"Are Haiku poems?": Jack Kerouac's poetry
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Will Dockery
2012-02-02 17:42:19 UTC
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In this marvelous interview with Kerouac I never saw before, he gives some
interesting and instructive thoughts on the creation of poetry, and Haiku


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You have said that haiku is not written spontaneously but is reworked and
revised. Is this true of all your poetry? Why must the method for writing
poetry differ from that of prose?


No, first; haiku is best reworked and revised. I know, I tried. It has to be
completely economical, no foliage and flowers and language rhythm, it has to
be a simple little picture in three little lines. At least that's the way
the old masters did it, spending months on three little lines and coming up,
say, with:

In the abandoned boat,

The hail

Bounces about.

That's Shiki. But as for my regular English verse, I knocked it off fast
like the prose, using, get this, the size of the notebook page for the form
and length of the poem, just as a musician has to get out, a jazz musician,
his statement within a certain number of bars, within one chorus, which
spills over into the next, but he has to stop where the chorus page stops.
And finally, too, in poetry you can be completely free to say anything you
want, you don't have to tell a story, you can use secret puns, that's why I
always say, when writing prose, "No time for poetry now, get your plain

[Drinks are served.]


How do you write haiku?


Haiku? You want to hear haiku? You see you got to compress into three short
lines a great big story. First you start with a haiku situation-so you see a
leaf, as I told her the other night, falling on the back of a sparrow during
a great big October wind storm. A big leaf falls on the back of a little
sparrow. How you going to compress that into three lines? Now in Japanese
you got to compress it into seventeen syllables. We don't have to do that in
American-or English-because we don't have the same syllabic bullshit that
your Japanese language has. So you say: "Little sparrow"-you don't have to
say little-everybody knows a sparrow is little because they fall so you say"


with big leaf on its back-


No good, don't work, I reject it.

A little sparrow

when an autumn leaf suddenly sticks to its back

from the wind.

Hah, that does it. No, it's a little bit too long. See? It's already a
little bit too long, Berrigan, you know what I mean?


Seems like there's an extra word or something, like when. How about leaving
out when? Say:

A sparrow

an autumn leaf suddenly sticks to its back-

from the wind!


Hey, that's all right. I think when was the extra word. You got the right
idea there, O'Hara! "A sparrow, an autumn leaf suddenly"-we don't have to
say suddenly do we?

A sparrow

an autumn leaf sticks to its back-

from the wind!

[Kerouac writes final version into a spiral notebook.]


Suddenly is absolutely the kind of word we don't need there. When you
publish that will you give me a footnote saying you asked me a couple of


[writes] Berrigan noticed. Right?


Do you write poetry very much? Do you write other poetry besides haiku?


It's hard to write haiku. I write long silly Indian poems. You want to hear
my long silly Indian poem?


What kind of Indian?


Iroquois. As you know from looking at me. [Reads from notebook.]

On the lawn on the way to the store

forty-four years old for the neighbors to hear

hey, looka, Ma I hurt myself. Especially

with that squirt.

What's that mean?

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Music & poetry from Will Dockery & Friends:
2012-02-06 08:28:50 UTC
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one hell of an interview
Will Dockery
2012-02-07 03:18:13 UTC
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Post by DoubleV
one hell of an interview
Kerouac talked the way he wrote, always with layers of meaning, and