John Wills: Great American Haiku Writer
my hunt for an author began for my contemporary author essay,
I realized that I needed to find someone with whom I could
greatly connect to their haiku. My search ended when I stumbled
across John Wills haiku in Cor Van Den Heuvels
The Haiku Anthology. I found that I tended to like
the nature aspect, which virtually all of Wills haiku
capture. His haiku drew me into my childhood memories and
for that reason, I wanted to know more about the author behind
Wills was born in 1921 and perished in 1993. A great deal
of his seventy-two years was spent writing and discovering
the world of haiku. His journey was not spent alone, however,
as he wed Marlene Mountain. Together they combined haiku projects
with him writing the poem and her creating the artwork behind
the poem. Their ideas of haiku differed to a certain point
as Wills did not exactly follow traditional haiku rules. His
early haiku was written based on his love of English and American
literature as well as childrens poets. Wills thoroughly
enjoyed childrens poems and Chinese poems and as mentioned
before, was never a concept person. He was independent to
a certain extent and liked to do things his own way.
writing haiku for several years, Wills first book, Weathervanes,
was published in 1969. Shortly thereafter in the same year,
Back Country emerged. Since that time, he has had several
other publications including River, The Young Leaves, Cornustubble,
and Up a Distant Ridge. Most of his books not only
included his haiku but also illustrations by his wife, Marlene
Many haiku experts have said that Wills had a sort of iambic meter to his haiku style. The reader could read the haiku and not only get the sense of the haiku but could feel movement in it as well. Meter is rarely employed in haiku but Wills often used it to create a subtle musical flow in his haiku. Such is the case in the haiku:
from rock to rock a waterthrush
Haiku Anthology, 301
haiku flows much like that of English poems. Although Wills
did not like to follow the haiku writing rules per se, I believe
this poem employs a bit of Zen principle. This haiku gives
the image of a river with the mention of the bird, the waterthrush,
yet does not say that its actually about a river. This
is a bit of wordlessness, one of Eric Amanns Zen principles
from his Wordless Poem. Wills has created the picture of a
river but in not so many words.
studying a bit more about Wills, I discovered that many of
his haiku were written during a time when he and Marlene lived
in the mountains of Tennessee. This explains why most of his
poems are about rivers and the beauty and simplicity of nature.
Through further research of poems, I found that many of Wills
haiku not only employ the wordless element of Zen but also
use many seasonal words. Whether it is a haiku in which he
states the season or is speaking of an animal or something
else that represents a season, the seasonal element is often
there. Such is the case in one of his autumn wind haiku.
with most of John Wills haiku, this one is very visual
for me. I am taken back to when I was young and I would go
outside with my dad to fill up the bird feeders. We would
look up and see all of the birds just soaring above us, waiting
for us to leave so they could eat. I can just picture the
sparrows being so light that they do not even have to try
to fly as the wind carries them up and down, up and down.
This also gives me a sense of the iambic measure that Wills
is known for. With the up and down motion it is somehow carried
forward as well, creating a progression as in a musical number.
River, Wills third book, River, is solely based on river haiku, just as the name would imply. There are a few haiku in this particular book that I feel are worth mentioning due to the natural element as well as wordlessness and iambic meter. The first of these haiku comes early in the book and in my mind is about a fisherman.riding
haiku is also very visual for me. I can see a fisherman out
very early in the morning. His line is cast and hes
just waiting patiently but as he waits, the current begins
carrying the boat downstream along with anything else that
happens to meat the misfortune of falling into the water.
In this case that would be the leaves. I especially like the
way that he spaced the second line of the haiku. Its
as if the boat is the second line and the leaves are the first
and last just waiting to catch up and surround the boat. I
also get the sense of meter with this haiku as there is a
certain motion created by the water.
haiku I really liked from River reminded me of a canoeing
trip I took with my family as a child.
Ive only been canoeing once in my life, there are a
few things about the trip that I distinctly remember. One
of those things was the fact that whenever we were in deep
water, we could look down and see the large boulders underwater
as the water was very calm and still. Then in the shallow
water it was very rapid flowing and just deep enough for the
canoe to pass over the small pebbles below. This haiku captures
the idea of a mountain river very vividly. I enjoy how he
uses the word hammers to describe the madness
created by the river as it becomes rapids. The scene created
by this particular haiku was very intriguing to me and I think
that is why I like it so much.
all of the haiku written by Wills, there was one that I found
that caught me a bit off guard as it is a bit out of the ordinary
for his style of writing. Regardless, I still enjoy the moment
captured by the haiku and think it should be included here
as a contrast to the nature haiku.
like the way that Wills personified the doll in this haiku.
When I first read the haiku I was not at all expecting for
the last line to be about a doll. The haiku completely caught
me off guard and I think that is what is so intriguing about
it. The way the doll is just staring outside at the moon brings
the doll to life in a way and therefore makes the house seem
not as abandoned. Im not quite sure where Wills was
going with this haiku but I like it nonetheless.
of the final haiku that I have chosen to include here is yet
another dealing with water however in this case, I do not
see a river as in most of his other haiku but an ocean shore.
again, Wills has used a bit of iambic meter in this haiku.
The motion of the water is like that of lilting notes of a
song. I can see the in and out motion and hear the water moving
almost like the sound of a stringed instruments bow going
back and forth across the strings. I just really like the
way that this haiku uses that meter to create a more vivid
image in the readers mind. It adds that extra little bit of
pizazz that a reader might not realize upon first reading
but might later realize after the fact. This haiku gives me
the sense of the waves coming in and out from the ocean and
drowning the rocks only to leave them uncovered and dried
up in the end.
there is one haiku I must write about as it is my favorite
of all of the John Wills haiku I found. This particular haiku
reminds me of last summer when I had the opportunity to live
just outside of Seattle and go hiking in the mountains.
one occasion, my aunt and uncle took me camping in the mountains
and we went on a hike through the woods along a mountain lakeshore.
As we rounded a corner, I could see the foothills all around.
I normally dont notice many details but the picture
was so surreal that I took it all in. I can remember the clouds
floating around the foothills. I could see them for a moment
and then theyd disappear behind the next hill only to
emerge from the other side. As I read Wills haiku, I was immediately
reminded of that instant. After my research of Wills, I can
see that this haiku also has a hint of the iambic meter with
the emergence of each cloud portraying a musical beat.
After researching John Wills, I now see just how unique his writing style is. He is one of the few writers who use iambic meter. Perhaps I like to think he uses it more often than he actually does but that could be the music major in me. I found it quite interesting to see how he uses the meter considering I originally chose him based simply on the fact that he wrote about nature. Little did I know that I would find the musical connection there too. I am glad I chose John Wills for my author study as I learned a great deal about him and also about the use of meter in haiku.
Additional information on John Wills can be found at the following websites:
©2003 Randy Brooks, Millikin University, Decatur, Illinois || all rights reserved for original authors