Millikin University Haiku Writer Profile

Nicholas A. Virgilio

   out of water . . .
       out of itself.
by Nicholas Virgilio

Biographical Background

Nicholas A. Virgilio was born in Camden, New Jersey, on June 28, 1928. After serving in the Navy during World War II, he began his career as a radio announcer. It wasn’t until the sixties did Virgilio make an appearance in the world of Haiku. His first publication was during 1963 in American Haiku. Since then he has created a constant evolving style that has made him one of the most widely known American haiku poets. After a review on National Public Radio, it was then Virgilio gained popularity as a poet. It was this moment that Virgilio was credited for exposing haiku, a non-traditional style of writing, to the United States. Critics, through the years, have said that Virgilio’s ability to connect with individuals from many types of societies, and doing it with ease, is the cause of his success as a haiku poet. Nicholas Virgilio died on January 3rd, 1989.

During the 70’s Virgilio made a drastic style reformation in his writing. Found in a memorial card honoring him, it was written ". . . he probed its (Camden, NJ) pain with a powerful pen and mined kernels of universal truth in the oddest places. He found gems in palsied hands and polluted streams, in raveling neighborhoods and corner prostitutes. Hopes in the hardest rock and lovely lilies in ponds of sadness." It is in these sentences we see the variety in Nicholas Virgilio’s poetry. But, what caused it is what interests me. What would cause a man to walk the unbeaten path of non-traditional haiku, unaware it would turn him into the most famous American haiku poet.

In the beginning of his career Virgilio adapted the typical writing style of the illusion. Creating an illusion he was able to give us in image of something that couldn’t possibly be. Shortly after he followed the majority and wrote using the Zen traditions.

Author's Books

Selected Haiku, Black Moss Press, 1989.


This profile of haiku writer, Nicholas Virgilio, was researched, written and created by Darrin Thurman.

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Author Awards

Virgilio’s accomplishments include a long-standing member of the Haiku Society of America as well as being the co-director of the First International Haiku Festival. He participated in establishing the Walt Whitman Center for Arts and Humanities.

Reader Responses

my spring love affair:
the old upright Remington
wears a new ribbon

The above haiku is about Virgilio’s typewriter. Nick Virgilio thought this is where he did his best poetry. This haiku is rather interesting in the way that the author tied himself into his writing while still observing something. I found this very affective. Including himself, only by observation, he was able to let the typewriter be the center of attention.

Following the Vietnam War Nick Virgilio entered in a new style of writing. This would be best described as the "reality" period. After losing his brother in the war, Virgilio found himself spending much of his time writing and reflecting on the tragedy. It is thought that this writer who once transported us to an imaginary world of lilies could only write about true life, mostly dark images. He continued to write in this style for the remaining of his life.

flag-covered coffin:
the shadow of the bugler
slips into the grave

my dead brother...
hearing his laugh
in my laughter

on my last journey
alone on the road at dawn:
first sight of the sea

The last haiku I chose to share is one that helps give a closing to Nick Virgilio’s life. One of reflection, and quite possibly peace.


Additional Web Links and Resources

Nick Virgilio Poetry Project, Rutgers University


haiku conferences haiku courses at Millikin Modern Haiku magazine
speakers & readings haiku competitions at MU student renga
student haiku projects published haiku by students links to haiku web sites
student research on haiku haiku by Millikin students directory of haiku magazines


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