hosts: Vidya Shankar & Shalini Pattabiraman
A Thursday Feature.
poet of the month: Andrew Riutta
28 December 2023
The Featured Poet for this month is Andrew Riutta. When Terri L. French was featured in this blog in December last year, she said of Andrew, “I love the honesty and humility of Andrew Riutta.” Through this month, as you get to read samples of Andrew Riutta’s work, you will be able to identify, beyond language structures and themes, a certain “honesty and humility” as their underlying quality which gives his poems that raw, inimitable flavour.
Andrew Riutta was born and raised in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. He is a grateful father and son; brother, uncle, and nephew. His essay, "The Myths of Manhood," from the collection, This I Believe: On Fatherhood (Jossey-Bass) was featured on Public Radio International's Bob Edwards Show in 2012. His latest book, blessed: Modern Haibun on Almost Every Despair (Red Moon Press – 2022) was shortlisted for the Touchstone Distinguished Book Awards and won a H.S.A. Merit Book Award for best haibun collection.
I told her gratitude is the key. Meaning, if you’re craving a bright red popsicle but the freezer’s offerings produce only orange, grab it while you can and say “thank you” from the deepest gully in your chest. Then say it again later in the day, only this time with eyes closed to show God that you’re not afraid of the dark because you understand how the divine light permeates all even when it can’t be seen. (I once saw it in flashes in a strip club just outside Rapid City, Michigan, but I hardly ever mention that.) And before asking for another new toy truck for little Tommy or a cure for the crud eating away Aunt Betty’s intestines, step outside and notice the pink sunset. And then the first handful of stars trickling in. Gratitude. Inhale so deeply, it makes you cough—cough up all the mess from the day’s loves and losses, the throat made raw and tender. And then say thank you once more.
using only the sparks from my empty lighter I cross midnight
Simply Haiku: A Quarterly Journal of Japanese Short Form Poetry (Summer 2006, vol 4 no 2)
Observations on the haibun:
This poem flows like a guided meditation. People who have very little experience of meditation think that what goes on in a meditative practice is something very subtle. On the contrary, meditative practices include both the subtle as well as the stark. What pulls me into this haibun is Andrew’s tone — neither patronising nor didactic. The various instances he lists are something that we can associate with, even remotely. They are a list of disappointments, regrets, pain, yet told with an outlook that is so positive and bright. We encounter this brightness every now and then in the prose (“bright red popsicle”, “how the divine light permeates”, “saw it in flashes”, “pink sunset”, “stars trickling in”). And so, we come to the haiku that resonates, with intensity, all that the writer says through the prose and connects them to the title — a haiku that tells us to be grateful even when all is “empty”. Being grateful even for ‘emptiness’, that is true strength. That is prayer. And this prayer has the potency to takes us from darkness to light, to bring about a change in our situation for the better, just as midnight signifies that point in time when night shifts towards light.
VS: In your poetic journey, what are you grateful for?
AR: I am grateful to God for reasons that should by now be clear. I am grateful that I got stomped nearly six feet deep so I would never again take for granted so many delicate things. I am grateful that the wind blows cold, hard, and dangerous despite my wishes for warmth and safety. I am grateful for folks that are reasonable enough to naturally care about who they become and what they give birth to. I am grateful for a couple of lived-out dreams and a few dozen survived nightmares. I am grateful for the bright epiphanies that can only be expressed in poetic nuance. And I am grateful for you.
VS: And I, on behalf of all our members, am grateful for you.
Before we go, one last question. What books did you enjoy reading as a child? What books do you enjoy reading now?
AR: I, unfortunately, was not at a child who enjoyed reading. Not in the least bit. I despised it actually. Save for a few wilderness survival books. How to Stay Alive in the Woods. In school, I essentially ignored all of my lessons. And they, in turn, ignored me.
Here is a list of some of the books that are currently (and in some case, have been for years) in my "sacred stack," outside the Holy Bible.
The Gospel of Thomas
Jim Harrison: Complete Poems
Japanese Death Poems, compiled by Yoel Hoffman
Beyond Self: 1008 Korean Zen Poems by Ko Un
A Drifting Boat: Chinese Zen Poetry
For All My Walking: Diary entries and free-verse haiku of Taneda Santoka
T. S. Eliot: Collected Poems
The Essential Haiku: edited by Robert Hass
Prompt for members:
We are in the last week of 2023. As with every year, in 2023 too, we have had our stock of “loves and losses”. Is there a memory you wish to carry with you into 2024 with gratitude? Alternatively, you could write a haibun on a theme of your choice but you could dedicate it to someone as an act of gratitude.
Haibun outside this prompt can also be posted!
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ 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!
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.