Friday, March 27, 2015

Q&A with Roberta Beary

 Roberta Beary, photo by Dave Russo
Roberta Beary is the author of the new poetry collection Deflection. She also has written The Unworn Necklace. She is the haibun editor of Modern Haiku, and she lives in the Washington, D.C., area.

Q: You use a variety of forms in your new poetry collection. Do you have any that you particularly prefer? 

A: There are two main forms that I write in. The first is haiku, but it’s not the 5-7-5 you learn in school. Our syllables are more elongated than Japanese, so it sounds wordy, and I read most of my poems out loud.

I discovered the modern form of haiku in 1990 when I went to Japan with my then-husband, a Washington Post economics reporter. I was a trailing spouse. I was an attorney, and I quit my job with the government. We had two young children. We were supposed to stay three years, but it wound up being five.

I got a job with a Japanese law firm, but I had a lot of free time, and I joined a Japanese haiku group, Meguro-ku, in Tokyo. They were very welcoming… 

Q: Were you a poet before this? 

A: I had written poetry since the age of 9, but I didn’t concentrate on haiku. In Japan, haiku is part of daily life. The Japanese papers have haiku contests. Right before I left, I [entered] a haiku contest. When I got home, in 1995, there was a letter saying I had won a commended award….

When I came home, I asked on the Internet about local haiku groups. This coincided with my marriage falling apart. Someone wrote back and said there’s a group called Towpath forming….I joined the group, and we meet every six weeks….

The haibun form [of poetry] is from the 1600s—Basho did The Narrow Road to the North, a travelogue with prose and haiku: haibun. That form just clicked with me….it really speaks to me because the haiku is not supposed to repeat the prose. It resonates with it [and] makes you think about it. It’s very hard to do.

I am the haibun editor [of Modern Haiku]. I like writing fiction, especially flash fiction. It’s a hybrid form, and I consider myself a hybrid person. I don’t like gender stereotypes. I wish there was one thing to call us!... 

Q: Your poetry is often very personal. How do your family members feel about it? 

A: Most of them are OK with it, but I don’t consider them when I’m writing [or I wouldn’t write]. Writers should write for the audience they want to hear [their work]: maybe one or two people who are gay and don’t know how to come out, or who have been assaulted, or who are going through a hard time taking care of their parents. I want them to know they are not the only ones out there.

It’s not completely autobiographical; it is a composite. I don’t believe in family secrets. There is a high rate of teen suicide…and I want people to know that not only does it get better, but you’re not alone—you might feel different, but you’re not... 

Q: Why did you select “Deflection” as the title of the new collection? 

A: It’s from one of the sequences—it’s about deflecting grief or loss, because most of the pieces are about some type of loss. Either somebody died, or the loss of your innocence or of the person you knew as a parent, or your children getting older.

Some people call me the dark diva of haiku. I don’t particularly like that term! There’s one [poem] called "Caretaker I and II." These were all haiku written over the years of taking care of my mom [before her death] and I put them together…. 

Q: Did you write much of the poetry about your mother at the time you were helping her, or later? 

A: I wrote "Nighthawks" a couple of days after she died. The ones about dementia, I wrote a little after; it was too hard to write as it was going on…

[Writing about my mother] wasn’t really therapy, but it was a subject I was drawn to. I had so many friends who had just been through it or were about to, and didn’t know how to articulate what was going on… 

Q: What are you working on now? 

A: I’m trying to work on a full-length book of haibun… 

Q: Anything else we should know? 

A: I want to spread the haiku word. It’s a form that doesn’t get the credit it deserves. I have written about the healing power of haiku—it’s better than drugs or therapy. It has helped me so much…it is a very accessible form, but it isn’t an easy form. You have to work at it.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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