marlene mountain
from the mountain/backward
section one


marlene mountain

from the mountain

overview     annotations


These notes include comments on the book pages but are primarily an overview--which for the most part can be read separately--of selected haiku and related material from c. 1968 through 1990. The overview, written 1991-1992, includes references to visual ideas and concerns (beginning in the early 1960s) which led in part to the writing of haiku and which have remained as significant aspects. Due to the very different book pages I'm numbering and listing them here for reference. The haiku are usually noted by the first words whether one to a page or one at the top of a page. I take full responsibility for my sentiments and sentences.

'self-portrait' pencil, summer 1963

title page

copyright page

contents page

Rather than a 'clean, well-lighted' book of haiku I'd like to share some of the process and thinking during a twenty-two year period: some of the published, unpublished and unpublishable, the beginnings of what I call unaloud haiku, visually aloud haiku, dadaku, women's haiku, found sequence: a gathering, minimal haiku, protest haiku and of course one-line haiku.

'morning-glory folds into herself into her folds' the unfolding

credits, thanks, 'picking up'

This haiku/drawing, ink writing (one of five published in Haiku Magazine 3:4 1969, Eric Amann, founding editor, Canada), and those following in ONE represent several hundred images of varying size and quality created from c. late 1968


I believe that to answer 'how did you come to haiku?' I have to mention the late fifties and early sixties when I was interested in painting and drawing the Oklahoma land in impressionistic, expressionistic and abstract manners. Eventually I came to feel that 'nature' did not fit well within a square or rectangular canvas. Nor did the human figure unless one translated it into geometrical shapes to relate to the edges of the canvas.

In 1963 when I discovered the window as subject I felt that here was a shape that was not compromised on canvas. It retained its structural elements--its essence. The window developed from assemblage (screens, curtains, etc.) to abstraction--window as rectangle, square, stripe--until I had painted myself out of the window per se (but not out of the predominant red and green chosen for two-dimensional space) and was left with these basic shapes.

The paintings from early 1963 through late 1964 mark (with exceptions) what might be called 'formalism with drips.' Stripes in particular held my interest and in a sense I played with them on canvas and especially in my mind until they were merely an excuse for 'hardly anything'--no matter how spatial, crowded or bright the colors--and sometimes an excuse for 'emptiness.'

A November 1964 painting began with thin vertical pencil lines defining equally measured stripes on a white canvas. Within the pencil lines I played with empty space by painting only enough to suggest the stripes allowing that the mind/eye could 'finish' the stripes if desired. The stripes were complete in their 'unfinished look' while also showing what was: emptiness/white, and suggesting what could be: fully painted red and green alternating stripes. A university colleague commented that the paintings reminded him of Zen--a word/idea I don't believe I'd yet heard--and gave a copy of Alan Watts' THE WAY OF ZEN to me.

I had been contemplating visual stirrings of suggestion rather than statement, 'less is more' and other minimal ideas in my sketches, paintings and photographs in what I felt to be relative isolation. Yet in Watts' book I was surprised to find many related feelings and thoughts in the arts and philosophies of Eastern cultures. I did not respond so much at this time to Japanese haiku as poetry but rather to such heady talk surrounding the arts as the 'marvelous Void,' 'playing the stringless lute,' 'painting by not painting,' 'nothing special' (Chinese wu-shih, Japanese buji).

Contemplation of these ideas was more prominent than the need to paint them. I seem to have 'understood' the process and didn't need further evidence (paintings). Looking back I've realized that when I learn or think I've learned something--as how to draw--I'm no longer interested. Whether this takes days or years it is (to use a clique) the process rather than the product that I find intriguing. But in July 1965--perhaps to prove to myself that the ideas still 'worked'--two more red/green/white paintings document this 'almost painting by almost not painting.' From there I was 'free' to move on to other visual or conceptual ideas for the next two years or so.

Later I would recall that my first experience of Eastern 'space' was with a book of Japanese tearooms in 196l. (At that time I was just understanding 'modern space' such as in the two-dimensional works of Cezanne, Matisse and de Kooning.) Beyond an esthetic response to the simplicity and variety of textures in the tearooms or what tea was about, the white or 'empty' space of the screens and walls must have seeped into my subconscious.

Although I'd written some minimal often visual love poems (inspired initially by e. e. cummings), diary poems and other writings, some about my painting ideas, around this time (1963-1965) I don't see these as the bridge to haiku. Many of the poems include weather conditions reflecting or symbolic of an inner mood but I really had no clear verbal imagery of nature as content--what I was later led to believe about haiku--that is, I was not a nature for nature's sake poet.

Even though I continually photographed nature (perhaps some nature haiku and haiku nature) my basic interest was in close-up design, pattern, shape, repetition, 'hardly anything' and so on--not 'here is a photograph of nature.' For the most part nature was approached in the same manner as I would the pattern of end pieces of a stack of lumber or the variations of window panes.

In trying to piece this background together I've come to believe that my attitudes toward space, minimalism and conceptualism which I'd developed through painting and photography influenced much of my haiku: from the theme and variations of the earliest writing beginning in the late 1960s, through the 1970s and indirectly through the sequences of the 1980s. It's quite possible that if I were not already primed in this way visually I would not have responded to haiku at all.

I was not to 'believe' again until much later--and quite differently--that the Japanese haiku does not reflect nature so much as it does attitude/manner (i.e., philosophy)--still I attempted to write and draw nature poems in the late 1960s or so (See ONE) as 'picking up the stone,' 'blowing snow' and 'moon through.' Other ink writings as 'winter first match' and 'scent of' reflect the visual interest in stripes, rectangles and squares. Another approach as 'sky in the clouds,' 'above the clouds' and 'below raindrops above' reflects an even more conceptual attitude stemming from painting ideas. Even though many of my photographs and haiku/drawings appear to be about nature more often than not nature was not content per se.

One's art might seem to have such-and-such as content but the intent behind or within a form and in particular the covert meanings could be quite different. Nature appears to be the content of most Japanese haiku. It also appears to be the content of most Western haiku. Some of the underlying concepts of the Japanese haiku, however, which have been assimilated in the West and broadly referred to as the 'haiku spirit' can also be viewed as an entrapment of nature as well as of haiku and the poet. Rules as art control therefore as mind control is not out of the question. For example, if one is 'ruled' to value 'nothing special' then one wouldn't think to write 'something special.'

It is my feeling that one of the unintentional 'revolutions' which took place in Western haiku stemmed from the translation of one-line Japanese haiku into other than one line. Perhaps the translators and/or their editors/publishers didn't think that one line would look like a poem and therefore would not go over well in the West. The most popular translations in three lines and with tons of punctuation--surrounded by much philosophy--do (almost) look like poems. A great PR statement that haiku is the world's shortest poem provided an explanation of sorts and at the same time added even more to its mystique.

Based on what seems to be an accident the 'look' of three-line translations caught on as the pattern for original English-language haiku. To go along with that some editors, poets, authors and language-study books erroneously referred to/interpreted Japanese sound-symbols including untranslatable 'cutting words' as the equivalent of English syllables. There was much insistence therefore that Western haiku, 'like the Japanese' (ironically unlike most translations), should have seventeen syllables. To some in the 1960s and 1970s in particular it was an art/craft/criterion in itself to be able to produce English-language seventeen-syllable heavily-punctuated haiku in three lines of five-seven-five syllables respectively.

It seemed that the longer the shortest poem could get only added to its poetry look. Given that the translations of Harold G. Henderson include the romaji and R. H. Blyth's also include the kana and kanji--in horizontal one-lines even--it's truly curious that one-line wasn't adopted along with the effort to understand the esoteric philosophy, rules and content of Japanese haiku. There are of course many, many quite wonderful long/shortest poems in English--the three-line an interesting recreation in itself (although not rebellious). Yet I cannot help but consider that the three-lines especially those which were needlessly padded for the count derailed haiku for quite some time.

On the other hand the 1970s 'haiku wars' (e.g., over syllable-counting, even image-counting) did help many of us decide a few things for ourselves. I find it odd, however, that after all these years there are still those who 'push' certain Japanese rules and moods. It is one thing to study the various eras of haiku and related genre--they and the poets are different--and quite another to pick-and-choose aspects from the past and expect them to apply to all contemporary writers around the world. While debate can be a great learning experience I will always wonder what Western haiku would be today had it gotten started in other ways--lineation and counting only two of the problematic areas.

Looking back on my journey (whatever the quality of the haiku) I believe that--along with the notion of 'concept'--a varied approach to form, to the way words look on paper, whether scattered or neat, whether up, diagonal, down or across the page, whether a maximum or minimum of words or a word that visually forms its content . . . that this varied approach was the major impetus for perhaps a decade. And rather naively it seems I wanted this for everyone.

By the late 1970s, however, one-line had become more than just another way for me, had become in fact the 'shape,' a kind of formless form, in which to express the visual world. It was the barest of words and the barest of image ('rusted out bucket the heat')--concept rather than content--that appealed to an inner rhythm which I assumed had shaped who I was as an artist. Yet even as one-line haiku was becoming natural, comfortable even, a turned-upside-down vision of art, life, nature (everything so to speak) came crashing through. Regardless of what else I was writing--whether or not I was expressing the visual world, whether or not the image was bare, whether or not it was in one-line--a newish and chunky personal content began sneaking in. Considering this rather strange time of changing consciousness I believe I can say both crashing and sneaking.

sitting frog 'i have already been told too many lies'
Jane Reichhold suggested that the opening page might reflect my personal message about one-line haiku. While I've written, thought and argued about one-line over the years and encouraged poets to try it I was surprised to find I have nothing--especially new--to say. It no longer interests me that haiku is one line in Japan or that it's rather minimal. One-line 'just is' for me. This frog drawing (c. 1969) and another one appeared several times in early issues of Modern Haiku. At that time they were strictly drawings.

In 1990, however, the frogs and other animals and images from my drawing past (as early as 1961) were combined with current haiku for several series of intimate posters . (This is the only poster per se included although other haiku from posters are mentioned throughout.) This one is from the section 'nature talks back.' As long as everyone is writing about nature it seems appropriate for nature to join in. Just how would nature write about nature? In particular how would nature write about the treatment from two-legged nature? In a haiku? With a season word? Nothing special?

The haiku was originally written about myself--my innate identification as nature rather than merely with nature and on a variety of matters including how the world is misrun. Knock, knock, who's there? friendly, friendly who? friendly local and worldwide 'corporapetions' who are blatantly polluting everything. (One-third of our rivers and one-half of our lakes are contaminated.) Recently a congressman with a big sweep of his arm toward a meadow full of nature (trees and all) said, 'lots of vacant land out there'--not meaning empty space, the 'marvelous Void' or one haiku to a page but a good factory site for a bad factory.

essay and letter
'one-line haiku'
Written in September 1986. Hiroaki Sato requested an article on how and when I began to write one-line haiku. From this and the following letter Sato gathered information for a section on my writing in his Japanese-language book, [EIGO HAIKU] HAIKU IN ENGLISH: A POETIC FORM EXPANDS, Simul Press, Tokyo, 1987.

'one-line haiku letter'
September 22, 1986 letter to Hiroaki Sato in which I tried to update information in the essay, 'one-line haiku,' as I began getting into boxes and notebooks not seen in about a hundred years. Since this 1986 letter I've found information via poems and old friends that John Wills [July 4 1921-September 24 1993] was attempting Japanese-like poems--some titled and related to his children's poems--in 1967 while we were in North Carolina. He like many others who discover haiku brought to it his background in English and American literature.

The earliest interest in the actual writing is unclear to both of us. From early 1965 he was aware of my interest in Eastern ideas as they related to my 'abstract' paintings and I also shared Watts' book with him. He was not taken with 'concept' as I was. In a 1992 or 1993 phone discussion, however, he remembered (what I had forgotten) the concept of a two- or three-panel folding screen in which all is vacant but (the tail of ?) a bird leaving the last panel. That jogged my memory--I don't know how I could have forgotten as I continually talked about that empty space/heady concept. I don't remember, however, how I had learned of the piece. See image 69 for a 1974 tear out related to this idea.

[MM note--found in 2001: page 229 of an undated Reader's Digest,
'Points to Ponder' item submitted by Charlotte Willard:
A Japanese emperor once asked a famous artist at his court to paint a four-panel screen of crows in flight. After much thought, the artist finally drew a single crow disappearing off the edge of the fourth panel of the screen. It was a masterpiece of movement. A great Oriental principle of drawing was fulfilled: "The idea must be present even where the brush has not passed.' Art in America]

On December 26, 1967--my approach to haiku still intellectual and visual--I revived a 1966 sketch for a painting, Big Haiku. The canvas is large (c. 6 x 6 feet) and rather empty, white with a green stripe at the left vertical edge and a red stripe at the other. For a painting to have that title further confirms these earlier datings--at least my interest.

L image contents
8a L. tear out 8b L. painting 8c John Wills' early haiku

There is also L Painting (1967, based on an earlier non-haiku 'tear out') in which I included a two-line haiku (originally three lines and titled) by John Wills. This was a wedding gift from us to Bob Murphy and Tommie Sue Byrd as she confirmed in the early 1990s. Popular myth has it that John didn't write what he called 'japanesey haiku'--he even denied it when sent these early examples. I can understand such feelings as I've found two awful seventeen-syllable attempts by myself (and hope to find no more--that bad) sometime during this period.

[MM note: I've recalled recently and finally found several Peter Pauper Press books of translated haiku which we had in Wilmington, North Carolina]

In the fall of 1968 after our move to Statesboro, Georgia we were both astounded by Nick Virgilio's ''Bass/picking bugs/off the moon!' in American Haiku (number two 1963). This and several other American Haiku were given to us by Oscar Paton and I believe were the first magazines we saw. Odd as it may seem I don't believe we influenced each other per se. Over the years we discussed our haiku, appreciated and argued over them and those in the magazines. Our basic approaches to stimuli as well as the stimuli, however, have been profoundly different.

red and green contents
9a red and green sketches 9b big senryu sketch 9c red and green talk
9d haiku

In April 1969, Stripes Five, a red/green/white 'progression' painting (partially painted stripes leading to somewhat completed ones) and Stripes Six (two intentionally ambiguous stripes) are the last hurrahs of that concept. The last painting, I believe, of this first painting period (1959 to 1969) also in April is Big Senryu.' UnlikeBig Haiku with empty space (white) and a lyrical/sloppy stripe at each end, Big Senryu (from a 1966 sketch) has no room and in a sense is a wrap-up of the red and green window-inspired geometrical shapes. The canvas also large [c. 6 x 6 feet] the white is not so much empty space as it is background for the hard-edge solid rectangles and the hard-edge solid stripes. For unknown reasons I thought of haiku as lyrical and senryu as classical. And later for unknown reasons I dropped that title.

After playing with these ideas/shapes for several years it seems I completed them, arranged them in a rather orderly manner and quit. I didn't know I was quitting as there were still many related ideas to paint. And if not related--but how could that be?--there would always be other ideas. However either that was all I had to paint or life in a variety of ways was getting too complicated. Or was it that I was writing nature? Haiku? But how could that be?

These early combinations of haiku and painting/drawing/titling are mentioned here not only as background on my beginning interest and view of haiku but also as the continuing interest. Throughout the next two decades or so I would blend the visual and the verbal in a variety of ways. I designed and included drawings or photographs with John Wills' haiku in Back Country, 1969; river, 1970; The Young Leaves, 1970 (not designed); Cornstubble, 1971. There were other combinations of haiku and drawing in the 1970s including 21 haiku greeting cards in 1977. Also in the 1970s I created the majority of tear outs, unaloud and visually aloud haiku.

When I began to paint again in February 1979 I would occasionally include one of my haiku in a painting. In fact there have been several haiku painting series. Not to get too far ahead, in the 1989 womocreativa series I 'translated' my haiku into female shapes (triangles, circles, crescents) and in the 1990 chaoscoswommos series into my 'female alphabet.' In the home away from home series, 1991, haiku are stenciled in three-inch letters on five 8 x 4 feet window with curtain (hummm) assemblages.

At many of the exhibitions over the years pages of haiku and sequences have been on the walls and occasionally there have been readings by the viewers (once by myself very reluctantly). In 1991 groups of one-line sequences were whispered and yelled simultaneously--with strange silences--by viewers scattered throughout the gallery/home of Hard To Find, Valle Crucis, North Carolina. At a March 1992 public performance sponsored (and titled) by Women's Studies at Appalachian State University, audience members who thought I was to read were given pages of 'Pissed Off Poems and Love Poems' and asked to read the haiku sequences (including some questions from the upcoming THREE) to the rest of us--as and when and how they felt them.

At both performances the sound was sometimes like an opera sextet and sometimes like a busy world where only fragments could be heard. Thanks to the creative 'coordination' of Wendy Marcoux both experiences have forever changed my notion of poetry reading.

ONE: c. 1968 to c. 1973. Pages 10 to 43

Haiku translations 1 by Hiroaki Sato
in HAIKU IN ENGLISH: A POETIC FORM EXPANDS, Simul Press, Tokyo, 1987. {Permission for the translations in ONE, TWO and THREE given by Hiroaki Sato.}

ink writings contents 1
11 'tree lost' 12 'surrounding you' 13 'taking a' 14 'blowing snow' 15 'moon through' 16 'winter first match' 17 'scent of' 18 'are we' 19 'light snow' 20 'dry ravine' 21 'sky in the clouds' (became a visually aloud haiku in the old tin roof, 1976) 22 'above the clouds' 23 'below raindrops above.'

Georgia photograph contents

typed haiku pages
Some of the pages (referred to in the 1986 letter to Hiroaki Sato) that were sent to Eric Amann, editor of Haiku Magazine, in 1969. 25 'A puddle.../and' 26 'Moon watching--/falling' 27 'It's too slow/and too' 28 'Oak stump/stretching' 29 'Bird/flying to' 30 'Dry ravine,/river.'

During this period around 1969 lineation was open: horizontal, diagonal, vertical--one-line, two-line, three-line, many-line haiku. There are often several versions of one image: ink brush/stick, handwritten, typed, with or without punctuation or capital letters, 'minimal,' seventeen syllables and other configurations. Many were incessantly written. Perhaps I was trying to understand what I was doing or perhaps I was still trying to paint.

There are a few crayon haiku (a line about a red barn in red, the other two lines in colors that represent the subjects) and haiku about color. A rather odd handwritten haiku flush with the left margin, in caps and seventeen syllables: 'RED GREEN RED GREEN RED/GREEN RED GREEN RED GREEN RED GR[EEN]/RED GREEN RED GREEN RED.' Seeing it after some twenty years I first had to wonder about the intent. If it's the old seventeen-syllable routine how could it be a minimal haiku? Or in spite of the count and looking at the content is it minimal?

Whether there were other reasons this haiku related to my obsession with alternating stripes of red and green in my minimal paintings and, even more so, in my mind. The caps I'd like to think give the biggest clue: their evenness. Small letters (red green red) are irregular and painterly and would interfere with the shape and with the conceptual approach. I'd love to claim the caps as intentional but I'm not sure that I can. In some concurrent writing (for a 1969 painting and slide photography exhibition) I've found: ' . . . even the repetition of the same word red-red-red-red-red is to create verbal stripes; to say red-green-red-green-red-green creates a form.' For the most part the stripes are vertical. I often said the paintings are 'stories' to be read not unlike a one-line haiku sequence today. Perhaps the stripe-like pattern of the sequences relates back to these visual stripes.

Since I believe conceptual stripes to be the content of that haiku I can rule out dadaku, a spoofing of haiku. However I can't rule out conceptualism in a dadaku a few years later: 'five five five five five/seven seven seven sev/five five five five five.' And this indented haiku from the old tin roof: 'newly plowed field/newly plowed field/newly plowed field,' is it conceptual? Nature as concept in haiku? Hummm, I believe there's something to that . . .

social protest
Notes for a 1969 letter to Amann regarding topics uncommon in haiku. At this time I had only a smattering of protest and not very well said. Yet the idea was there and the question raised.

ink writings contents 2
32a 'cabin door' 32b 'inside the' 33c 'a bat'
33a 'tall pine's' 33b 'pine wanting of' 33c 'pine wanting'

Perhaps the 1990 'nature talks back' series stems from a few anthropomorphic ink writings during this time. These are other examples, however, of shorter and shortest/shortest poems. Is 'tall pine's tip' three lines or a vertical one-line?

Georgia notebook pages
34a 'the crack in tea cup' I probably intended 'the' after the 'in.'
34b 'within the wind' 34c 'the moon' Reference to Alan Watts, THE WAY OF ZEN, Mentor Book, published by the New American Library, New York, 1959 34d '(tattered) torn butterfly'

rocks in water
A1968 close-up of 'nature' representing the minimal/conceptual attitude toward nature in photography (beginning c. 1963).

36a ''frog in the moon' 36b 'above the clouds' 36c 'dying fire'
These are a few lists of some of the more than one hundred ink writings sent to Eric Amann in 1969. Jane Reichhold has pointed out the listing of them in one line. There are also a couple versions of a one-word haiku, 'gourding,' no doubt influenced by Paul Reps.

ink writings contents 3
37 'grouding'
38 'frogs frogging' 39 'mountain/rocks'

Many of the ink writings in Amann's estimation were too heavy or too symmetrical or too busy for Zen. In 1964 I might have been 'painting Zen' without knowing about it but when I had a clue and made an effort to write/draw it I guess I knew nothing. Although Amann emphasized and appreciated Zen in haiku and drawing--it certainly intrigued me as well--as I look back I do not look for Zen.

Japan photograph contents
(a) Jason Wills on JAL flight to Japan, June 1970 (b) our rented house in a suburb of Matsuyama (c) view from the house (d) Maki, daughter of Shinsei and Kazu Murakami (e) Jason, two students (f) Junko Yano and (g) Korika Kanemitsu Nagai of Shinsei Murakami's English class in which I participated--this a going-away party for me (h) S. Murakami-sensei (free verse poet) in front of his classroom building

Friends who saw us off to America, September 1970. Left to right (i) Asami Masuda Mizoguchi, whose help with the super-active Jason (age three in July) was invaluable (j) John Wills (k) Chikusen Kondoh-sensei (ikebana) (l) Jason Wills (m) Marlene Mountain (n) the late Nampu Ishii-sensei (sumi-e) with whom I took a few classes (o) Osamu, son of C. Kondoh and (p) Kayoko Kondoh. [Photographs of students, daughter and friends at dock by Shinsei Murakami; others by the author.] {Used by permission.}

() Photograph of our house after a typhoon. The rain-soaked tatami had to be taken up and leaned against the house to dry. ---------------------

41 ---
Japan notebook page contents
'mist settling on' and 'beginning flower'
I have only found a few haiku written while in Japan. Masako Ombe Takahashi, at a Matsuyama haiku meeting, was the first to translate my haiku into Japanese. And there it is: horizontal one-line (of my own) haiku. {Used by permission.}

'tap tap tap

Back home in Georgia in the fall of 1970. The beginnings of what I first called 'concrete' haiku, later 'visual haiku,' and eventually visually aloud haiku (since August 4, 1992) and unaloud haiku (since c 1977). tap/butterfly,' 'acorn' and 'butterfly' to appear in revised forms in the old tin roof six years later.

ideas & left overs
One of several pages of uncertain dates mentioned in the 1986 letter to Hiroaki Sato. I'm not sure what this heading means. Perhaps I considered that some of the haiku were merely fragments. Today I wouldn't. In fact, I see much of Western haiku as too complete (as with the translations of Blyth and Henderson)--even in renga where the fragmentary feel of individual links is important. Bill Higginson had some crisp, minimal translations (Amann's Haiku Magazine c. 1969) but it would be several years before the impact of Sato's one-line translations.

Some of these haiku are about Georgia, written either there c. 1971 or (after the August 1971 move) in Tennessee c. 1971-73. These may not have been written in one-line first although many have a very definite one-line feel to them. 'C-0' refers to 'cut-out' later changed to tear out and 'rev' is revised. 'B' refers to Bill Higginson, then editor of Haiku Magazine (America), to whom I sent visual, one-line and other haiku which were lost for a time. (See letter to Sato, page 7.)

I mention this as I'm now curious as to what effect it would have had on my writing if any had been accepted, i.e., entered into the current dialogue. Cor van den Heuvel later spoke of my bursting on the scene in 1976. I'd been doodling away, however, at this and that haiku notion for several years. Contrariness was already a significant part of my make-up as was my kind of conceptualism although I wasn't always aware of what I was doing. There have been similar times when that special/crucial dialogue--the kind that artists occasionally need, which moves us 'forward'--didn't happen.

The look of Western haiku seemed fairly set at it’s rather youthful age. Complete of course with the old standby clique 'camps' of traditional/conservative and experimental/radical (each with their own inner conflicts). 'You can’t have one without the other'? I had built yet another little nest on the fringe and was laying and hatching brood after brood . . . of something. A habit/habitat I still have.

continued . . .

'from the mountain_backward_2'

back to 'main contents'