The Indian Interview

From September 2011. The e-zine has since gone under.

  1. Could you introduce yourself via your work?

I'm a haijin – haiku-poet. I write haiku in two languages Danish and English. In this work I try to develop a voice of my own. Haiku is traditionally a nature-based poetry-form but has developed with the conditions of the modern world. Now it concerns itself with almost every aspect of human life. And luckily so. Some haijin (this is also the plural tense of the word) tend to insist on classical Japanese ways of writing, but many more are trying to take haiku to the 21st century. I'm one of them. Haiku should reflect the reality of the haijin and reality these days is different from medieval Japan. Now we live with the insights of the past and thoughts and knowledge of a kind we've never experienced before. I try to make use of all the different experiences I've had during my life, all the -ism's I've encountered, the philosophies, ideas, corporeal sensations and whatever has made an impression in and on me in every kind of way.

I tend to grasp for the “outer” or “inner” limits of this realm we call reality. I guess I think of human beings – myself – as a place where many layers of so called reality meet and intertwine, melt together and come out in a new form. Language is one tool to express this. Poetry is the best language tool to do this and to me haiku is the perfect poetry.

I like to “stretch” the language, I want to take it where it almost looses sense because of it's inadequacy to express exactly what is inexpressible. This sounds cryptic, and it is. Language can go only so far … but how far before it becomes shear nonsense … It's a bit like pricking a hole in “reality” to find another “reality”. And this is where it makes no sense talking about anymore. Only the poem can do that.

Could you tell our readers about Haiku?

Haiku is an old Japanese poetry from dating back well over 500 years depending of how you choose to track it. It has a long and complicated history which will be too much to cover here, but you can roughly say, that it was “liberated” from it's predecessor renku (linked verse) by Matsuo Basho 1644 – 1694. On the surface it's a simple little poem in general consisting of three lines. In the West, that is; in Japan haiku is written in one line. Traditionally haiku is concerned with nature and direct observation. In classic haiku there is always a kigo – a “season word” - telling the reader when the haiku takes place.
Normally you will have two contrasting images that in the readers mind makes up a third – or the full poem. Haiku is a poetry of fragments, it's a poetry of showing rather than telling. The writer observes, write down as little as is necessary to convey the image(s) without telling the reader what to feel, the reader completes the poem. This is why haiku is always written in a simple language.

Since the “birth” of haiku it has been subject to debate. It still is. You can find “schools” or groups having each it's own definition of what “real” haiku is or isn't. But since it's arrival in the West it has been taking on a life of it's own and now it grows in every possible direction - mainly because of Westerners not being tied up in Japanese culture and traditions. Especially the period after the 60's where experimenting writers took on haiku meant that it stumbled out on it's own two Western feet – and it is still walking. Classical Japanese haiku is deeply rooted in the Japanese language and culture, something we Westerners cannot assimilate (question is: should we? in my opinion we should respect it – as we should any other culture – but we should acknowledge the fact that we won't ever become Japanese). In the West languages and cultures are different, that is why we have to find our own way of writing these seemingly tiny verses.
Haiku (this word is also the plural tense) is small in appearance but enormous in content.

Haiku is a very condensed poetry. In general it only gives the reader fragments to read and somehow distils a moment to the most essential, the rest takes place in the reader's mind – in between the lines. Haiku is a poetry of briefness. It is also called “the wordless poetry”. A boiled down one without ever leaving the reader incapable of understanding the images presented.

Another important aspect of haiku that makes it very different from Western poetry is it's lack of ego. The poets ego is left out. Haiku in it's core isn't a poetry for directly expressed feelings and emotions. Those should be implicit in the images of the verse. There is no “see me, feel me, hear me” in haiku. Quite the opposite. It is “see that, hear this”. This doesn't mean it's cold or bereft of emotion or personal “colouring” but it is not spat out in the face of the reader where the haiku – always – is finished.

The haijin presents images relying on the readers common sense and knowledge to finish it.

I encourage those interested to dive into the ocean of haiku, which is now the biggest and most wide-spread poetry form in the world, and simply swim and enjoy. In time you will find out just what makes it “tick”. Haiku in these days is written about every aspect of life; nothing is – or should be – not written about. It's a feeling, a recognition, an “aha-moment” when it hits you. It's very difficult to put words on.

I should point out that in our times haiku ranges from very traditional writing to highly experimental tending the surrealist universe. Experimenting never stops.

How has social networking affected literature based fields?
Some on-line forums such as Twitter and Facebook are great for haijin (haiku poets) because of the more or less instant reactions you get. You don't have to print out your work, sending it to a publisher and hope for some constructive criticism – which you often don't get. On-line you can become part of a group of piers where you can test your work. You see how they write, you learn directly by advice or indirectly by observation. Being a haijin is as much reading as it is writing – at least. Social media makes this process faster and more intense, and thanks to the web in general you don't have to spend all your money buying books, there is so much haiku out there and so much educational material. It's a cornucopia.

Twitter and Facebook are often used for information about submission dead-lines to various publications, you can find announcement for all kinds of event or arrangements in the haiku-world.

And then there are the blogs. A lot of haijin have their own personal web-sites where they present their work and yet others write essays or present theoretical work.

Most haiku publications are now on-line as well. I think there are more web-based publications than printed ones. It's cheaper.

What is your take on notion – translation of poetry takes away the shine?

No. Of course I can't speak in general as I can't say if for instance a Romanian haiku is translated badly into English – I don't know Romanian. But I am confident that with conscientious translators well into haiku and the inner works of that specific poetry form the poems will shine even in a language foreign to the writer.

I myself always write in both Danish and English. There are two reasons for this: haiku isn't very big in Denmark and is largely considered a second rate poetry form. It hasn't in any degree undergone the same developments as it has in the USA and UK, not to speak of the Baltics. Secondly, I got “hooked” on haiku reading English language haiku on the web and the books I'm buying. I don't translate my poems, they come out in two languages. Occupational damage, I think.

An interesting development is the tendency to publish multi-linguistic haiku, haiku published in two or more languages. This is manifest in World Haiku Association, an organization promoting the universality of haiku in the World today. They do good work widening the scope of haiku, acknowledging the fact that haiku isn't an exclusively Japanese poetry-form any longer but has been adopted by many countries thus altering the “the soil it grows in”, so to speak. This multi-linguistic approach firstly makes haiku available to a wider group of readers, secondly it underlines the universality of haiku, thirdly it resounds with the fact that we are gradually becoming a globe of intertwined people – the global village is a dawning reality; and fourthly: haiku must be rooted in the reality, culture and language where it is written – even if this is the “global village”. This “globality” is present in this instance: you, an Indian journalist interview me, a Danish writer who has never – unfortunately – been to India. Of course, this goes for only those of us fortunate enough to have to means to do so, but nevertheless ...

According to you, what is the basic difference between good poetry and plain poetry?

I can only speak from a personal point of view: my immediate reaction. And I can speak only of haiku as I very rarely read poems longer than five lines (tanka and gogyohka two other Japanese short poetry forms). The reasons for that is probably that Western poetry is a “self-concerned” one, one that largely rests on the workings within a single individual, which is fine enough, but I find it tedious. Western art has long been about “the solitary genius” vs. The (ignorant) World, and I find that utterly uninteresting. I find taking off from what is common to us – i.e. things and situations most of us can recognize – is healthier in the sense, that at the bottom of things what we share as human beings is far more essential; and at the deepest level we are more or less the same.
I have no theoretical education, but I work and read from a “gut” feeling. A few things I have noticed, though: I don't like “feelie” poems. Not that the feelings of my neighbour is irrelevant, but I don't like to be told what to feel myself. That kind of haiku isn't really haiku – if I may be so rude – because, as I've said before, haiku “takes place” on more common ground, it is more neutral using only hints of showing the sentiments of the haijin. Further I like haiku that on one side is aware of where it is coming from – the basics – but on the other side disregards the rules and becomes it's very own. There is always this duality: awareness of the basics/ the rules (and they are many) and the disregard of them, be it thematically (to which there should be no boundaries) or in form.
Haiku in it's essence is a poetry of the banalities of life, but it uses those to discover the more eternal aspects of being. Haiku is a way of pointing to the eternal through the mundane.
Good poetry, to me, is poetry that shows me something that is there and in a way I haven't noticed before. Often I'm left puzzled by a good poem, but my gut-feeling tells me that I should dwell with it, and I often find that it expresses something that is quite in-expressible. I like to be puzzled. (Smile).

In the scale of 1 to 10, what is the effect of mental peace on a writer’s work?
Traditionally mental peace is essential to a haijin. It means that you can perceive the world around you in a more detached way and deliver clearer images. Maybe that is why haiku is so tightly linked with Zen as it is. A settled mind also lets you dive easier into the part of your consciousness where creativity flows more clearly and uninterrupted by the “daily noise” of ordinary thoughts. I practice the Transcendental Meditation Sidhi-program morning and evening (I like the Indian/hindu /vedic“philosophy” better ;-) ) and can detect a clear difference if I for a period am not that regular in my practice. (I also listen to ragas and bhajans to get energy and to get lifted out of the daily humdrum ...)

How can you define poetry? Which quote explains the entire concept of poetry well?
Again, I can't speak about poetry in general. I have bad experiences with my own attempts in that field. I tend to get lost and find what I write meaningless. But poetry to me is trying with words to express what is essentially beyond – or before – words. I don't have any quotes up my sleeve ...
There are many poet and poetry associations. What steps can they take so that poetry gets a new life and people understand its meaning?

Oh, I think this age of information is just what poetry needed to become accessible to more people. Poetry isn't written for the drawer. There is always an intended reader – somewhere. Thanks to the web you don't have to wait to “get out there” till you've been published. Poetry is a living thing too, so getting together with like minded and attending poetry readings is also something that poetry associations should organize. And they do. In Denmark there are events where unknown and unpublished poets meet and read to eachother. It sort of works on a “grass-roots level”. Poetry is also meant to be spoken out loud. Traditionally Japanese haiku was often written at “poetry parties” - a gathering of poets eating, drinking and writing often competing about who could write the best haiku on a certain topic – or series of haiku were written by groups. This goes on all over the world now and often some sort of publication – in print or on the web – comes out with the results of that meeting. And a haiku is (almost) always best tested when spoken. It should be natural and spoken with 2 breathings at the most.

When I look around poetry groups of all kinds seem to sprout up everywhere – within every genre or style. And again: the dynamic factor is this new e-world.

For some reason poetry has always been labeled as “difficult and demanding”. It can be, but then again the same goes for movies, music and the other arts. Poetry takes time because it's condensed writing and people these days seem to want more of as much as possible rather than focus on a few “nourishing” things.

‘The problem of art is that some understand it, most want to but fail and the rest see it from a commercial angle,’ goes a famous poet’s answer on the question: poetry is dying a slow death. Any comments?

Ha, ha, yes there is some truth in that, not that I think that there is such a thing as a rich poet. Not in Denmark, anyway. Poetry is not dying, but it's difficult to make a living from.
Seriously: We have long been dominated by what is considered “good taste”, ever since our ruling classes decided who to subsidize. Who was chosen to decorate the King's palace, this temple or that church and so on. I guess that has been the case in India too. After that “the intellectuals” took over. They were well-read men, they ought to know … and to some extend it can be justified, but these days – in the 21st century, art as such has become much more democratic. Not that it is anyway near the openness and inclusiveness I would like to see, but slowly we're getting there with more and more people organizing themselves in autonomic way disregarding the “establishment” . Luckily we don't have to that one-eyed view on art that the citation reflects. First: art IS. Man just can't help himself. He have to reflect the beauty in Creation (and the Creator), you can't stop him/her doing so. People will sing, play, paint, write, dance and whatever provided they have the freedom to do so. Man carries the urge to re-create, but whether he can make a living from it, that is another question.
Again viewing it from the haiku world: those many publications you can find on the web are made from the love of haiku, not for money. No one profits from it. There is a myriad of publishers out here that doesn't make a rupee for their work, but again: it a work of love. That is possible in our relatively wealthy part of the world where we don't face hunger or 12 hours working days, but it is being done all over the world.

All in all we should hold the view on art – and on poetry – that it is all there and it's valid and vibrant and living. It's up to each and one of us to find what touches our hearts and live in peace with the fact that others might think differently. We should have an inclusive view on art not an exclusive one – but that will threaten the critics on their livelihood …

If you come across art you don't understand, well, you can ask yourself why or go somewhere where you'll be happier. There is more than enough for every taste.

Unfortunately people don't use their own sense of ”filtering” out the bad stuff. They tend – in general terms – to take it for granted when someone claims themselves to be artists. And there are many out there with enlarged perceptions of themselves – it's in the times, I think, with all this “Idol” this “Idol” that. Artist isn't a title you can give yourself. It's only true when someone else calls you that.

What are the pros and cons of being a poet-writer?

Haven't really thought about that, I just do what I like to do. I have always been curious and so I dive head on into what “tricks” me. I'm not good at thinking twice. I've been a musician, a painter and now I write. It's all coming from the same “core”, but these days my living circumstances are such, that I have plenty of solitude to go deep into the language. Doing that takes a certain amount of quietude and non-interruption from other people. You have to have “time and space” to follow the words to where they come from and to explore why they come as they do. Though haiku is a tiny poem in simple words, it's hard to get to that simplicity. It's like catching that one – just one - shiny drop during a monsoon rain. Often a haiku is revised 5, 10, 15 times to reach it's form. It's chop, chop, chopping and that takes a certain degree of internalization of the language. I have to try and sense the words than comes from a level deeper than the “talkative” part of my consciousness – if that makes any sense.

But as I've said: if you mean to make a living better do something else. I'm privileged: I live on a disability pension in a wealthy country so I don't have worry about going hungry or bankrupt. In that way I'm lucky. A double-edged sword ...

Could you tell our readers about your future plans?

My plans are to get better at what I do. Someone said: it takes a lifetime and a bit to write one good haiku, so I guess I have my path laid out for me. Things are going the right way at the time. I have reached some of my goals – being published in certain edited publications that I hold in high regard – and I feel I am on my way of finding my own voice in haiku. I have had a book of bilingual haiku published– Danish and English – by an Indian publisher: Cyberwit ( It's called “Penguins / Pingviner” and is a series about … penguins. So as things are going right at the moment, though I still feel like a novice.

Any advice which you would like to give artistic souls?

Work and learn, work and learn. If you're a writer read and write, if you're a painter go to exhibitions and see how others deal with it and so on. But most essential: don't imitate, listen to your own “spark” and trust in it, nurture it. But it's hard. Art IS 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration and it's tempting to give up when you've knocked at the doors of “the golden halls of art” a hundred times and still are being turned away … And seek piers!!! If you have access to the web use it!!! Whatever art-form you practice someone else “out there” also waits for your input.

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