An interview by Raamesh Gowri Raghavan
Haiku by Dr. Angelee Deodhar originally published in Mann Library’s Daily Haiku, March 2013, reproduced by permission of the author.
Haiku has been as misunderstood around the world as it has been famous. To most, it is a 5-7-5 verse in 3 lines. In a series of interviews with haiku poets from India, I'd love to break the myth, and bring to you the depth and beauty of this form, expressed in just three lines.
I begin with Dr. Angelee Deodhar. An ophthalmologist by profession, her first passion has always been writing. A chance reading of Potpourri, the American poetry journal, brought her to haiku in 1989. Like a poet who finally found her calling, she took to it immediately. Besides haiku, she is also an exponent of the haibun – a form that brings together the experiential essay and the haiku into a symphony of emotions.
She has led from the front in translating the works of Japanese poets into Indian languages, and has promoted the development of the form in the Hindi language. Interspersed with the questions are Angelee's haiku (reproduced with her kind permission).
RGR: What made you think haiku was your calling? How were your initial years writing haiku? You state in your interview with contemporary haiku master Robert D. Wilson (Simply Haiku, Winter 2006, vol 4 no 4) that you struggled with the perception among Indian writers that it was no more than a 3-line poem, ignoring its unique semantic construct, objectivity, and sense of the moment?
AD: I had never heard of haiku till I was in a hospital bed in 1989-1990. So if it was a ‘calling’ I certainly didn’t know it existed. I was familiar with English language poetry and had written longer poems and short stories, but then I discovered haiku – It was love at first read and that affair has continued.
I wrote to the Japanese Embassy in Delhi to get an idea of what haiku was. They Xerox-ed a couple of pages in which I found Mr. William J. Higginsons’ address and wrote to him. He very kindly sent me a signed copy of his Haiku Handbook. Then I got a copy of Lucien Stryks book ‘A cage of fireflies’ as a gift from my husband. Many months later I was fortunate to come across Ms. Liz Fenn who ran an international haiku library (at the Haiku Conservatory, USA) from which one could borrow a book, read it, and send it back by post. She was very kind to me and sent me several books free of cost. I studied from them, noting down passages and haiku and then sent the book back.
Meanwhile, I tentatively started sending out my three liners to various journals. Those days one had to correspond by snail mail and send a SASE (self-addressed stamped envelope) and wait for several weeks for a reply. Here I would like to mention several editors who published my work: Patrick Frank of Point Judith Light, David Priebe of Haiku Headlines, Ken C. Liebman of Frogpond, Robert Spiess of Modern Haiku and several others. There was no one in India whom I could turn to, write to or discuss anything as ELH was unheard of.
Then in 2000, came the World Haiku Festival organized by Mr. Susumu Takiguchi in London and Oxford which is where I met a number of wonderful haijin from several countries. My haiku world blossomed and I heard of R.H. Blyth for the first time from Ms. Ikuyo Yoshimura. I met Jim Kacian, Max Verhart, Ion Codrescu,Visjna McMaster, Phillip D. Noble,the late Martin Lucas and several others. Still there weren’t many books to consult. I bought one book here, one book there and added to my haiku library as best I could. Some haijin were kind enough to give me their books.
On my return from England, I met Prof. Satyabhushan Verma the exponent of haiku in Hindi, who had published several haiku in an inland format from 1979. Many Hindi haiku groups sprang up,subsequently, but the credit for the first haiku club in India goes to the Late Prof. Satyabhushan Verma and to think I knew nothing about Hindi haiku either! Such ignorance!
meeting new friends
a flight of pigeons
RGR: We all evolve in our writing, as we do in life. From 1989 to 2014, do you notice any changes in your writing style? Looking back at your early work, would you think of revising it now?
AD: In two and a half decades of learning about haiku I have understood one thing, that all writing is a lonely calling – to write a passable haiku one must be alone much – observe and respond from a felt depth. My earliest efforts were just pretty three liners and although the editors were kind enough to publish them, I feel they lack a lot.
I have never looked back to ‘revise’ an old haiku. I write spontaneously about what I see or feel, and work/rework that haiku till I find it works for me and catches the moment. I learn every day.
bonfire festival —
all the songs of my youth
sung by grandchildren
RGR: What is your haiku secret? What keeps you going, through the hundreds of haiku you've written. It's hard to choose one's 'best' haiku, but were I to force you to choose, which would it be?
AD: I don’t know if there is a secret formula, but I try to live in the now of every waking moment. I listen, observe, interact and then respond with a haiku/haibun. I do not have any favourite haiku but I will share my jisei (death poem) with you
water worn boulder
so smooth now
against callused feet
RGR: The environment has changed too – there are many more journals today, and haiku publishing (like all else) has moved from print to web. Has the resultant abundance of journals made it easier for people to write and publish haiku – or do you think it has led to compromises, as editors scramble to fill volumes within the deadlines?
AD: Yes, in the last couple of decades things have changed drastically, some for the better some for the worse.
Firstly, the web presence of haiku-related material has mushroomed, to say nothing of Facebook groups, personal blogs, etc. While this plethora of haiku-like material is available at a click to everyone, it has led to just about any short thing – one word, one line, two lines, or three lines — being passed off as a haiku. This is distressing.
Secondly, neophyte haijin are not responding to genuine experiences, but are writing desk-ku. Their absolute desperation to get on to any blog or site is obviously detrimental to the quality of the genre, which deserves deeper study and contemplation.
Thirdly, however, there are some fine, erudite free resources (too numerous to mention here) from which one can learn a lot. Online haiku, haibun and tanka journals are excellent places to learn from and the editors are trying their best to give a fair representation of the work they receive, most of which is very good. In that way present day haijin are very fortunate indeed. Still a book is a book… now Amazon, Flipkart etc are carrying haiku books which one can get easily.
in sudden squall
the gently swaying
RGR: Not content with being merely a masterful poet, you have made translation a mission of your literary career to translate ELH and Japanese haiku into Hindi. When did you conceive of this idea? Did you have any qualms and insecurities as you started on your journey?
AD: I wanted haijin writing in Hindi to understand the basic concepts of ELH, going beyond the 5-7-5 form, and hence the translations, the bilingual site of Haiku Sansaar and the English pages of Haiku Darpan.
As regards my jump into the bilingual haiku pond of translations, with my first book about Masaoka Shiki I was filled with trepidation. But it was favourably received specially by Hindi haijin even though the translations were not in the 5-7-5 pattern. I conceived of this idea in Ogaki, Japan when I met Ms. Minako Noma who had translated Shiki’s haiku from Japanese to English. She very kindly arranged to get me the permission to translate Shiki’s work into Hindi.
The funds for this book came from my aunt, a saadhvi and the credit for assistance in translations goes to my late husband Dr. Shridhar D. Deodhar who had excellent Hindi.
-in the monastery
rising above the plainchant
a warbler’s half note
RGR: You have made publishing an act of selflessness – giving away precious works such as Ogura Hyakunin Isshu and The Distant Mountain to students who seek them. Why have you chosen not to profit from your work, even as many haijin in the West and Japan have opened successful haiku publishing houses?
AD: Since I had had a rough time trying to get books on haiku, I decided to make my six bilingual books available to everyone in India and abroad. Here again the generosity of finances and time given to my efforts in translation go to my husband and the secretarial work/editing to my son. I was given emotional support by a lot of haiku friends worldwide. I must mention the generosity of Jim Kacian who sent me a sack full of books which I shared with friends.
sharing an umbrella
your wet left shoulder
my right one
RGR: Looking back at your quarter century, what are the mistakes you made? What did you do that you would advise a beginner (like this interviewer) to not do?
AD: I would have liked to learn Japanese and also come to know about haiku in my school days. To this end I have tried my best to get haiku into the Indian school syllabus.
My advice for what its worth, would be to write every day, everywhere, about everything – a phrase, a fragment, a word and not worry about its publication. Read, read, read every day.
an I.V. line
anchors me to the monitor
thoughts still wander
And lastly, we wish you a long career still ahead of you.
About the interviewer:
Raamesh GR: He is a copywriter by day and a poet by night, living in Mumbai. He thinks he is funny, but friends disagree. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org