Millikin University Haiku Writer Profile

O. Mabson Southard

  The old rooster crows...
    Out of the mist come the rocks
        and the twisted pine.
by O Mabson Southard

Biographical Background

O Mabon Southard was born Ordway Southard in Cambridge, Massachusetts on November 29, 1911 to Mabel Austin Southard and Elmer Ernest Southard. Mabel held an M.D. and practiced medicine while Elmer was a professor of psychiatry at Harvard.

The poet suffered through the loss of his father at age 8 to pneumonia and was primarily raised by his mother. Also, his older brother Austin developed schizophrenia and killed himself in his late teens. Southard blamed his brother’s illness on family pressure to excel academically at the time.

Ordway Southard attended Harvard for two years until he developed tuberculosis and spent a year in a sanitarium. Upon release, however, he did not return to Harvard. Instead, he resisted family pressures in order to carry out an independent and unconventional lifestyle.

His closest friend growing up was his sister, Anne. Anne later introduced Ordway to his future wife, Mary Carr Boggs. They married in 1936 and had one child, a girl, in 1945, Barbara Southard. The couple moved around a lot, settling in places such as Mexico, Alabama, Alaska, New York City, and Hawaii. Both were highly influenced by Marxist Socialist thought and participated in the Civil Rights Movement.

While in Hawaii, Ordway and Mary took Hawaiian language classes, in which they adopted the names—O and Malia. The names were so popular among their friends that they stuck. The name of Mabson is derived from his mother’s name, Mabel. Southard integrated his mother’s name into his own in response to the feminist thought that was influencing him at the time.

He moved to British Columbia and lived on Vancouver Island until his death on May 6, 2000.

All information in biography provided by Barbara.

This profile of haiku writer, O. Mabson Southard, was researched, written and created by Brock Peoples. See his reader response essay:

Zen in America:
The haiku of American poet
O Mabson Southard

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

O. Mabson Southard

Southard's Haiku Poetics

"Southard strongly believed that haiku should be based on concrete experience, and his keen observation of nature was cultivated in the course of frequent wanderings in the wilderness. He rejected literary criticism that emphasized the symbolic in his poetry. Whatever symbolism might be construed by others, the poet avowed that the verses he wrote flowed from concrete moments of enhanced sensibility."

—Barbara Southard.

Author's Books

O Mabson Southard first published haiku in 1963 in American Haiku after becoming interested in Oriental philosophy and literature. He would go on to publish in Haiku West, and Modern Haiku as well. His only poetry book that has been published was Marsh Grasses (American Haiku Press, 1967).

Brooks Books will be publishing a collection of Southard’s work tentatively titled Deep Shade, Flickering Sunlight: Selected Haiku of O. Mabson Southard (2003).





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