Toni: an aside, Shay was surprised by my slow southern drawl!
Shay: I was! Happy to be here with the only person whose haiku I like. Your writing is as unique as you are. You're clearly drawn to Asian (or strictly Japanese?)styles and customs. it adds such a richness to what you write. What sparked your interest in these things?
Toni: When I was a wee lass our next door neighbor Jamie, was Professor of Eastern Studies, specifically Japanese. I was in and out of his house exploring all the incredible things he brought back,including a full Samurai armor. I began writing Japanese forms that summer. We would sit on his front porch at times while he basically taught me his classes. His house man and valet would bring us glasses of lemonade while we talked and often joined us. He was actually Jamie's life partner but in those days, he posed as servant. Jamie taught me Japanese culture. Then later I began to explore and learn on my own. Also when I was 11, I was bored and went to the kitchen where my grandmother and started whining. She told me to look after dinner (I started cooking with my father when I was 5) and she went to our library and came back with books: Whitman, Dickinson, T.S. Eliot and said here, this will keep you busy for awhile. It kept me busy for two weeks and then I read them again. I also used the ladder in the library to get to the good stuff after that. I started writing that summer. Long, sad ponderous stuff! What got you started writing, Shay?
Shay: My father was a newspaperman and I grew up in a house full of books, mostly my father's, but also those my two much older brothers had left around. Later, at about 16 or 17, I bought a book of poetry by a man named Grover Lewis, called "I'll Be There In The Morning If I Live." I still have it, though it has to be handled carefully after all these years. I bought it at the Little Professor Book Store, and carried it to the lawn of the public library--it was summer--and read it cover to cover. The rest, followed from that; I've been writing ever since.
I actually had a 20 year gap in my poetry writing. I wrote and got published maybe 3 dozen times between the ages of 18 and 26, wrote a dribbling of poems for a couple of years, then stopped entirely while I was married, raising a child, and working full time. Then in 2006 I saw an on line forum that had a poetry section and I got started again. Two years later I started Word Garden. The funny thing about being published is that it's a huge kick the first few times, then starts getting routine. My interest in getting published in 'zines is pretty much nil, though i have sent off a couple of things at the urging of friends. No response. I guess they don't like symbolist war haiku.
Enough about me, girl. Nature is a constant theme of yours which you portray vividly. What first drew you to the natural world? Does it have a healing property for you? What animals/birds do you love best?
Shay: I did. He was a huge influence on me, and I was definitely a daddy's girl.
Toni: Nature and mujo (change) is part of the Japanese culture. The seasons and changes are celebrated, observed. I learned as a child the nuances of these changes : the summer nights, soup in the winter, the bare trees against the sky. Jamie taught me a lot. I had a Japanese lover for several years who taught me a lot. He taught me kendo, Japanese martial arts and how to use a katana. I keep up with the forms and exercises to this day. I was drawn by Issa and Basho, their haiku and haibun. I have had a few haiku published in such journals and an anthology but being published isn't the end-all be-all for me. I just write because I must.
Shay: I will make it my business not to cross you! Please talk some more about nature's influence on you and your writing.
Toni: We had a huge garden when I was growing up. I loved being in the garden and was often there, sitting in the dirt between rows of corn, reading. I loved dealing with the produce when it was mature - canning, pickling, freezing. Cooking family meals. I loved walking past the tomatoes and touching the plants and then smelling my hands. I was also an avid tree climber and still am. I have an oak tree I climb a couple of times a week and sit and be quiet, observing. Sometimes I read, sometimes I play my violin for the trees. I was heavily influenced also by Whitman, Dickinson, Tennyson, Bukowski, T.S. Eliot, Basho, Issa.
Shay: Question 2 for you--where have you traveled and lived?
Toni: I have traveled to Japan several times and have stayed there for a few months at the time, England, Scotland, Ireland, most of the states in the US. I even planted rice in Japan on one trip. One of the most poignant trips I ever took was following the footsteps of Basho. That is the day I spent planting rice in a field with local women (https://kanzensakura.wordpress.com/2016/02/28/haibun-rice-planting) . I have lived and worked in Philadelphia, Southampton, NYC, DC. New Orleans, Tampa.
Shay: I have lived almost all my life here in the Detroit area, but in my 20's I lived 6 years in San Antonio, Texas, and also for more than a year on the island of Luzon, Philippines. I lived in Denver for several weeks during that time, and have traveled all over the USA. Of course, Canada is right across the river from here and I love it there. I've also been to London, England. I've been to Mexico a couple of times. The places I loved best--however briefly or not--were Manila, Portland (Oregon), San Antonio, Austin, Montana (just gorgeous), and Vancouver Canada. I also like little old Windsor, Ontario. My unfavorite places were London (UK), Houston, and L.A. Too big, too sprawly, too busy. And yes, I loved the Filpino food. Sisig and pandesal! But balut is evil. Ugh!
Toni, you and I are the long and short of it, I'm afraid, with me being 5-11 and you having told me you are under 5 feet tall (4'10"). Being tall has helped shape who I am; how has your stature affected your life or your writing?
Toni: I never realized I was short until some of the kids began picking on me. My father taught me how to box, my grandfather taught me how to fight dirty. Another writer said he would never consider me small because of the force of my poetry and personality. Ha! I climb shelves in the grocery to get what I need. Like a racoon or a squirrel.
Shay: I wouldn't disagree with him! And hey, you could always yell for me, if you'll get the bottom shelf for me. ;-)
Toni: Sounds like a plan to me!
Toni: What makes you laugh?
Shay: Well, as a good Gemini, I am of two minds about this. I love very low humor, like pratfalls and stuff, and that is part of my love of silent comedy. (I love silent films of all kinds, btw.) My father loved W C Fields and passed that on to me. "It's A Gift" just demolishes me into a giggling lump of mush. I also love dry humor, bon mots, zingers and the like.
Shay: I love that Ophelia painting and pretty much anything by Waterhouse. We'll have to disagree about London. (Toni smiles and thinks she could change Shay's mind - wink!)
Toni: I love traveling and finding out about what people eat. That's how you get to know about people - what they eat! I also love wandering around their markets. You share their food and their culture. When they cook you something, they tell you something about themselves. Tell me about living in Luzon. Why did you live there?
Shay: I was in the U.S. Air Force and was stationed there. Manila surprised me--it is in many ways just like any large city anywhere, but in other ways distinctly Asian. One thing I will never forget is that Marcos had had the ghettos painted pastel yellow. I mean, every stick, pastel yellow. It was bizarre. Other things I recall are how surprised I was to find a baseball stadium in Manila. They told me Babe Ruth once played there. I also saw the Manila American Cemetery. That's a serious, sobering place, much like the Alamo in my old adopted home town of San Antonio. In the Philippines also visited a beach resort and was out in the water when I noticed I was surrounded by jellyfish. Oops. My friend and I were standing waiting for a boat with a bunch of locals, and when it came up to the dock, WHOOSH! everybody leaped on at once and my friend and I were left standing there with our mouths open. e could only look at each other and laugh. After that, we learned to be quick. I also recall the autobuses. People brought chickens and stuff on the bus. The windows were open and every time the bus would stop, kids would come up and they'd sell you sodas or whatever. These old buses would careen around the mountain roads, with no guard rails, and it was a little bit hair-raising.
Toni: I'll bet! Scary stuff but, broadening. Travel is broadening and enriching. Like that day I spent planting rice with women in Japan. That changed my life. Truly. And you were in the Air Force! What an adventure. You know, I feel I need to talk about this for a minute because it has affected both of us deeply for different reasons - Tony Bourdain's suicide. He and I are of an age and we both had similar experiences cooking the 70 and early 80's. It was nothing but drugs and drinking in those days. One day I burned out on cooking. I had had it with the snooty jockeying around for position and the elitism that is so often found among chefs. I walked out. I got my knives together and walked. I almost suicided that day, almost went home and hung myself. Now all these years later, Tony Bourdain, for whatever reasons, hung himself. I met him a couple of times and he was a true delight. I almost suicided the day I walked away from professional cooking but I didn't. I burned out, he didn't and went on to become an icon. But I lived and he didn't. So I want to say to you all out there, if you are considering suiciding or harming yourself, please talk to someone, please call. Suicide is never the answer. 800-273-TALK
Toni: We have chatted so much. I love your poetry. It is so sharp and yet, at times it makes me weep with the emotion in it. Not fakey lovey-dovey emotion but pure, real, raw emotion. And at times it makes me nod to myself or laugh out loud. Your poetry is as unique as you (as someone said about me, recently! grin).
Shay: Really? Who? ;-)
Toni: Well (she drawls slowly) somebody we both know and respect.