John W. Sexton (Republic of Ireland) was born in 1958 and is a novelist, radio scriptwriter, short-story writer and poet.
He is the author of four poetry collections: The Prince's Brief Career, (Cairn Mountain Press, 1995); Shadows Bloom / Scáthanna Faoi Bhláth, a book of haiku with translations into Irish by Gabriel Rosenstock (Doghouse, 2004); Vortex (Doghouse, 2005); and Petit Mal (Revival Press 2009).
He is also the blog poet Jack Brae Curtingstall.
He is a past nominee for The Hennessy Literary Award and his poem The Green Owl won the Listowel Poetry Prize 2007. In 2007 he was awarded a Patrick and Katherine Kavanagh Fellowship in Poetry.
1) Why do you write haiku?
I'm a full-time writer and poet and currently write haiku, quite honestly, to keep my mind focussed and my heart still. I spend some time each day writing minimalist notation into my haiku notebook because it serves three essential functions: it helps me to hone my observation, my empathy and my powers of description. In my view minimalist notation is the best form of practice for a writer. When I teach haiku in schools (I spend most of the school-year working under Poetry Ireland's Writers-In-Schools Scheme) I always underline those three essentials for my students and ask them to practice minimalist notation as well.
My first introduction to haiku was in the early 70's when I was a teen and came, like many of my generation, upon those tiny collections from the Peter Pauper Press. I immediately fell in love with Issa and a few lesser-knowns like Ryusui and Sokan. Being an Irishman I have an innate sense of place, it's a Celtic thing, and so haiku resonated with that immediately.
My own haiku practice for the next 30 years was mainly 5-7-5 and took the form of the odd haiku entering my mainstream poetry. Then, in 2004 I began a year-long, very intensive haiku apprenticeship under the Irish haijin Gabriel Rosenstock. It was a liberating and revelatory experience.
2) What other poetic forms do you enjoy?
All of them. Poetry should not be limited to a single approach otherwise it will become stultified and narrow. My haiku informs my other poetry and the other way round. In recent years, however, I have found minimalist forms have been taking a greater amount of my time and interest. As well as pure haiku I also like working with gendai and one-line forms; but a personal love (because I am also a prose writer) is haibun, which I find particularly satisfying to attempt.
3) Of the many wonderful haiku you've written what do you consider to be your top three?
I doubt that anything I've written is wonderful, and I always become dissatisfied with my work over time. Which is a good thing, actually, because it's that dissatisfaction that compels me to write more. But here are a few fairly recent ones that I'm happy with for various reasons. I find making a choice extremely difficult, so I'll start with something straightforward, on the assumption that I won't go too far wrong.
rain all day long
with each bite
sunlight from the apple
Haiku Scotland, Issue 18
marlene mountain's theories have become of increasing importance to my own minimalist notation in recent times and I think she is far too under-appreciated. One-line, in all its different approaches, is something I find purifying and stilling.
blue metals fastening the air dragonflies
Roadrunner, November 2007
And finally, an elegy. The late Bill Higginson was a great teacher. I disagreed with him on a variety of issues but he was generous and wise in many things. When he died I felt a genuine sadness even though I knew him only through cyber correspondence. I remember walking out one night sometime after he'd gone and, looking up at the moon, getting a revelation of destiny. And I offered that haiku for him, as a small prayer.
the moon filling itself
i.m. William J. Higginson
The Heron's Nest, December 2008
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 John answered. You must be a published poet to participate.
A great read. I hope Jack isn't too upset about being outed!!
I like your work, John. Well, maybe I don't. Ask me tomorrow. Just kidding. Wonderful work, my friend.
This is great fun. I've just witnessed a delightful exchange between Jack and Norman...and now I get to meet the real man. John, I've enjoyed your poetry for a few years. I agree with you about Marlene Mountain... Merrill
Blimey John, if these haiku aren't wonderful, the rest of us are in trouble! ;-)
They are fresh and original.
I do hope you are wrong, and that most sane and earnest haiku writers actually bless each day someone like Marlene Mountain exists. ;-)
all my very best,
Alan’s Area 17 blog
It's great to hear a poet who writes longer forms as well, as I do, remark that he uses haiku to focus and hone his writing. I think all writers, including novelists, could learn from this practice!
I agree, Brett. Lenard D. Moore told me that practicing (or writing) haiku would help me in writing longer forms. Haiku require vivid imagery. I try to keep this in mind when I'm writing haibun or free verse.
I agree with Brett, and I often run workshops and activities using the dynamics of both haiku and renga/renku for writers of various genres including poetry.
Renku is also surprisingly effective in overcoming writers' block.
Alan’s Area 17 blog
thanks for stopping by John. Nice work, and thank you for sharing the poem that you wrote Bill. Am sure Penny Harter is grateful too!
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