For National Haiku Day, we thought it might be fun to interview the creative felines behind Haiku by Cat. Below is a transcript from a recent interview, along with pictures of the cats who write the poems.
Catster: First of all, thank you for agreeing to sit together in one room for this interview. I know you have busy schedules and it’s hard to find extra time between naps, naps, dinner, swatting, hissing, naps and naps.
Elsa Clair: Don’t forget bug hunting.
Athena: And bird watching.
Dawn: [to group] Did she include sneaking? I didn’t hear sneaking.
Calvin: Or climbing. That wasn’t on the list.
Ok, we get it. You’ve each got a packed agenda every day. Trying to get you all in one room is like herding —
Athena: Don’t say it.
Elsa Clair: We hate that expression. We are not sheep. We could never be "herded."
That’s the point.
It gets very quiet. Athena begins washing herself, Elsa Clair offers a imperious stare, Calvin pretends he’s found an interesting spot on the floor, and Dawn crawls under the bureau.
So sorry. We didn’t mean to offend. Let’s start over, okay? Let’s get right to our reason for talking today: to learn a little more about you and why you write haiku. Tell us how you got started.
Calvin: Well, we’re pretty sophisticated cats. Athena reads The New York Times Review of Books and is always recommending things for us to read.
Elsa Clair: Though she got it way wrong when she thought we might like Fifty Shades of Grey. She thought it was about different colors of fur.
Athena: So I made a mistake. I was also the one who introduced you to T.S. Eliot, remember?
Calvin: I love his stuff! His poems inspired the musical Cats. Though that whole concept confuses me. Humans dressed up as cats, singing. And no real kitties allowed? What’s up with that?
Elsa Clair: Anyway, after reading T.S. Eliot, we started exploring poetry as an art form. Much as we enjoyed Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, we thought that it reflected a human perspective; Eliot came pretty close, but his stuff wasn’t really able to capture our true felines.
Calvin: But writing all those words takes a long time. And then you had to make it all rhyme. It was a pain in the purr, if you know what I mean.
Dawn: That’s when we discovered haiku.
Tell me a little more; what is haiku, and why do you like to write it?
Athena: Haiku is a form of poetry from Japan that is written in three lines, with a specific number of syllables on each line. The first line has five syllables, the second seven, and the third and final line has five again.
Elsa Clair: That’s it: three lines, a total of seventeen syllables. Short. To the point. Elegant. Perfect for us cats.
Calvin: Though to be more accurate, traditional haiku tend to be very philosophical and deep, and often include something about nature. But there’s another type called senryu, which can be funny or dark. And that’s more up our alley.
Dawn: Most people have never heard of senryu, so we call our works “haiku.”
Can you tell me a bit about your writing process? What inspires you?
Dawn: When I am looking for inspiration, I retire to my quiet spot under the bed. Most people think cats are hiding, but they’re either composing or plotting.
Athena: [Glares at Dawn] Plotting like "developing a plot." For the haiku. Every haiku needs a storyline. A plot.
Dawn: Yes. Right. That’s what I meant.
Calvin: As for me, I like to sit inside a good box for my best writing.
Elsa Clair: I write mine in short bursts, whenever the mews strikes. Like when I’m leaping from the washing machine to the counter, or while I’m in the middle of swatting Calvin.
Calvin: Gee thanks, Elsa Clair.
Athena: I like to sit on the newspaper. Or a backpack. Or one of the humans’ hats. Or freshly folded laundry or —
Elsa Clair: [Interrupting] It takes longer to write than you think, because not only do you have to count out the syllables, but the purpose of each haiku is to attempt to capture the essence of something — a core idea.
Dawn: The plot!
Athena: Yes. Exactly.
Calvin: And you also want the last line to kind of tie everything together. Almost like a punchline to a joke.
We’re curious. How do you actually write the haiku down? How do they get posted?
Elsa Clair: I tried using the human’s laptop, but I couldn’t get the hang of it. And it’s so warm. And comfortable. I start writing and the next thing I know, I’m curled up and sleeping.
Calvin: I tried to use my iPhone. Dictating to Siri. But she screwed up the words half the time. She doesn’t speak Cat very well.
Dawn: So now we just climb all over the human and do a kind of mind-meld thing through numerous head bonks. And then she types it up.
Athena: We add it to the duties our human already performs: making dinner, cleaning our litter boxes, providing an appropriate lap when requested.
Elsa Clair: Like most enlightened humans, ours worships — I mean cares about — us and follows us around all day with a camera. She’ll find a photo that illustrates one of our haiku, and then posts the poem and picture together on our website Haiku by Cat and her website Life with Dogs and Cats.
Athena: Amazingly enough, the dogs in the house attempt to write haiku too. The human posts those as well, but I think she helps them with their writing. Dogs. Writing haiku. Seriously. They can barely put a coherent thought together past "Throw the ball" or "Feed me." You think they could write haiku on their own?
We will respectfully refuse to take sides on that matter. Thank you all for your time. We’re looking forward to reading more of your Haiku by Cat.
See past entries of Haiku by Cat:
About the author: Susan C. Willett is a writer, photographer, and blogger whose award-winning original stories, photography, poetry, and humor can be found at Life With Dogs and Cats. She lives in New Jersey with three dogs and four cats (all rescues) and at least a couple of humans — all of whom provide inspiration for her work. Refusing to take sides in the interweb’s dogs vs. cats debate, Susan enjoys observing the interspecies interaction among the varied inhabitants of her home — like living in a reality TV show, only furrier. In addition to Life With Dogs and Cats, you can find more Lilah, Jasper, and Tucker (and the rest of the gang) on Haiku by DogÔäó, Haiku by CatÔäó, and Dogs and Cats Texting.