Sunday, April 6, 2008

Richard Straw - Three Questions

Richard S. Straw copyedits technical documents and prepares bibliographic databases on health and substance use. He has lived in or near Raleigh, North Carolina, since 1984. Before then, he lived in central Ohio, where he taught freshman English composition at Ohio State University, edited technical papers for a trade journal, proofread for a digest of news from the former Soviet Union, and graduated from Ohio State University (BA in English, 1977; MA in English, 1980).

He has collected and read books of haiku, senryu, haibun, and haiga since 1966. In the late 1980s, he served as an editor of Pine Needles, a quarterly newsletter for the North Carolina Haiku Society (NCHS). He self-published A Hiker Sees His Shadow (2001), an eight-page chapbook dedicated to the memory of his dad. Selections of his published haiku are available at, courtesy of Dave Russo of the NCHS. Along with other NCHS members, he attends monthly haiku meetings, ginkos, and the annual NCHS Haiku Holiday.

Richard shares his response to Haiku - Three Questions with us this week.

1. Why do you write haiku?

Thanks for asking, Curtis, but I don't really know why I write. I just keep knocking on the door. It's a habit, something to do besides pray, but maybe it is prayer.

A few years ago, I made a list for someone else as to why I draft haiku. It’s a fuzzy and whimsical sort of list and probably applies now to my haibun writing, too:

1. To slow down and forget who I am.

2. To try to experience the world as a child again (or perhaps for the first time).

3. To record a feeling that may be self-therapeutic when read later on (perhaps much later on).

4. To dump the trash in my head in order to make room for something new.

5. To have something to do while avoiding worse mischief.

6. To trace an ephemerality or a shadow of something otherwise lost.

7. To leave a memorial for my family and friends in case the inevitable heart attack or car crash comes sooner than expected.

8. To focus on nothing in particular so as to be that little part of everything.

9. To pray without ceasing (so to speak).

10. To perhaps let others in on a secret I've only overheard faintly while half asleep.

2. What other poetic forms do you enjoy?

I enjoy reading a variety of poetic forms, but mostly English translations of David's Psalms and his free verse descendants, such as Walt Whitman, Charles Reznikoff, and George Oppen. I also collect and study English translations of Marcus Aurelius' notebooks to himself and his prose poem descendants, especially Thomas à Kempis. And I enjoy comparing English translations of Bashō's and Issa’s haibun and reading haibun by their many descendants, mostly from the West. Besides haiku, I also draft personal voice haibun and occasionally free verse.

3. Of the many wonderful haiku you've written, what do you consider to be your top three? (Please provide original publication credits.)

This question is easy to answer because I've written just a few haiku that have been published, which might be the only objective gauge as to whether any of them can be considered "wonderful." Among those that have been published, I have three favorites, in no particular order, based on what relatives and friends (or both) have told me over the years:

hazy half-moon
in an azure-streaked sky...
wild roadside onions

(written on September 11, 1986; published in Modern Haiku, XIX:2, 1988)

a few red leaves —
strokes of the rower
quicken near the dock

(written on August 31, 1986; published in Frogpond, XIII:1, 1990)

dark shoreline
one last cast
with the wind

(written on July 26, 1987; published in Modern Haiku, XIX:2, 1988)

If you are enjoying this weekly feature, please consider sending your answers to the same questions.

Next week, Ellen Compton.

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