The Lives of Poets, No. 3: Christopher Patchel

Having, in previous installments of this series, sought wisdom from poets on the East Coast and the West Coast, I decided it was time to hang around my own neck of the woods and spend some listening to a Midwestern poet. Chris Patchel lives in northern Illinois, not too far from me, and I’ve enjoyed talking to him at a few Haiku Society of America events. Before I ever met him, though, I’d admired his haiku, having noticed that his were likely to be among the few that lingered in my mind long after I’d finished reading a journal. I figured he’d have something to say worth listening to, and I was right, not to mention that he brought some much-needed graphic design expertise to this blog (needless to say, any remaining graphic design crappiness is my responsibility, not Chris’s).

(By the way, has anyone else noticed how many haiku poets are also visual artists or graphic designers? Somebody write something about that, will you?)

.Christopher Patchel

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Christopher Patchel: The Interview

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Name/pen name:

Christopher Patchel.

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Day job/occupation:

Freelance graphic designer

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Website/blog/Twitter feed (if any):

Limiting my time online is enough of a challenge as it is.

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Family, pets, non-poetry hobbies, etc.:

I’m single, and presently living in Mettawa, Illinois. Besides my interests in the arts and sciences I’m into biking, walking, pounding on an old Gibson guitar, dancing West Coast Swing, and fretting about things.

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How long you’ve been writing haiku and what gave you the idea to do such a crazy thing in the first place:

Writing was about the last thing I expected to get involved in. Nevertheless, I enrolled in a poetry class, and tried my hand at composing free verse. Shortly after that (as the millennium turned) I happened upon haiku for the first time. What struck me was the evocative power of so few words. That more-with-less aesthetic matched my graphic design approach, and I also appreciated the quiet perceptions, unassuming language, grounding in nature, and temporal/eternal resonance. It added up to a rare eureka experience. I read everything I could about the genre and took up the challenges of learning to write it.

One of those challenges was, and still is, working bottom up instead of top down, starting with concrete images (show don’t tell) and gut instincts, so that abstract thinking (my default mode) doesn’t dominate.

As time goes on I’m becoming increasingly involved in other haiku-related forms as well: haiga (haiku and art), haibun (haiku and prose), rengay and renku (collaborative haiku sequences).

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the skip of my heart / a shooting star

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Do you have a personal philosophy of haiku or a particular vision of haiku poetics? What do you think haiku are, or should be, in English? What do you think they should look like? What do you think their purpose is?

The world of literary haiku in English should look like it does, in all its diversity of aims and approaches, from scenic shasei to experimental gendai, with lots of arguing between and among the various schools of thought (as has always been the case with haiku in Japan). Otherwise the genre would become static.

As an artist I’m open to all forms of accomplished haiku. But what most interests me are slice-of-life moments of perception (whether trivial, profound, or impossible to categorize) which become memoir-like over time as one’s body of work takes shape as a whole.

I like the idea that what is most personal is most universal, and would prefer my work be accessible on some level to everyone, though I accept that haiku is an acquired taste for many.

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midlife…
my car radio
on scan
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What does your haiku writing practice look like? Do you write daily or regularly? Do you have special times or places you like to write? Do you write longhand or on a computer? Do you revise extensively? Is there anything in particular you do to put yourself in “haiku mode”?

Creative process is fascinating to me. Perhaps because my methods (or lack of methods) leave much to be desired, I never tire of hearing gifted creators describe how and why they do what they do. I’ve come to picture it in three main stages—inspiration, perspiration, and appraisal—which also operate in unison at any given time.

Is it ninety-nine percent perspiration and one percent inspiration? In my estimation, though Edison’s emphasis on the work ethic is well taken, inspiration is not only just as essential, it’s the life-breath of art and literature. And whether it comes by way of brainstorming, hard work, or out of the blue, it comes as a gift.

Such gifts of the Muse are sporadic for me, but more frequent during bike rides and walks (and car trips, with the downside of missed exits). Reading and research can often lead to serendipitous ideas. And specific challenges, such as rengay linking, tend to get my neurons firing, so I would like to find ways to incorporate that kind of motivation into my process.

The writing phase—getting syntax, sound, rhythm, juxtaposition, images, and what have you, to give rise to an experience—is the perspiration part. In spite of (or because of) the brevity of haiku the degree of difficulty involved in the word-craft is ridiculous. And my word-by-word, piece-by-piece adding, subtracting, arranging and rearranging (even articles and prepositions keep me up at night) is more like assemblage than the flow of words I tend to associate with the craft of writing. Rolling up sheet of paper after sheet of paper and tossing them at the wastebasket is sometimes the closest I come to feeling writerly.

When a poem does come together I transfer it to computer. Any initial sense of euphoria will likely turn to dismay the next time I read it afresh and notice the problems. With luck and further revising I may eventually reach a point of contentment. Rewriting is a perpetual in any case, even with poems published years ago.

In addition to time’s role in the appraisal of work, feedback from others is invaluable (and quicker). I was tickled to learn how Nick Virgilio would solicit perfect strangers to get their reactions to his work. I feel pesky enough asking friends what they think.

An editor’s acceptance or rejection of a haiku for publication, though not the final word on its worth, is also part of my evaluation process.

And needless to say, whenever a poem connects with one other person, or many, the creative process finds its completion.

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writer’s block
I clean out
the refrigerator

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last night’s
brilliant effort
in daylight

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What does your haiku reading practice look like? Are there poets you particularly appreciate? Journals you find especially inspiring? Do you read haiku daily? Do you read mostly English-language haiku or do you read a great deal of Japanese haiku (in translation or not) or haiku in other languages? Are there books you would recommend, either of haiku or about haiku?

My reading list of journals and anthologies is typical, albeit limited by my low saturation point. Scholarly volumes mostly sit unfinished. Translated poetry requires more effort for less return, given the divide, so I don’t read a whole lot beyond what the journals publish (shame on me). What’s most lacking on my bookshelves are haiku collections, which I purchase whenever the budget allows.

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Is there anything else you’d like to say about writing haiku? Or about how annoying these questions are?

“Why do you write haiku?” is a question Curtis Dunlap asks on his blog, and I can easily identify with most of the answers given: heightened awareness; living in the now; connection with oneself, others, creation; To participate. (Peggy Lyles); To preserve, share, and savor… (Curtis Dunlap); …because I can… (Charles Trumbull); god only knows (Jim Kacian).

Widening the question: Why engage in any form of art or literature, given the labor involved in such labors of love? In my case it’s apparently part of a larger obsession with meaning, which is apparently as necessary as air.

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Any final haiku you would like to share with my readers?

Thanks for the invitation to process these questions, Melissa.

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catching a maple leaf
just before the ground—
Indian summer

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nameless longings
a floating seed
eludes my hand

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Credits: the skip of my heart—unpublished; midlife—Heron’s Nest v10.2, 2008; White Lies: Red Moon Anthology 2009; writer’s block—RawNervz 9.1, 2003; last night’s—Modern Haiku 41:2, 2010; catching a maple leaf—Frogpond 25:1, 2002; A New Resonance 3, 2001; Haiku Calendar Competition 2007 (November runner up); nameless longings—Heron’s Nest 10:1, 2008; Seed Packets (Flower Anthology) 2010

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17 thoughts on “The Lives of Poets, No. 3: Christopher Patchel

  1. Peter Newton says:

    Christopher,

    Glad to meet the man behind the poems. Wonderful stuff. And thanks Melissa for ever-widening this band of strangers.

    Best,
    –Peter

  2. paul m. says:

    As a fan of Chris’ work I greatly enjoyed this chance to get to know him slightly better. I was particularly pleased to see his comment that work “become(s) memoir-like over time as one’s body of work takes shape as a whole.” and that “what is most personal is most universal.” Thoughts I heartily agree with. I was also pleased to read his assessment of the “community” at large. A healthy goal! Thanks

  3. Mary Pat Kincaid says:

    Chris is one of my favorite dance partners. I always love reading his Haiku. Interesting to learn how they came about. Thanks for sharing!

    Mary Pat

  4. Chris Patchel says:

    Yes, whether with poetry or art I’m all too well known for my pesky “Do you like it like this, or like that?” (Often over minute differences no one but me cares about).

    These two senyru are dance inspired–since Denise brought it up–the first from a haiku sequence titled “singles”:

    four left feet two step

    smitten—
    my swing partner’s
    pony tail

    Thanks very much for your comments. They mean a lot. –Chris

  5. Thank you, Melissa, for a terrific interview (and love your poem in the current frogpond), and to Christopher for such thoughtful responses. I was also struck by “what is most personal is most universal.” Wonderful haiga, too!

  6. snowbirdpress says:

    Melissa, I was so glad to find this article. Paul mentioned it to me and articles like this help to give such an added dimention to the haiku. I will be reading Chris’ work with a great deal more resonence from now on. Many thanks. Merrill

  7. tom clausen says:

    wonderful to read this and thoroughly enjoyed the range of what Chris shares about his haiku path… great thanks Melissa and I’ll share this great interview along on FB ( great thanks Chris!)

    • snowbirdpress says:

      Hi, Tom, This is such a great interview. I wish more poets could walk us through their creative process like this. Getting to know the background and the person surely makes the haiku vivid and alive.

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