John J. Polozzolo
Many haiku poets often illustrate their haiku with haiga (see Poet
Profiles on Paul Reps and Janice Bostok). It is part of the haiku tradition in Japan to illustrate or complement one's haiku (or vice-versa with the haiku complementing the picture) in some way; with haiga (pictorial representations of haiku), zenga (zen sketches), manga (comic pictures), kyoga (crazy pictures), different types of calligraphic representations, and so on. Haiga usually have words included within the drawing. Haiga are normally done in one of three ways: as a realistic or near exact representation of the haiku as in still life and landscapes, as something very abstract, or as something somewhere between the two.
It may be surprising to many of you, that the usual way to do
haiga/haiku was to first paint or draw the haiga and then to write the haiku, not vice-versa as is usually done in the West today! For those of you who are frequent visitors to the AHA POETRY Website, I'd like to make a little plug here if I may to mention that Werner Reichhold has worked in this manner, writing the haiku afterwards, into and around the completed artwork, for a number of years as stated at the beginning of his really excellent haiga/haiku collection Handshake – Far East Far West Form Thinking (available for purchase at AHA Books, a book that I highly recommend). But there were many exceptions even in Japan; Buson for instance, wrote his haiku before doing the haiga. He was much better known during his lifetime as a painter than he was a haiku poet! It may be of interest to many of you who are regular readers of LYNX XIV-1 February, 2001 to know that the Japanese sometimes illustrate their tanka with haiga, something that we haven't seen very much of in the West so far, but perhaps this month's column may stimulate or inspire some of you to begin soon. It may be a surprise to some readers to learn that even though haiku master Basho had many disciples, he himself was a disciple of one of his disciples, Kyoroku, in painting! It may also be surprising to find out that even though we have heard so much on the virtues of direct personal experience in writing haiku, and correctly so, that even some of the old Japanese haiku masters, such as Ransetsu, sometimes wrote haiku based on their experience of viewing a piece of art. Some Western haiku poets such as Raymond Roseliep, Anne McKay, Jerry Kilbride, and numerous others have done the same. I have written a few haiku based on my emotional response after looking at an exceptional photograph. Here's an example of one I wrote from a nature photo that won the top award in a photography magazine contest and was published on the front cover:
another long leap . . .
the bighorn sheep keeps climbing
up the steep shale cliff
Experiencing the arts as a participating observer is a "genuine" and "legitimate" stimulus for writing haiku.
This month's poet profile is on John J. Polozzolo (everyone calls him Zolo for short and he signs all his work that way) who has been writing haiku and painting haiga for over 30 years. A brief description of what haiga is and means to Zolo is best given in his own words: "Haiga painting is very different than most other kinds of painting, though some similarities exist . . . it is perhaps analogous to calling the haiku 'poetry', and yet it is not 'poetry' in a purely literary sense. As haiku are records of heightened moments perceived through intuition, records only incidentally expressed as 'poetry' due to the limitations of language, so too are haiga paintings records of the great moment of 'freedom', and not pretty compositions or skillful renditions of scenes or things . . . as we normally think of that. Haiga come from a wholly different state of mind, they are manifestations of the universe channeled through a paint-brush."
"When the haiga-maker is 'hooked-in' to this great otherworldliness, there can be no mistakes, no error in lines or colors, no faltering strokes or corrections. Haiga is painting from Source. The power is obvious to anyone with eyes to see, there is no 'studying' involved, no need for ritual technique. Haiga is the collected wham, bam, slam . . . of one plane imposed upon another, egoless energy in tune with a great guiding aesthetic. Thus, a few simple strokes, a splat here or there in spatial relationship to this or that, creates a 'new twist', a psychology shattering statement."
"Sometimes haiga are 'ugly', or 'simple', or 'puzzling' by classical
western standards. That's because the haiga-maker paints like a madman, a cretin, a spastic, a whirlwind gone mad with paint. The 'connection' between his subject matter and the haiku involved may be abstruse or as remote from logical interpretation as the juxtapositions of images themselves within a haiku poem . . . or, the painting may directly illustrate the action of the haiku or one of its greater possibilities as perceived by the haiga-maker. Conversely, sometimes the haiga is a wisp of holiness, a divine wafer of color barely breathed upon the page with a hand as light as light itself. Haiga is the communion of light and intuition perceived and expressed through the mechanism of the human nervous system and the billion interconnected micro-events between the brain, the human hand, and the living paintbrush."
Zolo first began creating haiga in kindergarten with crayons on recycled paper. Only many years later when he read Zen Painting by Yasuichi Awakawa and saw the work of Hakuin, Sengai, Fugai, Isshi, and others did he realize he was not alone in combining poetry and painting. Some of Zolo's haiga, such as In Cathedral Rays, began with the painting first followed by the creation of an accompanying poem; but the majority began with an already existing poem to which a painting was added. The painting-first haiga are, according to Zolo, ". . . of a different order of haiga it seems to my observation. They tend to be more didactic than poem-first haiga. Perhaps the poems usually come first because I am so word-oriented. But sometimes words disgust me, especially if they are wrapped in Angora sweaters. Then I melt into the language of lines and colors." Just as Zolo continues the aesthetic traditions of the Japanese haiga masters, he also is true to his roots in the visual arts of the past century, especially abstract expressionism. The same flare for bold color and brushwork are employed in many of his more Western haiga.
You can see some of Zolo's haiga artwork in an ongoing haiga show published by Randy & Shirley Brooks. Some of his best haiku/haiga are included there. Zolo's personal gallery is also on the web.
For those of you who are interested in learning more about modern haiga, haiga artists, and other related topics, there are at least two good sites on the Internet: HAIGA Online and Haiga Gallery.
I am very pleased to announce to the readers of this AHA POETRY Poet Profiles column that Zolo recently had tremendous success in a very interesting social project, holding haiga/haiku workshops at the New York State Correctional Facility on Long Island from December 11-15, 2000. These workshops were part of an educational and rehabilitation outreach program to help people in prison who had made some serious mistakes in their lives (haven't we all), sometimes due to confusion, alienation, bad association, and other circumstantial situations which could happen to many of us. The program was designed to help these people get readjusted and to discover unexplored potentials and talents. The prison coordinator of this program thought that Zolo's workshops would help to liberate some of the prisoners from their painful and inglorious past by focusing on the present moment of being. The therapeutic value of haiku is not to be underestimated. As I stated in my second Poet Profile, on Paul Reps, I have personally observed the powerful positive effects of haiku on terminally ill children; and writing haiku and keeping a notebook helped me to alleviate a lot of inner pain, turmoil, and resentment from the travails that I went through in Vietnam. Haiku helped me get through my readjustment period upon returning to society once again after coming back from the war. Haiku can help the incarcerated, ill, mistreated, and other victimized people, release and express certain emotions that often have few viable outlets. Many people require a simple and uncomplicated non-threatening way of communicating certain feelings, emotions, and experiences. Haiku is a good option. Creating is a spiritual activity and as creators we enjoy sharing our creations with others. Zolo had this to say about the workshop participants: "Like any forum where individuals are concerned with creating and sharing, the work promotes healthy comradeship, discussion, laughter and concern for others. It's a time away from rage or bitterness or pain, a time to feel human, creative . . . a chance to involve the mind in something stimulating. A time to be open and 'vulnerable', and unafraid of criticism or judgments. For the time that prisoners are doing artwork and poetry, they are artists and poets . . . and this is a very positive ego boost which enhances self esteem."
"Art and poetry are good medicine for self esteem. If a person
experiences a 'now moment' and creates artwork relating to that experience, and goes on to share that in discussion, it establishes a fine civility, a kind of rarified feeling in the mind that is permanently 'tattooed' there as part of the self image. This is uplifting, behavior altering."
The workshops were educational, therapeutic, and life-altering
experiences that introduced these inmates to a new and positive activity that pointed them towards a new way of seeing themselves and the world around them. Besides painting, the participants kept notebooks, and took part in discussions, sharing their ideas and feelings afterwards.
Zolo was invited by the program coordinator Dr. Dwight Stecker and his wife Joan to stay with them in an adjoining guest apartment during the period when the workshops were being held at the correctional facility.
Zolo wrote haiku on the job. Here are a couple of examples:
arriving in fog . . .
the ferry rides the swells
into the island
* * * *
opening the shutters . . .
the jailer smiles, and lets in
the winter moon
Zolo had an ample room to work in, large and airy with big windows. The workspace had about 20 desks in the center, the maximum number of participants at any one time, each with a computer. There was also a library, an aquarium with goldfish swimming around through the blue bubbles, blackboards, a turret of cameras with their ubiquitous eyes beaming in all directions staring into the workspace, and even a decorated Christmas tree!
In this setting, the participants wanted to waste no time with
explanations and began painting, without a proper basis first, their vivid impressions of reality: arms with needles, bloody and violent scenes, etc.Then Zolo brought out his book of haiga for the occasion and showed them some good examples of what haiga was all about. They got right into some good lively discussion and were amazingly receptive, breaking out into laughter at times.
The participants were given notebooks and used them to keep a haiku journal. Zolo showed them his own journal of haiku, sketches, scribblings, notations, corrections, etc. thus they quickly saw and learned that haiga/haiku was an evolutionary process.
Zolo then went on to teach them three basic haiga strokes: the circle, the grass stroke, and the sea stroke. Afterwards they learned a little about season words and discussed the importance of one's relationship to nature. With these basic tools, the workshop participants were transformed from the stigma of being labeled criminals of the past to poets and artists of the present. In this atmosphere, they experienced the true meaning of humanity.
So it was no surprise to me when Zolo happily informed me that he had received the highest rating ever in the history of the correctional facility for a guest artist. The psychologists, parole officers, and counselors recorded a very high feedback rating from the participants. The prisoners voted unanimously to invite him back when they were asked by the prison officials, so at least two more workshops have been planned, one in February (this month) and another in April.
At the end of the five-day workshop, the participants had produced over 200 haiga paintings. Here are a few of the highlights of some of the participants' work. Some of their haiga can be seen by sending me an email request at: but please be patient. I plan to reply to the requests once I have received several, instead of on an individual basis.
bigger with every
This haiku was written by a drug addict who had been a prostitute with her father acting as her pimp. This is the only haiku//haiga she would do. She was caught stealing a paint set, but Zolo told the authorities that he had given it to her as a gift. She voluntarily returned to the workshop the next day to sit in and participate in the discussions, but not to paint or write.
two men sit silently
while tiles give shape
to unspoken words
The above haiku/haiga was written by a young woman who had been homeless when convicted of drug-related crimes. The haiku came as a memory of her seeing old men playing Scrabble in the park. Part of her haiga contains these additional words, linked Scrabble-style:
L O V E
* * * *
the sun shower drops
* * *
the sun sets
and the seagulls take
the last flight of the day
The two haiku above were written by a man convicted of arson and assault & battery. He enjoyed painting more than any of the others and has some definite artistic talent. Bright red predominates in both haiga, especially the second one, illustrating a fiery sunset.
The prisoner who did this next haiku/haiga was voted the best artist in her school.
A strong wind passes . . .
A dolphin comes up
to take a breath
(Note: I edited this haiku a bit because the haiga is not immediately available for the reader to view with the dolphin leaping up out of the water. With the haiga-vision, less words are needed and reads):
A strong wind passes . . .
A dolphin takes a breath
The next haiku/haiga was done by a big tough-looking muscular fellow who looked more like a hit man than someone who enjoys writing poetry and painting in watercolor which only goes to prove that looks are often deceiving. He was one of the most active participants and received a free paint set from Zolo.
baby sparrows bathing,
in freshly melted puddle
The next haiku/haiga was done by a 17 year-old ex-heroin addict on the methadone program:
The wind tells me . . .
a strawberry patch!
The next one was done by another woman that had been a prostitute who used to steal things and take drugs:
Finds An Apple
Another example below by one of the other inmates in the program:
The icy December
payphone that's waiting
to bite my ear . . .
This next haiku by another prisoner is my personal favorite of the many really good ones I read. I really identify with it.
gray winter sky
a lone goose breaks formation
to fly alone
This next one below was done by an 18 year old prostitute:
it opens my eyes
my dream unfinished
Dreams are what keep us going, inspire us, keep us alive. All dreams are unfinished. Once a dream comes true, it's a dream no longer, and another comes along to take its place. This prisoner's haiku calls to my mind, a haiku written by Raymond Roseliep in his book, Listen to Light:
from an old dream
her beached-out eyes
I'll now close with a selection of Zolo's own haiku:
in a window full of stars,
the black cat
opens an eye
* * *
Yeah, having to move is really the pits, isn't it?
The last piece of ice
and with it goes the full moon
over the falls
Wow, that was a thrilling ride!
The grizzled summit;
only lichen and twisted trees
through windblown fog
* * *
once again the whole family
* * *
The swollen cow
deep in daisies
* * *
two notes . . .
old stump . . .
after twelve miles
of traffic backed up
three workmen leaning on brooms
* * *
on my first dive . . .
eye to eye
with an angelfish!
The last haiku above (slightly revised by me) was taken from Zolo's sequence titled: Cancun Viva!
how suddenly the wind
brings yesterday's rain
back into the picture
* * * *
forest silence . . .
the cool green glow of lichen
wet with sunlit steam
* * * *
even a frozen scarecrow
has a warm spot
for a weary sparrow
Remember the story about the freezing sparrow in The Happy Prince by Oscar Wilde? I suppose then that the reverse could be true too:
even a freezing sparrow
has a warm spot
for a weary scarecrow
* * *
One umbrella . . .
both of us getting
a little wet
* * *
sun & moon . . .
ants turn the earth
* * *
in the moonlit marsh
as flood waters subside,
the herons return . . .
* * * *
far out on the Sound
after running the reel
a blue fish flashes
The last haiku is one of my favorites. This one didn't get away!
Column Copyright © Ty Hadman 2001.
Read past Poet Profiles:
Beatrice Brissman Jane Andrew Evelyn Tooley Hunt Ana Takseena Roberta Stewart Magnus Mack Homestead Steve Thompson Viola Provenzano, Mentor Addicks, Harvey Hess, Mary Truth Fowler. Alan Pizzarelli, Ana Barton, Margaret G. Robinson, Mary Dragonetti