The World-Famous Queen Of Haiku Shares Her Artistic Brilliance With All Of Us!

lisa markuson haiku

(lisa markuson instagram)

When my dear friend Parker Voss told me about his friend who writes haiku, I was intrigued.  I mean, when’s the last time you have heard about a professional haiku poet?

Exactly.

Well, get ready… because Lisa Markuson teamed up with two friends to create The Haiku Guys & Gals and she, herself, a total star, totes around her vintage typewriter and a folder of gorgeous paper, firing off the most brilliant and – dare-I-say-it— psychic- messages I’ve ever recieved.

In fact, over FaceTime, I had the pleasure in a state of total duress of being gifted this poem from Lisa herself:

lisa markuson

And in that moment, I couldn’t wait to feature her on the blog…!

From Paris Fashion Week to SXSW in Austin, private events to corporate immersions to local coffee shops in NYC, Lisa and her collective of haiku masters have brought poetics back into the core of life…. everywhere… and they’re just getting started.

If you’re intrigued by poetry, if you’re a romantic, if you love great stories, if you’re a struggling creative wondering how to turn your art into a business… Lisa has something to say to all of you.  I’m honored that Parker sat down to chat with Lisa and shared their beaming-light conversation on the blog today!

lisa markuson instagram

(lisa markuson instagram)

Parker: How does it feel having a creative occupation that is uniquely your own?

Lisa: I hear a lot, “I can’t believe you’re so confident.” “I can’t believe you’re doing this.” “I can’t believe you actually made this into a business.” “I can’t believe you quit your day job.” People act like it’s so shocking, but it just feels natural. It’s totally about about putting yourself completely into the most vulnerable state you can put yourself into, so that then you have nothing to fear.

Parker: In what ways can people follow your lead in creating a sustainable business around their creativity?

Lisa: One major article written about us focused on how we’re charging good money for poetry at events and how this is so wild and revolutionary. It was really positive, but it ended up getting a lot of eyeballs looking at us with people wanting jobs. I want to proudly let the world know we have created a business that can sustain itself in a niche that didn’t exist, but it’s less about: “Cha-ching! Wow! Dream job alert!” It’s more about: “What if everyone just let go of their fear and figured out what they were deeply drawn to and good at?”.

You can build your own niche that is perfectly suited to your talent and to problems you see in the world that you can solve. You find that letting go of that fear and jumping into a stream of confidence allows every door to open for you. You can move through the world unhindered by “Am I going to make enough money?” “Do I have to say yes to every gig even if it’s underpaid?” “Should I do an interview with some person that I’ve never heard of?”. You can just pursue anything that feels right to you because you can trust yourself that it’s probably right if it feels right.

lisa markuson instagram

(lisa markuson instagram)

Parker: When someone comes up to you for a haiku, do you intuitively know something they need to hear or do they ask you for something specific?

Lisa: The way it works is we ask them to give a topic. They should give us some little seed from themselves to inspire us, like a phrase or a story about themselves or a challenge they’re struggling with – so it’s whatever the person wants to share.  Also, it’s whatever stuff I can pick up about the person: their posture, their expression, their style, their anything. You can guess so much about a person from them standing right in front of you in a kind of open vulnerable state. Sometimes people are really open and they want to have a mini therapy session. Other times people are tight-lipped about the whole thing and give a topic like “dogs” just wanting to see what happens. We are intuitive and respectful of where people are. We don’t try to pry too much if people seem really closed off. If they seem they’re ready to be teased open a little bit then we’ll ask follow-up questions and try to learn a little bit more about them.

Parker: How does the writing happen on the spot?

Lisa: I have to process the info I’ve been given and that’s when the ball is in my court, so I have to take a moment of stillness. I’ve been calling it the “poet state” recently. I’ve gotten more and more specific as I do this more and more. Now I have a tendency to put my hands together and close my eyes or gaze off. I think for a moment as if scanning the night sky or using a metal detector (I’m looking for the right metaphor) and all of a sudden something is bright. You have one image or one word or one turn of phrase that is like a touchstone. There it is, and I run with it. Within 30 seconds I have that thing I want to focus on, and in the next 60 seconds I spit it out on the typewriter.

Parker: Do people say your poems actually change them?

Some people feel very, very touched by them. Reactions range from “That was a pleasant surprise, thank you” all the way up to “I’ve never thought this before. This is a new perspective that’s going to stay with me forever”. We’ve had a couple of people tattoo their haiku on them.

lisa markuson haiku

Which certain ingredients make a haiku that much more impactful?

I have found you should allude to the subject without saying the actual word. For example, if you ask me to write a haiku about a cat I won’t start with “Little kitty cat”. I’m going write about something that is an interesting element of the feline experience.  

When people who are first starting out receive a topic such as ‘New York City’, they may jump to writing something like: “This Big Apple town / stays up all night and all day / faster than bullets”. That would be the cliché of New York. When a person says they want a haiku about New York City, they may actually want a haiku about something they’re feeling about New York City that’s much more specific. So, you ask follow-up questions: “What is so exciting to you about New York? Are you from New York? Are you visiting New York?” Those questions lead to two very different haikus in the end. Getting to the heart of the matter is a way to make your haiku better.

Also, looking at different words and the ways we say things. Tweak whatever you want to say and it becomes much stronger for a haiku. Instead of “Hello, how are you?” it might be “Greetings extended”. Think about what you’re going to say in a new way and you’ll have a much more meaningful haiku.

Can anyone write a real haiku?

Anyone can write a haiku in the simplest way, which is just putting 17 syllables together. A lot of Japanese or very purist haiku followers would say that for it to count as an authentic haiku, you would have to have a seasonal word. We don’t use that rule because we’re in such unnatural environments all of the time where the seasons are a little bit less impactful than other powerful forces that may need to be addressed before the seasons. That said, anyone can write a haiku and I highly encourage it.

Do you have a kind of ritual that keeps you creative and grounded in a city like New York?

The way I ground myself most at home is probably by having so many plants around. I may be a bit of a messy person and there may be bits of paper around everywhere, but I don’t collect things or buy or seek lots of items to give me a sense of security around me. I don’t try to amass goods in a way that I see a lot of people doing. I get the the things that I really need and in the best way possible, and if I lose those things – and that happens – then I don’t freak out.  

If you respect the actual things around you but don’t hold onto them so tightly, then things can come in, things can come out. You’ll be fine and have that equanimity. I mean, yoga is a huge practice of that – putting yourself into all sorts of strange positions that end up helping us when we go out into the world. You learn to be more resilient by being more flexible.

My actual ritual is internally saying “I love you” to every single person always. Everytime I’m out in the world, especially if I feel myself getting irritated, I try to look at every person I can possibly find and say “I love you” inside. It’s a crazy exercise that gets you to relate to that person and you instantly can empathize with them. You instantly wish the best for them and the whole world seems a lot less scary when you’re sharing the best possible feeling you can possibly share with someone. That’s my secret ritual.

How does the world make sense of a professional haiku poet today when we haven’t heard of one in hundreds of years?

There’s something about ancient Eastern tradition that seemed to ‘get’ something that we didn’t, or we forgot. They codified and made very important elements of Nature and the essence of what it is to be a human animal on this planet an actual deep part of their culture in a way that we didn’t do. I study Buddhism. I study yoga. I study haiku. There is a stillness and an appreciation for the power of all things related to Nature and our natural states that I’ve rarely seen in Western writing and culture and the way we build our cities.

I think now we are a more conscientious generation overall. We’re at a point where a lot of the problems from our parents’ generation are coming to a head. We’re looking for answers in every place we possibly can, and there’s something really comforting in those traditions that have existed for so long and have proven to be so universal and unshakable. And haiku is that to a certain extent. The haiku masters were in a lot of ways traveling monks living off of the land and seeming to have a lot of fun. Basho didn’t write any haiku about “dating issues” or “wishing he had a cooler phone” or “problems with his boss”. We’re bogged down with these mundane problems that keep us from enjoying the things we wish were were enjoying.

 

Do the constraints of 17 syllables work in your favor?

In a nutshell, there’s satisfaction in getting down to the most elemental, simplest way to enjoy a new perspective. Something simple and light and sweet yet very profound.

There are a lot of other people who do typewriter poetry professionally except they generally work with free form. Every one of them has their approaches but almost none has a specific form they use. People can still enjoy the result and can feel a catharsis. We have done a limerick party. I’ll do sonnets on request, yet there is nothing as good as a haiku. Nothing works as well. Nothing gets to the heart of the matter like a haiku does. Because when you write something in free form, who says it’s done? No one. You can’t say it’s done. You can mess with it too much. You can carry it on for a line too long and the whole thing becomes trashed, basically.

When you’re writing on the spot in an active environment and you’re giving it to someone and you live in a place where people are stimulated all the time and don’t usually interact with these profound items very often, the haiku is something everyone can agree upon being “done” without having to be connoisseurs of poetry. It is complete in its perfect circular simplicity. It gives them a confidence when they receive it. It gives us a confidence when we write it. Everyone knows it’s 17 syllables and you have to fit as much wallop as you can right there.

Are there some haiku you never forget?

I don’t remember them at all, surprisingly. One girl on Instagram just showed us this beautiful matting and framing job she had done of a haiku that we wrote for her in Austin. I wrote it – it’s in the font of my typewriter – yet I have no recollection whatsoever. I get into this state where I’m just going with it and it feels like flow. I wish I could remember them all, but the words flow through me and then they’re gone. I don’t cling to it, and that comes back to not clinging to anything, really. It’s been nice having social media because when people share them I remember, “Oh yeah, that was a good one!”

Is there one thing that inspires your style overall?

The inspiration is this joyous, vibrant color of blue which is the embodiment of communication. I find that the colors you are attracted to are deeply and inherently you. And blue is my thing. It’s the color of my eyes, my hair, my glasses, my typewriter. It’s my confidence color. Blue is about your throat chakra, which is your communicative energy. That’s obviously what I’m meant to do.

How could you imagine haiku and feng shui intersecting?

I once put site-specific haiku all around a friend’s house, such as one on the mirror about appreciating your reflection, one on the door about going out safely in the world, one in the kitchen about the warmth of the hearth of the home. I’m enamored with the idea of turning a space into a more cherished and thoughtful place where you can look around and think, “There’s that wonderful little mantra that was created for me”.

Amazing, right? I have nothing but pure love. For both of you.  xoxo Dana

 

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Parker Voss is a New York native, Georgetown-educated artist and designer, Reiki master, and trilingual explorer of the world and wellness.

Lisa Markuson is a poet and founder of The Haiku Guys & Gals.

They are a company of performance poets providing instant inspiration for everyone they meet, in the form of unique haiku on the topics that are most important to them

Some of their clients: Google, Women’s Wear Daily, The W Hotel & Starwood Hotel Group, Chloe, Dances of Vice, Lululemon, Reuters, Bloomberg, Steve Madden, The Brooklyn Public Library, The National Archives, Barnes & Noble, Food52, Wanderlust festivals. They have been recognized and recommended by The New York Times, New York Post, NHK, Fast Company, Cosmopolitan, Brooklyn Magazine, Time Out NY, and more.

Erick Szentmiklosy, Daniel Zaltsman, and Lisa Markuson are the three co-founders and co-owners of the company. Erick has diverse experience in sales, mathematics, and philosophy, and a passion for entrepreneurship, logic, adventure, and dogs. Daniel is a tech and marketing genius, with a love for romance, ballroom dancing, and sad Russian literature. Lisa is a buddhist yogi, and quite possibly the only living human being who makes their living exclusively through the art of haiku.

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