Honorary Curator H. F. Noyes
H. F. Noyes
Honorary Curator, 2007–2008
The American Haiku Archives advisory board is pleased to announce the appointment of H. F. Noyes, commonly known as Tom Noyes, as the 2007–2008 honorary curator of the American Haiku Archives at the California State Library in Sacramento. This honor is in recognition of his service to the haiku community through his poetry, personal inspiration, and writings about haiku and haiku aesthetics. Countless people have learned more deeply about haiku through his erudite, informative, and refreshing “Favorite Haiku” commentaries that have appeared in dozens of journals in many countries for at least two decades, many of which were compiled in five stimulating volumes by the same name. Many more people have been touched by his poetry and his nurturing personal correspondence with poets around the world.
Tom Noyes was born in 1918 on a farm in Oregon, to which he attributes his love of nature. According to one of his books, he was “introduced to haiku through the Blyth volumes recommended to him in his twenties by John Cage, the composer.” Tom served four years in the U.S. Navy, attended Yale and Columbia, and obtained a doctorate in counseling, also training in Gestalt therapy and Jungian psychoanalysis. After twenty-five years as a psychotherapist, in 1970 he left New York for retirement in Greece, where he still lives. Though seemingly far away from North America, he has continued to be close to poets throughout the world with his frequent hand-written letters (he does not use e-mail).
In 2004, the Haiku Society of America honored him with its Sora Award. Tom once wrote that he attributes his good health to “living in an environment that allows one to be one’s ordinary simple self.” And, as he once said in an article about haiku, “Let us on our haiku journeys, in the words of the great Persian poet, Rumi, wash ourselves of ourselves. And through this ego-cleansing we can then hope to experience Nature’s wholeness through the wholeness of our own nature.” The AHA advisory board is delighted to pay tribute to H. F. Noyes as the 2007-2008 honorary curator of the American Haiku Archives.
H. F. Noyes: 1981 Autobiography
Born on an Oregon farm, I had the good fortune to be able to stay there with a wonderful family through my first year. Later, when I came back for berry picking, I camped out with the migrant workers. This was when much of the West was still wild—totally unspoiled. From the age of ten, I was free in summer to explore on horseback the mountainous forested regions of the eastern half of the state—on deer trails, “discovering” lakes and springs and glades, where we used to say no white man had been before. All these marvellous experiences, along with frequent picnics, hikes, canoeing and fishing excursions, ski trips and beach holidays, instilled in me a love of natural beauty, growing things and wild life.
As a lumberjack, I worked on several jobs in the year preceding college, accumulating abrasions at the mill and immersions as a “pond monkey.” While at Yale, I spent most summers engaged in various farm work in Maine, Massachusetts, and Maryland, or in community social work in New Jersey. In other seasons, I worked with the New Haven Boys’ Club members in handicrafts and took the kids on outings, especially during the glorious New England autumns. Majoring in anthropology and social psychology, I went out for track and rowing. Took a year out that began with a student conference on international relations in Geneva, where I stayed on to study developmental psychology at the Rousseau Institute and the University of Geneva.
Immediately after graduation, I spent four years in the Navy during World War II—as an ordnanceman and torpedoman, and then as an ensign in Scouts and Raiders under the Marines. While in Service I read widely in psychology and psychoanalysis and also discovered an affinity for poetry. About a dozen of my poems were published.
At the end of the war I found work in the shop of a preschool, which afforded a training opportunity under the school psychologist, at the same time attending postgraduate classes at Columbia University. After obtaining a doctorate in counselling, I went on to train in bio-energetic and Gestalt therapy and Jungian psychoanalysis, practicing with both children and adults for twenty years in New York City. I wrote articles and book reviews for Main Currents in Modern Thought, chiefly on the potential for parallel psychological and spiritual growth. My summers were often spent cycling in the countryside of Europe, keeping alive the sense of closeness to Nature.
Since retirement, I’ve lived in Athens, Greece, with part-time work in psychotherapy referred by the American Embassy, some investment advisory work, and a concentration of poetic efforts on the haiku form. A number of my own haiku have recently been accepted by Dragonfly, a quarterly publication, but my absorbing interest has been in editing the work of others when it inspired me to form haiku from their lines of prose or poetry. Most of my own haiku were inspired by summer visits to the Aegean Islands, which in relatively untouristed areas have undergone little change over the decades. Others are derived from early memories or my reunions every two years with the beloved countryside in America, where friends and family share my enthusiasm for outdoor life.
Other interests and pursuits: literature; classical and bouzouki music; comparative religion, economics; spectator sports (soccer and baseball). I attribute my good health to swimming six months of the year, to Yoga exercises, and to living in an environment that allows one to be one’s ordinary simple self.
(Autobiography from the inside front cover of My Rain, My Moon by H. F. Noyes, London: Parkway Group, 1981.)
Books by H. F. Noyes
Star carvings: poems of nature, love and human-heartedness and verse in the haiku style. London: Parkway Creative Communications, LTD., 1983.
My rain, my moon: poetry of nature, love, and wartime and verse in the haiku style. London : Parkway Creative Communications, LTD., 1984.
The blossoming rudder : haiku, senryu, koans, pithy sayings (1984-87). London: Parkway Creative Communication Ltd., 1987.
Just floating here: haiku & related forms. Privately printed, 1992.
Oar under water : the poetic sayings of H.F. Noyes. Compiled and edited by Vincent Tripi. San Francisco, CA: Cart Horse Press, 1992.
The Moment’s Gift: Haiku translated into Chinese. Baihua Literature and Art Publishing House, 1993.
Between two waves/Între doua valuri. Foreword by Elizabeth St. Jacques; introduction by Ebba Story; translated by Mihaela & Ion Codrescu. Cover and drawings Ion Codrescu. Constanta: Editura Leda Publishing House, 1996.
Favorite Haiku, Volume 1. Winchester, VA: Red Moon Press, 1998.
Favorite Haiku, Volume 2. Winchester, VA: Red Moon Press, 1999.
Favorite Haiku, Volume 3. Winchester, VA: Red Moon Press, 2000.
Poetic Reflections: Facets on the Diamond Path. Englewood, CO: Alameda Press, 2000.
The Scrolls of Attikis and Ithaca. Edited by Keneth Roberts. Englewood, CO: Alameda Press, 2000. CD edition.
Favorite Haiku, Volume 4. Winchester, VA: Red Moon Press, 2001.
Favorite Haiku, Volume 5. Winchester, VA: Red Moon Press, 2002.
Still here: collected haiku and senryu. Northfield, MA: Swamp Press, 2002.
Selected Haiku by H. F. Noyes
bamboo in snow—
but for a Sung painter’s art
I’d have passed it by
unshared thoughts float off
with the withered leaves
raking aside leaves
on the backyard pond
I release the moon
Interview with H. F. (Tom) Noyes
Conducted by mail by Stephen Addiss
ADDISS: How did you first get interested in haiku, and did you start writing your own at that time?
NOYES: In New York City in the early fifties I attended a Town Hall concert, and in the intermission my first Zen teacher, John Cage, presented me with all four volumes of R. H. Blyth’s Haiku. Cage somehow sensed I’d be an instant convert, and I was. Yet it was not until my retirement in Greece that in the early eighties I subscribed and contributed to Lorraine Harr’s Dragonfly. She was a superb editor and one of our best teachers. She wrote of haiku that it was “like an iceberg ... it is the unseen part that is important. What floats within the depths is the universal oneness of the experience.”1
ADDISS: How important for us now are the Japanese guidelines for haiku such as 5-7-5, seasonal references, and cutting words?
NOYES: I believe that these old Japanese guidelines are chiefly a hindrance now in writing modern English-language haiku. Some indication of the season is still of importance in providing a background of color, scent, and sound, and for the shared associations of the reader. The Japanese have more reason to retain the 5-7-5 stipulation, as their syllables are shorter. Their season words are well known, too, and their seasons are clearly differentiated. The cutting words are of far greater importance in their ancient poetry. Our chief guidelines today are mainly brevity, simplicity, immediacy, and naturalness.
ADDISS: What general changes have you seen over the years in English-language haiku?
NOYES: A change that is evident in our modern haiku is one that Lee Gurga warned about: haiku are too often used as a vehicle for self-expression. There is a greater preponderance of the “I-me” variety, especially in our haiku about illness and family death. A fine model for us to follow is a haiku I arranged from a Shiki tanka, as follows:
May not get well—
having the seeds planted
for the fall garden.
There is also too much emphasis on juxtaposition, which requires a priori thought and anticipation, obviating spontaneity and immediacy.
At the end of the nineteenth century Shiki was most instrumental in getting haiku poets to abandon the patterned artificiality and imitative work of the old school. Though he admired above all the objectivity of Buson, he stated that there had never been a greater poet than Bashô.2
The trend toward ordinary speech and colloquial language, started by Shiki, is still growing. Western haiku editors are showing an ever-increasing preference for shorter haiku—for cutting out unessential wording. While I believe that haiku is and should be a form of poetry, it must never be wordy. “Words, however indispensable, can build up a kind of substitute life that dilutes the intensity of direct experience, a world that is warmed over, when not downright fraudulent.”3 And even almost all punctuation has been dropped. I myself prefer a dash when an unrelated phrase is introduced. It’s easier reading.
I believe there is now considerably less sentimentality and an increase in “lifefulness” (J. W. Hackett) and in the humor that R. H. Blyth considered a vital element. A favorite example:
whale done in crayon
she needs another sheet
for the tail
—Charles P. Trumbull
I do find often missing the Buddhist tenet of “grateful acceptance,” so prominent in the haiku of old masters. And there is less of the sabi element, which William Higginson called “beauty with a sense of loneliness in time.”4
ADDISS: With your “favorite haiku” mini-essays you have shown great appreciation for the work of others. How much attention do you think younger poets should pay to poetry that has already been written?
NOYES: It should be a high priority for younger poets to give full attention to the Japanese old masters and the best work of modern times. Only in this way can they learn something of the all-important haiku spirit. There is a flow in the Japanese haiku which the language itself facilitates. Without our dipping into the old classics, this quality may well elude us.
A quality that I particularly enjoy is imagination, which Keats called “the sails of poetry.” That includes primary imagination, consistent with reality, and also fantasy, exemplified in the following:
the geese return
to yesterday’s skies
—Helen J. Sherry and H. F. Noyes
In the snow
around the carousel
tracks of a horse
There are classics in recent times as well as in Bashô’s day:
Tilling the field
the cloud that never moved
Walking on moss
my giving to earth
earth’s giving to me
The old rooster crows . . .
Out of the mist come the rocks
and the twisted pine.
—O. Mabson Southard
its voice alone fell,
leaving nothing behind
small town park
he adjusts his spine
to the slatted bench
And I’ve been asked to send in some of my own haiku. I think there’s something to be said for:
hand in hand
with the starry-eyed child
just now the sound
of the fisherman’s song
reeled out and in
after the coo of doves
a softer silence
raking aside leaves
in the backyard pond
I release the moon
ADDISS: Can you discuss your belief in the importance of participation? What about the person who loves to read haiku but does not compose them?
NOYES: Regarding my belief in the importance of participation as against mere observation, we are a natural part of all we observe. Selflessness in haiku has the meaning of no separate self. When we capture a moment of interbeing or interpenetration in nature, we can spontaneously write about our inner nature’s response to the nature without. It is this aspect of haiku that most permits the reader’s co-creation. Discursive and rational thought are inimical to the inner spirit of haiku. As Novalis wrote in Detached Thoughts, “Poetry heals the wounds inflicted by reason.” Mere reporting what we observe more often than not leaves the reader thinking, “so what?”
ADDISS: Do you have any words of advice for us today?
NOYES: Attention seems to me to the very most important thing we can learn. In Zen it is called present-mindedness. My favorite saying of Blyth is that “haiku are an expression of joy in our reunion with things from which we have been parted by self-consciousness.”5 And again Blyth writes, “Let us look for the inner essence of any commonplace everyday occurrence, to touch that inner essence of life that runs through the dullest and most unmeaning fact.”6 It’s well to remember that all three—religion, philosophy, and poetry—find their starting point in a sense of wonder. the mind of wonder and awe is a spacious mind, which is the free mind in touch with spirit, allowing the clutter of civilization to go through it harmlessly.
1 Parnassus Literary Journal, 1987.
2 Songs from a Bamboo Village, Tuttle, 1998.
3 Huston Smith, The Religions of Man.
4 The Haiku Handbook, McGraw-Hill, 1985.
5 Blyth, Haiku Vol. IV.
6 Ibid., Vol. I.
This interview was originally published in South by Southeast 14:3, [November] 2007, pages 21-25. Reprinted by permission of Stephen Addiss.