Member Spotlight for the Month of May 2005 - Agnes Eva

Agnes Eva

Many of us know Agnes Eva as Pathetic's "haiku queen" and the moderator of The Tadpole Society, our haiku forum, where she dispenses valuable advice, runs her monthly "kukai" contest, and offers fellow members an opportunity to share their haiku, senryu, tanka, and other Japanese-based forms. Agnes has been writing poetry since 1989, but only has been writing haiku since 2003, yet she has had great success with it already, having published in some of the top-flight haiku journals: Frogpond, Acorn, Modern Haiku, Heron's Nest, and paper wasp. One of her haiku will soon be published in Introduction to Haiku: Clearing the Confusion, by Ferris Gilli.

Agnes was born in Poland and came to the U.S. in June 1984, at age 7, after three years of separation from her parents due to immigration laws. She learned English from the neighborhood kids over the summer, and began school that fall. Her first writing success came in 5th or 6th grade, when she wrote a prize-wining poem that compared her life in Poland with her life in the United States. Later, she was finalist in an essay-writing contest. Although Agnes began her college career as a music major (oboe performance), she earned a B.A. from Northwestern University as a comparative literature major, with a minor in French. After college, she worked as a French tutor, and later she became vice president and webmaster of a "culinary travel company". Currently, she resides in Texas with her husband Scott, her cats Crimson and Clover, and her new baby girl Maia. She still runs a webmaster business from home.

Here are excerpts from my "Q-and-A" with Agnes:

Q: Why haiku? What drew you to this form that has become so successful for you?

A: I've always been searching for the perfect mode of creative expression. I oscillate between photography, drawing, sculpture, musical instruments, and writing. I've written poems and short stories, and sketched out several plots for novels. But a novel seems like such a huge undertaking. With free form poetry, I realize that it's a mode of highly inspired emotional, sexual, or intellectual release for me; which means it's highly personal rather than acceptable at a professional level. The reason why I search for the perfect mode of creative expression, besides the fulfillment of my soul's potential, is because I'm afraid of dying. I want to be on the path towards having an inextinguishable legacy. Not to say I can ever be on that level, but I want to aspire towards it to see how close I can get.

So I've never felt quite satisfied with these mediums in some way I started to try to condense my writing - I had notebooks full of aphoristic realizations that I tried to make into cartoons. This put me into the mindset of channeling my expression into a narrower tighter output. So then I discovered a silly little haiku contest on poetry.com and for about a year I wrote a bunch of pseudo-haiku, which I was very proud of, having no idea what the form was really about. I threw a lot of metaphorical, poetical snippets into 5,7,5 three line format and rejoiced at this neat little art form that could encapsulate my writing without having to go the distance of a whole poem or novel!

But then I wanted to know what was being written in the 'professional' world of haiku, so I went and picked up a copy of Cor van den Heuvel's Haiku Anthology, third edition. By the end of the book I knew haiku was a much more complex and nuanced writing genre, far beyond the 5-7-5 form definition being thrown around by school teachers and mass media. Eventually I joined the Haiku Society of America, subscribing to the foremost haiku journal Frogpond.

So, finally, here seems to be the mode of creative expression most suited to me. I realized that a haiku could be the singular expression of what is at the core of all my modes of creativity; a brief moment of time in which one feels deeply some facet of the meaning of life. Often this moment feels inexplicable, intangible, so all one can do is write down its details and recreate the scene so that the reader might too feel the subtle poignancy of this life moment. I was engaged to be married around this time, and the first haiku I wrote out of my new understanding, which was published in Frogpond Fall 2003, was the one liner "Tasting the word husband for the first time".

Q: What are your haiku "pet peeves"? What pointers can you offer others toward writing better haiku?

A: I guess my biggest pet peeve is the reigning public misunderstanding of what the haiku form is, which results in a lot of pseudo-haiku being written. I had to go through a year of reading respected journals to finally deconstruct my perception of what I thought it was, so I know where people are coming from, but it is frustrating to be chipping away always at the primary definition's popularity. Haiku is NOT any convoluted clever thought squeezed into 3 lines of 5-7-5 syllables!

The thing is, you ask a hundred different haiku poets what is haiku, and you might get a hundred different answers. The current reigning definition is: A haiku is a short poem that uses imagistic language to convey the essence of an experience of nature or the season intuitively linked to the human condition.

The best tip I can give is; read the best haiku and you'll start to understand how to write them. It's important to really concentrate on just how subtle haiku is, rather than trying to be clever. Good sources include:

  • http://www.modernhaiku.org/
  • http://www.hsa-haiku.org/haiku-henderson.htm
  • http://www.theheronsnest.com/

Q: Who are your favorite poets and why? Who would you like to see become the next Poet Laureate?

A: My standby favorites are Charles Bukowski and Sylvia Plath. Bukowski puts me in a very urban, seedy, bohemian mood. Plath, ironically enough, sings to me of womanly strength and intense emotion.

The haiku writers I admire are John Stevenson, Tom Tico, and Burnell Lippy for their ability to find the haiku moment in the most simplest language and most common scenery. I also admire Marlene Mountain's skillful, right-on one line haiku. Michael Dylan Welch, Gary Hotham, Christopher Patchel, and Lee Gurga are also enjoyable for their consistency in bulls-eye effective haiku. I also enjoy the haiku of fellow young emerging writer Ian Daw (he's a pathetic member too!)

It would be nice if one of the haiku writers became poet laureate! They could spend a year righting the misconceptions about haiku. Lee Gurga could probably do a great job. He learned haiku by studying the Japanese masters, has written many successful haiku, and is currently editor of Modern Haiku, one of the major journals.

Q: How has becoming a new mother affected your poetry, or your writing habits in general?

A: Well, it's a lot harder to focus for many reasons. I don't really have the sleep deprivation excuse anymore, since she sleeps through the night now. I also get plenty of breaks since my husband works from home too. But when all your brain power is focused on taking care of a baby's needs most of the day; being conscious towards her even when she's not with me, there's really no opportunity to space out in a way conducive to writing. Even when nursing, I literally feel like all my energy is flowing out of me and I'm stuck on just the wonder of this new life and the beauty of childhood, and it's hard to turn that into an opportunity to write a poem. Often I write haiku on the backs of envelopes or on the fridge's eraser board, though sometimes I find the time to write in my little notebook while Maia plays on the floor.

The best way for me to write haiku as a mother is to remember to be observant of the world around me and the baby. When we go for walks or play outside I try to look at the trees and the birds and us in that scenery, and try to get haiku moments out of that. The last few haiku I've had published were about being pregnant or the baby! So I guess my subject matter has been affected the most.

The following is a list of the highlights of Agnes Eva's poetry:

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Author: Bruce W Niedt

The member spotlighted in this month's "Member Spotlight" is chosen by the pathetic.org Spotlight committee, which is made up of a small group of site patrons and administrators. Each month a member is selected for this privilege based upon contributions to pathetic.org and the quality of work.

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