Interview by Robert Wilson on the Occasion of Publication of "The Healing Spirit of Haiku."

Q. You and David Rosen have written a book entitled, The Healing Spirit of Haiku. How did the idea for this book come about?

The idea may have unknowingly begun about thirty years ago, when Dr. Rosen and I met at a party in San Francisco celebrating his return to the Bay Area. Since then, although we took different paths through life, we remained friends. Then, a few years ago, when he was visiting Portland, where I now live, to give a talk to Oregon Friends of C.G. Jung, I suggested that, as he and I had published several books, it was time we did one together. He agreed, and came up with the title, "The Healing Spirit of Haiku."

Q. What is meant by the term, the healing spirit of haiku?

Whenever I read a haiku that makes it down to my gut, I feel a bit of healing going on. Is this due to haiku's connection with the natural rhythms of life we tend to lose in the cities in which most of us live? Whatever it is, haiku can inspire a sense of recognition of the larger world that surrounds us.

Q. You've said your book "is a haibun of the psyche..a journey into Spirit and Nature." Could you elucidate?

Spirit and Nature have a long history together. Both stem back to Ancient Greece and the beginning of Western Philosophy, from which we get the idea of the ego. In the East, we begin with Indian mysticism and its insight of sunyana, emptiness, or No-Mind, which is made practical in the Buddhism of Medieval China, with its indigenous Taoist influences that harmonize Man and Nature. Transplanted in Japan, the practice of haiku is one of its salubrious results.

Q. You and David are old friends. How did the writing of this book become a journey?

When the rhythm of the book began to play, we found more places we had in common than we could have imagined. While I settled in New Mexico for twenty-three years, and, finally, in the Pacific Northwest, which I rarely leave, David has remained a traveler. Thus, his contribution, at least on the prose side, is sometimes more concrete than mine. But this is bridged in the haiku, which span the experiential and the imaginal.

Q. As a student of Zen, Joel, do you see a correlation between haiku and the healing process?

In addressing the healing of the psyche, or soul, from a Buddhist point of view there is no healing, because there is no problem, except for illusions that the mind conjures up. What the practice of haiku, or the deep reading of a haiku, could do is to help us see that we are who we are not. Thus, seeing directly is the healing practice of haiku.

Q. You've helped build an experimental theater in San Francisco, visited zen monasteries, authored several books, studied Aikido, and are a university professor. How does the writing of haiku fit into your life and who first introduced you to haiku?

It seems like it's always been there! Early on, I read D.T. Suzuki's "Zen and Japanese Culture," and all of R.H. Blyth's translations of haiku. But where does anything really begin?
Haiku fits into my life as part of a larger writing practice. A good measure of this might be found my on-line journal-in-progress, "Forest Park":

Q. How did your view of self, of the world, and of reality itself change while writing this book?

First of all, working with David Rosen was a wonderful experience, because of his talent, intelligence, and integrity. I say this as one who has experienced collaborations that went sour because there was too much ego involved. This one was sweet all the way through. Also, working with North Atlantic Books showed me that there is still a few publishers--too few, however--who are willing to take a risk when they see a promising project that has more than obvious market value. But the actual changes you ask about can’t be separated from other processes of life.

Q. In the writing of your haibun, Joel, what came first, the prose or the haiku?

The way we worked was that David wrote his piece first, both the prose and haiku. Then I wrote my sequence, prose then haiku, in response. Then we both revised while making helpful suggestions to each other. What made this collaboration successful is that always each of us respected the opinion of the other.

Q. Basho journeyed throughout Japan as a lay Zen Buddhist monk. He wrote volumes of haiku and grew as a human being spiritually. Via your book, are you and David inviting the reader to go on a journey that will expand the spirit and mind via introspection and the writing of haiku?

At the end of his poem, "Archaic Torso of Apollo," Rilke says to himself, "After seeing this, you must change your life." It all comes down to how one lives one’s life. And yet, everything is interconnected. So, every haiku is one deep breath taken by us all.

November 2004