Poet-a-Day: Meet Christopher Patchel
Christopher Patchel has the distinction of being the How to Write a Form Poem poet I’ve known the longest, having met in a local poetry group I started back in the late 90s. Somewhere between learning the Macarena and figuring out how to dial into the internet, I started writing haiku, and I have Christopher to thank for it. In fact, I owe a large portion of my understanding and appreciation of haiku to this talented and dedicated practitioner of the form.
Several of Christopher’s haiku appear in How to Write a Form Poem. Here’s one to give you a glimpse. Want to read more? Check out his book Turn Turn, and find him in How to Write a Form Poem, of course!
I leave the shop
an hour older
Tania Runyan (TR): Tell me about your journey into haiku. What got you started? What poets, interests, or life experiences brought you to this form?
Christopher Patchel (CP): I’m a graphic designer, so the creative power of word and image has long been a central preoccupation. Since visual art came easiest for me I never expected to take up writing in any serious way, but I occasionally tried my hand at prose and poetry.
It wasn’t until midlife that I first happened upon haiku and wondered where it had been all my life. What struck me most was the evocative power of so few words. It was a more-with-less aesthetic that matched my own approach to graphic design. I was also taken with the present-tense immediacy, the focus on nature, the show-don’t-tell imagery, and the unexpected ahas. It all added up to a rare sense of eureka, so I immersed myself in the genre and never looked back.
TR: Do you write in free verse or other forms besides haiku? How do you choose when to do what? In other words, when haiku … and why?
CP: Every art form lends itself to some purposes better than others. When the brevity of haiku proves too limiting I like the versatility of haibun, which combines haiku and prose. As in this piece of mine:
They weren’t fooling me. Despite appearances I knew it wasn’t a real family, in a real home, but actors posing as my mother and father in a staged simulation. How many others were in collusion I couldn’t be sure, only that I was the subject of a long-term experiment, with scientists observing me twenty-four hours a day, recording my every action and reaction. Sometimes I would slip into hiding places out of view of the cameras, but mostly I just played along.
my hands cupping
TR: What are some common misconceptions about haiku, and how do you hope a book like How to Write a Form Poem can help?
CP: Perhaps readers might be persuaded that seventeen syllables does not a haiku make? Japanese on (sound units) are not equivalent to English syllables. Hence the inherent musical rhythm of 5-7-5 on cannot be echoed in English. Furthermore, English is more succinct, and less flexible, than Japanese. Not to imply that such differences are deficiencies. Each language, and culture, is a wellspring of means and possibilities for poets to draw from. Moreover, the essential elements of haiku (nature, seasonality, human nature, the five-plus senses, the here and now, eternity … ) have no language barrier. They are intimately universal.
Speaking of essential elements, something often overlooked is that most haiku are split into two different parts. Call it a juxtaposition, or an invitation to reconcile the pairing, or an interval, or a gap for sparks to jump across. It’s a key way for such brief poems to achieve resonance and meaning.
But needless to say, anything and everything that fosters greater appreciation of literary haiku in English is most welcome!
About Christopher Patchel
Christopher Patchel is an award-winning poet whose work over the past twenty years has appeared in leading journals like Frogpond, Modern Haiku, Presence, and The Heron’s Nest. From 2016 to 2018 he served as editor of Frogpond, the journal of the Haiku Society of America. His collection, Turn Turn, was a Touchstone Distinguished Book Award finalist. He was the last poet standing in an event dubbed Haiku Cut: Like a Poetry Slam, Only Sharper, sponsored by the Japan America Society of Chicago.
Hear Christopher Read “Writers Block”
go to 1:08:15 to hear Christopher read
Photo by Jose Nicdao, Creative Commons, via Flickr. Post by Tania Runyan.
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Bethany Rohde says
Such an interesting interview and reading as well. Love the featured haiku here and the ones on writer’s block that you shared.
The haibun form is intriguing. I love the idea of paring prose & poetry together. Christopher, when you write them, do you tend to start with the prose and then craft the haiku portion? Or the other way around?
Sandra Heska King says
I leave the shop
Halibun is a fairly new form to me. I’m looking forward to playing with it. I’m interested in your response to Bethany. 🙂
Christoper Patchel says
Thanks, Bethany and Sandra, for your comments and question.
Like the question of whether songwriters start with the lyrics or the music, it can and does work both ways.
I will sometimes write a haiku that I like well enough, but then decide it could use a wider context. Other times, it’s obvious at the outset that what I want to express will very much be prose-dependent (the haibun above for example). Some vague idea/picture often takes shape in my mind as what the prose and haiku verse each call for, and how they might play off each other, even before I start writing either.
In the best haibun, the prose, the haiku verse(s), and the title, add up to more than the sum of the parts.
Hope that helps.
Bethany Rohde says
It definitely helps, thank you. Appreciate what you say about those three elements adding up to more than the sum of the parts. 🙂