Prose from Poetry Magazine

Author’s Note: On Writing with Bashō, Buson, and Issa

In the past I did a lot of collaborative writing with Joshua Beckman. We wrote hundreds of poems together, published a book, went on a tour across the country, and released an audio CD of our live improvised performances. I’ve never had more fun writing than during that time, and it affected the way I’ve written ever since. If a poem isn’t exciting and surprising, and isn’t actually fun to write, I have to stop — I don’t trust it, and why should the reader?

One day last year, on the subway back to Brooklyn, I felt stymied and sluggish in my writing, and wanted to collaborate with someone, but was all alone. Or so I thought, until I remembered I had Robert Hass’s beautiful haiku anthology in my bag. I had Bashō and Buson and Issa with me, and so I turned to them. They were challenging partners. I tried to write lines that sound a lot like them, while using lines of theirs that sound as modern as possible. For me these poems were thrilling to write; the act of responding to the other partner in the collaboration is like a live performance, even when it’s just on the page. I think that in the end Bashō, Buson, and Issa did not mind.

Originally Published: November 3rd, 2014

Matthew Rohrer was born in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and raised in Oklahoma. He earned his MFA from the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop. His first collection, A Hummock in the Malookas (1995), was selected by Mary Oliver for the National Poetry Series. He is the author of Satellite (2001), A...

  1. November 4, 2014
     Lawrence Guinchard

    It is so safe to say Basho, Buson & Issa didn't mind--the
    question would be "Does anyone who treasures these poets
    honor Rohrer's pretension?"

  2. November 17, 2014
     Ethan Hill

    I am ignorant of the collaborators, AND I
    enjoy the earnestly sly humor in the
    poem, and it is not easy to be earnestly
    sly about relieving oneself among reeds.

  3. February 15, 2015
     Jacob Kobina Ayiah Mensah

    To read a great poem and write a version, variation, imitation, or collaboration of it, by challenging the
    original work is acknowledging model which has been practised by all strong poets of poetic tradition.
    Poets as poets, especially, the most strong poets, are conscious of poetic tradition and they are much
    concern with themselves of other great poets. Because they depend on each other to live and exist.
    Thus, they follow themselves to see what they are doing. It is here they find themselves in the system
    of concession without compromising their principles or beliefs. The system therefore becomes a maze of
    competitiveness. The artist involves becomes a poet-commissioners. This is exactly what Matthew
    Rohrer is. Shakespeare, Donne and T.S.Eliot are all great poet-commissioners. Poet-commissioners look
    at their communication with a congenial host and with conceit.