marlene mountain
reviews of mm
as was/is

mm response to some items in those women writing haiku by jane reichhold

To: ahabooks@
From: visualmm@
Subject: 'twwh'/jr 2

from chapter 2 'twwh'

just not quite right:
Remembering how the women of Basho's time became involved with haiku/renga is to know, to some extent, how Marlene Mountain came to the American haiku scene.
As the wife (at that time) of John Wills, Marlene was introduced to haiku being written in English when he forged contacts with other writers in the middle 60's and he himself began writing and publishing his haiku. By the middle 70's when John Will's ** third book river appeared he was rightfully hailed as one of the country's most promising haiku writers.

Marlene Mountain and her husband John Wills [1921-1993] arrived on the haiku scene at the same time. She contacted Eric Amann in late 1968 and began a correspondence about what haiku can and can't do. Even in those days she did not believe that haiku was unable to encompass content such as war, sex, and 'protest.' She sent Eric dozens of minimal haiku with drawings (5 of which appeared in 'Haiku Magazine' 3:4 1969, along with 3 'first snow'--one of which won a prize. He also received numbers of pages ranging from very minimal images and words (eg, within/the mist/the mist) to heavy-handed images. She also contacted Kay T. Mormino as Kay was beginning 'Modern Haiku' (1:1 1969, haiku with drawing: blowing/snow/remaking/the/barn/path).

Rhoda Jewel published John's first book of haiku, 'Weathervanes,' in 1969. Also in 1969 came 'Back Country' (John's haiku, Marlene's photographs) and in 1970 'river' (John's haiku integrated with Marlene's drawings. 'river' reprinted in 1976). Four other collaborations followed in the 1970s.

Taking the gentle art of punning, Marlene spins words around, inserting the letters that make them reveal the hidden secrets. Fiction and non-fiction work abound in words turned right-side out such as: taxus, malepractice, manpowwar, corporapetions, and even, laidy.

not quite right:

[[*]] When pages won't contain her rages, she turns to painting giving us "the great mad mother earth paintings", "cave paintings", and "SHE IS ONE AND SHE IS TWO: SIGNS FROM THE ANCIENT." [[*]]

[[*]] When pages won't contain her {{rage and humor}}, she turns to painting giving us 'the great mad mother earths plus a glad' for these 'mad/up words and wom words.' She also explores woman's ancient past in 'cave paintings' and 'she is one and she is two: signs from the ancient.' [[*]]

Always her art has gone hand in hand with her haiku, sometimes the artwork spawns and sparks new forms, such as in 1974 when Marlene was doing her "tear outs", a series of collages in which she incorporated some of her haiku written earlier in Japan into the one-liners which would become one of her hallmarks.

i do wish that you had sent an in-progress copy of your writing of john and me. several impressions stand out as incorrect. it's interesting how you contrasted 'river' and 'the old tin roof.' but the main thing about this is that john--except for his haiku, the main reason for the book--had nothing to do with the conception, design, layout, one to a page/one side only, size, paper or even some of the spacing between the words. i approached his work in that manner as it was one of the ways i was doing my things tho i was more conservative with his.

he was delighted with what i did but offered nothing in the way of help on anything--other than 'that's great'--not a bit helpful when i was trying to figure out what i was doing. i also had all the dealings with the printer, including how it could be bound. had john had the opportunity to review this he would be the first to acknowledge how 'river' came about. the contrast then is not between his book and mine but in my two approaches to our haiku.

altho many of the ideas (one-line, line variety, unaloud, even dadaku) which appeared in 'roof' (some 6-7 years after 'river') began during that '68-'70 period, several other ideas came into play to make 'roof' the visual book it is. not the least, the fact that i had quit painting and photographing visual aspects that had been so significant to my spirit. 'protest' and sexual intimacy content which i had attempted and also asked eric about in that early period were not to reappear for several more years.

john's early work came out of his love of english and american literature and poets who wrote for children. and his own such poems. he also wrote what he later would call 'japanesezy' (sp?) poems but which he also would deny even writing. i had to send these poems to him (and cor i think) because he was giving misinformation about how he came to haiku. he however preferred his own version. these first haiku attempts came about while we were in wilmington nc. (june 1967--august 1968.) i have a photograph of one of my paintings on which i wrote one of his japanesezy poems. one of the ones he denied writing. we gave this as a wedding gift to friends in wilmington. i sought them out when i was also trying to put my work in perspective and was sent the slide.

in december of 1967 i titled a large painting 'big haiku.' this had nothing to do with john's writing. and i was not writing haiku at the time. altho he (and i) would put out his books in 1969 i was quite busy with my own ideas. believe it or not he was never an influence. he was much too much a 'romantic' poet for my attitudes at the time.

and well before i became acquainted with john i had been given alan watts' 'the way of zen' by a colleague at the university of north dakota in the fall of 1964. he was the art history professor who said my paintings reminded him of zen. if you remember i wrote about this in the 'annotations' for 'from the mountain.' i did find similar relationships with my painting ideas and some of the concepts watts presented. it was a thrill to me. not the haiku but the 'empty' space and minimalism of haiku; and the chinese 'one-corner paintings.' i was already painting 'space' and one my directions in photography was similar.

when i introduced john to the book (several months later) he was not at all interested in those concepts. he was never a 'concept' person and i am--beginning when i finally understood 2-dimensional space with cezanne and matisse c late '61. when my dad let me pick out an argus c3 i was soon haunting alleys and dumps looking for it/seeing it everywhere. two-dimensional space was the first big influence in my development, as well as thinking within a rectangle.

around this same time at the university of oklahoma i also remember a book of tea rooms with all that empty wall space. but i had many land, 'abstract' and people paintings ahead before i found 'windows' inspired by my photographs of them as painting content and a few window poems. which led to squares, rectangles and stripes which led to empty space. then the watts' book.

john was somewhat interested in the haiku but he had more kinship with the chinese poems if i remember right. he was to write 'children's poems' (influenced somewhat by walter de la mare). and from some of those poems came some of his 'haiku.' his other interests were in short stories, a baseball novel, works like that until sometime in wilmington. i hope more info will turn up from this period. (a vision of peter pauper press haiku flickers now and then.) he was not in contact with poets then.

i began writing about my paintings and problems with them in jan 1962 in oklahoma. sometime in the fall of 1962 in minnesota a painter friend showed some of her poems to me including a turtle poem. it amazed me that regular people wrote poems and at some point i got 2 books of poems by e. e. cummings. i was also amazed by free verse as i never before was interested in poetry. and his visual aspect in particular.

by january of '63 i was writing 'i miss you poems' to a boyfriend back in oklahoma. it helped me to get somewhat away from continually criticizing my paintings or lack of them or lack of direction. they are minimal-looking and helped me focus on something. as did other winter poems in north dakota a year later. i call these weather/diary/miss you (another boyfriend left behind) comments. i also began writing about situations in my life but i don't know if they could be called short stories. this too before i knew john.

john took no interest in any of my old writings. he saw himself as the writer. and that he was. never however was i ever in his footsteps. i had seen beginning and graduate art students try to please their teachers and teachers who allowed students to be influenced by them. and i struggled--and was very aware of this--not to be influenced by paintings/ideas that i loved. i preferred to do nothing rather than that. and i often did nothing.

by the time we got to georgia john was writing haiku. i still had more ideas to paint but as it turned out only one or two paintings came about. here it gets a little vague again. between the september and december of 1968 we were given old 'american haiku' magazines by oscar patton, a colleague of john's and we were both excited to read them, esp virgilio's 'bug/bass/moon.' it appealed to both of us in like and unlike ways. by then i had been able to sneak in some visual concepts in conversations with john as the chinese film ‘the island’ and the ‘empty space’ etc on japanese screens.

rhoda jewel was interested in publishing what came to be john's first book 'weathervanes' in 1969. i got in contact with eric amann and we both were published in 'haiku magazine' [[will send vol/# if you'd like]]. we learned about 'modern haiku' starting up and were in [[will send vol/# ]] . somehow i was writing as well as drawing and putting drawings with john's haiku. and photographs with his second book 'back country.' (1969) then came 'river' (1970) and then 4 months in japan that summer. then 'the young leaves' (w/my drawings) published by georgia southern college (1970) and then 'cornstubble' (1971) (w/my photographs/handwriting) which was not very well printed.

there aren't haiku of mine that look like john's nor his that 'read' like mine. i did convince him that some of his haiku were one-line in 3 lines. and he tried them out that way. in 1978?? matsu-allard published a chapbook of john’s one-lines as ‘up a distant ridge,’ but john was never taken with one-line as his true approach. we had our own lights tho at times a bit dim and totally different backgrounds. john accepted influences if they helped him and i regarded influences as dangerous. i did not like to see such in anything i did. eric told me about reps' books which i got after i was already writing/drawing with various results and in a way i regret that i saw reps' work. that's the kind of strange person i am.

i certainly wouldn't expect all this information in your book but i certainly didn't expect the tying of us together other than our marriage and that we both wrote during and after it and that we combined his haiku and my visual things in several ventures. we did talk haiku a lot. odd as it may seem neither influenced the other.

i do appreciate your interest in my ideas since we 'met' in 1968 [1986--mm correction]. i guess i thought you knew more of my bio with the 'annotations' and early work that you saw (and selected) for 'ftm.' when you have a chance i'd truly appreciate if you could pull something from these musings to clarify the relationship of john's work and mine. some of the things that cor, rod and others have said are based on what john wanted them to say rather than what was.

until some corrections are made in several accounts, this little aspect of the john and marlene 'haiku history' is not yet history. i discussed this with john and cor re some book introductions. some things got cleared up but both john and cor wanted to hold on to much of the myth. i believe i sent this exchange to you, so again i wonder how you came to your conclusions. john's story may remain some form of myth, but i'd like to think that i can extricate myself from parts that just don't compute. with my rememberances and papers, with your help and anyone else's who might find reason to write about either of our journeys.

thank you again for all you've accomplished and your attention to continuing the effort to bring women's accomplishments forward and in perspective.

marlene 9/9/98


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