The Lives of Poets, No. 2: Susan Diridoni

(For the first interview in this series, with Peter Newton, and a more in-depth explanation of what it’s all about, look here.)

After having admired Susan Diridoni’s poetry for a while and gotten to know her a bit online and through email, I had the great pleasure to meet her in person at Haiku North America in August. We share an interest in gendai and other modern developments in haiku and had many stimulating discussions on this and other topics. I knew that with her unique poetic voice and her pronounced and fascinating opinions on so many poetic matters, she would make a great victim for my “Questions to Annoy Poets With.”

And I was right. Susan took my questions and shaped her answers to them into a coherent essay detailing her development as a poet, her reading and writing habits, and her haiku aesthetic. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did.

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Susan Diridoni

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The Interview: Susan Diridoni

[Note: For a thorough detailing of my path into the writing of haiku, please see “Three Questions—Susan Diridoni” at Curtis Dunlap’s blog, Blogging Along Tobacco Road. For my essay titled “My Accidental Slip Into Gendai Haiku,” see the next issue of Modern Haiku (43.1 Winter-Spring 2012).]

The most salient feature of my haiku-reading practice is my alertness to find haiku poets whose work thrills me, whose work I admire. This includes years of reading printed journals such as—Modern Haiku, Frogpond, Bottle Rockets, Presence, Acorn, etc.—and online journals such as—Roadrunner, Simply Haiku, Chrysanthemum, The Heron’s Nest, etc., and blogs such as—Don Wentworth’s Issa’s Untidy Hut, Melissa Allen’s Red Dragonfly, Fay Aoyagi’s Blue Willow Haiku World, etc.

I also purchase numerous recommended books such as—titles from Red Moon Press [individual authors as well as anthologies], Poems of Consciousness by Richard Gilbert, The Haiku Universe for the 21st Century edited by Gendai Haiku Kyokai, multiple titles by Makoto Ueda, Hiroaki Sato, Haruo Shirane, Esperanza Ramirez-Christensen, etc. Also, I find good leads to pursue in the periodic book reviews posted by Don Wentworth and by Melissa Allen in their blogs.

In my search for poets who thrill me, I survey features on poets which appear in Roadrunner and Chrysanthemum and Simply Haiku [both its earlier and its current versions], and happily these sometimes spotlight foreign poets, such as: Chrysanthemum’s [#9, April 2011] feature on German poet Udo Wenzel, and Roadrunner’s [X:2] brief interview with French poet Alain Kervern.

These profiles provide a real service, their translations allowing access to international poetic sensibilities. Ever more online haiku journals are opening language borders—including the varied blogs of Johannes S.H. Bjerg—and I welcome them all. In the years since my teenage discovery of Rainer Maria Rilke, I have—with passionate hope!—tried countless translations, including intriguing finds of new Rilke translations [Martyn Crucefix’s translation of Duino Elegies (Enitharmon Press, 2006) and Damion Searls’ translation, The Inner Sky (Godine, 2010)]. Needless to say, the flow of better Japanese translations of both past and present poets and commentators offers the international English-language  haiku community a stunning platform of worthy reconsiderations! How felicitous is progress with translation!

This diverse and continuing reading accomplishes several goals. First and foremost, my reading allows me to elevate my poetic aspirations (about which I will say more, later). My eyes are being opened to stylistic discernment. For example, some of the haiku poets whose work frequently employs metaphor can be quite beautiful to me, but also so different from my own tendencies that I can only marvel at their work—these include the relaxed and sensitive work of Marjorie Buettner, the lovely work of the tragically deceased Svetlana Marisova, the lyrical work of Robert Wilson and Claire Everett, etc.

In addition to style, I have found myself noticing certain content. After reading a few appearances of Eve Luckring in Roadrunner, I emailed her to express my appreciation of her socially-conscious haiku. Her answer was bracing: that I would not believe how many virtual waste-baskets she fills before arriving at those published haiku. Wow, o brave new world!

Peter Yovu’s haiku has intrigued me, including some brilliant social commentary. Though finding so trenchant the social focus in haiku by Eve Luckring, Peter Yovu, and occasionally Scott Metz, I never expected myself to be writing such haiku. My first venture into this territory was occasioned by a seemingly enormous full moon, as if sitting upon the Berkeley (California) hills, looking dull since the sun had not yet set in the Pacific. I worked with this dull moon coinciding with December 1st, long-designated as World AIDS Day. This was published in the final online issue of 3LIGHTS:

unlit moon World AIDS Day

My strongest social impetus early this year was the “Egyptian Spring”—the February ‘11 pro-democratic events in Cairo (and later, elsewhere). My visit to Cairo five years ago had deeply sensitized me to social circumstances there. Yet only one month later, on 3-11, the world was shocked by the enormous quake and resultant massive tsunami in Japan’s Tohoku region (and subsequent nuclear reactor risk). I could not address the tsunami for several weeks, I found it so distressing, but when this door opened, it would not easily close. [See the soon-to-be-delivered Frogpond (Vol. 34:3/2011) to read my tsunami haibun, “was that river”.] Examples from these events:

texting dissimulation under an eroding sphinx

[Frogpond 34:2, 2011]

hard lessons fill the train where goes life as-wave

[Roadrunner 11.2]

The “gang” of more-or-less regulars in Roadrunner (including the poetry of co-editors Scott Metz and Paul Pfleuger, Jr.) include many poets I pay close attention to. Sometimes I have had the impression that poets in Roadrunner occasionally take something—a feeling, a visual, something physical or even temporal—and they “translate” it from a simple description into a new realm of perception, as if it were delineated in slow motion, molecularly or in some other modality.

This brings to mind the way that Virginia Woolf’s descriptions through the lens of a character’s mad spells could turn simple visual details into distracting grotesqueries. The gendai haiku may take recognizable aspects of life, but these may then explode or unfold or wax lyrically into unsuspected dynamics. I might be hard pressed to analyze one of mine—

arsenal reduced to ruins just bright your speaking

[Roadrunner 10.2]

–but this haiku jives for me, its atmosphere crackling with a surprisingly up-beat closing comment. While Richard Gilbert was offering the first-ever “William Higginson Memorial Lecture” at the HNA Seattle, August 2011, he occasionally screened haiku from a recent Roadrunner [11.1]. A strikingly dense haiku by Cherie Hunter Day elicited a question from the audience, “What does it mean?” Cherie answered, “I don’t know, it came intuitively.” A definite group of like-minded poets nodded and smiled appreciatively, while a muffled groan rose from another segment of the audience!

When I abandoned poetry to begin psychology studies and forge a career, I found a way to keep alive my creative lyricism. I used the writing of cards to friends and family as a serious effort to pour out lyrical prayer for circumstances of suffering or to construct lyrical wishes for celebratory occasions. Those years of careful writing taught me that making an intention can start the simmering process, a simmering that can be on-going for hours until pen and paper must be sought. Sometimes a person’s affliction for which I intended to write was daunting, so taking time for the simmering, deliberately, was actually needed.

Almost always, welcomed revision would occur as I copied my writing into the card I had chosen. This revising was so inevitable that just re-typing something into a typewriter (later, PC) would accomplish improvement. This is still true, to such an extent that if I start with one brief phrase (for a one-liner) that attracts me [in other words, that begins the “simmering”], just typing it and seeing it on-screen may bring me nearly spontaneously to the rest of the one-liner. I might “hear” the completion, faster than I can type it. This is how the following pair occurred [both appeared in Don Wentworth’s “Wednesday Haiku” (#6 and #19), a feature in his multi-faceted blog, Issa’s Untidy Hut]:

this brimming reddened west your heart today

step back into the fragrance our histories mingling

My life has featured only sporadic periods of routine; thus, creativity—when I have desired productivity—can occupy center stage for a spell. I’ve had time to notice that certain circumstances are strong triggers for writing. Among the strongest triggers are emotionally charged events, but almost as compelling are very strongly registered perceptions—registers that may be emotional, visceral, visual, intellectual, or memories.

So for me, haiku is not the traditional “haiku moment” though some important haiku of mine have emerged from powerful moments. As Scott Metz recommends, why not bring all of who we are—now, in our various cultures and histories—into our haiku! A closing haiku from “Wednesday Haiku” (#37):

the sum of our visit the stars cluster

“ … to elevate my poetic aspirations”—these inspiring-muses [the poets who thrill me] can form a kind of gallery of supporters, exhorters, and models who I celebrate & by celebrating sometimes gain an approach into that air, that high, fine air, the quickening places that we are sharing, here at Melissa’s Red Dragonfly!

— Susan Diridoni, September 2011

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17 thoughts on “The Lives of Poets, No. 2: Susan Diridoni

  1. jshb32 says:

    Another great portrait!!! This idea is really a good one. It’s interesting to read about what makes other writers tick as this process can be a very lonely one at times.

    Thanks Susan & Melissa (sounds a bit like a C&W duo – not intended)

  2. Peter Newton says:

    Thanks M. and to you Susan for your explorations into the lyric spirit that rings so familiar to many of us. You help to reveal what parallel paths so many haiku poets share. A dense and rewarding read with wonderful examples.

    All best,

    –Peter

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