Sanjukta Asopa is the first of my interviewees (just as a quick reminder, the first three were Peter Newton, Susan Diridoni, and Christopher Patchel) that I have never met in person, and this is because she lives on the other side of the world from me, in India, where there are so many fine English-language haiku poets. But I feel like I know her from our online interactions — well, I feel like I know so many of you from our online interactions, and I’m not wrong, am I? She is relatively new to haiku (well, so am I) but I have been admiring her poetry for quite a while and have been impressed with her rapid recent development as a poet. And I’m not the only one to notice how good she is — in the September 2011 issue of The Heron’s Nest, she won the Editor’s Choice award for her striking haiku:
shanty town —
the jagged edges
I felt I should do a little quoting of Sanjukta’s haiku for her since she seems to be a little shy in this interview of doing it herself. But from here out I’ll let her speak for herself. She does a very fine job.
Sanjukta Asopa: The Interview
Sanjukta Asopa / sanjuktaa
Rushing about the whole day doing precious little.
Website/blog/Twitter feed (if any):
Blog: wild berries
Family, pets, non-poetry hobbies, etc.:
I live with my husband in the somewhat sleepy city of Belgaum in the southern part of India, not too far away from the coast, surrounded by wooded hills and just opposite an eucalyptus forest. One daughter, married, studying abroad. No pets. My other hobbies include reading, music, birding, sitting glued to the TV watching cricket (or tennis or soccer) and occasionally letting out warcries if my team happens to be winning, though such occasions are not very frequent, I admit.
How long you’ve been writing haiku and what gave you the idea to do such a crazy thing in the first place:
My first introduction to haiku was when I happened to attend a workshop on a poetry site way back in 2006. Until then I had been writing light verse and had only the haziest notion about haiku as being a three line poem written only in Japan. I am afraid most people still do have the same notion of haiku. However, I was published in a journal named ‘Cloudspeak’ and in ‘The Heron’s Nest’ the following year. But after that there was a long hiatus of more than two years during which I wrote almost next to nothing. I have been back on the haiku scene again since mid 2010 and hopefully, this time I don’t have to leave.
Anyway, after the workshop I started to read up on haiku and the more I read, the more I got fascinated. Perhaps what appealed to me was the brevity of the form and the challenge to capture a passing moment with so few words. I don’t understand abstraction in ideas. I had done my master’s in philosophy and that traumatic experience was enough to put me off any kind of abstruseness for life. The emphasis in haiku on concrete images appealed to me. (To be perfectly honest, I also must have thought something like ‘only 3 lines and I’m through’! Though I knew better soon.) I felt I could express myself best in this form.
So that’s how haiku happened.
in the spring forest
a chance encounter
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?
What should haiku look like? I think that could be best answered by the experts. Personally, I like all the forms in which haiku are being written – from the 1-liner to the 4-liner or more. I love the juxts in haiku as much as the much-maligned simple shasei which can be breathtakingly lovely. Gendai interests me, though I cannot claim to understand it fully. I read this essay by marlene mountain (http://www.cddc.vt.edu/host/haikumania/marlenejapanesehaiku.htm) some days ago and realized that I completely agreed with her. Techniques are necessary. Like many others, I, too, had started my haiku journey by reading Jane Reichhold and that has been invaluable as far as techniques are concerned, but beyond that, and here I am speaking only for myself, I prefer not to be steeped in too many technicalities. I have noticed too much education is not good for me, it kind of stultifies the spontaneity. Who was that who said, “Water which is too pure has no fish”?
Purpose of haiku? I agree with ‘discovery’ (Anita Virgil ?), I also think ‘oneness’. The world around us is so achingly beautiful and language or words can only get this far. If as the zen saying goes that “Speech is blasphemy and silence a lie. Beyond speech and silence, there has to be a way out,” then haiku is probably the striving of the poet to find that way out, to attain the unattainable.
Anyway, need there be a purpose to everything? Some of the most joyous activities in the world are purposeless.
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”?
I used to be pretty undisciplined with my writing, but since I joined NaHaiWriMo (here, I have to thank you, Melissa, for inspiring me through your blog to join this site, and, of course, Michael Dylan Welch, who created this site), all that has changed. If not daily, at least, I try to write regularly. Whereas earlier I would write maybe two to three haiku a year!
Late afternoon or late evening is the time I curl up on the couch with my writing paraphernalia or prop myself up with pillows and cushions in front of the computer. I type as well as write longhand, but the final draft is always done on paper these days, after I lost quite a few of my poems when the computer crashed once.
Revisions are a must, of course; not once, but many times. On a few occasions I have sent submissions without revising, only to regret it later!
There is nothing special I do to get in the ‘haiku mode.’ Solitude is all I ask for, but never quite succeed in getting. I am careful to switch off the phones and the doorbell though! Not sure how and why the inspiration happens when it happens. A word, a phrase totally unrelated with poetry, a song , an image, anything can trigger it off. Sometimes it just falls out of the blue in my lap in the middle of the most mundane task I might be doing. (And let me tell you, being armed with a notebook always, just doesn’t work. One cannot whisk it out and start writing just anywhere! People tend to look askance.) But such inspirational moments are rare. At times, I am sure there is a haiku lurking here somewhere, but it goes on eluding me forever and ever. So mostly, I am slogging for poetry. One thing I love to do though is to buy myself lots of new notebooks and pens all the time; not only it makes me feel like a proper writer, but just looking at them somehow motivates me to write.
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?
It is very difficult to get haiku books here in India. I am constantly asking my daughter to buy books for me or to subscribe to this journal or that. Even then I don’t have too many books on haiku. But thanks to all the online journals and the blogs of various poets, there is no dearth of reading material online. I could spend the whole day reading haiku and never tire of it. Apart from haiku, I read a lot of other kind of poetry as well, though not the very long ones. (Nor can I finish the scholarly essays. I bookmark them, promising myself to return later, but never get down to doing it. This is no reflection on the essays, but on my own limited intellectual capabilities.) There are a lot of brilliant poets writing in Bengali, which is my mother tongue. Although sadly, none of them writes haiku, their poetry is an inspiration, nevertheless.
In haiku, along with all the standard online and print journals, whenever I can get them, I find Mann library’s archives an especially rewarding place to browse. There are poets there whose work is worth going back to again and again. My favourite poets? Not possible to name only a few, because there are so many of them whose work I admire. Many of my fellow NaHaiWriMo poets are also writing unbelievable.
Is there anything else you’d like to say about writing haiku? Or about how annoying these questions are?
My only regret these days has been why I hadn’t come upon haiku much earlier in life? I hope the genre continues to flourish with more and more poets from different countries and cultures joining in and that I could continue to be a part of it in however small way, for as long as I can, because to describe the way I feel about haiku, I’d probably have to borrow the final words of Steve Jobs: Oh wow. Oh wow. Oh wow.
Any final haiku you would like to share with my readers?
I really don’t think I’ve written anything memorable as yet. Could I quote a favourite poem of mine by another poet instead?
- Scott Metz
Finally, thank you a lot, Melissa, for giving me a chance to answer these questions.