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Tête-à-Tête: Mike Rehling

Poet & Editor

(Neena Singh, Guest Editor in conversation with Mike Rehling)

The Wise Owl has a friendly chat with Mike Rehling (born Michael Joseph Rehling, April 21, 1946, Detroit, Michigan, U.S.A.), a poet and editor. Mike retired from banking and finance. He has been writing short poetry since the 1960's and has been both a poet and editor. Rehling was the founder and editor (typically focusing on senryu and haiku) of a number of online sites and journals, including HaikuHut's Short Stuff, the United Haiku, and Tanka Society's Kernels and Cattails, as well as an editor for Under the Basho, and The Living Senryu Anthology. More recently he founded and edited the senryu journal Failed Haiku, where he now edits the Failed Haiku video site on YouTube. He has served as contest judge or sponsor of, among others, the Harold G. Henderson haiku contest, the Gerald Brady senryu contest, the Nicholas A. Virgilio student haiku contest of the Haiku Society of America, and the H. Gene Murtha senryu and Jane Reichhold haiga contests sponsored by Failed Haiku and Prune Juice Journal, and as a panel member for The Haiku Foundation 'Touchstone' book awards for 2020 to 2022. Rehling resides in Presque Isle, Michigan, and spends his time writing poetry and encouraging and facilitating poets of haiku and senryu verse. 

Neena Singh, Guest Editor,  in Conversation with Mike Rehling: Watch on YouTube

Hi Mike. Thanks for taking time out to talk to The Wise Owl. We are delighted and honoured to speak to you.

Q. You have spent most of your life dealing in finance and banking. What made you change track and follow a more creative path, writing haiku and senryu poetry?

A. Well I began writing short poems over sixty years ago. I dabbled in haiku and senryu for many years, but finally got on the 'right track' in the late eighties. Something about haiku captured my attention, and that was how much could be packed into seventeen syllables or less. For the last thirty years I have focused almost entirely on the haikai genre. That has been a source of personal satisfaction to me. As a 'geek' I have focused my time on haikai, almost exclusively on the Internet, because it gave me an international audience for my own poems as well as promoting the genre to the widest audience.

Q. You are a name to reckon with in the world of haiku and senryu poetry. Our readers would love to know what attracted you to these genres of poetry.

A: No one has to 'reckon' with me. I love the brevity that contains clarity that is evident in haikai in all its shapes and stylistic turns. Nothing is more seductive than to have a reader put themselves into your poem. 

Q. Were there any special people who mentored you and helped you along in your haiku and senryu journey. Do tell us a little about your journey as a poet of these unusual but beautiful genres. 

A: Too many to mention really, but William J. Higginson was a strong influence, along with Francine Porad, Marlene Mountain, Paul Woodward, Kala Ramesh, Alexis Rotella, and Roberta Beary to name just a few.

Q. You started HaikuHut in 2001 and managed to get as many as 65 poets under one umbrella. This served as a creative pool as also a circle that encouraged and mentored poets. What was your vision for HaikuHut? Why did you eventually feel the need to shut it down?

A: In the late nineties haiku was entering the Internet and there was a lot of 'fussing' over styles and definitions. A group of us wanted a hideout where we could collaborate and learn together. We had only one rule, 'the poet rules'. We could critique and suggest, but in the end, the poet chooses what to accept or change. It closed when Facebook and other tools appeared, and we migrated to those larger venues. There is an endpoint to everything, and we had reached it.

Q. You have been providing platforms to showcase poetry (haiku, senryu) of other poets. What was the inspiration behind this completely selfless desire to exhibit poetry by poets from across the globe?

A: Spreading the word about haiku is a passion for most of us, and I just want to promote good haiku and see it read and understood by the larger community of poets in general.

Q. Our readers would be curious to know what was your motivation behind taking editing roles for Kernels and Cattails, Under the Basho, and The Living Senryu Anthology? 

A. Simply, I was asked to do it! Again, there is not competition between journals or Internet venues. The more the merrier and putting the 'best' of haiku out there for others to read should be the goal of any editor.

Q. I am really intrigued by the name of your journal ‘failed haiku’, especially the fact that this is a journal of senryu rather than haiku. What made you choose this title for your journal?

A: A simple 'joke'. Someone asked me what I thought a senryu was and I jokingly answered, “It is just a failed haiku is all." If a seasonal reference is not the 'point' of the poem, then it fails the haiku test and enters the senryu realm. Also, 'haiku' is a popular term in all search engines, and the name pulls readers searching for short poems very efficiently.

Q. Tell us a little about your process of writing senryu or haiku verse. What is your inspiration, how you conceptualize your idea and how you put it on paper (or digitally document your verse) as a finished product?

A: Everything inspires me, haiku and senryu are just captured elements from your daily life. They are as simple as breathing. I record thoughts on my phone, and all my work is kept in the cloud. I can access it there any time on any electronic tool I have handy. Music, of all types and kinds, is a heavy inspiration to me also, and I lean on the 'riff' of jazz and blues for my haibun quite often.

Q. I know you are not in favour of publishing print editions of your poetry as that would mean a destruction of more trees. But we would all like to know if you are working on a digital compilation of your verse or some other creative project. Do share the details with our readers. 

A: Well, working on a PDF collection of some of my haibun right now. Not a print person, and 99% of my work is published on the Internet. A lot has been 'lost' to the world as websites disappeared frequently over the decades. I use PDF now so people can download the work and keep it for themselves, and I read as many books as possible on Kindle when I buy them. 

Q. Is there any advice you would like to give budding haiku and senryu poets?

A: WRITE! Write every day! You will write many weak and some downright awful poems. Keep them all!!! A phrase from one, or a fragment of another may complete the 'perfect' poem at some point in the future. Also, don't worry when a poem is not accepted, just keep submitting, and don't let anyone tell you 'how' to write. Let your own style and approach to the entire 'genre' of haikai come out of YOU!

Thank you so much Mike for your time. It was interesting to talk to you. Wish you the best in your future endeavours to build and strengthen the haiku and senryu community and encourage poets of haiku and senryu verse. 



Tete-a-Tete: Mike Rehling: Feature Story
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