Terebess Asia Online (TAO)


Lawrence Ferlinghetti (1919-2021) on Haiku
Interview by Carl Freire


Carl Freire
: Did you publish any haiku collections?

Lawrence Ferlinghetti: Haiku? No. That term has been picked up by American poets and they call any three-line poem or any short short poem a haiku -- which isn't the case. Allen Ginsberg had a very simple definition of a haiku, which none of these poets follow. He said, first you have the perception of an unrecognized, amorphous natural phenomenon, and then the second step is a recognition of what it is... You know what an American haiku is?

Carl Freire: No, what is an American haiku?

Lawrence Ferlinghetti:

It's a bird,
It's a man,
It's …Superman!

But that doesn’t fulfil Allen’s definition either, strictly. First there is an amorphous mass, second, a recognition of what it is, and third, an emotional response to that recognition. So it would be like:

A small distant cloud
It's a bird, it's a man
-- (Laughter...)

To be more serious, we should take one of the classic Japanese haiku that really made it --

Carl Freire
: For me that would be Basho's "The ancient pond / a frog jumps in / the sound of water…"

Lawrence Ferlinghetti:
Well, Allen would add "Aha!" -- that would be the emotion, the third part of the haiku, the reaction to the observation.

Carl Freire: And American poets just don't get it?

Lawrence Ferlinghetti:
They should invent some other word for these poems. It's not the correct transmission of the Dharma (laughter). There was a very early American haiku magazine, and I can't remember who was the editor, the first one in this country who got onto the haiku horse. This was in the 60s, probably. He asked me for a haiku -- I sent him this:

Ancient frog
In ancient outhouse

And he rejected it, he said that won't do, it's too vulgar, it's obscene...


Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Selected Poems