Jason Sanford Brown:
Roadrunner Haiku Journal
pd: How did you become involved in poetry, and what made you decide to start a specialized publication like Roadrunner Haiku Journal?
JSB: I started writing poetry seriously at age 15. Words and language have always been important to me so I was asked to write songs lyrics for my rock’n’roll band when I was in high school. It developed outside of that capacity very quickly. As for Roadrunner, I very much enjoy contributing to the English-language haiku movement both as a writer (haiku/senryu, haibun, and essays), and as an editor. The thrill of being an editor is to try to shape haiku’s future in a positive and respected manner, while paying homage to that history and precident.
pd: What are some of the properties of an outstanding haiku? What standards as an editor do you maintain, and look for in a submission to Roadrunner?
JSB: That’s a loaded question! There are books and essays, often contradictory, written to elucidate on that subject and in truth it is impossible to distill into one acceptable answer. That said, I think the qualifying property of a haiku is resonance. There are many methods used to achieve resonance and in my view all are acceptable, but without it a haiku falls flat. In some respects that can be said of all poetry, wouldn’t you say?
If it sounds like I just avoided the question, well I did. The best thing to do is to read as many haiku as you can, define for yourself what resonates and write haiku in that fashion.
pd: For those who are not well versed in the Japanese forms, please explain the difference between a haiku and a senryu. If this distinction is important to you, please explain why.
JSB: Anita Virgil said it most succinctly in the introduction of her book One Potato, Two Potato, Etc. (Peaks Press 1991), “Simplistically speaking, if it is man within the world, it is haiku. If it is the world within the man, it is senryu.” That is as much distinction as I will ever make and I accept both under the subtitle “haiku” for Roadrunner. The problem is that the boundaries are blurred and much crossover occurs. I leave it to those with more energy and time to distinguish between those twins.
pd: Do you believe that it's important for someone who wishes to dabble in haiku to stick to the basic precepts; ie, the 5-7-5 rule, counting punctuation as syllables, tying in a nature metaphor, etc. If so, why, or why not?
JSB: Absolutely forget 5-7-5. Pretend you never heard that. Again there are many essays written on the “meter” of haiku in Japanese and its transformation to English, but as I understand it 5-7-5 is a naturally occurring meter in Japanese speech, not unlike iambic pentameter is for English, so it isn’t necessarily applicable to English-language haiku. So that leaves us with other rules of thumb, the 12 syllable rule, the one breath rule, the three short lines rule. Try them all, or reject them all but find resonance and your haiku will work.
pd: In your opinion, who is a better haikuist, Basho or Shiki Masaoka? Why?
JSB: I am not qualified to judge between them; they are haiku masters, and I am nothing. As far as preference, I don't prefer one over the other.
pd: What is harder to compose, a haiku or a tanka? Why?
JSB: Tanka. That is only because I’ve never tried to write tanka, so I am not qualified to answer this question either.
pd: What inspired you to first write haiku? Do you think this form translates well into English, and why?
JSB: I learned about the form in the same manner as millions of Americans, the syllable count, the nature reference, etc. I thought to write haiku would be a great writing exercise, to disciple my free verse, to tighten my imagery. From there haiku sunk its teeth into me and I’ve been writing haiku ever since. I think haiku works well in English, it must since it has about 50 years worth of western “tradition.” The problem is that many non-haiku writing poets don’t appreciate the depth and subtlety of haiku, so it is viewed as trivial or simplistic.
pd: You are in graduate school right now. How has that impacted your role as an editor? As a writer?
JSB: I’m avoiding my homework right now! Actually it has, my response time to submissions is slower (as long as a week now) and I write less, that is more sporadically.
pd: Who are some of you favorite contemporary haikuists? How does their work compare/contrast classic work?
JSB: This is a gratuitous plug for my writing group, The Skipping Stones Haiku Group, which consists of three of my favorite haijin, Scott Metz, Chad Lee Robinson, and Rob Scott. My all time favorite is Fay Aoyagi and new favorites are Vanessa Proctor, Aurora Antonovic, and Scott Mason.
pd: What are some suggestions you would give to a poet to improve his oral performance of haiku/senryu?
JSB: The current trend, as far as I am aware, is to read the poem once, pause, and then then read it again. The pause has been marked by the ring of a bell or the poet’s sense of rhythm. As for suggestions, take a deep breath and enunciate.
pd: How do you feel about haibun, which incorporates prose with haiku?
JSB: This is one of my favorite genres, it is so satisfying to write haibun! They sort of started as travel journals but in English they have realized so much more. I am excited about its future in the English language.
pd: What is the poetry scene like in your local area?
JSB: Honestly, I don’t know. Of the six years I’ve lived here I have been in engineering and graduate school for five of them. I have two young sons and my wife is a nurse, we don’t get out much...
pd: Where do you see the future of online publishing headed? In the next five years? The next 10?
JSB: I have mixed emotions about online publishing. I love it because it is an inexpensive and available resource to reach a wide audience, but it can suffer from a lack of quality and well frankly it isn’t comfortable to read from a screen for longer than an hour. Even with the advent of wireless technology and laptops, it isn’t cozy to curl up on the couch or in bed with a computer. So I think it will continue to grow and mimic the hardcopy publishers, but it will probably degenerate into a sort of interactive movie or television type media, to keep people in front of the computer for hours, relieving them from their imaginations. I hope this is not the case, but it is what I fear.
pd: What are your future plans for Roadrunner?
JSB: I would like to turn over the editorship within the next year to help lighten my load, and to reinvigorate Roadrunner with a fresh perspective. I want Roadrunner to continue and grow, keeping its simplicity and elegance, while shaping English-language haiku.
pd: As a favor to those who read this, would you please gift us with one of your favorite haikus? Thank you.;)
JSB: Certainly, and thank you.
And still deeper—
The green mountains.
"Santoka" (from Mountain Tasting (Weatherhill, 1991) translated by John Stevens)
Jason Sanford Brown is a practicing engineer who lives just outside of Tucson, Arizona with his wife and two sons. His haiku has been published in the usual places and translated into French, Japanese, and Farsi. He is a member of The Skipping Stones Haiku Group and The Haiku Society of America. He also edits Roadrunner Haiku Journal online.