A Hundred Gourds 2:3 June 2013
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From There to Here: Conversations with John E. Carley

| Introduction | page 2 | page 3 | page 4 | page 5 | page 6 | page 7 |

Interview with John E. Carley

Willie: Would you mind telling us a little about yourself, your origins? Our colleagues most only interact with you as you wield the "iron fist", leading unerringly through pages and progressions of linked verse, sometimes arduous, or, merely fleeting.

John: I'm the quintessential representative of the only minority that isn't a minority. I'm a fair skinned, middle aged, middle class Briton with 1.0 wives and 2.2 children. I was raised in a fiercely Irish Catholic (read immigrant) community transplanted to the north of England by the old industrial revolution. My childhood was entirely spent trying to avoid adults beating the devil out of me. Literally. Turns out the problem wasn't Ashtaroth but Dyslexia. But at least I learnt an abiding hatred of anyone in a position of power. Myself, for instance, as sabaki.

Willie: You've enjoyed many roles in the haikai field - gofer, cook, bottle washer - as well as journal editor and host of writing groups. Just what were some of those and what other credentials might you dare reveal?

John: I once played bongos for the pope emeritus in a salon in the Vatican. And I recorded three takes of a performance poem for TV at 59.4, 59.2 and 59.7 seconds. My first vinyl single was banned by the BBC - a two-tone ska piece called 'Riot' (turns out they did). And I was formally given the Bengali honorific 'Kobi' meaning 'Poet'. Better than that actually, the Miah-Carley Charity Shield was the top trophy for the footie lads in Sylhet for a number of years. To the best of my knowledge they still contest it.

The haikai stuff, I just did out of boredom.

Willie: Would you name any mentors to understanding, and/or defining, your renku path?

John: All the mad shouty loons of the Haiku Wars were a help as anything they said you could ignore. Of the serious people, William J. Higginson was an inspiration for his manner as much as anything. His attention to minor detail, such as truth, was commendable. As was his patience with idiots like me. I entirely disagree with his take on season words, but he never once threatened to burn my house down.

The surpassing figure though is Nobuyuki Yuasa. The man's use of English is beautiful. His 1966 translation of The Narrow Road struck me where it hurt. It was the scariest moment of my life when I got to write with him. How do you address someone who is quite literally venerable – “wotcha mate”? Yuasa holds the keys to the spirit of haikai. Technique is just a procedural matter.

Willie: You've been involved for some time in the translation of Japanese language renku from the original texts. We'd really like to know what you've been working on.

John: Whatever my daughter tells me - she's the Japanese expert! Thanks to her caustic eye I've just finished another two kasen, Ume Wakana no Maki and Shimotsuki ya no Maki. That's Plum Flowers, Fresh Greens and November Frost respectively.

The first is really interesting because it's an absolute dog's breakfast - cobbled together after extensive edits by what were effectively three separate writing teams. And yet it very nearly works. Some passages are excellent.

The second is really pretty good throughout but notable for the maudlin sentimentality and general bogosity of Basho's religious verses. Of which there are too many. Each horrid in a different way.

I'm not quite sure where to go to next with the translations. I'd been doing individual Shiki haiku for the sake of variety, both of period and aesthetics, but it turns out no one can be critical of Shiki so I've lost interest. I'm also not exactly in the best of health, so I don't really want to start something I can't finish.


Blasted Trees, photo art by John Carley