Conversation 93: THE DAILY HAIKU Interviews: John Holder

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Hi everyone! My name is John Holder and I am a compulsive pun-maker (cue the support group applause!). I live near Stratford-upon-Avon in the UK and, perhaps influenced by its most famous son, I have always loved language, words and wordplay.

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The English Language, with its synonyms, homophones, etc., offers so much potential for ambiguity, depth and picture painting. It also lends itself to humour, which I seem to find in most situations, not always appropriately. Voted the funniest of all time in the UK, the comedy sketch the first part of which involves a man asking a hardware store proprietor for “four candles” when he actually wants “fork handles” illustrates my point and sums up my cryptic way of thinking.

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I write three line, 5-7-5 stuff which, irrespective of the validity of the term, I will refer to as haiku for simplicity. In addition, I enjoy writing parody songs and have performed comedy skits at village events and cricket club dinners.

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My varied career includes research scientist to vocational education support to bid writing/editing to communications to IT consultant. Formal writing skills have been essential throughout. But I am finally starting to explore creative writing as a more pleasurable and fulfilling way of keeping the wolf from the door.

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I write captions for greetings cards and social media posts for CSP Countryside Greetings Cards. Excitingly, we have just teamed up with a sports cartoonist and are developing a range of cartoon sporting cards.

 

 

For me, writing and reading haiku are principally analytical and head-led processes.

Starting with writing, one of the reasons haiku appeal is the need for cutting, juxtaposition and jolt. Whenever I hear or read a word or phrase my hyper-analytical mind acts like a thesaurus and search engine to identify multiple meanings. This is one reason why I can solve cryptic crossword clues more easily than a quick crossword clue like Bird (5).

 

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I try to incorporate at least one, and often multiple shifts and layers of meaning into my haiku. Sometimes, I notice that it is the first and third line that pair rather than the usual consecutive lines. Then I have never been a purist.

One of the great things about The Daily Haiku is the impetus to write instilled by the ever-changing themes and community posts. I have learned not to check Files for the new themes around midnight, though, as I do need to switch off sufficiently to sleep.

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Having thought about what I want to write, the next challenge I relish is choosing the best words for the 5-7-5 structure. The right number of syllables, a word that might allude to different meanings and/or a word that contains hidden depths are my aim. I do use a thesaurus app as I frequently want a synonym with a different number of syllables or a suggestion for an optimum option. Occasionally, seeing an alternative word sends me down an unexpected path and I park the original idea for a different haiku.

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One skill I learned in dim and distant school days was précis, i.e. saying the same thing in fewer words. I could never see a use for it at the time.  But I use it for haiku and for word-limited writing all the time, appreciating that this is a very contrived, scientific approach and goes against a Basho-type capturing of a moment in nature in a literal, visceral, sensual and immediate way. However, I am a huge admirer of Salvador Dali who coined apparently contradictory terms for periods of his art such as paranoic-critical method and nuclear-mysticism. His surreal, ambiguous and deceptive imagery inspires me. I aspire to emulate his art in my words through what he might pretentiously term ‘Analytical Creativity’.

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In writing, as in life, I struggle to express myself from the heart and emotion. That is why I would never consider myself a poet despite being fascinated by psychology, behaviour and philosophy. The disciplines I feel haiku demand gives me a mandate and valid excuse to be analytically creative.

One of the techniques I enjoy using is to take a well-known phrase or idiom and unpick and re-frame it by cutting to a different connotation. Though many would argue against wasting syllables on clichés, sometimes they can act as an effective hook from which I throw the reader back into an opposing current. I like to use a ‘Where’s Wally’ or, as I prefer to call it, a ‘Four Candles’ approach, too.

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Rarely using pictures with my haiku allows me to avoid leading the reader to one of several potential perceptions. I prefer to give them free rein to experience the words in light of their own circumstances, backgrounds and moods. However, I sometimes include extra information or images where I feel the words need clarification or context, particularly for readers unfamiliar with my local culture. Generally, I just launch my ideas out there to the mercy of the reader. Then I sit back to see how they are received, and which perceptions, both intentional and surprising, are reflected back.

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I enjoy being part of The Daily Haiku community for many reasons. First and foremost, it is an outlet and forum for my writing. It was a vulnerable but necessary step for me to expose my ‘unorthodox voice’ to a wider albeit already converted audience. I am humbled by the kind acceptance, encouragement and positivity about my contributions. Furthermore the generosity of time and consideration from community members afforded to me and my words.

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As one of my core values is fairness and I am so grateful for others’ engagement with my work. I desire and endeavour to return the favour with other group members. As the community expands, life re-opens and algorithms and backlog kick in, keeping up with everyone’s excellent work becomes increasingly difficult. Please accept my apologies if I miss anything, seem to be ignoring you or resort to short comments/emojis. I feel guilty but have had to make peace with it, reluctantly. Also I am ashamed to say that I scan read or scroll past anything that is not 5-7-5 or has more than three lines per post. This has nothing to do with validity or merit of the writing but is my choice to prioritise my time, attention and commenting capacity towards work I prefer to read.

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This is the first stage of my mainly analytical reading process I mentioned previously. Is it 5-7-5? What words, synonyms, homophones, wordplay have been used? What metaphors or poetic imagery are being evoked? Are there hidden depths, ambiguity or layers of meaning? Is it funny? Are there any spelling mistakes, punctuation errors or grammatical inconsistencies – once a proof-reader always a proof-reader? I am impressed with myself that I resist my urge to comment on the actual writing. Very occasionally, I feel compelled to make a suggestion to the author on an alternative approach or feedback on ideas their words have inspired in me, but I do try to ask consent first in case these would not be welcomed.

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Only after all of that admittedly satisfying brain noise can I try to drop into my body and feel the emotion, atmosphere and moment of the haiku. I am always amazed how just seventeen syllables can transport one to a time and place, can make one feel so much and can jolt one’s perceptions so powerfully.

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The joy that reading the haiku on TDH brings me is second major benefit of the group. The third comes from the camaraderie, friendships, conversation and fun. Also the enforced non-work time and remote communication channels that have opened up through the pandemic have been an unexpected positive. As they say, it’s an ill wind…

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I feel I have made genuine friendships through haiku and the opportunities for dialogue The Daily Haiku FB Group presents. In this way I have ‘met’, chatted and made strong connections with people from across the World I would never have come across otherwise, and I am enriched and happier for it. Long may it, though not COVID, continue.

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To finish, without doubt the highlight of my haiku career to date was presenting a selection to an audience at the Pundemonium panel game at the Cheltenham Literary Festival in 2017. As well as having to improvise puns in real time, we had a slot to pre-prepare pun-based material. This was my first public haiku reading and the audience response was so good that I ended up winning their Tyrann-Thesaurus trophy and going forward to a champion of champions event in London.

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One literature-based haiku that went down well at Cheltenham was:

 

Took pregnancy test

Missed period drama now

Great Expectations

 

I like to be edgy occasionally – though there is nothing wrong with it, I am not really a cherry-blossom, birdsong and frog kind of bloke.

 

 

My second example that is typical of my ‘voice’ is:

 

Forgive and forget

Conflicts are things of the past

That re-open scars

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It starts with a common phrase and contains plays on words. In one interpretation, line 2 implies conflicts have been forgiven and forgotten. However, line 3 raises the possibility that conflicts which happened in the past are still festering and old wounds might resurface. I actually have this haiku as part of a tattoo, so I need to like it really!

Anyway, that’s me. Thank you and happy haikuing!

 

 

16 Comments on “Conversation 93: THE DAILY HAIKU Interviews: John Holder”

  1. Thank you for your interview John I am so glad you are having great fun on TDH, a main aim when I set it up. Having a community of diverse voices and engagement is something I really love about the group which is going through a crazy level of growth right now. Wordplay and friendships go hand in hand – I love the collaborations and connections that are springing from our community. I love your humour, edginess at times and engagement, thank you for sharing. Haiku continues to surprise me with its depth and flexibility, punku is a popular branch that I have encountered here on TDH and on Twitter. I think you may come up with your very own variation which we can call the Holder move…. I will watch this space.

    1. Thank you Amanda for inviting me to contribute my thoughts on The Great Margin. I am so pleased that I took the leap of faith and joined your wonderful TDH group which you work so hard to co-ordinate for us. I must look into punku – is it pun-ku or punk-u keeping the ‘four candles’ vibe going? x

  2. It’s good to get to know you a little better, John. I recognise your style and I appreciate the flavour of your cuisine. 🙂

    I’m going to make a mental note to dwell a little longer on your work; looking for layers.

    Thanks for sharing.

    1. Thank you for your kind words, Eric. It is great to connect with people like yourself on similar wavelengths.

  3. Always great to get an insight into the writing mind, and your puns are truly terrible – (which given the nature of puns is to be terribly by definition, becomesactually something to be proud of)

  4. Great Conversation, John! I am a fan. Puns have long been my wanna-be-a-punster. Sometimes I succeed, but I am so glad to see you be so honest and go into delightful detail of your journey into haiku as well as all you have done in your life to get here. I am looking forward to more from you and you will have to forgive me if I start asking “John, what does this one mean?” Seriously though, you are brilliant and kind and so fun here among us ‘pond dwellers’ 😉 Just remember, you can have a 4/5/4 that feels like a 5/7/5. its all in the breath and what it means to you. “Play with the Clay.” My little phrase I use occasionally here in TDH. So glad you are here … and Rupert … should be ashamed using his fly that way!!

  5. Dang! John! I need to proof-read. I am the one who envies the quick-witted punster. I suck at it. Maybe you will rub off on me. So glad you are here to en-lighten us all with words that surprise and tickle the funny-bone. Enjoyed the heck out of this interview. Ok, there. That’s all I wanted to say. 😉

    1. Aahhh, thank you Connie. It has been fun to connect with you and I appreciate your not blocking my edgy humour!
      Your words always have the lyrical quality of your musical background. I am jealous of musicians as playing along to poetry (in the spirit of my beloved Leonard Cohen) must be a joy. x

  6. Hi, John. Lovely to read and learn more about you, though I think I knew quite a lot about you already, from our “chats”! The card caption thing and the competition win were the two, big items of news! Wow! In so many ways, you said quite a lot, that is also true for me, especially re the proof-reading, which we can’t switch off, but also the worry that we can no longer give our attention to everyone, now the group is so big… Anyway, well done, and I hope it’s clear from my comments about your haiku, how much I enjoy your work!

    1. Thank you so much, Jenny, for welcoming me and my writing. But thank you more for our thoroughly enjoyable conversations, discussions and humorous exchanges that have made being part of this group so engaging. I am intrigued by the experiences you bring to the forum and value your insight and constant support as we bat stuff backwards and forwards. No doubt many more chats and laughs to come. x

  7. It’s very nice to learn more about you! I have often found humor and wisdom in your writing. My what a varied career you’ve had! You are a man of many talents! I wish I had more time to participate right now, but will be back with you guys shortly! I am moving my store and rescue fund to our new platform and opening several new charitable stores, at present, and have not found any haiku time! I do so enjoy reading yours and the others , though, when I can!

  8. Great to read more about you from your own perspective, John. I used to live not too far from Stratford-upon-Avon once and can image the Bard’s influence on you! That whole place has the aura of Shakespeare, painstakingly preserved. It’s interesting how writing comes to all of us in different ways. I really enjoy reading your pun-filled haiku. 🙂

    1. Thank you Neetu – my former near neighbour. I am grateful that you enjoy my flippant haiku when yours are so poetic, atmospheric and profound. I look forward to connecting more with you through this welcoming community 🙂

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