or underrated by the establishment...“ I am most interested to know how this column is faring and what impact it is having on aspiring poets?
JR: I feel it is too early to judge results on this other than the flurry of compliments Ty and I received when he began. Basically, Ty and I came together because we believe that haiku has been included in the work of poets a lot longer that the leaders of haiku groups like to acknowledge as Ty has shown with his profiles on Paul Reps, Richard Wright and Jose Tablata. We also felt that new haiku writers have roots that should be known about, honoured and recognized. Especially the haiku Internet scene seems to have grown up out of nothing with no past or history. We are trying to tie (pun intended) these parts together.
invited by larks
to the top of the hill
a great idea
17. ST: World Haiku Club is all about future in the sense that, rooted in traditional values, the Club encourages innovation, newness, originality and individuality. In other words, we hold haiku as dynamic and creative evolution. Do you approve of this?
JR: Yes, certainly. But I do have reservations about the use of the word “club”. I hope you see your club more as a staff or a magic wand. And you and I are a bit at cross-purposes in that I want to break down the barriers between haiku and poetry instead of reinforcing them by setting haiku aside as a special form. Or perhaps I misjudge your aims and direction?
JR: Yet, I do wish you well with what ever you are doing because I have long wondered why haiku has failed to ‘catch on’ in England. Do you know? It seems to me that haiku so right for the British sense of humor. I think the British love nature as much as any other people, and they have certainly been quick enough to adopt and adapt other poetry forms. Is their own poetry heritage so rich, so marvellous and so very strong that they cannot relinquish its hold on their hearts and tongues? I have no answers, but I do have continued hope that something or someone (maybe you?) can bring haiku to the English people in a way that excites their inspiration. Perhaps bringing the world of haiku to England and your acceptance of innovation will open the door for the British, and others, too, to fly off on the wings of excitement.
filling our shoes
for a walk
18. ST: If so, what are you doing to achieve the same goal in this new century?
JR: I have set for myself the gigantic job of at once blending all forms into poetry and offering deeper study of each form so while learning the poet is also adding to the literature of that form that can serve as a positive example for others. I believe both Debussy’s aphorism: “No fixed rule should guide the creative artist – rules are made by works of art and not for works of art.” And Frost’s (or was it Sandburg’s) axiom that “if you are going to play tennis, you need a net”. I also feel that one of the best ways of showing what the Japanese have written is to translate specifically for poets. It is one thing to translate for readers (the largest group) and another job when you are giving the poets what they need – the bare bones, the work instead of a product. This is why I have spent so much time on the works of Fumi Saito, Akiko Baba and Lady Murasaki and now, also, Basho. I want the poets to see, to feel, to understand how Oriental poetry works, its techniques, its tricks, its sensibility and its incredible beauty because I believe all these aspects are something we can share.
over golden sea meadows
19. ST: Where does your poetic inspiration come from? For instance, in July you copied the first lines of 800 of Emily Dickenson’s poetry to inspire poems of your own.
JR: I find that any poetry form soon forms a vocabulary that if one is unable to enlarge it will soon strangle the genre with sameness. How many times can one put a frog or the moon into a haiku and when is there enough longing and sighing in a tanka and how often can you drink wine and make love in a ghazal? One of my ways of expanding the subject matter in my work is to cut words and phrases out of magazines and newspapers and then write in various genres using only these randomly chosen snippets that form a sense to my feelings. In my summer doldrums I decided that just reading Emily Dickinson’s lines was not enough for me. I wanted to crawl inside of the poems. I got the idea of copying out the first lines of her poems, cutting them apart and then helping her to write tanka. At this point the work is only an exercise and the results are neither truly hers nor mine, but they are a lot of fun and I can feel my poetic horizons expanding as we both bounce out of our ruts. (Hers is deeper being a grave, but I am helping her all I can. And she likes me because I wear only white as she did.)
20. ST: Do you often find inspiration for writing in the poetry and literature of classic poets and authors?
JR: Over one-half of my library contains books on non-Japanese genre poetry. And I read everything that comes into the house; I underline it, jot in the margins, write haiku on the fly-leaves, argue with the authors, toss their books aside in disgust and cannot help picking the book up again to read on to that very last page, . A year ago I got an e-book which I love. I have read so many out-of-print books - books I could never afford to buy, but thanks to the e-book libraries which are still free I can have them all – without having to dust them. But my inspiration does not come from books. They only show me what others have experienced and how they reported it. My truest inspiration comes from the world around me. I feel that the writer needs a fine balance between education and experience. And as in the same way one studies other forms, works and results, the best writers / artists are those who have also enlarged their spirits, their faith, their spirituality. This is especially true for haiku because of its brevity, its clearness, its cleanness. The soul of the writer shines through as if caught by the glance a prism. In perhaps no other form can one see so quickly the soul state of the author. If that person is mean-spirited, low-minded; interested in only the ugly, the painful, the hurtful; this will be reflected in his or her haiku. Some persons will be attracted to this kind of haiku and that is fine for them and their haiku reflect their level of living. For me, I demand that I grow spiritually each day by maintaining a strong religious practice, not only so that my life will be better but also so my haiku will be greater.
the blue tongue
21. ST: We are eager to see some of your poems. Will you share 10 of those poems inspired by Emily Dickenson’s lines with us here?
JR: This has surely gotten long enough. Could we just point your readers to the blogs, (http://www.ahapoetry.com/bloghmpg.htm) [no longer valid] where they can get the exercises in small daily doses along with the other work I am doing?