Global Haiku
Millikin University, Spring 2010

Nathan Bettenhausen on Marlene Mountain
3 May 2010

Nathan Bettenhausen

Nathan's Haiku



Marlene Mountain: a Pioneer of Poetry and Artistry

Marlene Mountain (formerly Marlene Wills) was born on December 11, 1939.  According to her personal website (, she is a 1957 graduate of Horace Mann High School and attended East Central State College in Ada, Oklahoma as an art major from 1957 to 1959.  She then went to the University of Oklahoma at Norman from 1959 to 1962, where she gained a Bachelor of Fine Arts in painting with a minor in drawing and graphics.  She was very successful during her time there and was named the Outstanding Senior in Art, won the Lew Wentz Service Scholarship, the Mothers’ Association Scholarship, and the Alumni Development Fund Purchase Award, and received special commendation in each of her three areas of study.  She also was a member of the Delta Phi Delta National Art Fraternity.  Following her undergraduate study, she went to the University of Minnesota for two years before transferring to the University of North Dakota where she received her Master of Arts degree in painting with a minor in literature.  During her time at the University of North Dakota, Mountain also taught drawing and design courses for a year and a half.

From 1959 till 1969, Mountain says that her “ideas evolved into abstraction, two-dimensional design and minimalism in paintings, photography and short non-haiku poems.  The majority of these in series.”  After these ten years, she claims that she began to gain more interest in the concepts of haiku but that she was “fortunate enough to disregard [haiku] as internal visions seeped out or erupted; that is, interrupted what I was doing.”  Mountain has a very clear disregard for the traditional format of haiku writing.  She has an entire list of terms and variations on haiku that she uses, including talking haiku, untamed haiku, beyond untamed haiku, high coup hai ku, and more.  She specifically makes a comment about disregarding as many Japanese words, terms, and attitudes as possible, and states that she doesn’t need any specific reasoning for doing so.  Mountain returned to her painting roots in 1979, but feels that her work is much more intrinsically bound than it used to be.  She has also developed a habit of creating works that are parts of a series, rather than a single entity.  Since 1979, she has only created about two paintings that are stand-alone works. (

While Mountain does write some normal, traditional-style haiku, it is her creativity and spontaneity that caught my eye.  As a matter of fact, Mountain is known as one of the first haiku authors to write her haiku in a one-line vertical format, reminiscent of Japanese haiku.  Her unique style has become her trademark.  One interesting thing that Mountain has done is to incorporate artistic styles into some of her works.  Her book “equal, hell art” is full of images incorporated into and accompanying her haiku.  Many of the pages in the book seem to be small, short phrases rather than actual haiku.  Other books by Mountain such as “moment/moment moments” and “the old tin roof” include a variety of haiku that only incorporate text.  However, the text is rarely in the three-line format.  Many of the haiku are written in a single line.  Many more haiku are written without particular formats, but instead using the words to create images.  For example:
        a  oak  n           
          c      r
                                    Marlene Wills, the old tin roof
          the               in
      in                         the
sky                                sky
      the                       in
            in            the
                                    Marlene Mountain, moment/moment moments

While Mountain clearly enjoys pushing the boundaries of haiku writing, she also does other, simpler things such as linked haiku.  Whatever she may be writing, her artistic creativity is always evident.  The use of this method makes her haiku so much more powerful and intriguing.  It is certainly more interesting to read when every page is a surprising new image.  Although some haiku appear to be crafted for aesthetic purposes, many of her haiku are very meaningful.  This combination of artistic exploration brings out ‘art for the sake of art’ and ‘art for the embellishment of a purpose,’ and makes Mountain a random and spontaneous wealth of poetic excitement.

While reading through all the haiku by Mountain, I found many interesting haiku.  One of my early favorites came from “The Haiku Anthology,” edited by Cor Van Den Heuvel.  In the book is an eight-page section of Mountain’s haiku.  These haiku inspired me to take an in-depth look at Mountain’s work.  Some of my particular favorites include:
               o                                    g           
f                                                                                    frog
                                    Marlene Mountain, The Haiku Anthology, pg. 132

This haiku is just plain fun!  It is so simple, but says so much.  The way the writing is used, it shows us that frogs jump.  Perhaps a frog is jumping, perhaps it just is stating a fact that frogs often do jump.  In a way, it makes me think of Sesame Street.  The way it appears that the letters are being spelled out, and they repeat the word as a whole at the end reminds me of the show.  The simple, fun writing style is very effective and fun.  It says many things with a very small number of creatively placed characters.  In an alternative style, I enjoyed this haiku:
acid rain less and less i am at one with nature*
            *less and less nature is nature
                                    Marlene Mountain, The Haiku Anthology, pg. 135

This haiku is very interesting.  First of all, the formatting is both creative and unusual.  The asterisks as well as the different interpretations and splits of the words in the lines make for various meanings.  It almost appears as if the asterisk is supposed to represent something manmade and mechanical, since it’s not as ‘natural’ or ‘organic’ looking as letters.  At the same time, it’s clarifying that not only are we losing touch with nature, nature is losing touch with itself.  It’s very disappointing to think about, since it’s very clearly indicating that we’re approaching a point when it will be impossible to ‘go back to our roots’ because nature is becoming so obscure that it will never be the way it was before.  In yet another style, I enjoyed this one-line haiku:
he leans on the gate going staying
                                    Marlene Mountain, The Haiku Anthology, pg. 130

This haiku effectively illustrates man’s horrible indecisiveness, whether or not that was Mountain’s intent.  It’s also interesting to think that perhaps it’s commenting on how effectively the subject of the poem has managed to create a boundary that can very simply be removed when convenient. Seeing so many unusual styles, I was surprised to find a three-line haiku, but I loved it and found it very inspirational:
empty mailbox
i pick wildflowers
on my way back
                                    Marlene Mountain, The Haiku Anthology, pg. 130

This haiku is so simple and elegant.  It reminds me of every time I ever went to the mailbox, whether it was empty or not.  It particularly reminds me of times when I would go to the mailbox and feel like I needed to come up with something to do since it was empty.  Since there was no mail, it seemed necessary to find another activity to make the ‘trip’ worthwhile.  It also reminds me of sunny days when I would go out to get the mail and forget about everything I was doing before because of the beauty of the day outside.  After these haiku and a few others, I was hooked.  I continued to read her poems, and was shocked by the amazing creativity in “equal, hell art.”  Every page was an entirely different format, and nearly every page had an image on it.  While reading through the book, I found a few interesting haiku including:
                                    Marlene Mountain, equal, hell art

Ironically, this haiku reminded me of one of my haiku:
a challenge
brings her to tears
I smile

I wrote this haiku to go with my short story, “Country Boy.”  I really enjoy the way that both haiku are clearly taunting.  Both use the word ‘I,’ making them very personal.  They could very easily be a continuation of one another.  They have an unsettling, underlying cruelness to them due to the satisfaction and enjoyment of the other person’s distress.  I also really enjoy how Moutain’s haiku is written in the one-line format, making it seem even more like a fleeting thought.  Another haiku that was very interesting to me was:
  way back
                                    Marlene Mountain, equal, hell art

I find this haiku very interesting because of its comment on the declining moral state of the nation.  The fact that women no longer wait to have sex until marriage is an example of a general change in the views of what is acceptable.  This is just one of her more controversial haiku.  I found that many of her haiku spoke to human and/or woman rights, served as commentary on sexuality, and even contained some explicit language. 

“moment/moment moments” was a very interesting read.  It was very short, but nearly every haiku had some sort of image or something else going on in it.  Some were so oddly crafted that it must have taken a great deal of time to type them out to get the proper effect.  Due to the strange formatting, the following haiku really stuck out to me:
frog punctuation
a star falls punctuation
splash punctuation
                                    Marlene Wills, moment/moment moments

This haiku immediately reminded me of the classic haiku:
The old pond-
A frog leaps in,
And a splash.
                                    Matsuo Basho, The Master Haiku Poet, pg. 53

I find it very interesting that Mountain wrote this haiku.  In a way it seems to be a challenge to the typical nature of haiku.  As I mentioned, the traditional format among the other unusual haiku caught my eye immediately.  However, after reading it, I realized that it was very close to Basho’s haiku.  It is so funny that in this particular case Mountain only reverted to the traditional format to mock it. 

Finally I read “the old tin roof,” a massive collection of haiku by Mountain.  While I found tons of excellent haiku there, the following really stood out to me:
c l o u d   s t r e t c h e s   i t s   l e n g t h   t o   t h e   m o u n t a i n s
                                    Marlene Wills, the old tin roof

This haiku is very simple, but the formatting says a lot.  In music, we often talk about how the music uses ‘text painting.’  For example, in the melodic line, the length of each note in a particular phrase was all the same length except for the word ‘stretched,’ which was longer, mirroring the actual word.  This haiku does the exact same thing.  It personifies the cloud and makes it seem as if the cloud is actually reaching, actually alive and trying to get to the mountains.  Another haiku in the rare three-line format was very interesting:
after your visit
middle of the closet
empty hangers
                                    Marlene Wills, the old tin roof

There are two very distinct images that came into my mind when reading this haiku.  First, it made me think of someone moving out.  Perhaps they are moving away to or from college or to a new home.  Either way, it’s simply moving out.  The other is a bit sadder, as I pictured someone being left behind by the person visiting.  Perhaps they are going through a breakup and the person has come to their significant other’s house, taken their belongings, and left.  It is quite sad to think about.  The great thing about this haiku is that it could be interpreted in so many ways, which in my opinion is always a great thing to strive for in haiku writing.

I found so many excellent haiku by Marlene Mountain, and I can only hope that I can someday have such inspiring and creative haiku.  In fact, studying the works of Mountain has made me want to take more chances and make more random and strange haiku.  Altogether, I am a huge fan of Mountain’s work, and I think anyone could benefit from reading her haiku.  She makes every page exciting and new and manages to find the perfect mixture of artistry and meaningful messages. 

Honorable mention for being awesome (all from “the old tin roof”):
dr  p
                   y         d
                   a      y
              g               l
         o                       f
 h o o t
Works Cited
Mountain, Marlene. equal, hell art. 1982. Print.

Mountain, Marlene., 2005. Web. 3 May 2010

Wills, Marlene. moment/moment moments. Lafayette, IN: high/coo press, 1978. Print.

Wills, Marlene. the old tin roof. 1976. Print.

© 2010 Randy Brooks, Millikin University, Decatur, Illinois || all rights reserved for original authors
last updated: May 12, 2010