Millikin University Haiku Writer Profile

John Dunphy


  even the tooth
her father knocked out
placed under her pillow
by John Dunphy

Biographical Background

John Dunphy was born [and still resides] in Alton, Illinois on December 8, 1953. He was the only child born into a family of Catholic working class parents. His father worked as an electrician’s helper at an oil refinery, while his mother worked at various jobs: department store clerk, receptionist for a doctor and even a part-time kindergarten teacher at a parochial school.

His mother and other relatives spoke on many occasions that his father had been deeply affected through experiences while serving in the army during the Second World War. This period of his father’s life was never discussed with John in detail, but his mother later disclosed information regarding his military experience. John learned that his father had been in the Battle of Bulge, and had been awarded a Purple Heart for injuries sustained (an artillery shell shattered the windshield of a truck that had been driving).

In 1949, Mrs. Dunphy, John’s mother, gave birth to a stillborn child. This was just four years prior to the birth of John. During his thirties, John, was approached by his mother with an explanation as to why she wanted to mother a child. With the death of his father and his wartime experiences, it was believed that this would help to relieve some of Johns father’s pain.

This profile of haiku writer, John Dunphy, was researched, written and created by Nick Walters based on personal interviews and secondary materials.

Scroll through the entire profile, or jump to any section:

Dunphy has won various awards.

There was a poem in Brussels Sprout 7:3 that received the Editor’s Choice Award.

A sequence entitled "Return to the Wall" which was published in Frogpond 14:4 received the Museum of Haiku Literature Award.

One of John Dunphy’s haibun, entitled "Battlefield Memento," took the Best Haibun of the Issue Award in Modern Haiku 31:3.

(In the last Modern Haiku, his winning haibun was falsely identified as "Belated Casualty," another haibun that was published in the Modern Haiku 31:3 issue, but the award was actually won by "Battlefield Memento.")

Author's Books

John has yet to publish a book or even a chapbook of his own works. He’s in the process of looking for the right publisher.

His work has appeared in works of other Authors such as in Jim Kacian’s Red Moon Anthologies of the best English-language haiku for the years 1996, 1999 and 2000.

"I just received stone frog, American Haibun and Haiga, Volume II, published this year by Red Moon Press, which contains two of my haibun."


A Reader's Response Essay on Dunphy's Haiku

When looking at the works of John Dunphy, one might notice that he tends to focus on aspects such as sexual and child abuse, homelessness; apparently non-haiku themes, testing the traditional definition of haiku. One might argue that his works are in fact senryu: structurally identical to haiku, but has a much more flexible content, in particular discussing human emotions and relationships as opposed to nature themes.

So are these senryu?
The one element that his work lacks is the satirical element that is prevalent in senryu. His works seem to portray toughness through adversity, overcoming the odds that one faces. When faced with this question, Dunphy responded, "I suppose that many - perhaps most - of my poems would properly be classified as senryu rather than haiku. Quite frankly, I could care less about the classification issue. I let the critics worry about that. I’m too busy writing."

Dunphy extends the range of haiku.

Dunphy says that, while he is "enraptured with nature," he wants "haiku capable of embracing all of life: the seamy, as well as the sublime . . ." He states his essential goal in these words: "If I accomplish nothing else in life, I want to revolutionize haiku by taking it out of the woods and placing it deep within the human heart." Dunphy writes about what he knows and what he has lives. "My background has left me intimately acquainted with alienation, anger and pain. I consider myself a brother to all the exploited and outraged of the world." He is "a voice to those who can no longer speak, or who have never been able to speak for themselves".

"I am a prolific author of prose articles for magazines and newspapers, and those pieces also deal with social justice issues. Many of my poems perform the same function. I’m a humanist activist and believe that I have a moral responsibility to join in the struggle to better the condition of humankind. I speak out in my poetry as well as my articles."

He states that he "appreciates nature and consider myself an ardent environmentalist, but writing nature poetry simply doesn’t appeal."

In the exact words of John Dunphy:

To be brutally frank with you, most nature haiku bores me to death!" I satirized such verse as "tra-la haiku," which I defined in my "this is our life/no more brain" sequence with Marlene Mountain (Raw Nervz Haiku 3:3) as "insipid, boring nature poetry, as in the flowers that bloom in the spring, tra-la." In an earlier sequence with Marlene (RNH 1:1), I called nature haiku "haikuzzzzz," which means I find this poetry so damn boring that it’s sleep-inducing. Much of the haiku establishment will never forgive me for either characterization, but lack of candor has never been one of my flaws.

However one classifies Dunphy's haiku of the heart, they powerfully convey experiences and feelings not that far from any of us. He captures many controversial issues and "revolutionizes" them into a writing scenario. For example, suppose two individuals to find themselves in poverty, but also in love with one another. They manage to find a "romantic" evening at an expense that is unfortunate to suffer, being forced to live on the streets and eat in the local soup kitchen of the neighborhood.

John Dunphy is clearly a profound writer, tackling topics that one cannot expect to read about. He clearly extends out of the "norm," from what is expected of haiku and moves the reader to think about the unspeakable. His works concentrate on the darker side of human life and bring them into a "new light." Both he and his works continue to have profound effects on the haiku community and critics. He is an avid humanist, having profound effects on the humanist rally by bringing these themes to the public eye. We can only wait and see what other pieces John Dunphy will bring us in due time.

—Nick Walters




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2001, Dr. Randy Brooks• Millikin University
last updated 8/16/01 • about this web site