Tom Rogers

Tom Rogers

1. Please share a haiku you have written.

My own starship bridge
A widescreen and sensurround
More hotwings, Yeoman

2. Why did you pick this one?

Any number of reasons, sheer laziness among them, as I’ve already discussed this piece before in some detail. It also highlights some of the special features of the fanboy haiku, the form I’m mostly working in now, which emphasizes the communal aspects of poetry, as opposed to the more familiar norm of contemporary haiku, which is focused on sharing an individual’s immediate experience. The poem above is an example of the fanboy haiku, basically a celebration of my geeky fondness for ‘Star Trek’. This topic establishes a sphere of commonality between me and other Trekkies, but it’s also got hooks for others as well—a ‘starship bridge’ is an SF commonplace, the second line treats it like a fancy contemporary or retro entertainment center, a subject of much wider familiarity, and the third nails down the Star Trek reference, while also adding food into the mix (and a complaisant comely female to turn the fantasy in a new direction, though it might be better to open it up even more by changing the end to “More hotwings, Jeannie”). I did not reference a specific episode or Star Trek movie because I wanted to provide a large number of fairly general jumping off points for other poets to riff on—so my intent was to include a variety of connections that other poets could use to link their responses to my verse. Basically when I am writing haiku for riffing, I conceive of the process as defining an area or topography created by juxtaposing and superimposing ‘landmarks’, which are the commonplaces shared by the members of a group (they are an expanded analogy to what the Japanese call ‘utamakura’).

One further reason I picked this poem, is that it illustrates a very cool device that works very well within the confines of the fanboy framework, but is not very common in the form as it is practiced in the modern times (except in the common, but very limited sense of the movement from the small to the large or vice versa). This traditional device, often used by Basho, is “double vision” (mitate), in which the speaker/artist depicts two ‘landscapes’ (interpreted very broadly, 2 worlds might be a better way to look at it) simultaneously intersecting–one close and contemporary, another foreign or distant, this is an easy effect to achieve in the fanboy world, because we live in two or more worlds. In the case of my poem, the starship bridge exists in a future Sci-Fi world, the theater/entertainment center is contemporary and mundane but they are unified by the comfortable chairs and viewing screens prominent in both. Though in a trickier sense, Star Trek exists at three distances, one as a canonical vision of the distant future, the second a real part of the nostalgic past of the 60s, and the third combining the two, a nostalgia for a past where we could believe in such a future. Back in Edo Japan, the double vision effect was often achieved by varying a line from a classic poem–in my case, the analog is that the first two lines are a riff on some Seinfeld material about Star Trek, the larger and better known world of pop to which Seinfeld belongs standing in for ‘classical’ **Star Trek really was the ultimate male fantasy, just hurtling through space in your living room, watching TV**

3. How many have you written? How often do you write? What inspires you?

I have probably written about two or three-hundred haikus, and maybe a couple dozen tankas. My inspirations tend to be opportunistic, things have to come together. First, I need to have some theory, then motive and finally, opportunity, before I start writing. Basically I’m a theorist who occasionally writes. I like working in a community of poets and readers because that’s the environment where I find motivation and opportunity, plus there’s a lot of cross fertilization, like people coming up with new topoi/utamakura. My favorite piece was something I came up with when some other poets attempted to do ‘spoken word’ haiku and I asked myself ‘What would Basho do’?  That’s why the fanboy haiku is a perfect form for me to work in, it’s easy to put together a group of like-minded people. In the classic tradition of haiku I do draw a lot of inspiration from nature as well, sunlight flashing on a dragonfly’s wings, the roar of cicadas, a pocket of warmth around a tree at night, a mallard shooting the rapids. That sort of stuff, but I don’t limit myself to it, by any means.

4. Why do your write haiku? How did you get started?

I don’t have a clue why I write haiku. To some extent, for me, poetry is just hanging out with my friends and shadowboxing with dead poets.

I started when I was very young—in the fifth grade, we were asked to write a haiku and a tanka.  Although they weren’t terribly good, both were fanboy haiku, in that they made allusions to Science Fiction, and they rhymed, since I thought they should belong with the other poetic tradition I was familiar with, Doctor Seuss and nursery rhymes.  Even then, I believed that haiku was just another kind of poetry, and that’s been my program ever since, just to be a poet who wrote haiku.

5. Do you work with other forms related to haiku, like renga or senryu or haiga?

I do renga (either single or multiple authored) and linked haiku.  Senryu is an artificial category in my opinion, I write humorous and vulgar stuff and many other kinds of poems in the 5-7-5 form and as long as they meet certain fairly minimal formal and functional requirements, call them all haiku.  The closest I’ve come to haiga is matching images to some haiku that a friend wrote for a website I created a while back, it’s on my list of things to do since I studied sumi-e. I recently started working with haibun—treating it as a form of flash fiction.

6. What advice would you give to aspiring haiku writers?

I think the first thing to remember is that haiku is just another form in which we can enrich the world through our poetic imagination, so your first focus should be on becoming a good poet, and gaining familiarity with the canon. Really, that should be canons, from Robert Frost to Bob Dylan.

Read lots of haiku, particularly the old stuff. Basho, Buson and Issa were the creators and masters of the form—they had a much broader conception of what exactly should constitute a haiku than subsequent practitioners, who have limited and refined the theory and practice of haiku.

In a technical sense, I think the haiku should strive for clarity over any other quality.

The best survey of haiku, which combines quality, breadth and occasional incisive analysis: An Introduction to Haiku: An Anthology of Poems and Poets from Basho to Shiki

The best discussion of Edo theory and practice (basically Basho): Traces of Dreams: Landscape, Cultural Memory, and the Poetry of Basho

It’s just a little too PoMo for me, but it’s by far the best analysis of Basho I’ve seen in English, and it is lavishly supported by translations of primary Japanese critical and theoretical writings from the time.

The book that started me on the road to my mature essays into fanboy haiku: Fanboy Haiku

It’s very inspirational and original—the technique is a little erratic, and there’s more Manglish than I like in haiku, but I mine this book for all sorts of good ideas.

7. Where can people read your haikus?

Scifaikuest published three of my poems, I can only link to the one poem in the online edition.

The big fanboy haiku call and response thread in the amazon Science Fiction Forum, I’ve removed a few that are making the rounds with various potential publishers: Sci-Fi call-n-response


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