Friday, August 30, 2019

The Art of Haiku: An Interview with Joe McKeon Ohio Poetry Association is excited to have Joe McKeon as a Sun & Moon Poetry Festival workshop leader!

To learn more about Joe and his workshop,
"Can everything that schoolchildren are taught about haiku poetry be wrong?" please click here

In the following interview with Sayuri Ayers, the OPA Treasurer, Joe shares his thoughts on haiku and shares some of his selected works.

SA: Is your poetry influenced by the natural world? If so, please tell us how.

JM: Man’s interaction with, and being a part of, nature is at the core of haiku. It is a common misconception, however, that haiku is about nature. A major element of traditional haiku is a seasonal reference called a kigo. We will discuss this at length in the workshop. Suffice it to say that seasonal references include many nature images. They appear throughout my poetry. For example:

moonless sky

one firefly lights

the path

headwinds shift

the lead goose moves

to the rear

SA: If you could introduce yourself to others through a poem, which poem (yours or one by another poet) would you choose?   

JM: This is an incredibly difficult question for a haiku poet. Haiku are egoless poems. By that I mean that they do not call attention to the poet’s opinions, judgments, language or “poetic” skills, or cleverness. The goal is for the poet avoid leaving his “thumbprint” on a poem. That is not to say, however, that haiku cannot be personal. By way of introduction here are two of my poems that are very personal to me:


memorial wall

dew drips through the space 

where my name should be

empty nest

snow deepens

the silence 


SA: What element(s) of craft do you focus on in your poetry?

JM: Interesting question!  [A part] of this workshop is “Haiku – The Poetry of Focus." Writing haiku is all about focus and capturing a specific moment. We will discuss the key elements of haiku, including brevity, openness, objectivity, simplicity, humility, engagement of the senses, and emotional impact. The real craft and challenge of writing haiku involves bringing as many as possible of these elements into a one breath-long poem. For example, here are two of my poems:

frozen pond

tiny cracks grow

between us

dining alfresco

the touch of a toe

under the table

SA: How would you encourage poets who are navigating the current political/cultural climate? Is there a poem that has helped you? 

JM: Haiku have addressed political and social issues for centuries. Much of what I write falls into this category and I find it very therapeutic. The challenge is to do so while honoring the most basic of haiku principles – “show, don’t tell.” Once again, this means blunt objectivity - no opinions, commentaries, or judgments. Here are some of my poems that are of this ilk:

oil swirls

in a sand castle moat

screeching gulls

outdoor exhibit

the darkness of winter

in the gorilla's eyes

breeched levee

a white stork shifts

to the other leg

dark alley

an ash can fire warms

the shadows

To find out more information about the Sun & Moon Poetry Festival, please click here.  

Festival registration is now open and will end on August 31.