An Interview with the gifted Haiku and Tanka poet, Claire Everett PDF Print E-mail

by Robert D. Wilson



RDW: How did you become interested in poetry, Claire?  Was it as a child or as an adult?


CE: I can't remember a time when I didn't write poetry, or at least think in poetic terms. I remember being about six years old when I was out walking in the woods with my Dad at chestnut-gathering time and a the song of a stream winding through the trees suddenly entered my awareness. A poem started to form in my mind, almost as if I was hearing and understanding the lyrics of the stream and that's when I wrote down my first poem. 


RDW: What drew your attention to haiku and tanka?


CE: I've since written and had published a tanka prose piece about this experience. I wrote mainly rhyming Western poetry throughout my childhood, adolescence and the rearing of my five children, but I only really discovered haiku a little over a year ago. I'd written the odd haiku in the past, but suddenly it was a revelation to me. Along with tanka, it has become a way of life, alerting me to my place within the moment, within nature. 


RDW: Iv'e read many of your haiku and tanka. They have a spirit I rarely see in modern haiku-like and tanka-like poetry, in Japanese or in the English language. Your haiku are activity (process) biased, with a reverence and awe for nature. You obviously see kigo as more than a mere seasonal indicator to qualify a haiku as a haiku. Please elucidate.


CE: I'm not sure if it's the numinosity [having a strong religious or spiritual quality; indicating or suggesting the presence of a divinity] of an experience that makes it vault into the realms of haiku, or whether it is the haiku that makes the moment numinous. And surprisingly, it is often the ordinary and everyday moment that suddenly takes on a new significance. Haiku fills me with wonder. It is the lyric that makes a song of the light on the water, the flame on a copper bowl, the scent of a blossom that suddenly pervades one's senses, one's being, in a moment in time.


RDW: Who have been your greatest poetic influences in regards to haiku?


CE: In literary terms, I would say Basho and Kerouac have been my biggest influence in the last year and a half. But I also see Nature as a poet. Her's is a higher-octave poetry, one which we have to find our own ways of understanding. For me, I try to make sense of it through haiku and tanka, others are artists, others are musicians -- my husband is a climber, that is the way he embraces Nature's song. In Western poetry, I turn to W. B. Yeats, Dylan Thomas, Pablo Neruda. Distilling the essence of what these great poets had to say sometimes opens new doors to haiku. 


RDW: Your understanding of haiku transcends the Zen Buddhist bent of many Anglo-Western poets who adhere to a concatenate of Imagist, R.H. Blyth, Kenneth Yasuda, the Beats, Susuki, and pop culture isms, that abhor rules. Your insight into nature and Basho's zoka are very evident. As we know today, haiku is not a Zen Buddhist pouted genre nor was Basho's haiku primarily influenced by Zen Buddhism. What is you understanding of nature based upon?


CE: My husband has also been a great influence and without being aware of it, teaches me all the time. He's an Animist and the way he sees and connects with the world around him has helped me to understand and give words to the feelings and beliefs that had preoccupied me since childhood. For me, Animist spirituality and haiku are inextricably linked. It may not be that way for others, but it works for me!


RDW: Has Matsuo Basho influenced your studying of haiku and the zoka he insisted we all follow if we deem to be authentic haiku poets?


CE: Basho's haiku must be the starting point for many poets and however far I might explore this path of many twists and turns, I believe I would always return to Basho. I read and re-read his haiku and sense the mystery that underpins the apparent simplicity. This seems to be the essence of many great haiku, that tip of the tongue sense of something that is beyond the reader's comprehension, the feeling that one could gaze into the folds of a peony for a thousand days and still not know its secrets.


Recently, I've been reading Don Baird's Haiku Wisdom which is a revelation. Again, when I read Don's haiku, I feel the sense that I'm only skimming the surface of his intention and understanding, but I find his haiku are a way of seeing the world, of living life, pearls of wisdom cast along my path.


RDW: Who are other living influences on your haiku?


CE: There are many contemporary haijin whom I admire - Lee Gurga has written some jaw-dropping haiku - but I have to mention John Barlow. John's haiku always leaps out from the page for me. He has such a deep connection with the world around him and I feel he gets beneath the feathers, into the heart and breast and wings of  birds which I know and love and while his haiku are often innovative, for me they sing the same song as the masters.


RDW: You keep referring to nature and its importance to haiku. Please explain further, as this has become a pivotal time in world haiku including in Japan, where many are jettisoning the need for kigo, opting for "key words" instead. Many don't understand what a kilo truly is or justify their non-use by saying it's a Japanese thing. 


CE: For me, kigo is the lifeblood of haiku. Is it the thread of gossamer on which we drop the dew of words, or are words the gossamer, the warp on which the kigo weaves its dew? Kigo is Nature writing itself in my mind, be it in the song of a bird, the moon, the pattern of spring light on the leaves. I have read striking haiku that don't include kigo and I don't force myself to include a kigo, but invariably, I feel, it's the kigo that brings a haiku to birth in my mind. It feels like Nature is giving me a nudge - look at the moon! Feel the coolness in the air! Listen, the robin is back and one of the leaves on the cherry is golden today! A tawny owl's feather... hey, what did you dream last night? Look at the way that tree wears a frown, what stories it could tell! And I feel kigo is about Nature as it speaks to us where we are, in this moment in time, in our own place in the world, be it the backstreet of a grimy town in the North East of England, or an olive grove in Greece. Some people have thought I live somewhere scenic, because I write about Nature so much, but I live on the outskirts of a busy town (I do go walking on the Yorkshire Moors and in The Dales and in the Lake District, however). It may sound cliche, but Nature is all around us, in the cracks in the pavement at my feet, what do I see? Wild violets. And what of human nature? This does not mean that we use kigo until it becomes threadbare, we find new ways of inviting readers to connect with our time and place and new levels of subtlety, but for me, the most memorable and resonant haiku are imbued with kigo. It's what we do with the kigo that makes it innovative.


RDW: What drew you to accept your husband's animist beliefs, a religion practiced by most of the indigenous people of the earth including the Japanese Ainu?


CE: When my husband Tony entered my life, quite unexpectedly, life has not been the same since! I'm loved and safe and the poetry in me is nurtured. The way Tony sees the world has been a revelation to me and has helped me put my own beliefs into context. As Animists we see life all around us. Trees and stones, birds, flowers, the wind in the hills, the sea on the shore, the shells, the thunder, the mountain stream, these are all 'others' on the journey. We are part of Nature and Nature is part of us. I sometimes refer to her as She, not because I'm seeing her as a deity, but because i feel her as a spirit, something more ancient, more powerful than me, something - someone, even - whom I respect and love. Nature is not subservient to us, nor are we to her. Nature, quite simply, is. That is why tsunamis happen, earthquakes, tornadoes, it's just nature being nature and we are just part of that breath, that journey. At the same time she is vulnerable to us. Look at what we are doing to the world! The polar ice caps are melting because of us! People ask why nature does what she does. There is no Why. Nature just IS. And it's that power, that wonder that sheer vitality, that wave that flows through my being when I write haiku. Do I even write haiku, or do they write me? Where do they come from? Where does breath come from? They cross that invisible bridge between dreams and wakefulness and I open my eyes to them. Perhaps they are there all the time. I just have to pay heed. Listen! A robin is singing in the garden, no doubt he has been singing the whole time I've been writing this, but I only just heard him. A hand stirs the wind chimes in my mind. That's the robin. There and there again. What makes that flame sing and when he sings what is it that makes my whole being sing back to him and turn to ink upon the page? And I can hear a robin sing day in, day out and I've never found THE haiku to capture him. That's the wonder and magic of haiku. It can bookmark a moment in time and capture it forever and yet there's still so much that can be said that I'm yet to discover. And that is the unsaid of the haiku. The robin I hear is one of a hundred robins singing in this area perhaps, but he's the one I hear. The haiku is the one poem I could write and yet the breath of a hundred I might have written instead are implied in that one haiku - if it's a good haiku, that is! Haiku is the journey that will never be complete. It has become a way of life for me. It is when I feel I am most connected and at one with nature and yet I know I am always connected. Haiku are the moments when I most feel that connection. And then the moment transcends the ordinary, becomes magical. Haiku IS spiritual. It wakes me in the morning or the middle of the night. It alerts me to breath. What can I do but bend my knee and listen to the song of the stream? I am not worthy of the song that calls me but I can do my best. Recently I went into a little fishing village just before twilight. All at once everything was alive and rich with colour and meaning. A gull on every chimney pot, cries echoing around the village, calling me to the dance, to weave my song in and out of the song of nature, thread my colours between those of the harbour lights and the lobster pots and the fishing boats. Words began to breathe. Memories of childhoods lived and childhoods yet to come. What is that comes in on the waves and turns one moment into a memory? Is it the zoka? What makes a haiku leap from the page and become once again the moment that breathed the poet's mind to flame? In this way haiku is as new as the moment and as old as time. Isn't that just the same for nature too?


RDW: Thank you Claire for taking the time to be interviewed.


Claire Everett's haiku, tanka and other poems have appeared in Lyrical Passion Poetry e-zine, Simply Haiku, Sketchbook, Haiku News and Bolts of Silk. Recently she won 2nd and 3rd place in the Think Tanka 2010. She lives with her husband, five children and two beautiful cats in County Durham, England.