Daily Haiku: Aug. 19, 2018

A special feature appears today: An interview with Robert Epstein about his new haiku collection, Checkout Time is Soon. Included are some sample haiku! Please read the interview and haiku below:

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You have published a second book of haiku related to the theme of death: Checkout Time is Soon: More Death Awareness Haiku.

Why did you write this book?

Since the age of four, when my maternal grandfather died of a stroke and surviving family members were visibly bereft, I have been frightened by death. As an adult, I have spent many years endeavoring to face this deep-seated fear of death and dying. I attended numerous retreats on conscious living and dying facilitated by the late meditation teacher, Stephen Levine and his wife, Ondrea. I have read a good deal on this subject.

What helped me a lot was discovering the Japanese death poems of monks, samurai, and others which were collected and translated into English by Buddhist scholar, Yoel Hoffmann, entitled, Japanese Death Poems. It was a literature of loss that felt spiritually elevating and inspiring. I summoned the courage to begin writing death poems. Of course, since I am not on the brink of death, I realized that I needed to call them something else.

Death awareness haiku have been my attempt to face my own mortality. Doing so is important, because as the Buddha taught, living fully calls for an ongoing consciousness of our own transient or impermanent nature.

Recently, someone contacted me via e-mail for information about death poems and that query in itself precipitated an outpouring of death awareness haiku that I gathered together in this book of poems. I was surprised by how many poems came tome, almost unbidden. I thought, perhaps, I had exhausted the genre by creating a blog some years ago devoted to death awareness haiku, but I guess the haiku well I draw from is still active. (www.deathawarenesshaiku.blogspot.com)

How is this book similar to or different from the first book you wrote on the subject, Checkout Time is Noon: Death Awareness Haiku?

 

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The first book of death awareness haiku was directly influenced by the death poems I read in Hoffmannʼs book, Japanese Death Poems. Hoffmann had suggested that death poems reflected the spiritual essence of the writer, and so I consciously tried to offer such a legacy in the poems I wrote. In retrospect, I think I may have been straining to be profound.

In my new book, I gave myself a bit more room to be playful, even light-hearted, without, I hope, trivializing the serious nature of the topic. I liked the idea of building the book around the theme of visiting a hotel or motel, since we humans are all travelers by virtue of our finiteness. The resulting poems may not be memorable or enduring but I enjoyed writing them and giving voice to a wide range of concerns relating to mortality.

Some might say that focusing on death is morbid or “negative.” How do you respond to this criticism?

Surprisingly enough, an American-born Buddhist faulted me for editing a book on grief and loss, suggesting that I didn’t need to dwell so much on the “negative.” I took great exception to this, because from my point of view, contemplating death or giving poignant expression to the love that underlies sadness and loss, is anything but morbid.

Unlike most Westerners, I do not divide the world into positive and negative. I regard such a template or frame of reference as misguided. I am interested instead in what the secular teacher, J. Krishnamurti, calls what is– meaning life as-it-is beyond our ideas, beliefs, memories and preconceptions. Death and loss are inextricable, inescapable aspects of life and there is much to be learned by facing our limited time here on Earth.

In fact, I passionately maintain that an awareness of our own mortality may enable us to live more sensitively, gratefully, fully.

I want to be clear that I am not encouraging people to become obsessed with death, per se. That would defeat the whole purpose of enjoying and appreciating life. For those who are already inclined toward despair or whose impaired mental health takes them precariously close to suicide, it is inadvisable to contemplate mortality. For those who are emotionally and spiritually balanced, there is a lot to be said for meditating on impermanence.

How do you think readers might benefit from reading death poems or death awareness haiku?

 Despite the heroic efforts of pioneering thanatologists like Elizabeth Kubler-Ross who opened the doors to death and dying in the 1960s, we still tend to relegate the subject to the margins of our lives. Many, if not most people, find it very uncomfortable to talk about cemetery plots, cremation, funerals, death anniversaries, and a host of other aspects of death.

My hope is that these books of death awareness haiku––many of which are written in a light-hearted spirit––might enable readers to dwell a while on the subject. If fear is a factor contributing to avoidance, perhaps the poems may take the edge off the fear.

It would please me if readers might share the haiku with friends or family, prompting conversations with loved ones about death and dying. Doing so might even deepen closeness or intimacy.

While I do not consider haiku poetry as therapy in itself, death awareness haiku may contain a therapeutic element. That is, a healing quality insofar as it enables the reader to face something perhaps they (or others they know) have avoided.

Wonʼt readers be spooked or scared by reading death awareness haiku?

It is possible that some readers might respond initially with fear to some of the poems in the book. Each reader needs to be emotionally attuned to his or her needs and limits. I maintain that human beings are fundamentally strong and capable of facing their fears.

In my therapy work, I might ask someone frozen in fear whether they would prefer to cross the busiest street in San Francisco during the height of rush hour wearing a blindfold or not. No one has ever opted for the blindfold. Each time we sensitively face our fear we are simultaneously building courage.

Do you recommend that readers write death poems or death awareness haiku?

Writing death awareness haiku is a matter of individual choice. That said, I think I would encourage readers to try their hand at writing haiku about other subjects of interest relating to their daily lives. I donʼt think I would encourage a beginning haiku poet to start out with death awareness haiku unless someone feels a strong desire to do so. In that case, by all means write away. For those wishing to write death poems, I recommend at some point reading  Japanese Death Poems.

Can you give a few examples of death awareness haiku from your new book?

 Here are a few poems from Checkout Time is Soon that I like:

 

packing. . .

but I only need one

birthday suit

 

tea on the balcony

how small things

elevate us

 

free ice

how long will it keep

in a casket?

 

little spider

your lifespan & mine

about the same

 

listen for me

the wind through

your buttonholes

 

Is there anything else you’d like to mention?

 

Yes, for those interested in delving into the literature on death and loss from an existential or spiritual perspective, I have included a Suggested Reading list in my book. These are all books that I have read over the years and found helpful.

I would also like to call attention to the Foreword that you graciously wrote for the book. You highlighted many of the affirming aspects of death awareness poetry that I have tried to summarize in this exchange, and I am very grateful to you for doing so.

Robert Epstein

El Cerrito, CA

14 August 2018

Copyright 2018 by Robert Epstein.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About Charlotte Digregorio

I publish books. I have marketed and/or published 55 titles. These books are sold in 46 countries to bookstores, libraries, universities, professional organizations, government agencies, and book clubs. I recently received an Official Commendation from Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner for my thirty-eight years of accomplishments in the literary arts, and my work to promote and advance the field by educating adults and students alike. I am the author of five non-fiction books: Haiku and Senryu: A Simple Guide for All; Everything You Need to Know About Nursing Homes; You Can Be A Columnist; Beginners' Guide to Writing & Selling Quality Features; and Your Original Personal Ad. The first four books have been adopted as supplemental texts at universities throughout the U.S., Canada, India, Pakistan, and Catalonia. They are sold in 43 countries, and are displayed in major metropolitan cultural centers. These books have been reviewed, recommended, and praised by hundreds of critics, librarians, and professors worldwide. I am also the author of a poetry collection: "Shadows of Seasons: Selected Haiku and Senryu." Two of my books have been Featured Selections of Writer's Digest Book Club. I am regularly interviewed by major print, radio, and television organizations throughout the U.S. I regularly sign books at libraries, chain bookstores, and university bookstores, and do poetry readings at art centers, cafes, tea houses, and galleries. I was recently nominated for a Pushcart Prize in poetry. I have won forty-seven poetry awards, writing twelve poetic forms. My poetry has been translated into eight languages. I do illustrated solo poetry exhibits 365 days a year in libraries, galleries, corporate buildings, hospitals, convention centers, and other venues. My individual poems have been displayed at supermarkets, apparel and wine shops, banks, botanic gardens, restaurants, and on public transit. I have been nominated and listed in "The International Authors and Writers Who's Who" in Cambridge, England and in the "Who's Who In Writers, Editors & Poets U.S./Canada." I hosted my own radio program, "Poetry Beat," on public broadcasting. My poetry has been featured on several library web sites including those of Shreve Memorial Library in Louisiana and Cornell University's Mann Library. My background includes positions as a feature editor and columnist at daily newspapers and as a magazine editor. I have been a public relations director for a non-profit organization. I am self-employed as a public relations/marketing consultant, having served a total of 118 clients in 23 states for the past several decades . In other professional areas, I have been on university faculties, teaching French, Italian, and Writing. I regularly give lectures and workshops on publishing, journalism, publicity, poetry, and creativity to business and professional groups, and at writer's conferences, universities, literary festivals, non-profit organizations, and libraries. I have been a writer-in-residence at universities. There have been about 400 articles written about me in the media. I have served on the Boards of writers and publishers organizations. My positions have included Board Secretary of the Northwest Association of Book Publishers. I served for five years as Midwest Regional Coordinator of The Haiku Society of America, and for two years as its Second Vice President.
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8 Responses to Daily Haiku: Aug. 19, 2018

  1. cvarsalona says:

    Wonderful interview. You opened my eyes to looking at death in a poetic way.
    listen for me
    the wind through
    your buttonholes

  2. Hi Charlotte, Robert’s poignant poem below is featured on the banner of The Haiku Foundation today. It is one of my selected thirty-one haiku/senryu for the October “Per Diem” feature.

    in pine shade
    for a while I forget
    life will end

    Robert Epstein

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