Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Five Questions for Two Twitterers: Alison Kehler and Kelly Westhoff of Haiku by Two

Let's get ready for Volume 2 of High Coup Journal!  As you might have guessed from the June cover art, literary coupling will be something of a theme for this issue: many haiku coupled together into a series, such as in Henry Visotski's "The Death of the (Other) American Dream"; a book composed by two individual authors in distinct but unlabeled collaboration, such as in our upcoming book review; or a daily haiku Twitter feed by two friends, Alison Kehler and Kelly Westhoff.  Let's see what the authors of Haiku by Two have to say...

1. So you’re about to hit 900 haiku... that’s like 9 complete hyakuin renga.  Seriously, how do you keep it going?

Working with Kelly is the key. I know that I could not do this by myself. And I feel a sense of ongoing conversation doing this with Kelly, which is very motivating. My mother recently asked me, “How long are you going to continue your haiku project?” And I was all like, “What do you mean? We’re going to do this forever!”

It helps me to have a partner. This way, I’m accountable to someone else. Like a lot of writers, I get my best work done under deadline. For me, Alison is sort of like a deadline. Even if I don’t feel like writing, I know that I have to because I don’t want to let her down.

However, I think the real key for us is that we didn’t take on this project because we wanted to write haiku. We took on this project because we wanted to keep in touch with each other. Even though haiku is our medium, the whole purpose of Haiku By Two is that the poems are an ongoing conversation between two friends. Many of our haiku are deeply personal, and I think the fact that we’re sharing these touching details of our lives with each other is what keeps us going.

2. How do you tend to split up the workload?

When I said I could not do this without Kelly, I meant it. She drives the ship and I do my best to keep up with the division of labor. Sometimes I am behind and she sends me a nice email, like, oh…are you still going to review that book? For me, it works. I like piping in with my own artistic insights, but I’m the sort of creative person who needs another person to keep me focused.

Well, the truth of the matter is that the site is my main mode of procrastination. When I don’t feel like focusing on the other work that I’m supposed to be doing (which happens a lot), I wander over to Haiku By Two and start thinking about ways to update it. Yet I also derive a lot of pleasure from the site, which is probably how it has ended up as my preferred mode of procrastination.

3. So... sometimes the brain just goes blank.  How do you get something to paper (or perhaps to keyboard) in those moments?

We have written many haiku about not knowing what to write about! I think that’s a part of the creative process. There are days in any medium where you feel uninspired and feel you have nothing to add. But I think continuity is the key to any art. So we keep going, we write about “nothing.” Or we suddenly find something when least expected. Or sometimes a haiku is just mediocre. That’s okay, too. It’s part of the process.

Here’s a haiku I posted on the site back in April 2010:

haiku-less, that’s me
I’m all out of fresh ideas
haiku-less, that’s me

I have gone through several dry spells where I feel like all the haiku I post are insipid or trivial or just plain bad. For me, that’s when I really fall back on that standard 5-7-5 syllable count. All I have to do, I tell myself, is come up with the count and then I can be done. And honestly, sometimes that’s the only way to make it through.

4. What effect has your poetic relationship had on your writing, and on your lives? Does it extend beyond the blog?

As the mother of a busy toddler, I rarely talk on the phone. Not even with my mom! I feel like I just don’t have the time or the space to have an extended phone conversation with anyone. So for me, Haiku By Two helps me feel like I have an ongoing conversation with a friend. I keep up with Kelly through the poetry and comments on the blog. I definitely feel close to Kelly because of this project. It has me thinking about her every day. I’ll be driving along and I’ll think “Oh, that reminds me of what Kelly wrote,” or I’ll just be sending her good vibes.

Well...first of all, haiku totally affected my reading choices. We didn’t decide to write haiku because we loved the format. We chose to write haiku because we were drawn to its brevity and straight-forward counting rules. It didn’t take long, though, for haiku to spark my curiosity. Soon after we started Haiku By Two, I was scouring the library for books that would explain the form.

Those reading choices then affected my writing as I started to look for ways to build in a break or reference a season in a less obvious way than saying “winter.”

Now, haiku has become a mode of thinking that I often fall into. For example, as I walk my dogs, I’m always on the lookout for some shift in nature that I can incorporate into haiku.

5. If our readers wanted to start a writing relationship like this, what would be some good pick-up lines?

Well, Alison and I knew each other long before Haiku By Two came about, so neither one of us had to go out and “pick up” a willing blogging partner.

But, if I were to try to set up something like this again, my advice would be that you really need to figure out what your goal is. If your goal is to share information, then you’ll be looking for a blogging partner with a different set of skills than if your goal is to have an ongoing conversation with a friend.

I would also recommend that you have clear posting guidelines. For us, it’s really helpful to know that each one of us has to post one haiku every other day. Having a very clear schedule makes it easy to plan ahead.

ALISON KEHLER writes haiku. She also makes soap. And she paints. And she teaches English to adult students. Plus, she is a mom to a busy toddler and a rambunctious puppy. She gathers ideas from each of her roles in life and incorporates them into her tiny poems.

KELLY WESTHOFF writes haiku when she should be doing something else. Like writing an article for her freelance career or grading papers for the college English classes she teaches. She finds inspiration for her haiku every time she takes her dogs for a walk.

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