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.
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...