Home 2003-2012 Simply Haiku 2011 Spring 2011 Features Interview - Damir Janjalija
An interview with Damir Janjalija PDF Print E-mail

by Saša Važić


Once I received an email from an unknown person asking me where he can find a kigo list. It turned out that the person was my countryman, a Montenegrin living in Belgrade, where I also live. However, his email traveled the vast spaces of the distant oceans he was cruising as a sailor. Although he comes and goes, and is often within reach, we have not yet met. We continue to exchange emails, mainly concerning haiku and haibun issues. He sends me  occasional writings, asking for my opinion, and I’m happy to read them. They’re special and interesting, almost always written on some ship, now cruising the Pacific waters, nearing  Japan and China, now distancing from them and flowing in some other direction, always exotic and making me yearn to also experience what he does, but, of course, not for such a long time, as six months of the blue sea would be too much for me to bear. 

What’s interesting is that this young man calling himself double Damir (Damir Damir) is full of humor and never complains of the blue surrounding him from above and below, in fact from all directions, save for when the sun and moon mix with the blue. And, of course, as most sailors, he keeps a ship's log, parts of which he sends me for my opinion, which I gladly translate, advising him where to submit them for possible publication.

Damir's ship's log (3) - Autumn

September 23rd

Autumn has again come to our region. What I mean by  "our region" is the ship and the distant high seas of the Pacific.

Autumn will not paint the parks in gold, and the neighbor's pear tree won't grow in abundance, as here there are simply no parks, nor neighbors, just an occasional passerby on the same rusty ship rolling up, down, left, right.

Autumn is blue here. Blue as are winter and spring and summer. Blue as on the first day when it was created by Buddha's hand, and yet not dirtied by humans.

Blue and beautiful, my 10th sailor's, although as if the first.

the helm moves
as the sea feels like
the mists of autumn


Well, Damir Damir is back from yet another cruise, and as soon as he was back, a few days ago, he sent me a bunch of his haiku. (What I asked him once was to send his 10 haiku to Simply Haiku, and he replied, “If I had that many, I'd have published a book.”)

SV:  I particularly like this haiku of yours:

fleeing the war
through a hole in my shoe
autumn rain

It is event-biased, speaks of your experience of war and is ”prolonged” in time via “autumn rain” filling your shoe. Can you elaborate on your war experience in more detail, and on how this haiku came to be?

DJ: The war . . .  not the nice memories . . . the sounds of sirens, bomb detonations, violence, hatred, an unbearable flow of trash, the isolation from the world, in short, stolen youth.

This poem “sings” of my first departure to the ship, which happened sometime before the end of the war. With a half-empty suitcase in my hand, I left for the uncertainty, but that uncertainty sounded much better than the madness surrounding us at that time.

SV: This haiku is evocative too:

Christmas morning
the statue of Christ
covered in dust

What strikes me is “dust” on a Christmas morning. Why not snow? I know that if snow was applied, the haiku would be nothing special . . .

DJ:  I am afraid most people, both in religion and everyday life, pay attention to everything except to compassion and love, which I consider to be their essence. Just because of these forgotten ideals, I used the word “dust” in this poem.

SV: You told me not to ask you difficult questions. What would be difficult for you to answer?

DJ: Most of them you have already asked me:-) I am joking . . . there are no difficult questions. If there is a question, the answer is also hidden somewhere. What matters is whether we are determined to find it.

SV: Well, it seems to me you do not write haiku or related forms on a regular basis; and when you do write, it’s when you are at sea. Am I correct, what is needed to inspire you?

DJ: I think it has to do with some other dimension. When you find yourself alone on an imense ocean covered by the sky, no matter how detterent it may be, you can feel deep peace. In such moments I can hear my own self the best.

SV:  In one of your haibun, you said, “If I scratch deeper into my memory, I think I have never wanted to go in any particular profession: a sailor, or a doctor, or a soldier, or, perhaps, an astronaut, or a TV star, who would make a pile of money and enjoy his endless fame . . . No, thank you, if I had a chance, I'd rather, with a couple of dear friends, wait for the risings of a warm sun and try to keep my heart pure on this dusty road.” Yet, at some point you had to make up your mind and, thus, became a sailor. Why the sea, months of isolation? Wanderlust? Why the log? Do you only write what you feel is safe or do you include parts that are not for others to see? Is it therapeutic writing during your long travels?

DJ : Why a sailor? Well, it happened, somehow, more by inertia, as it’s hard for a 13-14 year old boy, my age when I entered navel school, to know what he wanted in life. I come from a coastal town with a long navel tradition and, among other things, my father, also a seaman, was surely my boyhood hero.

And so it somehow began. To sail across the Atlantic, to find yourself in Guatemala, to cross the Equador, to sail around Cape Horn, to be in Australia . . .  all these are incredible experiences for a young man in his 20’s. And then, over time, the sea conquers you, and you can’t sit still any more. Today I can’t imagine myself performing office work; the soul is too restless.

After some ten years of my engagement in this job and all the oceans I sailed around at least ten times each, I perceive things more peacefully, so that a desire arouses inside me. Through haiku, and, later also, through haibun, again spontaneously, I transmit some of my feelings on paper. And yes, writing is therapeutic, indeed, because during some 20 day travels, one has to endure one’s own self :-).

SV: When and how were you introduced to haiku poetry, and what attracted you to it?

DJ:  I read a small Beat poetry anthology that contained a few haiku by Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg.

Ginsberg’s poem:

I didn’t know
the names of the flowers –
now my garden is gone

was my first kiss with haiku.

I don’t know what exactly attracted me to haiku, it just happened, and that was that. After that, if you remember, followed my first inarticulate attempts with three kigo per poem :-)

SV: What is haiku to you and why have you chosen this ancient poetry form to express your inner being?

DJ:  Well, first of all, haiku is a game for me. When I get fed up with the stupidity of the adult world, the boy in me will sit and sometimes count syllables on his fingers for hours, completelly surrendering to the joy of this game.

I’ve chosen haiku because of its form, which enables me to harmoniously, with a few simple words, express the truth about some small-big things, and I find that the joy of life is hidden just in them.

SV: Any influences?

DJ: The major influence came just from you, and Mr. Dimitar Anakiev. From Japanese writers, my favorite is certainly Taneda Santoka.

SV: What sources do you rely on in your study of Japanese short form poetry?

DJ: Kamesanhaikublog is my haiku premier.

SV:  What do you think you need to be able to write perhaps better haiku?

DJ:  I cannot think of anything else but a bit more devotion, as I don’t believe poetry is something learned from handbooks, but more the way we feel the world.

SV: Apart from writing haiku and haibun, you are also a big fan of rock ‘n’ roll, and engaged in music. You play a tambourine and various percussion instruments in the band, Sveza krv (Fresh or Hot Blood). How can you relate the ancient Japanese poetry forms to rock ‘n’ roll?

DJ: Haiku and Rock’n’roll, Damir and Nemir (Unrest). Haiku is Damir, Rock’n’roll is Nemir:-) 

SV: Can you tell us something about the state of haiku in your country, about how you view it, and what poets you consider to be good haiku writers and why?

DJ: I have no idea how to answer this question as I don’t consider myself competent to estimate the works of others, but I think that a great number of awards at international contests speaks for itself.

SV: Is literature pertaining to haiku available in your country?

DJ: It just happened a few days ago, that I strolled into various Belgrade bookshops, and I’m afraid to say, I couldn’t find many haiku titles in them.

SV: Have you had a chance to visit Japan and China, and if yes, what are your impressions about these countries? Have you perhaps had a chance to visit some haiku museums, Zen gardens etc. or to speak with some people from these countries about the briefest of poetic forms in the world?

DJ:  I am afraid I must disappoint you with my reply. In the last few years, with the technological development, my work has become more and more strenuous as it takes only a few hours for ships to be loaded and unloaded, so that we sailors have less and less free time for going out when a ship is in a port. For example, I have in the last six months spent only 5 hours on land, and it was a pleasant strolling through the streets of the city of Fukuoka in Japan.

However, I hope there will be opportunity for me to visit haiku museums, Zen gardens, and  to get to know good people, if not as a sailor, then as an intended traveler.

Damir' s Ship Log - Entry No. 5

Bay of Biscay, 1 November, 2010, M/V Hyundai Loyalty
Course: 208, Wind: N 9, Sea: N 8, Swell: NW 7 meters in height, 1003 mb, overcast sky with passing showers, visibility 97 (6 NM)

pitch dark night
the lighthouse disappears
in the foaming waves


left, right, stern down, bow up,
bow down, stern up, right, left,
left, right, stern down, bow up,
bow down, stern up, right, left,
left, right, stern down, bow up,
bow down, stern up, right, left,
left, right, stern down, bow up,
bow down, stern up, right, left

These dull waves striking against the ship for 38 hours...

Most of my things are on the cabin floor, rolling from one wall to another, making noise, preventing me to sleep, although my eyes close by themselves from fatigue.

And so, as I am waiting for (some better) dawn, I'm evoking her angelic face behind my closed eye.

Damir Janjalija, aka Damir Damir, was born in 1977 in Kotor, Montenegro.
A sailor, a great fan of haiku and rock' n' roll, his haiku and haibun have been published in Simply Haiku, moonset, Sketchbook, Srpski Haiku Kalendar, and Kamesan haiku blog. He also writes short stories, some of which have been published in his country.