Haiku Articles

Written for Haiku Society of America Newsletter, XVII, No. 2 - Spring 2002

Robert Spiess, 16 October 1921 – 13 March 2002

Robert Spiess, who adeptly nurtured and shaped English-language haiku for over a half century, passed away quietly on 13 March 2002.

Bob’s passion for haiku was sparked in the late 1930’s by the discovery of Harold Henderson’s “The Bamboo Room.” Drawn to the economy of words and style found in haiku, he was further influenced in those early years by Asataro Miyamori’s “An Anthology Of Haiku Ancient And Modern.”

“American Poetry Magazine” first published Bob’s haiku in 1949. By 1965 Bob had become the Poetry Editor of “American Haiku,” the first magazine devoted solely to English-language haiku. Following the demise of “American Haiku” in 1968, Bob assumed the role of Associate Editor of “Modern Haiku” in 1971. Bob became the Editor-Publisher of “Modern Haiku” in 1979, a position he held until early 2002.

Under the auspices of Robert Spiess, Modern Haiku became the foremost English-language haiku magazine. Modern Haiku received multiple awards from the National Endowment for the Arts, and was recognized as the best haiku magazine in North America, by the Museum of Haiku Literature in Tokyo. As the Editor-Publisher of “Modern Haiku” for over 20 years, many aspiring haiku poets knew Bob as their teacher, mentor and friend. Over time, Bob earned the respect of thousands by thoughtfully responding to every submission and note he received with hand-written or typed words of wisdom and encouragement.

Drawing inspiration from the writing of Henry David Thoreau, love of the natural world became a cornerstone of Bob’s haiku and short poetry. He immersed himself in the solitude of nature, by canoeing and kayaking thousands of miles of midwestern streams and rivers. Numerous trips to the Caribbean and South Pacific filled notebooks for his poetic endeavors.

Although Bob’s work is based predominately in haiku, he was also well known for his humorous senryu, and for his short, often rhythmic poetry. Over the years, his work has appeared regularly in every reputable English-language haiku magazine. In addition, Bob’s haiku, short poetry and essays can be found in virtually every haiku anthology or scholarly haiku work published since the 1950’s.

Bob’s career is marked by the publication of the following books: The Heron’s Legs (1966); The Turtle’s Ears (1971); Five Caribbean Haibun (1972); A Haiku Poet’s Thoreau (1974); The Shape of Water (1982); The Bold Silverfish and Tall River Junction (1986); New and Selected Speculations on Haiku (1988); The Cottage of Wild Plum (1991); A Year’s Speculations on Haiku (1995); Noddy (1997); Noddy and the Halfwit (1999) and Sticks and Pebbles (2001).

On 10 September 2000 in Matsuyama, Japan, Robert Spiess was awarded the prestigious Masaoka Shiki International Haiku Prize to honor his outstanding contributions to the development of haiku. This honor, and his trip to Japan, proved to be the pinnacle of Bob’s half-century involvement with haiku.

Bob’s kindness, patience, knowledge, insight, wisdom, humor and most of all his friendship will be deeply missed by those he touched.

Mark Alan Osterhaus, 31 March 2002

Selected Haiku by Robert Spiess

Pine shade
  a child bends
    and touches the moss
Morning’s foot of snow
  and nowhere a flake
    that fell astray
Canoeing the bend
  a man throwing stones at coots
    quickly turns away
Becoming dusk, -
  the catfish on the stringer
    swims up and down
Field of thawing snow
  a boy in muddy knee-highs
    flies a crimson kite
wind-swept pine-
  the simpleton laughs
    at the summer moon
        gently odd
        a noddy
in tumbly digs
        trying words
mumble mumble
the morning bus
    thirty faces
minus or plus
    a few places
but then when i
  no longer ride
    will any say
where is that guy
  i sat beside
    the other day
Robert Spiess