hosts: Firdaus Parvez & Kala Ramesh
A Thursday Feature.
poet of the month: Peter Newton
7th September 2023
Happy to introduce Peter Newton, and there's a lot waiting for you this month!
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. Read on! THG:
1. Do you come from a literary background? What writers did you enjoy
reading as a child? Did you write as a child?
I’ve always loved reading, writing and making things with my hands. My parents
were not book people, per se, but my Mom was always reading some sort of dime
store romance and my father insisted on having a full set of Encyclopedia
Brittanica in the house. They cared about language and encouraged a lifelong
relationship with books. Early on, I recall making books in grade school and
taking the process very seriously. I mean, as serious as one can be with
construction paper and paste. As for authors that have made an impression on me
when I was very young. E.B.White, Dr. Seuss and various sundry comic books
that were strewn throughout my childhood. I did not take up writing as a serious
pursuit until high school when I thought I wanted to be a journalist. I headed up
the school paper and worked on the yearbook. All those things a soon-to-be
English major is apt to do.
2. How do you translate experience into writing?
A fascinating question. I love the idea of being one’s own translator. As if each of
us speaks our own completely unique language and must therefore learn how to
communicate with others, as if for the first time. When something stops me in my
tracks I pull out a pen. Or when something gives me pause. Slows me down.
Makes me do a double-take. When that happens, I jot it down. We are what we
do. And writers write. I translate experience into writing the old fashioned way.
Word by word, in long hand scratching and scratching so the ink bleeds into the
pulp of the paper. It’s all manual. And labor. I try to keep the portal open, so to
speak. I want to be aware and receptive to experiencing the world and all its
various inhabitants. Of course, that only answers the logistical part of the
question. Translating lived experience into the written word is a lifelong vocation.
No one else sees the world exactly as you do. We are each weird one-of-a-kinds
worthy of celebration. The biggest challenge is to check one’s ego at the door and
never think that what you have to say is any more or less important than what
anyone else has to say. In the end, the simple fact remains that if you don’t write
your life down, no one else will. Or can. The hardest job of a translator is to
convey style, tone and intent in a way that makes people want to listen. When I
open a book of poems, I think: Sing to me.
pops up where you might not expect, unbidden. Take a slow walk on a summer day. Down a dirt road scattered with puddles from last night’s downpours. Let the sun make its comeback. Thoreau himself might have sauntered down this same path. Who knows? Frost could’ve written a poem around here without even trying. Suddenly, a small cloud of blue butterflies startles up from their cooling drink of rainwater. How willing they are to land on anything that lets them.
relationship advice from a firefly on again
(Snapshot Press e-chapbook, 2022)
I want to go in but this is not my church. I don’t belong to one. Besides, I haven’t stepped inside a church in decades. Instead, I stop to tie my shoe within earshot of their singing. They are calling me. How loud and clear the choir is. The entry alcove is the perfect amplifier. I am kneeling before the acoustics like a beggar tying and retying my other shoe on the sidewalk while their full harmony fills the rafters. What a gift it is to sing. Open oneself to some greater being. If god is everywhere then maybe god is teaching me with a hundred voices how to tie my shoes. How to stand. How to walk through life with the whole world inside me.
tulip a quiver
in the wind
(Modern Haiku, Fall 2022)
Prompt: I enjoy Peter's narrative style. Notice the devices such as fragmentation, compression, and rhythm he brings into his writing.
A good haiku has both the horizontal axis and the vertical axis.
Can we extend this to haibun writing as well?
The Horizontal Axis is a clear, vivid, concrete image the poem creates in the reader’s mind. The reader can simply be content with this understanding and move on. But quite a few times the horizontal image might be unclear, and the reader could be left scratching his/her head, not knowing what the poet is trying to convey.
The Vertical Axis extends beyond the horizontal image, adding a deeper dimension, something that relates to one's life in a poignant way. It yields multiple interpretations, making the poem memorable for the reader. Again note the resonance, a word that keeps getting repeated in haikai aesthetics.
The two axes were first brought to our attention by Haruo Shirane. He explains that the horizontal axis is the focus on the present, on the contemporary world, while the vertical axis is the movement across time, leading back into the past, to history, and to other poems.
*Haruo Shirane’s essay- Beyond the Haiku Moment: Basho, Buson and Modern Haiku myths Modern Haiku, XXXI:1 (winter-spring 2000)
We have this beautiful essay in LEARNING
Can you give us a haibun including both axes? Think about the ways you can do this effectively.
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.