A Hundred Gourds 3:2 March 2014

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Haiku Guy: The Guy, the Books, and the Classroom

| Introduction | page 2 | page 3 | page 4 |

Interview with David Lanoue (continued)

Aubrie: I remember someone once described Haiku Guy as a "how to guide for haiku" disguised as a novel. What's your thoughts on this description?

David: Wow. Again, I’m glad that I didn’t read your questions ahead of time. I don’t know who that “someone” was, but I thought of the text in exactly that same way, as I’ve said. In fact, the original working title of it was How to Write Haiku. My writing group (the real writing group, not the fictional one that I sent to Old Japan) convinced me that I would have a devil of a time convincing a publisher to accept the book with that title. Publishers, as you probably know, are always thinking of the neat niches into which books are categorized on bookstore shelves: detective, romance, science fiction, and so on. My goal in Haiku Guy was to introduce the art of haiku to readers who normally don’t read poetry: to slip in this unfamiliar medicine, disguising its taste with the honey of prose fiction. In the second book, Laughing Buddha, I wanted to dramatize my own inner struggle, being both a literary critic and someone who grabs a pen now and then, letting the ink flow where it will. In that book, the instructional subtext is about freeing one’s inner Buck-Teeth, one’s creative mind, and not allowing one’s critic within—as personified by the evil professor-slash-ninja Nakamura—to kill poetry. I used Haiku Wars to present some of my ideas about the heated clashes that are going on in the international haiku community over what constitutes a haiku, narrated by a quite knowledgeable and literary minded ferret. I’ll stop here and just add that the other novels also, if you peer deeply into them, have instructional agendas.

Aubrie: Do you have any thoughts on how haiku novels may be used in haiku education?

David: I was amazed when Tom Painting showed me the copy of Haiku Guy that he has used to teach haiku to high school students. It’s all marked up and annotated, just like the books that I use in my own teaching, only instead of Chaucer and Dante, the book was written by me! I admit, it was a heady moment. Even though I also teach haiku from time to time at Xavier University of Louisiana, I don’t think that I could ever use my own book in the way that Tom does; it’s too close. But Tom has shared with me several very creative assignments that invite his students to use the book as a springboard into discussions of what constitutes a haiku and, more importantly, to inspire haiku-writing. You might want to ask him for details.

Aubrie: You've written five haiku novels now. The most recent Dewdrop World was published in May 2013. Are there plans for any future adventures with Buckteeth and the gang?

David: The “last” one might be read as a prequel to the first one, so the five books form a nice circle. I think Buck-Teeth and the gang will live on quite happily inside that circle. It’s complete.

Aubrie: On your website, you mention you'd like to see more people write and publish haiku novels. What advice would you give to writers attempting a haiku novel?

David: First, fill your notepad (or these days, your phone) with tons of haiku. Then, as you start to write your story, reach into that pile and insert haiku wherever you feel they belong. Let the action go forward or sideways or backwards, but always punctuate it with one-breath verses. Have fun. Don’t take it or yourself too seriously. See what the invisible Buddha deep in your head decides to move you to write. And if those narrow-minded, fastidiously categorizing publishers reject your manuscript, I have two words for you: Create Space!

Aubrie: Finally, what's some other good reading for lovers of the haiku novels, aside from Kerouac and your own work?

David: I greatly admire and highly recommend Lenard D. Moore’s 1993 book, Desert Storm. Lenard tells his story entirely in haiku, so it’s a different approach to the haiku novel than the one that I have taken. David Patneaude, whom I met at the HSA meeting last summer in Seattle, published a poignant, haiku-peppered young adult story about the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, Thin Wood Walls (2008). I officially welcomed him to the international Masonic order of haiku novelists, and I taught him the secret handshake.


Three of Lanoue’s haiku novels. All five are also available in e-book format.