If you have an addiction to writing like I do (and a writer by definition is an addict), perhaps like me you can’t contain it within just one literary genre. I began with poetry, getting swept up first in the poems of the haiku poets Basho, Buson, and Issa. Issa (Kobayashi Issa 1763-1828, one of the Big Four of Japanese haiku) charmed me with tiny masterpieces that evoked a stunning attention to the natural world, like this one:
The Milky Way from a hole
In my sliding rice-paper door
Here’s a lovely article on Issa.
But it was Dylan Thomas’ Under Milkwood (beautifully read by Richard Burton in this recording) that put me into orbit — verse as drama! As enchantment, creating and then playing in a whole world of your imagination. The seaside town of Milkwood that he created reminded me of my childhood San Pedro, port of Los Angeles, with its old world, fishing community.
So poetry and prose intermingled in my developing love of language and literature, and I’ve had trouble ever since keeping them apart. Memoir, fiction, drama, and verse all call to me at different moments, and I never have less than two projects in different genres going at a time. I want my prose to be poetic and my poetry to be narrative. I love descriptions of landscape in memoirs and fiction.
Dewfall, starfall, the sleep of birds in Milkwood. Listen! It is night in the chilled, squat chapel …
I knew by age twelve that I wanted to create my own Oz, Milkwood, Our Town, windy Japanese hut, and many other places evoked by poets and writers. I’m still working at it, the Italy in my mind being the latest of my locations.
Here’s a wonderful video of Robert Hass on Issa and haiku. Enjoy his interview and reading! These seventeen-syllable, three-line poems are minuscule dramas in verse. Just what I continue to reach for in my work — that surprise and dramatic reach.