our thomas was one of the finalists with the following one-line haiku. Here are some questions he answered about his poem and process:
the hole in the thought of a snake in the wall
This poem grew out of a morning of hiking and, specifically, a point where the trail cut through a section of an old stone wall of the type that crisscross so much of New England where I live. It’s definitely a poem of experience, though that experience is inclusive of non-physical realities like thought and emotion.
The poem aims to mirror the multiple levels of experience I was having at the moment – the physical crossing of the wall; the general awareness of walls as choice hiding places for snakes; the emotional/physiological response to my sense that there might be a snake; and my rational counterarguments about the unlikelihood of actually encountering a snake. I played with some phrases for a bit while continuing the hike, typed in my phone’s notes what I had solidified to that point, and then revisited it repeatedly for quite a while in the weeks and months that followed. This is a pretty common process for me.
I was intrigued by the way the disjointed interweaving of prepositional phrases suggested the overlapping of thoughts/feelings of the experience, especially when coupled with what seems like a loping rhythm, so that became the driving notion. From there, it really evolved organically while playing with the various phrases, through trial and error, through back and forth. In the end, over weeks and weeks, the poem unwound itself like a snake, one line slithering, rhythmic and slippery.
Like many haiku I write, this poem was probably going in a different direction at first. I find that the intuitive “play” of composing – of sliding different phrases and words and lines in and out and around into a cohesive whole – sometimes becomes an experience itself. I abandoned three lines pretty early in the process, for example. This “decision” accentuated the snaky-ness and also reflected the constancy of the inner monologue that was running through my brain in the moment, a reality further captured in the way the preposition phrases interweave outside of any linear thought process. In the play of creating, the poem became itself, and really couldn’t be anything but itself.
I think of it as solidly haiku. I know there are many debates about the rules of haiku, and this probably fails to meet many of those rules, so yes, trailblazer! Of course, the effort to define haiku is ultimately limiting, so I’m happy to be breaking rules, especially when doing so honors the idea, thought, or emotion of whatever spark lives at the center of the poem. I think one of the most powerful aspects of haiku is the power any given poem has to carry the reader beyond the intellect, to jam the rational brain’s transmissions, so that the reader is invited into “meaning” on a deeper level, a new way of seeing or feeling. So, I often aspire to haiku that misbehave, that are unruly – a word that literally signals an escape from the confines of ‘shoulds,’ ‘oughts,’ and ‘musts’ – because that unruliness can be so generative. Of course, it can also fail miserably, which is why it’s safer to stay within the rules. But where’s the fun in that?
I’m really thrilled that the poem captured the judges’ imaginations. The comments of those on the selection committee were delightfully unexpected – and really speak to the ways that a poem is a dialogue between the poem and the reader more often than it is between the poet and the reader. That reality also underscores the fact that the poem may be a trailblazer not because I wrote it that way, but because each of the judges read it that way, and that’s pretty intriguing to think about.
Debbie Strange was one of the finalists with the following concrete tanka. Here are some questions she answered about her poem and process:
This tanka was inspired by my experience with chronic illness and the resultant physical and emotional trauma.
My daily writing practice helps me to shift focus away from the things I cannot control to the things I can! I keep a file of words and fragments that spark my imagination and interest. The word “capsized” was the driving force behind this poem.
The first iteration of this tanka was written in the traditional five-line s/l/s/l/l form. Its final version emerged as a concrete poem because I wished to express the sentiment in a more dynamic manner. The scattered letters symbolize the feeling of being overwhelmed. Use of a lowercase “i” serves to emphasize loss and the myriad ways in which the marginalized and disabled are often made to feel small. The reflected letters are a metaphor for drowning.
Invisible disability is often misunderstood, much like tanka, so the dialogue between these two subjects comes quite naturally. Debates surrounding the definition of these topics continue to evolve, and I’m excited to lend my voice to the ongoing conversation!