Wednesday, February 24, 2010


Every writer goes through periods of dryness when the creative energy just isn’t flowing. Sometimes this is called “writer’s block”. For most writers it is an unpleasant feeling. You sit down at the desk, or you take out your notebook, or you turn on the computer, and nothing happens. During this kind of period if you force yourself to write something, anything, you return to it the next day and all its glaring faults are embarrassingly apparent. Into the trash it goes.

Writers have developed various ways of getting through this period. What I use is a way of dialoging with other poets. The way I do it is to take a Haiku by some other poet. I then write a response to the poet in two lines of seven syllables each. In other words I turn the Haiku into a kind of Tanka. There is a name for this in Japanese; it is called “Tan Renga”, the shortest form of Renga consisting of only two verses.

Psychologically, I envision that the other poet has sent me their opening verse and is now waiting impatiently for my response. This creates a sense of obligation and it becomes my duty to respond as soon as possible; like now, not tomorrow.

This approach does several things for me. First, I let another poet set the stage or start the process of writing the poem. This takes the burden off of me, which allows me to relax and feel comfortable with the fact that I’m not, at the moment, coming up with anything original, interesting, or worthwhile. Second, because another poet has set the stage, I am deliberately placing myself in a context where I am entering into how someone else approaches poetry. This often gets me out of my poetic dead-end. The third benefit of engaging with Haiku poets in this way is that I learn a lot about how the other poet works, the rhythms, interests, techniques; in general how the Haiku poet sees the world. I find dialoging with another poet more illuminating than just reading the poet’s work.

I found that I really enjoy these dialogues. The two Haiku poets I have found most agreeable to this process are Richard Wright and Buson. Both of these Haiku poets write in a way that seems very accepting of completion; that is to say their images are open to additions. I haven’t found that to be the case with all Haiku poets. Some Haiku poets, Basho is a good example, feel strongly framed to me and are often resistant to this kind of interaction. This may say more about my own taste and what I respond to than about the Haiku poet in any objective sense. If someone reading this post feels inspired to use Basho to dialogue with, go for it.

I’ve decided to post some of these dialogues now and then, as I think others might benefit from this process and, truth to tell, I think the results are sometimes of poetic interest as such. I hope you will enjoy these experiments in dialogue as much as I have.


Dan Gurney said...

I look forward to listening in on your dialogues with other poets!

Jim714 said...

The first one is up today.