Carolyn Thomas has won a number of awards over the years for individual haiku and tanka. Her collection puddle on the inkstone took first prize in the Haiku Society of America Merit Book Awards 2004. Currently she sponsors and judges The Saigyo Awards for Tanka Contest and The Winter Moon Awards for Haiku Contest.
1) Why do you write haiku?
Whoever said "less is more; more is just more" could have been describing haiku. Because of its brevity the truest haiku can hit center and resound like the gong of a temple bell. One of my first experiences with this form was a translation of the work of an early Japanese haiku master, I don't remember which poet or the haiku. I found the poem in a bookstore. One three-line, simply worded, one-breath poem surrounded by a full page of white space took me beyond itself, and myself, into the present. I experienced a moment of enlightenment. The "ah-ha" experience. It left me speechless, awestruck. Its transparent language held nothing back. It didn't draw attention to itself, so that I fully experienced the profundity of the moment it expressed. The haiku was so simply worded that I felt I could write one too. I wanted to give someone else that same experience of spiritual awakening, a recognition of myself and the moment being one thing, through a haiku of my own.
After years of practice I realized that if you're fortunate to write one true haiku you don't need to write another because that one represents all moments. All haiku are a variation of the One Thing. I don't feel that with any other form of poetry.
It's because of its spiritual quality that I write (or attempt to write) haiku, although, at present, the haiku well is gone dry and I'm not sure when, or if, it will fill again. This leads me to suggest another quality of this unique form of art: when you don't write it, you become it. You are your own haiku, walking, sitting, talking, breathing, gesturing, just being. Writing becomes extra. What more is there than that?
2) What other poetry forms do you enjoy?
I like short free-verse and poetic prose written in the simplest language possible. William Carlos Williams is probably my favorite poet. But I also like Robert Frost. I enjoy tanka; the poet is more revealed than in haiku and I find it easier to write. I'm allowed more space.
3) Of the many wonderful haiku you've written, what do you consider to be your top three?
I wrote my favorite haiku/senryu in 1981, while still a novice and fresh. It came to me as a flash of enlightenment; it wrote itself. I had just been introduced to Zen, and this was my Zen moment: the sound of the spoon hitting the glass bowl magnified in the morning light. Although a young mother in perfect health, I decided then and there it would be my death poem, after the tradition of Zen monks and haiku poets on their deathbeds. Now that it's written I don't have to write another to sum up my life. And of all my haiku written since that moment there has not been one that I like better to fill that role.
the rice bowl
Frogpond Vol. V: No. 3, 1982
Two others of my best work:
and now she is gone
the old woman who took us
First Prize The Kiyoshi Tokutomi Memorial Contest 1999
Frogpond Vol. XXIII: No. 2, 2000
Museum of Haiku Literature Award
Peace and joy,
If you've been enjoying this weekly series and have not contributed, please consider sharing your response (whether it be for haiku or tanka) to the three little questions that Carolyn answered. You must be a published poet in order to participate.