Sunday, June 1, 2014



American Haiku by Jonathan Hayes
(Mel C. Thompson Publishing; San Francisco, 2013)

Poets seem to be in a dither about the question of what kind of jobs poets need for a living.  It is a good question.  But the question dovetails into an examination of poetic self-worth.  If our society does not value poetry then it follows our society does not value its poets.  If that is the case should poets even worry about what one does for a living? 

We, as poets, do worry about the efficacies of labor upon our writing.  Recently I was reading a blog of mostly Bay Area poets answering a series of questions about being in the workforce and being a poet.  It was fascinating reading.  Some poets teach; some poets work in IT; some poets serve customers in supermarkets.  The myriad answers by varied poets of the cost and value of their labor in the workforce in relation to their value in society, and its effects on their writings, underscores the dynamism of poetry as a value in itself.  Poetry, and poets, is various and is without simple, easy answers.  Look into the mirror, thy poet, and find your own answers.

Then there are poets who simply get to work on time, both as laborers and as writers.  Jonathan Hayes is such a poet.  Inspired by Jack Kerouac’s Book of Haikus Hayes’ crafted a diary of sorts in free verse haiku.  The haiku is usually in three lines, a couplet and a concluding single line.  In these verses Hayes makes, and writes about, a living as a deckhand at the supermarket Trader Joe’s located in the Nob Hill neighborhood of San Francisco.

A small disclaimer here.  Jonathan Hayes is a friend and I am named in one of these verses.  I am not the only poet to be called out in friendship but if you, dear reader, think me not unbiased about the poetry of Jonathan Hayes you are half-right.  The poet deserves a wide audience because his work is, I think, that good. 

Take for example this haiku about a photograph in a show at the SFMOMA.

            b/w photograph
            =            “now’

            -- garry winogrand at sfmoma

The precision of these three lines, with an equal sign, quotation marks that surround the word, now, and a small dash as minimal punctuation, provides a still life of a sort that lets the reader to simultaneously see and know the work of the artist as if the reader was standing before the piece in the museum.

But I said that Hayes has written a book about being a laboring poet in a supermarket.  He has indeed.  Furthermore, we’ve all, in our personal and professional lives, made mistakes.  Do we admit to these mistakes? 

            ringing up a customer, almost finishing the sale,
            we chat and she walks out w/out paying

            --”i fucked up” i tell the manager

 The clarity and honesty of the writing illustrates a brutal truth, we are human, we sometimes fuck up on the job and off.

Still, Hayes is not a sentimental writer but he is a man of deep feeling.  When a neighbor’s husband passes away during Christmas time the poet delivers a wreath in love and consolation.

            brought christmas wreath to neighbor,
            condolences on her husband’s passing

            --half naked in doorway she hugs me

The hug in the jam of a doorway illustrates the grief of the woman and the beautiful awkwardness of felt connection between the consoler and the aggrieved.

The poet is also happily married and his wife makes frequent appearances in these poems.  Sometimes she yells at the poet to get up or he’ll be late for work.  Other times the couple find time for play.

            in bed w/ the wife,
            farting and laughing together

            --the alarm clock goes off!

The poet does not ask himself why he must work for a living.  Rather the poet practices a kind of California Taoism.  Hayes simply makes the way in his own fashion and performs his own brand of “wu-wei’ or non-action.  The act is worthy on its own of its performance.  For book of haiku, American or otherwise, is a cause of readerly celebration.  I am grateful for the poet Jonathan Hayes and his book of free verse haiku because I, and other readers, am invited to participate in sharing and making the well-lived life.    


richard lopez lives, loves and writes in northern california.  he is engaged in two collobaration projects with the poets john bloomberg-rissman, and lars palm.  lopez has published three chapbooks and one split-chap with his brother-in-rhyme, jonathan hayes.  he loves good writing and good friends.  lopez also loves to correspond with fellow brothers and sisters in the arts.  drop him a line, if you like, at rlope67atgmaildotcom.  

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