This year sees the second edition of a delicate dance of wings, Linda Jeannette Ward’s book of haibun. Linda has published three books of poetry. Her work, including haiku, tanka, haibun and tanka prose, has been included in several anthologies and in many journals.
PP: Perhaps you would begin by introducing yourself to readers who may not be familiar with your work? Would you like to provide the reader with a short biography, including your working life and your early interest and practice of writing?
LJW: I’m a native of Washington, D.C., where I spent my childhood. I attended North Carolina Wesleyan College for my BA and Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia for a Master of Science in psychology. My first attempts at writing were in seventh grade where I won awards for short stories and essays. I began experimenting with haiku and free verse in graduate school, but did not begin writing as a daily practice until about 1996 when my first haiku was accepted by Bob Spiess at Modern Haiku. I fell in love with tanka when I first started reading Kenneth Rexroth’s translations, and shortly thereafter began entering and reading Jane Reichhold’s Tanka Splendor competitions. My early haibun included tanka and haiku, and were first published in Lynx (USA) and Raw NerVZ Haiku (Canada). I write at least one tanka a day as part of a Zen practice of mindfulness meditation.
PP: You are interested in all the Japanese forms of short verse and have been particularly successful with your haiku. I enjoy the background to haiku that lies partly in the two-part structure and the challenges it presents. Can you say more about your interest in haiku?
LJW: Haiku is the most challenging poetry form for me. I almost always make imagistic sketches from nature as part of walking meditation, or from what I see from my studio window. Later, I’ll write the haiku from the sketches. Being a birder has influenced my observations of nature and my haiku writing by making me more aware of each moment and what it contains.
PP: Could you say why you have reissued your book of haibun?
LJW: The first edition was a limited production and sold out quickly after receiving a Merit Book Award from the Haiku Society of America. Larry Kimmel, who published the book, offered to do a second printing and I agreed.
PP: Do you have any plans to publish another book?
LJW: Yes, a manuscript of haiku is ready, but awaits recovery from a downturn in finances following a slow down in my work.
PP: I think of method as a general approach to writing and technique as a specific means of composing an individual text. What makes you decide on any given occasion between writing tanka, haibun or tanka prose?
LJW: Every day is an occasion to write tanka, which for me is a medium for blending reality, imagination and dreams. The writing of haibun and tanka prose is more likely to be influenced by real events or observations than are my stand alone tanka. On those occasions when I write haibun, it’s usually because I’ve been touched by someone’s story or incident that I want to convey.
PP: Do you feel there is a similarity between the three genres of tanka, haibun and tanka prose or do you feel that one form is of more importance than another?
LJW: I don’t think that one form is more important than the other, and that relative importance would vary depending on the poet, the poet’s mood, and what’s happening in the person’s life. As to similarity among the three forms, yes, all are concerned with human emotion, even if expressed by using nature as metaphor. All three can provide an outlet for loosely connected thoughts, memories and dreams to intertwine in new ways. All three can also be a way to express abstract beliefs like transience and emptiness.
PP: I like the way there’s almost a dialogue between prose and poem, especially for a reader coming to these forms of poetry for the first time. Do you have any more thoughts on that?
LJW: My preference is for at least a slight shift between prose and poem, yet with a common thread that emerges with the creation of the piece as a whole. I think of the definition of Gestalt I was taught in college: the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
PP: Do you feel that you’re taking a risk by entering these different spaces? Is it quite important for you to remain open to risk as a writer?
LJW: Yes, writing prose with poetry is always exploratory for me. Yes, it’s very important for me to remain open to risk, not only as a writer, but as an approach to life.
PP: I’ve been reading your book a delicate dance of wings and thinking about the lyrical aspect to your poems. What is the status of the lyric voice in your writing?
LJW: The unconscious is the source of the lyric voice in my writing. This is where the muse resides, the root of music. The tanka form, even in modern English, seems to have evolved especially for lyrical and rhythmic expression. I can easily appreciate that waka were originally sung. Prose too can be lyrical when the restrictions of the mechanics of grammar are only loosely adhered to.
PP: The feeling of the poems in a delicate dance of wings is of very strong momentum and flow but there’s also a precision of placement in them. People may be tempted to say its just pure flow but at the same time there’s a weight and measure going on in the themes. Do you agree?
LJW: Yes, I agree that there is flow and placement or measure in these haibun. Most are tied to place, so that provides an anchor, but using free association to avoid a linear rut, the prose and poem hopefully flow together.
PP: Sometimes it’s necessary to use endnotes or epigraphs in a poem. I’m thinking of your haibun “A Wilsonian Tale” because that’s unusual, or at least I haven’t seen you use endnotes or epigraphs on other occasions. How do you think they stand as statements to a poem?
LJW: I’ve used epigraphs twice that I can recall. In both cases it was because the person I quoted expressed what I also felt or believed. In “A Wilsonian Tale” the concept of biophilia described the bond that was formed with nature when I was a child spending holidays at my grandparents’ farm. Like Edward Wilson, I believe that the potential to form this bond is innate, and when missed, leaves a gap or deficit in one’s life. The other epigraph, from E. B. White, appeared in Scent of Jasmine and Brine, a tanka collection: “All writing is both a mask and an unveiling.”
PP: There’s an idea that research stimulates ideas. Do you use journal, diary entries or other means that you then transform in certain ways?
LJW: I don’t keep a diary, but have occasionally kept a nature journal in the tradition of Thoreau. My ideas are stimulated from a blend of what I observe or read and what is generated by free association. Writing from the unconscious was a method (more of an unmethod, really) that I was inspired to use after reading Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones and earlier, Dorothea Brande’s Becoming a Writer. My best writing comes when I write first thing when I wake up, with no editing or even sense to it at all. Later, I may refer back to earlier sketches that I made and blend these in with what the muse provided via free association and remnants of dreams.
PP: You have been very active on the literary scene for a number of years. Do you have the opportunity to meet other tanka and haibun writers?
LJW: I seldom do because of where I live and limits on my ability to travel due to chronic health problems. I do keep in touch with several other writers, and have done tanka workshops as part of a literary grant from the N.C. Arts Council. This has been very stimulating, as participants have been teens who have not yet acquired the restrictions that sometimes slow down the flow.
PP: Could you say something about your success in the Tanka Splendor contests?
LJW: Not specifically, but competitions in general provide motivation for me to more carefully edit my work; otherwise it might miss the polish and coherence that brings together the different parts. If competitions are truly judged anonymously, then there is the advantage that one’s work is being selected on merit and not because of your being a friend of the editor, or because of past reputation or acceptance. Jane Reichhold has upheld the highest standard in sponsoring Tanka Splendor, although my strong preference was for the winners to be printed in the wonderfully illustrated booklets she once published.
PP: Tanka are usually written in fixed form, whereas the prose parts of haibun and tanka prose are free-flowing. Is it a conscious effort to switch from one genre to another?
LJW: Yes, it is a conscious effort on my part. I find prose difficult to initiate and need to do several drafts to warm up. Encouragement by other poets and editors is important for me to write prose, whereas that’s not true for tanka.
PP: What are your literary projects at the moment?
LJW: Currently, my greatest emphasis is haibun and tanka prose. I’d like to expand the themes, content and voice expressed in my prose.
PP: To end, Linda, I would like to thank you for agreeing to the interview and I’d like to complete it with two of your poems. The first, “Death Wish” appeals to me as I’ve recently been going through the grieving process and I like the expression “spills of life” which seems to sum up the accidents of fate. The second poem, “A Wilsonian Tale” contains the title of your book, and is also one of the only poems in the book that begins with an epigraph.
Books: a delicate dance of wings (Winfred Press, 2003, second edition: Winfred Press & Clinging Vine Press, 2010), Scent of Jasmine and Brine (Inkling Press, 2007), A Frayed Red Thread (Clinging Vine Press, 2000).
Anthologies: Modern Haiku & Tanka Prose 1 & 2 (2009), Ash Moon Anthology (Met Press, 2008), Landfall (Met Press, 2007), big sky (Red Moon Press, 2007), The Tanka Prose Anthology (MET Press, 2008), Contemporary Haibun Volume 6 (Red Moon Press, 2005), contemporary haibun (Red Moon Press, 2003), Haiku for Lovers (MQ Publishing Ltd., 2003), the tanka anthology (Red Moon Press, 2003), Internationalization of Japanese Poems (Chugainippohsha, 2002), stone frog (Red Moon Press, 2001), the loose thread (Red Moon Press, 2001), up against the window (Red Moon Press, 1999).
Journals: American Tanka, Black Bough, Blithe Spirit, bottle rockets, Eucalypt, Frogpond, Gusts, Haiku Quarterly, Hermitage, Heron’s Nest, Kokako, Magnapoets, Mind in Motion, Modern Haiku, Moonbathing, Northeast, Penumbra, RAW NerVZ, red lights, Ribbons, Still, Tanka Journal, Tanka Splendor.