Global Haiku Tradition
Millikin University, PACE Summer 2004

Vicki Ballentine

Gary Hotham's Haiku

Vicki Ballentine

Vicki's Haiku



Gary Hotham is the subject of my research. I selected Hotham for his creativity and word play skills. I am in awe of the techniques used by Hotham to paint the most vivid pictures through his choice of words. I am able to utilize several of the senses through Hotham's haiku. I believe that in haiku, sensory appeal is critical to convey the concept idea. Hotham's delivery is unique.

Haiku artist Gary Hotham grew up on a potato farm in Northern Maine. To this day his parents and two younger brothers still reside there. Hotham moved to Maryland in 1975 with various extended stays in England and Germany. He is active in several haiku groups including Haiku Society of America, the British Haiku Society and Haiku Canada. Hotham's interest in haiku is derived from its ability to capture specific moments in time.

Hotham first drew my attention when we were studying from the book Haiku Anthology for Global Haiku class. There were several haiku in the book that were written by Gary Hotham. I found that his technique is very unique. There aren't many haiku writers that I have recently studied that could create visions from every one of their haiku. Hotham is the one artist that I quickly bonded to. I felt emotion, heard sounds, tasted flavors and even smelled aromas through his writings. I believe that this is what haiku is truly all about. Short yet sweet, quickly enabling the reader to go someplace when reading the haiku, perhaps not where the writer has been but somewhere in one's own memory or thought process.

Hotham's selection of words and phrases helped me recall many personal experiences. I find him to be extremely talented in the art of haiku. Hotham gets his motivation for his haiku from several different sources. Life experiences, nature, his travels and people are the subjects of his haiku. "The haiku is a great form of poetry with its pinpoint focus for capturing those brief moments in time and re-creating the associated states of being" (Breath Marks 100). Hotham has had an interest in history longer than his interest in poetry or haiku writing. This is evident in several of his haiku.

Hotham's focus is on perceiving the essence of the moment with the best words or phrases that he can think of. He thinks that the use of lines, by separating the words and phrases, helps to intensify them (Breath Marks 101). The lines visually make one pause, which gives space to the sounds. Hotham thinks that the content of a haiku can be thought of in the same way that T.S. Eliot describes the material of the poet at work:

When a poet's mind is perfectly equipped for its work, it is constantly amalgamating disparate experience; the ordinary man's experience is chaotic, irregular, fragmentary. The latter falls in love, or reads Spinoza, and these two experiences have nothing to do with each other or with the noise of the typewriter or the smell of cooking; in the mind of the poet these experiences are always forming new wholes.

Hotham stated that he would like his haiku to "form new wholes". This was on March 24,1999, the night NATO started bombing Serbia, Kosovo, and Montenegro (Breath Marks 103). This is a key concept in Hotham haiku. Many of his haiku take an everyday ordinary task and through his imagination and creativity turn it into a memorable event.

I find it very interesting that Hotham makes a chronological list of the places that he has lived to give the reader a feel for the geography of the haiku in Breath Marks. The list consists of:

Westfield, Maine
Orono, Maine
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
San Angelo, Texas
Misawa, Japan
Laurel, Maryland
Gersthofen, Germany
Scaggsville, Maryland

In several of the haiku as you read them you can almost identify which location for which Hotham was writing the haiku. He is crafted in the depiction of his works. Hotham's haiku present uniqueness compared to most of the authors I have read from. He is very selective when he is creating a scene. I was very impressed by his skill in depicting visual images combining the use of the readers' senses.

yesterday's paper
in the next seat—
the train picks up speed

(Haiku Anthology 81)

This haiku puts all wheels on motion. In the seat where? What happened yesterday? A quick peak of curiosity is created right away. My overall perspective is that there is a man hustling as the train prepares to depart. The train is slowly in motion as he tries to locate a seat to himself Upon selecting a seat, he begins to get comfortable. In the seat lies a newspaper from the day before. I began to wonder, where is the paper from? Local? Afar? Who left the newspaper behind? Did they intend to?

The train picks up speed puts sound and feeling into the haiku. I instantly get a feel that I am the person on the train finding the old newspaper. I imagine that I selected this seat because I was in a hurry and didn't have a chance to read the paper, but to my surprise it's from yesterday. I guess whoever left the paper behind must have been in a hurry also. This haiku develops several avenues to the thought process. I enjoy reading a haiku that leaves a lot to the imagination.

trash day—
the garbage truck backs over
the new snow

(Haiku Anthology 83)

This haiku is very real to me. I have often hurried out in the morning to set out the garbage. I can recall many times the garbage truck only being doors away. As I quickly sit out the garbage I watch as the truck is rolling over the fresh, fallen, untouched snow.

This haiku has some irony. The dirty garbage truck, and the clean white snow. The loud rumble of the truck as it smashes down the garbage and the quiet calm of the gentle snow in the early morning.

I like the turn that Hotham takes in this haiku, if you read slowly from line to line Hotham makes you wonder what the truck has backed over. It is interesting to me how he takes a simple daily experience and gives meaning to it.

This haiku, as with most of Hotham's others strike several of the senses. The cold
air, the stench from the garbage truck is all so vivid for me.

quietly the fireworks

far away

(Haiku Anthology 85)

This haiku really hits home for me. My mom and step-dad live about 8 blocks away from the lake. When the fourth of July rolls around we have a family ritual of watching the fireworks from their house to avoid to the crowd. It sure beats the parking disaster when the show ends. For years it seemed that we have had our own personal fireworks display.

It has always been so peaceful to admire the beauty of the fireworks without the noise and chaos of the crowd and the fireworks themselves. This year the fourth of July was very hard for my family. There was a void in our holiday, missing my step-dad that died on July 2nd. We were not interested in our usual ritual. It almost left a feeling of guilt.

I went out to the sun porch to be alone and the fireworks were showering the sky. It left a calm over me. It was as if Don was telling me that everything would be okay. I felt I was summing up the past years and quickly they all were before me. So many good times and happy memories are what we have left of him now. Though it was a very hard day, I know there will be many reminders like this to come.

home early
your empty coat hanger
in the closet

(Haiku Anthology 87)

This haiku doesn't strike me with the senses. The vision Hotham projects in it is very vivid with emotion. I imagine a sense of emptiness. Who is gone? Where are they? How long will they be gone? Are they okay? There is a sense of anxiousness to have more information.

My interpretation is that someone has come home from work early. When they come in there is unexpectedly no one home. As they walk further into the house there is a note: Dinner is ready, be back soon. This puts the whole situation at ease. This would be an excellent time to relax and unwind while it is peaceful and quiet. Sometimes, the haiku leaves a number of ideas to the imagination. This is one of Hotham's works to be marveled at.

on my way to the car—
the leaves give the wind
a hurried sound

(Footprints and Fingerprints 26)

This is so picturesque. I can see an image of a person hurrying to get inside the car out of the wind. So many images of different sorts of people come to mind. A woman quickly pushing a grocery cart, a man with his overcoat collar turned up, an older person being pushed this way and that or a young driver afraid of their first storm blowing in while they are driving. Hotham's creativity allows the reader to build from many angles.

The senses are aroused by the dryness of the leaves skipping around on the ground, the whining of the wind and the keys jingling in the person's hand anxious to open the car door to escape to wind.

I can't imagine anyone being unable to identify with an experience like this. Hotham thrives on using the ordinary activities and making them appear extraordinary.

half heard rain—
page after page
of family photos

(Footprints and Fingerprints 5)

this faded photo
from my childhood still worth
a thousand words

(George Swede, Almost Unseen 99)

Gary Hotham and George Swede share very little in common regarding style and technique for haiku writing. There is an emotional similarity but not a lot of common ground. Hotham is very creative using day to day life experiences. The atmosphere he creates is on a much more friendly level. George Swede is a very bold outspoken writer. His haiku often takes a walk on the wild side. Swede is not afraid to acknowledge the dark aspects if life. Swede isn't afraid to go to things that may be considered tabu in some circles.

These two haiku, are both heart warming. When reminiscing through old photographs old feelings are bound to surface. It is often hard to remember all the events of one's life. We use photos to document good times and eventful moments or as a instant path to return to the good ol' days.

Hotham typically uses the half-heard rain to enforce the sound element. His sensual awareness draws life into his haiku. Swede's is a good read but is without a sensory appeal. They are both powerfully emotion driven. Similar yes, but Hotham remains to make the most use of his content.

early in the night—
the stars we can see
the space for more

(Breathmarks 95)

between the cities
on the interstate
so many stars

(Karen Sohne, Haiku Anthology 185)

These two haiku show two different ideals of the night sky. Hotham paints the picture of a night sky with stars scattered around in the darkness. He depicts a night sky that doesn't appear to be full of stars. Perhaps, he may be describing the realistic huge open spaces that are actually the long distances in the atmosphere. He suggests that it is so early in the night, maybe leading to the fact that all the stars may not yet be visible.

Sohne suggests that out in the open on the interstate with little unnatural light the sky appears to be full of stars. When driving out in the open the only source of light comes from nature, focusing on the road and the night sky, the stars create an alternative to the blackness. With fewer distractions the stars are more noticeable.

Hotham and Sohne both create a pictorial image of the night sky with different images. It is part of the art of haiku to see similarities and differences among the authors. This is part of what makes us unique as human beings also.

The time I spent researching haiku to Hotham's methods reaffirmed why I enjoy his haiku so much. I don't have to search for a way to identify with his works- it just comes naturally. Through content, word usage, subject and emotion: Gary Hotham has mastered the art of haiku. I admire his works and owe him much respect for my future continued interest in reading haiku. My reintroduction to haiku has been a pleasant experience. I am thankful for an interesting and creative subject to have chosen for my research. Gary Hotham has a lot to contribute to the haiku society, I look forward to more of his works.

WORKS CITED: 6/23/2004 6/23/2004

Hotham, Gary. Footprints. and Fingerprints. Modest Proposal Chapbooks. Pittsburgh, PA. 1999 Lilliput Review.

Hotham, Gary. "Selected Haiku", The Haiku Anthology. Ed. Cor Van Den Heuvel, New York: Norton & Company. 1999

Hotham, Gary. Breathmarks: Haiku to Read in the Dark. Canon Press, 2000.

©2004 Randy Brooks, Millikin University, Decatur, Illinois || all rights reserved for original authors