marlene mountain
essay and letter
September 1986

[formatting in progress]

one-line haiku

In 1969 I was interested in the 'philosophy' and the ink drawings and writings of Paul Reps. Many of my haiku included drawings at this time, were written with brush/stick, were not in three lines, and were not capitalized or punctuated. Many of the typed three lines were in spirit one line:

Dead flowers
                         in a sudden breeze.

From puddle
               to puddle:
                         the moon.

          the wind,
                    the wind...

On a page of several of these pages of typed haiku sent to Eric Amann (editor of HAIKU), I noted: 'Better as one-liners? Most on following pages were drawings first--then typed out to 'look at.' ' There were also a few attempts at one line:

Above clouds above clouds.

Clouds above clouds above.

Above clouds, clouds above.

Elsewhere I've found: 'taste of the old cup' and several two line attempts as: 'the crack in the tea/the cup'.

Reps was suggested by Amann and I believe that the one line attempts probably were in response to Amann's mention of the one line possibility in THE WORDLESS POEM. If the three line haiku at that time had not been so prevalent, so expected, so 'final,' I suspect I would have been drawn into one line more fully. Also, if I had not been quite the beginner at writing haiku--had been better at haiku-- more response to these attempts might have come about.

I've not as yet found any record of my interest in one line after that period until 1974. Surely there must have been some interest, because by 1974 I had revised some of my three line haiku written about Japan into one lines. These I incorporated into 'tear outs'--images and/or words from magazines pasted onto paper. In the Japan Series haiku/tear outs, one line revisions were typed onto sheets which had abstract shapes pasted to them:

first dawn in Japan: sumi-e!

a note from the koto hangs in the mist

rice planting over the empty fields

There are other typed one line haiku (with images):

rain dipping leaves in the river

river moving dawn with it

On many of the sheets--instead of type--words, phrases, and letters from magazines ('nature' words here and there in a magazine would inspire a haiku) were used to form the haiku. A few are one line including: 'the River Meets the Past forever' and an early 'dadaku' (spoof and/or criticism of haiku): 'Deshit the haiku mags'. Some of the one lines and multiple lines led to the writing of the old tin roof, published in 1976.

On reflection, one line seems an obvious development as one moves toward simplification. And now it's very natural to me. It's how I think; how 99.999% of my haiku are conceived. And I like it that way--since the decision of lineation is automatic, I am left with 'content' as my haiku. And, of late, the struggle with content has been difficult enough, so it's good not to bother with whether a word goes on the second line or the third.

While the progression to one line was probably a natural occurrence, I'm not sure that, given the tone of what is accepted as haiku, the progression that has taken place in my content was natural. One might assume that one would become mellow with time, and would have/see more and more moments of oneness. Oh, well, so much for assumption. In fact, my haiku, after having gotten quite minimal (again)--in form, in words, in subject matter--went off in an entirely different direction. And took me with it, kicking and screaming.

Two haiku might serve to illustrate the difference in content. The first from 1975 (I believe), and the second from 1986:

at dusk hot water from the hose

hot night pushy for women our rights our rites our riots

I believe in change (one might as well, as it's inevitable). Sometimes its evolutionary and we're hardly aware of it, other times it's revolutionary and all we can do is to hang on for dear life. Usually it takes quite a bit of time to understand, but it is in change that we get closer to life, to art, and to ourselves.


Dear Hiro                                       9/22/86

I have been rummaging through old drawings, writings, and letters to find my early interest in one line haiku. I've found a little more information since I sent the one line essay. To put things a little bit in perspective, we moved to Georgia in the late summer of 1968 and some time after that a colleague of John's told us/showed us a copy of AMERICAN HAIKU. I had mentioned Japanese haiku, zen, and Watts' THE WAY OF ZEN in my Master's thesis back in 1964/65, relating wordlessness, empty space, the 'marvelous void' to my abstract paintings at that time--but I wasn't then aware that living Westerners wrote haiku. We responded readily to the idea of haiku, and we probably began writing it that year. [this info inaccurate too--see other writings as from the mountain/backward for 1967 haiku. mm 9/23/99]

I can more or less say that my haiku/drawing attempts were in 1969, but it's also likely, being a painter, I began in 1968 (this is guessing; maybe some information will turn up). However, by 1969 my haiku/drawings had appeared in Amann's HAIKU (3:4) and Mormino's MODERN HAIKU 1:1 winter). In the latter magazine they were called/I called them (?) 'haiga.'

In undated [1969] notes for a letter to Amann: Dear Mr Amann Thank you for recommending Reps' ZEN TELEGRAMS (it was in our college lib). The book has given me some ideas for John's 3rd book RIVER (By the way BACK COUNTRY comes out within 2 weeks). So far I have just been experimenting but have not been able to get a visual blending of the pictures & words. I realize you probably haven't much spare time but I would very much appreciate your critical comments on these I'm enclosing. Perhaps you could make a comment on the back of the drawings. I had been trying some 5-7-5 haiku and have shortened them for the drawings. I want to get my ideas straightened out before I start on John's book....Glad you liked the small drawings. Am looking forward to seeing them in HAIKU.

So, already, I had been drawing haiku before I saw Reps' book.

Among the many bamboo stick and brush drawings/writings were many-lined haiku--one word to a line going down the page: I guess one could say 'vertical one line haiku.' And a few 'regular' one lines.

With bamboo stick (no drawings):

sky in the clouds in the sky

clouds in the sky in the clouds

above the clouds the clouds above

above clouds clouds above

above clouds above clouds


watching my feet in winter

Stick/with drawings (a heavy black ink area):

a bat can lose its shadow


a bat can lose itself

Stick (no drawings):

clouds inside sky

inside sky clouds

within the sky -- clouds

within the clouds -- sky

wild geese
                wilder   in   the   wind

There are 10 pages of typed haiku (some pages of double columns). On an undated [1969 I assume] letter carbon to Eric, I've hand-written 'sent Dec 10, 1st 10 pages/86 drawings.' But this is puzzling, because some of the haiku had already been published (bamboo stick with drawings). Maybe I merely typed these out. What is even more puzzling is that I have 2 sets (10 sheets each, stapled). The first pages of each have no caps or punctuation, but on the set I sent to Eric (set #2, I'll call it), I have superimposed caps and punctuation (periods, colons, dashes) with a pen. I don't know when I did this. Also, the 2nd page of this set is punctuated, but the 2nd page of set #1 isn't. (There are also some other changes.) I don't know if I sent the 1st set to Eric; the 2nd set though was sent, and returned with check marks of those he liked, and a notation 'with picture' beside:

within/the wind,/the wind...

It is on this set that my note 'better as one-liners?...were drawings first' appears.

There is also a group of stapled 3 pages on which I've written 'didn't send.' These without caps/punctuation. Many of these are very minimal; some variations of those in the 10 pages set. Several 'visual' variations on the 'above clouds' theme, beginning with one line:

above the clouds the clouds above

and some raindrops variations, including:

above and below raindrops

Confusing?? I appear to be struggling with caps/punctuation; lineation; transforming ink writing to type; minimalism; etc. I certainly wasn't locked into 3 lines or 5-7-5 at the beginning. Though there are no 'real' full dates, I can say that these were done, at least, before BACK COUNTRY (John's book, with my photographs), published in 1969, was out. THE WORDLESS POEM, was copyrighted 1969, so I don't know when I saw mention of one line in it, before or during this time. Eric was extremely helpful with the drawings and important to me at this time of searching/questioning.

And, probably from a slightly later date, on a notebook sheet, in pen (no drawings):

taste of the old cup

and the crack in the tea/the cup.

Maybe I should write Eric; however, his letters that I've found aren't dated either. And it's been such a long time.

I'm still trying to date the later interest in one line. A '2 Oct 1974' letter from Michael McClintock says "These tear outs & haiku are beautiful," listing 3 of the Japan Series (by then revised as one lines), and 2 other tear outs. I sent him many of them, but so far I have no dates as to when they were made.

'at dusk hot water from the hose' had to have been written prior to 1975 (the date I gave in the essay). I have a letter from Virginia B. Young (dated 1/7/75), in which she's chosen for a proposed anthology, 4 one lines (and a visual which I later revised for roof), but not 'dusk' which I had also sent. A note--with indications of 17 one lines (including 7 from the Japan Series), 28 concrete, and 2 Cabin Sequences (3 lines)--says 'sent Virginia Oct 1' (1974 ??).

I have 9 pages (most with 2 columns) which say 'ideas & left overs' [???]. These are definitely pre-roof, as several are not in final form as they are to appear in roof--and I wasn't thinking of a book at this time. Includes: 'at dusk/hot water/from the hose' and 'gosling/ following its neck/to the bug'--beside this and several others is: 1-L, meaning one line. There's also a page of one lines. There's yet another page of one lines, pre-roof, dated 11-11. I'm right now assuming these are 1974.

Also, a page with no date 'sent Bill [Higginson] & V [Virginia]' of visual/unaloud and 2 one word haiku:




[I couldn't seem to leave these images alone]. Also, a page (no date) 'sent Bill' which has 'gosling' and 'dusk' in one line form. And there's a page (no date) headed 'one-liners' which includes gosling, dusk, and crayfish.

What a mess. More information than you bargained for. And I've left out some stuff. If you have interest in the one line essay, I will revise (if I can figure how, and keep it short). Perhaps you have suggestions of what is pertinent and not, before I start.

On a side note, one of the pages of 10 sent to Eric has some early 'erotic'/romantic haiku:

     with you--
                  my feet in the air.

Are we enough?
    give or take
         the trees.

Surrounding you
      not knowing
              I am here.

          pine needles
                          away on our backs.

My feet
               in the air with you
                    are yours.

And a very minimal:


I hope no one ever wants to know how the visual, dadaku, and women's haiku got started. Whew.

I look forward to hearing from you. Have I made sense?

Rambling notes from which Sato gather some information for HAIKU IN ENGLISH:
A POETIC FOR EXPANDS, Simul Press, Tokyo, 1987

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