Garry Gay is the founder of Haiku Poets of Northern California (HPNC) and creator of the poetic form Rengay. He is also the co-founder of American Haiku Archives and Haiku North America (HNA). I did not know any of this when I approached him for this interview after reading some of his haiku in Mariposa. I learned about his haiku history as part of the Q&A and was pleasantly surprised (and impressed).
1. Please share a haiku you have written.
the coyote call
not a coyote
2. Why did you pick this one?
I choose this haiku because it reflects my style of writing.
Often my work has a little humor or jest or private moment that is both a real moment in time and a simple playful observation. I see the world as a photographer, a moment in time, light and shadows, shifting senses, sight, sound, smell, touch and taste. A snapshot if you will. On the surface its what you see. Then with another moments worth of examination you realize there may be more to what you observe then meets the eye. This poem is very playful to me at least. The full moon has risen, and you hear a distant call, was that a coyote? Or was that a playful human imitating a coyote call. Or maybe it was actually me, making my own howl to the rising moon.
This haiku won the HSA Harold G. Henderson contest in 2011. The judges were Jim Kacian and Billie Wilson. Here is what they had to say about this poem.
“This is a complex poem that invites the reader to first believe otherwise. The Native American name for a moon phase comes from a non-Anglo sphere of influence, a different view of time and space, different gods and destinies. Into this space comes a coyote call—but it’s not a coyote. The easy explanation is that a human, beguiled by the moon just as a coyote might be, is imitating a coyote’s call. Left there, this is already a wonderful poem, an inter-species sharing of response to a natural stimulus. But there’s more: while the poem says the coyote call is not a coyote, it doesn’t specify a human. Yet, what else would respond like this? Another canine, possibly, but it would then be recognizable as hound or wolf. So it must be human. Unless the coyote is not a coyote—but Coyote, the trickster god of the Navajo and other Native American people. It would not be beyond his mischievous nature to simulate the coyote’s call, but just different enough to make the listener believe it’s not a coyote. This brings the first line into play once again: by setting us in that non-Anglo world space, this reading becomes a possibility in a way that it would not be if it had been, say, Hunter’s Moon, or simply full moon. The poem is filled with ineffability and magic: what is, is not what seems, and maybe it’s just a human after all…”
3. How many have you written? How often do you write? What inspires you?
By now I have written thousands. I no longer keep track. When I first started writing haiku in the mid 1970’s I kept track of the number, but by the time I got near to having written 2000 I stopped counting. At first it was a matter of pride how many I had written, but after a while, I realized it really was not important to me and probably no one else for that matter.
As for how often do I write, it sort of ebbs and flows. In the very early years I wrote everyday. It was something I forced myself to do, at least one new haiku a day. Over time, after many years I finally just got very busy in my life and found it hard to keep up with a daily haiku. So then it slowly moved into writing pretty often but not daily. Sometimes three or four, and on a good day six or seven. Then every once in a while I just came up short, like hills and valleys, a few days would go by and no new haiku, then all of a sudden I would be inspired and out would pour a number all at once.
What inspires me, is an endless life of experiences. Once I found haiku and started writing them with a great passion, they became a part of who I was. They were all around me, everywhere I looked, and everywhere I turned. You could trip over them, they were the small moments of my daily life. As a photographer I developed haiku vision.
These were the moments I could not overlook, I had to write down what would be an awaking moment, and instant awareness, an ah-ha moment of enlightenment. Just as a photographer I have studied light and shadow, I found myself seeing the juxtaposition in things in my daily life. I looked for the contrasts of things in my photography and found it works the same way with haiku. Once you train yourself to see this way, the inspiration is in finding the things you stumbled over before and realize there is a world of beauty in the smallest of details. Its funny how often you wake up to something you never paid attention to before and see it in a new way. Haiku is that awakening.
4. Why do you write haiku? How did you get started?
I write haiku because I have to. I am not sure I could stop even if I wanted to. Once I wrote my first haiku, I knew I loved this form. It became addictive .
I got started writing haiku in about 1976 I think. I was already writing poems that were getting shorter and shorter. When finally I came across an old book a roommate had left behind. It was Basho’s Narrow Road to the Interior. Once I started reading it I could not put it down. There were not many English haiku books back during his period so this was a real treasure. I realized that these were the kind of haiku I wanted to write, not the short modern poems I had been playing with. This also led to my wanting to talk with others about my interest in haiku. I wanted to share what I was writing with others who had the same curiosity about the haiku form of poetry. So I started actively searching out others who either wrote haiku or even knew what one was. I felt like I was writing on an island and I was looking for others who understood the passion of haiku writing. So I founded the Haiku Poets of Northern California in San Francisco in 1989.
5. Do you work with other forms related to haiku, like renga, senryu, haiga, tanka, etc.?
Yes, I do write senryu and have won many awards for my senryu. I also write tanka and renga. I also created a new linking form called “Rengay.” I came up with this form in 1991. It is now written around the world and so far I have seen it written in fifteen different languages. I am very proud of this form. It is a form that is usually written between two or three haiku poets. You can learn much more about it by going to Michael D. Welch’s Graceguts web site: writing-rengay.
6. What advice would you give to aspiring haiku writers?
These days there are a lot of haiku organizations you can join. Join a haiku society like Haiku Society of America. Consider going to Haiku North America (HNA) which occurs every two years in North America and moves around the country. You might also explore the American Haiku Archives in Sacramento California, the largest English haiku archive outside of Japan.
7. Where can people read your haiku?
I am widely published so you can find my work by Googling my name. Here are a few places to start: