Peter Newton is a poet and stained glass artist living in Winchendon, Massachusetts. He is a graduate of The University of Michigan and Middlebury College’s Bread Loaf School of English--where he has worked for the past seventeen summers. His poems are included in Haiku: A Poet’s Guide by Lee Gurga as well as Take Five, The Best Contemporary Tanka of 2008, edited by M.Kei, et.al. Other poems of his have appeared in the Atlanta Review, The Adirondack Review, Prairie Schooner, Modern Haiku and Modern English Tanka, among others.
1) Why do you write haiku?
To slow down the world.
To exercise my awareness.
To inhabit the quiet places I discover in my life.
To breathe in an experience.
To truly absorb it.
To break someone’s heart, if only my own.
I love the one-breath poem. The challenge. I find it’s a balancing act like running a race while carrying an egg in a teaspoon. Looks like fun, but not an easy task. The bigger challenge is to do it with a reverence for the grass, the breeze and everything around you. A light heart helps. I write haiku to learn how to write better haiku. The sculptor, Henry Moore said, “Your life’s work is that which you find impossible.” Somehow, I know I’ll spend my life attempting haiku. Trying to chronicle the perfect moments.
2) What other poetic forms do you enjoy?
Tanka has been a favorite of late. But free-verse was my beginning. I suspect I’m also writing free-verse tanka. No matter what poems I write they all seem to be small poems. I think in parentheses, write down asides. All to end up with a nugget of truth. Most mornings I begin simply writing in my journal as a way to record the inner life. Long walks help, a good run. Staying up late to solve the world’s problems with a friend. Poetry is a way of life now. And I’m grateful for the solitude it brings. Each day includes some form of writing. My stints at Bread Loaf are a life-saver. Vermont in July—can’t beat it. There’s so much to learn. Why not return to summer school for my 22nd consecutive year. I read poems by a variety of poets. It’s a revolving list with many main-stays: Rumi, Dickinson, cummings, Kunitz, Ammons, Bishop, Huddle, Gilbert, Hirshfield, Dunn, Oliver and the myriad of unknowns I discover in a library or a journal somewhere. I am drawn to the succinct and the wry smile that says: yes, we are in this together.
3) Of the many wonderful haiku you’ve written, what do you consider to be your top three?
First, I like the question—couched in a compliment. Today, I like these three still:
guzzling the fountain shimmering pigeons
we gave each other
Each of the above poems appeared in Modern Haiku.
Many thanks for this on-going, interactive conversation on poetry.
If you've been enjoying this weekly series and have not contributed, please consider sharing your response (whether it be for haiku or tanka) to the three little questions that Peter answered. You must be a published poet in order to participate.
ayaz daryl nielsen will be our guest next week.