Bartt A. Nehrt

Mykel Board's Haiku

Global Haiku Tradition
Millikin University, Spring 2001

Bartt A. Nehrt



Mykel Board's Haiku

Mykel Board has written many haiku that rely on irony and bits of humor, these haiku best reflect senryu. Throughout Mr. Board’s lifetime, he has traveled through forty countries and all fifty states, it is interesting to note that only one of the haiku I found on Mykel Board tell of his travels, though his travels have been very extensive. He blames his senryu form of writing on living in the city and not being put in contact with nature.

A biography over Mykel Board can be found in the book Threat by Example, which was edited by Martin Sprouse. Unfortunately, I was not able to obtain a copy of this literature, so I added a mailed question and answer interview to this report, hopefully to aid the reader in understanding the reasoning and feelings of Mr. Board’s haiku.

1. What is your profession?

I’m a jack of all trade. I am an English teacher (to Japanese speakers). I’m a prose writer. I’ve been a vocalist in a punk band and done spoken-word performances. All of these affect my haiku.

In a basic way, they affect my haiku because my haiku are drawn from my life. My work is part of my life. There are some specific instances. For example, I discovered haiku in English while I was living in Japan in 1989. I was teaching at a school where the headmaster, although Japanese, was writing haiku in English. He became my mentor and it grew from there.

As a writer, I tend to have a B-I-G-M-O-U-T-H. I overwrite, using ten words when one will do. You can’t do that with haiku. And it’s therefore a great exercise for me. I’m forced to express myself in a very short space. It teaches me to craft my words, making each count.

2. Have you had any formal education in writing? If so, where, when , and how does it effect your writing?

I studied writing at Columbia College in Chicago during my undergraduate years. Their writing workshop is focused on experiencing the moment. It was the most useful series of writing courses I ever took. I did not, however, formally study haiku writing.

3. Has anyone influenced you and your writings?

Everyone has influenced me and my writing. I expect you mean haiku writing here. In this case, I have to go with Basho and Buson, of course. My Japanese mentor, Ryo Suzuki also had a big influence on me. Finally, I belong to The Spring Street haiku Group. This is a group of New York haiku poets who meet monthly to discuss each other’s work. Their input has been invaluable to my writing.

4. I have noticed that a vast majority of your haiku stem from ironic humor, why have you chosen haiku of this aspect?

I would like to write fewer senryu and more haiku, but as a city boy, my contact with irony is deeper than my contact with nature. My attempts at pure (nature) haiku, have for the most part, been unsuccessful. It’s been said before, better than I could say it. My talent seems to be in noticing human foibles…even when related to nature.

5. Favorite haiku and why?

how ever I wear my hat
I hope it never quite looks
in fashion


This expresses my attitude in so many things. In a very short way, it tells about a
kind of anti-fashion feeling that is almost punk. It is haiku/senryu as rebellion.

6. What do you feel is the essence of haiku?

The essence of haiku in English is different from the essence of haiku in Japanese. (This relates to your next question). The best English-language haiku are those that directly express a single moment in time. The are poetry without being poetic. (That is, they don’t use poetic "tricks" like simile or metaphor.) And absolutely the best is bringing a new awareness to something the readers have experienced, but never thought about.

7. What are your thoughts on modern haiku compared to Japanese haiku? What haiku do you do you find more appropriate for our culture and why?

There are modern Japanese haiku, so I guess you mean modern English-language compared to old Japanese haiku. If that’s the case (which it is), obviously modern English-language haiku "more appropriate" for our culture. We can relate to them because we share more experiences with the writers than we do with the ancient Japanese writers. BUT, the best of the ancients (like the Buson haiku above or the famous "old pond") have insights and feelings that are just as worthwhile today. They are less appropriate and more remedial, perhaps.

Hopefully, the questions answered by Mr. Board will elaborate on his feelings on haiku and also why he writes as he does. Here are six examples on Mr. Board’s haiku and my feelings on them.

through binoculars
a woman looking at me
through binoculars

Differently written when compared to historic Japanese haiku, Mykel Board uses scenery, time, and also an emotional aspect that doesn’t revolve around nature. As read, this haiku depicts somewhat of an ironic feel. Imagine an on-looker, nestled high above in his penthouse suite, looking down upon the city and other apartment buildings, looking for someone to admire to pass the time. Suddenly, his binoculars become focused on other binoculars staring back at him. Is this a good or bad thing, was the woman looking first because she is interested? These are questions the reader gets to answer, which as Mr. Board explained in question 6, and what Mr. Board aims for in writing his haiku’s.

after the workout
taking the elevator
to the second floor

Again, Mr. Board uses irony and humor throughout his haiku. Mush of his humor is also so typical of everyday life, which adds to the irony of his haiku. Imagery is not used in most of his haiku, this haiku is an excellent example. There are no words to support a sense of emotional aspect in this haiku, it is very blunt and obvious. It doesn’t allow the reader to wander, it is very focused and blunt, though ironic and humorous.

in her leopard coat
she powders the spots
on her face

In this senryu, Mr. Board uses irony to create this haiku. Not much is left for the imagination of the reader, it is pretty cut and dry. A spotted coat contrasting with the spots on a ladies old face. It is somewhat nature’s way of paying the lady back for taking one of its beautiful creatures to be worn as a coat. Trading spots, not exactly what the inventor of that phrase had in mine, but as irony has it, its fits here.

the VD clinic
waiting for blood test results
I write Valentines

This haiku is considerably one of my favorites. Am I jumping to conclusions when I write that the person waiting is a guy, perhaps, but the writer is a male so I am entitled to this conclusion. Here is this dirty VD clinic, of course it is dirty, aren’t they all? A man sits, free from nervousness, though horrible news could be lurking just ahead. Patiently waiting, he writes valentines to his many lovers he has accumulated over the past years. The irony mixed with humor makes this a very good senryu.

the all night café
a teenager sits alone
smelling his fingers

Mykel Board, being a member of the "trouble-maker and hustler" crowd, somewhat of a perverted aspect of haiku has arisen. I do poise the question though, is the writer the pervert or is the teenager, smelling his fingers? I would say neither. The writer depicts something he sees and turns it into a haiku. A teenager is just experimenting with sexuality. Interestingly, I once found this haiku to be of perverted origin, now I see it as depicting a specific instance and allowing the reader to elaborate on it. Exactly what Mykel Board is trying to accomplish.

Guadaloup beach
a towel covers her face
the nude sunbather

This is the only haiku I found on Mykel Board that placed himself at one of his travels. This haiku is an example that Mr. Board doesn’t always use irony in its entirety. This haiku is somewhat ironic, but also gives a good sense of place and good imagery. This haiku is humorous in the aspect that in western culture, public nudity is not excepted. Here this woman is leaving her body uncovered while her face is uncovered, the exact opposite than what is the norm in western culture.

When comparing the works of Mykel Board with traditional Japanese writers, you will find many differences. One major similarity between both is the 5-7-5 format, which he uses on nearly all his haiku. By adding this, it adds the difficult aspect of finding words to fit experiences.

Throughout Mr. Board’s experiences, he has visited many countries and all states, though many of his haiku seem to have a city feeling. Despite, Mykel Board is an excellent writer of senryu. He tells that he wants to move away from senryu, but when you are good at something, it seems to come naturally. And that is the true feeling of haiku, all natural. If that true feeling comes from senryu or the old works of Basho, the feeling stems from feelings the writer expresses and the audience twists and turns into their own thoughts and feelings.

—Bartt A. Nehrt


©2001 Randy Brooks, Millikin University, Decatur, Illinois || all rights reserved for original authors