hosts: Firdaus Parvez & Kala Ramesh
A Thursday Feature.
poet of the month: Peter Newton
14th September 2023
Since 2012, Peter Newton has co-edited the online journal tinywords and has
recently served as Guest Editor for Contemporary Haibun Online. Currently, he
serves on the panel to select The Touchstone Book Awards and is part of a small
group of editors working on the follow-up anthology to Haiku in English; The First
Hundred Years, in which his poems appeared, published by W. W. Norton in 2013.
Newton has been awarded several Museum of Haiku Literature Awards from The
Haiku Society of America’s journal, Frogpond, multiple Editors’ Choice Awards
from The Heron’s Nest, as well as Touchstone Awards from The Haiku Foundation
and Merit Book Awards from The Haiku Society of America.
He is a graduate of the University of Michigan (B.A. English, 1987) and
Middlebury College’s Bread Loaf School of English (M.A. English, 1992). He has
worked at The Bred Loaf School of English and The Bread Loaf Writers’
Conference for more than thirty summers.
Newton has published seven books in the Japanese short-form tradition. He lives
We asked Peter some questions and he has been kind in answering them. THG:
3. What is your writing process?
Up with the sun but always after the birds. Maybe the birds are my alarm clock. But coffee keeps me focused on whatever dream might still be lingering. Early morning writing is like a salvage operation at sea. I try to find whatever remnants might be recognizable from the dream that went down with daylight. I piece together what I can remember and make up the rest.
The best thing for me to do as a writer is keep quiet. I could listen to the pines overhead or the ocean surf for hours. I try to avoid the white noise of the daily news. A writing teacher of mine once advised: “Create the space in which the poem can happen.” Whatever that means. I try to make space for poems in my life.
4. Would you share some tips on editing?
Write something and leave it alone. Print it out and put it in a drawer. Go back later. But first, write something else be it a page, a poem, or a paragraph -- and put that in a drawer. Maybe a different drawer. If it’s the same drawer put it on the bottom. It’s good to rotate the stock. Keeps things fresh. The best editor is time. Time brings clarity to a voice. Slow down, read your work aloud and say what must be said.
As we unfold the art of Peter Newton's haibun, there are some surprises coming to the front. Let's enjoy each moment as we learn new nuances that will help our writing.
The deer are motionless under the low-hanging pines, easily mistaken for the trees
themselves. Their sapling legs thin trunks losing sunlight. I only know to look a few
hundred yards past our back fence because they’ve come here before. For the past few
nights they have bedded down under what little canopy young pines provide at the edge
of the woods. One deer reaches up to nibble a loose piece of bark. How could this ever be
enough? Forecasters say single digits. The neighborhood is quiet. Everyone’s inside
standing over their stoves. Through bird binoculars I can see one deer fold in on itself,
front legs first as if kissing the earth. Then the hind. It’s like watching the closing scene
of a play. No music. No dialogue. All slow, intentional action. The central character
coming to terms with the gradual dark.
tracking their every up and down ridgeline coyotes
(Frogpnd 38:2, Spring 2015)
The oak has exhaled its last long breath of the night
tripping the cricket switch.
They sing as if they know their time is near.
If only I had a prayer for the yard trees
A chant to give back to the insects.
A way of letting the world know I am listening.
Grateful for these nights before the first hard freeze.
Like the surge in energy my mother gave us
not long before she died. Her old self sitting up
carrying on. Eyelids heavy as if someone
had forgotten to wind the clock key.
The world neither changed nor falling apart.
All of us back to old routines. Just like we were told
growing up -- tomorrow is another day.
And now is no time to hang all your hopes.
the sky in my voice
a morning greeting
to a passer-by
“Nature Narration” received the Modern Haiku Award for Haibun, Modern Haiku 52.2, Summer 2021.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Important: Since we're swamped with submissions, and our editors are only human, mistakes can happen. Please, please, remember to put your name, followed by your country, below each poem, even after revisions. It helps our editors; they won't have to type it in, saving them from potential typos. Thanks a ton!
I have something exciting to share with you today!
The Lateral Axis! Peter has given us two eye-catching haibun. When I studied his haibun to understand his techniques, I found his use of space particularly effective.
Last week we spoke about two 'spaces' - the horizontal axis and the vertical axis.
Today I would like to expose you to the lateral space/axis.
During one of my visits to London, I entered the art gallery in Trafalgar Square to see a group of visitors guided by a curator who was explaining a few selected paintings. We reached Caravaggio’s painting of Jesus Christ. The curator spoke about Christ’s smooth-shaven face. The special treatment of the fruit bowl that was slightly jutting out of the dining table and the non-believer’s arm extended towards us, were particularly striking. She spoke of the lateral space that Caravaggio has depicted so effectively in this painting. She said it tempts the viewer to quickly step forward and push the fruit bowl back before it falls off the table!
I was taken aback by her pointers. I’ve known paintings that show space by not cluttering the canvas, the stark use of white, negative spaces or the different treatments in brush strokes, but I had not seen anyone talk of lateral space. This technique has remained deeply etched in my mind, ever since. After understanding the horizontal and vertical axis - we come to the lateral axis! - the term 'lateral axis' comes from my understanding and I've given this name to it.
Can you give us a haibun which holds out a hand for the reader to step in, thus creating the 'lateral axis'?
I found Ravi Varma's famous painting of Shakuntala.
This very gesture – the twist and turn of head and body – draws the viewer into the narrative, inviting one to place this scene within an imagined sequence of images and events.
Wouldn't you say this is a good example of the 'lateral axis'?
And, of course, haibun outside this prompt can also be posted!
1. Only two haibun per poet per prompt. Please put your name and country of residence under your poem, it makes the editors' work easier. Thanks.
2. Share your best-polished pieces.
3. Please do not post something in a hurry or something you have just written.
Let it simmer for a while.
4. When poets give suggestions and if you agree to them - post your final edited version on top of your original version.
5. Don't forget to give feedback on others' poems.
We are delighted to open the comment thread for you to share your unpublished haibun (within 300 words) to be considered for inclusion in the haikuKATHA monthly journal.