Gary Hotham: Haiku Genius
(an email interview essay)
Gary Hotham grew up in northern Maine on a potato farm. His
parents and two younger brothers still live there. However,
he and his sister both left for warmer parts. He has lived
in Maryland since 1975 with various breaks in Germany and
England. He is involved with several haiku groups including
the Haiku Society of America (a long time member mid 70's),
the British Haiku Society, and Haiku Canada. Hothams
interest in haiku stems from the poetrys "brevity,
the sharpness of its imagery, and its penetrating focus on
a state of being or a moment in time" (email 04/02/01).
Hothams poetry originally struck my interests because
of its ability to catch a moment that really electrified my
senses. His ability to elicit such a response impressed me.
In his haiku, Hotham brings the moment to life. He draws the
reader into the moment and creates a special impression. He
has a special knack for creating exceptional and phenomenal
images with very few words. Gary Hothams haiku is extraordinary.
His High School English teacher, Mrs. Maloney first exposed
Hotham to haiku, during his sophomore year at Maine's Presque
Isle High School from 1965 to 1966. He did not immediately
become a haiku poet, but he did begin to experiment with different
types of poetry including haiku. He even attempted, and often
succeeded, in publishing his works in magazines such as Haiku,
Haiku Highlights, and Haiku
West. However, Hothams serious interest in haiku
did not occur until his senior year of college in 1972.
In an email interview with Gary Hotham, I asked him "Who
are your biggest role models in haiku?" His response
When I first started writing haiku in the mid 60's there
was not much of an English language tradition of haiku. I
had favorite contemporary and dead poets but no haiku writers.
I read and published in Haiku
magazine and Haiku Highlights
and Haiku West. I read translations
of Japanese haiku writers: R.H. Blyth most notably. Cor van
den Heuvel's first anthology of haiku, which appeared in 1974,
brought together a lot of good haiku by various writers, which
was helpful. I can't say there has been any one or two writers
of haiku who I have thought "I want to write like them."
I have enjoyed and appreciated the works of many other haiku
writers but have not thought I want to write haiku like them
because it just would not have been me. This was not true
of my attempts at non-haiku poetryI thought I wanted
to write poems like Robert Bly or William Stafford or James
Wright. In some correspondence I had with Bly way back then
he was not at all encouraging of my attempts at haiku nor
did he desire at that time to see it become a genre for English
language poets to write. (04/02/01)
Gary Hotham has always been interested in history as well
as haiku. As a result, his work often reflects a combination
of both of these loves. "All his art is to recapture
a moment and seize upon particulars and fasten down a contingency"
(Breath Marks 99). Herbert Butterfield,
the very distinguished British historian, wrote this quote
to describe the work of a historian. Hotham is very interested
in creating haiku which "recapture a moment." Hotham
believes that historians and haiku writers are after interested
in the same results.
Part of writing haiku depends upon motivations. Some haiku
poets get most of their motivation from nature, people, life,
and travels. Gary Hotham gets his motivation from all of these
sources. He says that there usually is a personal experience
that accompanies the haiku. Hotham is mostly concerned with
portraying "the essence of a moment keenly perceived"
(Breath Marks 100). Included
are emotional energy, excitement, and depth in the small events,
the brief moments of life. "The haiku is a great form
of poetry with its pinpoint focus for capturing those brief
moments in time and re-creating the associated states of being"
(Breath Marks 100). To describe
and explain the subject of content inspiration, Gary Hotham
uses a quote by T.S. Eliot. This quote, found in "Why
Haiku?" at the end of Breath Marks:
Haiku to Read in the Dark, describes Hothams belief
that the content of a haiku can be thought of in the same
way T. S. Eliot describes the materials of the poet at work:
When a poet's mind is perfectly equipped for its work,
it is constantly amalgamating disparate experience; the
ordinary man's experience is chaotic, irregular, and fragmentary.
The latter falls in love, or reads Spinoza, and these two
experiences have nothing to do with each other or with the
noise of the typewriter or the smell of cooking; in the
mind of the poet these experiences are always forming new
In with this explanation, Gary Hotham includes Gods
influence in providing the materials to write about. Hothams
Christianity has been a big influence on his life and his
Gary Hotham describes his style, including his motivation,
subject matter, and following of regulations, in more detail
in his book Breath Marks. The following is a direct quote:
If you have read my haiku, you know I don't adhere strictly
to those rules. My focus is on perceiving the essence of
the moment with the best words and phrases I can think of.
That focus becomes my rule. It certainly limits the number
of words, although it doesn't arrange them in lines of 5,
7, 5. Too many words would mean more moments and diffuse
the sharp edges of a single moment. One line, two lines,
three lines, four linesin most cases three lines does
it for me. What's the "does it"? I think the lines,
by separating the words and phrases, help intensify themit
gives them some space to expand. At least visuallyand
even when read aloudthe lines make one pause, giving
some space to the sounds. Perhaps the space around a word
or between phrases is like water on seeds or boiling water
poured on tealeaves. Have you ever wondered how you hear
the spaces between words? It's certainly easy enough to
see them when the words are written. Is seeing space and
hearing space between words the same? And of course haiku
are not just nature poems. There are lots of trees, clouds,
wind, snow, and rain in mine, if that is what defines a
nature poem. But there are other things in them such as
cups of coffee, daughters, famous men, blank forms, soup,
dentists, and closets. But even in the ones that look like
a nature poem there is us. As far as the materials of the
haiku go and its subject matter, all of creation is legitimate.
I think the content of haiku can be thought of in the same
Hotham certainly contributes unmatched elements to haiku
on a global level. Gary Hothams haiku combines his personal
astuteness and proficiency to create poetry that individually
connects with each reader. This is an outcome that is the
goal of any haiku poet. However, Hotham is one of the few
who actually achieve this purpose. In the Preface to his new
book, Breath Marks, Hotham notes
the power of language and how powerful it is here: "in
three or four short lines to disconcert, disillusion, illuminate,
delight, to capture the moment." This self-description
is the best explanation to Hothams unique contribution
For the purposes of this paper, I have organized Hothams
haiku into a systematic sequence. First, I have grouped together
the haiku that leave the reader with a sense of questioning.
These are the haiku that keep the reader thinking about the
moment well after he or she is done reading it. Also, these
haiku create a sense of wonderment from the readers
perspective. Second, I have placed the haiku that mention
motion. These haiku center on a sense of progress and direction
as well. I next quoted the haiku with attention to the sense
of sight. These haiku are written explaining a specific visual
image. These are some of the most beautiful haiku because
they portray a sense of charm.
Hothams haiku often depicts an interesting and clever
situation. Frequently, his haiku creates a scene, which makes
sense, but is not particularly a daily occurrence for an individual.
foot tracks being filled
This haiku paints such a striking picture. The perspective
does not come from the driver. Instead, the writer seems to
be just an observer of the situation and the beauty of the
moment. This haiku places the reader right in the moment described.
It is as if I am standing by the stalled car and straining
to figure out where exactly the footsteps lead. The tracks
are currently being filled so the path is unclear. Of course,
being a great haiku there are many questions left unanswered.
Where is the driver? Were there passengers? What is wrong
with the car? How long has it been snowing? Did the car stall
because of the snow? When will the driver return? Will the
tracks become completely filled? What time of day is it? The
possible questions arising from different readers interpretations
of the haiku are infinite. The genius of this haiku is that
it presents this moment and then leads the reader to continue
thinking about the haiku after finishing reading the haiku.
Gary Hothams haiku often describes a moment or instance
without directly spelling out the experience.
your empty coat hanger
in the closet
Hothams wording in this haiku is really impressive.
Hotham effectively starts the haiku with "home early."
This statement immediately places the reader in the moment
of an arrival home at an unexpected hour. Also, Hotham does
not say "you are not home." Instead, he gives us
the image of the empty coat hanger, merely implying that you
are gone. This wording is ingenious. Without using any negative
words, Hotham gives the impression that this is not a good
sign. This absence is unexpected. The implications here are
that the missing individual is doing something that they should
not be doing. Hothams inclusion of the word "you"
instead of his or her brings the reader into a sense of inclusion
in the poem. This personal incorporation places a bit of guilt
into the reader. Hotham has now created a physical response
from the reader. This haiku creates an immediate response
involving questions. "Where is this person?" "Why
are they gone?" "When will they be home?" "What
are they doing?" "Will they get into trouble?"
"Will the writer confront the culprit?" "Will
the writer ignore the situation and pretend like it did not
happen?" Hotham has created a truly great piece of work
in a mere nine words.
In some of Hothams poetry, the moment caught contains
multiple senses. In fact, some of the most poignant haiku
that he has written combines senses to place the reader in
late evening heat
the newspaper rattles
in the fans breeze
The reader can almost feel the heat, see and hear the newspaper
rattling, and feel the fans refreshing breeze. Hothams
haiku creates a setting that the reader can immediately picture.
Even more amazing, Gary Hotham chooses the perfect words that
prompt the reader to imagine himself or herself there in the
moment. Hothams use of senses creates a personal connection
to the situation. The impression given in this particular
instance is sensational.
Gary Hotham creates many precious scenes in his haiku. Sometimes,
he takes a person and concentrates on that one individual.
the newborn yawns
her hands dont go
In this instance, Hotham isolates the childs mannerisms.
With these mannerisms, he creates an innocent display concentrating
on the hands of the small child. The moment becomes an exhibition
in which one part of the child is the center of attention.
The yawn becomes not only an action, but also a scene that
states a double meaning. The newborns hands cannot reach
far in a literal sense because she is so small. Also, her
hands do not reach far in the sense that she is unable to
do anything on her own. She depends on her parents for feeding,
clothing, bathing, and washing. As the child grows, she will
be able to reach farther and farther towards independence
and adulthood. Eventually, this child will have a newborn
of her own and the process will start over again. Hotham does
some really neat things with this poem. He captures a precious
moment and makes a heartfelt commentary on the life cycle.
Hotham has written a few two-lined haiku. In this haiku,
Hotham describes a moment in an untraditional way.
quietly the fireworks
This two line haiku paints a beautiful picture full of color
and life. The word quietly is used in a very significant and
interesting way. One thing that people often associate with
fireworks is the enormous amount of noise that usually accompanies
them. However, in this instance, the fireworks are so far
away that they seem quiet. However, the work lends itself
to many options. Id like to think that this scene includes
a couple sitting on a blanket a bit outside of town. Perhaps
they have a picnic or some champagne. They watch the fireworks,
but are not included in the loudness associated by closeness
to the event. Also, the crowd of people attending the event
is far off. These particular spectators are enjoying a special
moment far away from any other distractions other than the
pure beauty of the moment.
Sometimes, Gary Hotham uses his haiku to commentary on an
in the next seat
the train picks up speed
The haiku appears to be an acknowledgment of surroundings.
The matter-of-fact tone of this haiku creates a feeling of
appreciation for life. The moment is nothing special. No particular
big event is taking place. The instant caught by this haiku
is a simple one. However, the way in which Hotham has created
this image is interesting. Until the last line, the reader
does not know where this paper and seat is. Also, Hotham does
not just simply claim that there is a passenger in the train.
Instead, he creates an image of the train moving along and
getting quicker. Perhaps this scene is one that is encountered
daily by commuters. This scene could almost be second nature
to some regular passengers on trains. Or, perhaps something
happened yesterday that the writer is trying to forget about.
Perhaps that paper from yesterday is a horrible reminder of
an event from the previous day. Because of that, he does not
pick the paper up, but notes that it is indeed there. The
haiku creates almost a power struggle in the decision whether
to pick up the paper or not.
Hotham often isolates a certain place in the moment and concentrates
his writing on that place.
between the rocks
water the ocean
didnt take back
While reading this haiku, I get a perfect mental picture
of the captured moment. The image illustrated is gorgeous.
I imagine the writer is walking along a beach, perhaps climbing
on rocks or hiking through an area with rocks. In this hike,
the writer notices a beautiful occurrence between the rocks.
Hothams choice of words is remarkable. The eloquent
way in which he describes this experience creates an even
more beautiful picture. Hotham portrays this image without
directly stating that there are puddles of ocean water. By
personifying the ocean, the account becomes two-dimensional.
On one hand, the basic picture of the caught water is there.
But the ocean is also claiming previous ownership of this
water. The picture is clear and awe-inspiring.
This is another example of isolating one particular point
of view of a moment.
the garbage truck backs over
the new snow
Hotham uses a normal occurrence in this haiku. However, he
concentrates on one aspect of the experience. The focus is
not on the garbage, the truck, or the day. Hotham leads our
imagination towards the impressions the trucks tires leave
on the new snow. Perfectly depicted, the readers mind
is immediately consumed with that image of the first break
in the fresh snow. Gary Hothams fist line (trash day-)
could have gone in many different directions. Hothams
focus on the ground and the imprint left from the truck is
special. The poem inspires people to notice the small things.
The emphasis is on a small part of the picture. The readers
eyes are drawn there because of Hothams
beautiful words and eloquent word placement.
Gary Hothams work as a haiku poet has inspired many
haiku poets to reach new and higher levels of writing. Lee
Gurga, Past President of the Haiku Society of America said
this of Mr. Hotham: "Gary allows us to see, hear, and
touch the world around us as if for the first time. These
poems are true classics of American haiku." This statement
is indeed true. Hothams ability to capture a moment
makes him a true genius haiku poet.
Bibliography of Published Books by Gary Hotham
Against the Linoleum (Yiqralo
As Far As The Light Goes (Juniper
Bare Feet (Longhouse, 1998)
Before All the Leaves Are Gone
(Juniper Press, 1996)
Breath Marks: Haiku To Read In The
Dark (Canon Press, 2000)
Footprints & Fingerprints
(Modest Proposal, 1999)
Hairs & Hawk Circles
Off and On Rain (High/Coo, 1978)
Pulling Out the Bent Nail (Wind
Chimes Press, 1988)
The Ferns Underside (Juniper
The Winds View (Juniper
This Blank Space (Juniper Press,
Without the Mountains (Yiqralo
Hotham, Gary. Breath Marks: Haiku To
Read In The Dark. Canon Press, 2000.
Hotham, Gary. Email interview. 04/02/01.
Hotham, Gary. "Selected Haiku." Global
Haiku. Ed. Randy Brooks and George Swede. Niagara Falls:
Mosaic Press, 2000. 62-65.
Hotham, Gary. "Selected Haiku." The
Haiku Anthology. Ed. Cor Van Den Heuvel.
New York: Norton & Company, 1999. 80-87.