Conversation 58: THE DAILY HAIKU Interviews: Richard Downes

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Hi. My friends call me Rich but as the old joke goes; I’m not. Neither would I expect or hope to be. I’m curently operating as an Associate Artist with Disability Arts Online, as an Ambassador/Artist with Outside In and as facilitator of the Highgate Society Poetry Group. Its taken a life time to arrive here. Writing is my key art. It started at special school. I sent my grandad a ghost story. He was a working class man with an outdoor loo, who was constipated. To survive toileting he would post photos of his children and grandchildren to the toilet door. One holiday I found my story hanging there. Talk about the Oscars. No greater thrill.

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I’d heard of haiku and really got stuck into them when the Highgate Group set a challenge of using a form we do not usually use as poets. Unable to write just one instead I compiled haiku verses to tell a story. I became involved with Highgate through an environmental campaign I was co-leading to save some Victorian architecture. This, the work of Extinction Rebellion and the ongoing threat of climate chaos made me wake up to what was happening around me. Ooh and David Haley’s 81 Haikus; ‘Speaking to Seagulls’ which I came across at an art conference in Barrow In Furness.

Then there was Brexit, the Tories and the threat of deregulation. Johnson said we care too much about newt’s and from this I created an online Haiku campaign; The Many Haikus of the Newt https://detrich.wordpress.com/2020/07/24/the-many-haikus-of-the-newt/ ; through which I keep an eye on government and where in response to Johnson calling Starmer Captain Hindsight Boris becomes Major BallsJup.

This week Yemen is in the news so;

Unclever wordplay
Who needs Yemenis
With Sauds like these

That’s what BallsJup said
When Foreign Secretary
Unclever wordplay.

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So I use Haikus to campaign, to express social issues that concern me. I continue to write from the perspective of a socially engaged disabled activist/artist. To achieve this I depend upon a library of prompts found online and in books friends gave me, plus Yoko Ono’s art instructions in Acorn and Grapefruit. Her life story inspires me. And of cause The Daily Haiku has a part to play in this.

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In addition to giving prompts TDH educates. It’s introduced me to humour, let in some fantasy. I treasure that people watch, read and comment on what I commonly refer to as my stuff and was most appreciative of a recent debate when I presented a Haiga which people found hard to read. This is something I do a lot. Hide, disguise, become secretive. It’s a response to special school and later to mainstreaming.

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The issue is do I want to be seen (vulnerable) or out and open about experience (strong). It suits me to ask others to do the work. Politically, socially it may be completely wrong. How can I campaign for access and then deny access. It’s a dilemma. There are techniques I can use to overcome this but there is also a delicious feeling within me that says if you have never been denied access then you now know how it feels.

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So in summary TDH has allowed me to be me but has also made me more rounded. My social engagement and political involvement is available to be seen. My art practice is enhanced through the learning and my ego is given permission to feel good about what I do.

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For those who did not see the controversial haiga here it is again.

Have you ever thought
How much Art is in our HeArts
Don’t you just love it

6 Comments on “Conversation 58: THE DAILY HAIKU Interviews: Richard Downes”

  1. Thank you so much for your interview Richard. I love that you use haiku to express your activism and views – Politku! There probably is a proper word for haiku that engages in this way… I think how we want to be seen is a really fascinating part of our writing and the ‘hiding’ part is intregal to many writers. Very few writers are what they are, to wear their views and thoughts on their sleeves and tell it like it is – it takes bravery and nerve. You have that Richard. The Highgate Poetry group made me miss London, I used to give readings at Lauderdale House, fond fond memories.

  2. Great interview, Richard I love how you use haiku in activism and art.
    I used to hate haiku before TDH mainly because no-one explained it to me! Now I love it too.
    Carolyn ❤👩‍🦰🧡🦊💛🐝🌻

  3. There’s something inexplicably captivating about how you’ve written this. There’s almost a suggestion of a confession; like a little secret that, if I read deeply, I’ll understand.

    I never noticed the presence of art in heart. It seems like a good place to be. 🙂

  4. What an incredible story Rich. You made me laugh, initially, and then you made me intrigued. I’m very new to haiku and do not have much experience with political haiku. I’ll have to “study” your poems more intently in the future.

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