Straley’s collection of seasonal haikus is the first of four due out this year from Shorefast Editions. (Norm Campbell illustration)

Sitka-based crime novelist John Straley has a new book — of haiku poems. Straley’s 100 Poems of Spring,published by Shorefast Editions, is available in bookstores.

KCAW’s Robert Woolsey spoke with Straley, and the book’s illustrator, Norm Campbell.

Downloadable audio.

John Straley will read from 100 Poems of Spring, and Norm Campbell will discuss his art, 6:30 p.m. Wednesday April 5 at Old Harbor Books.

You already know that a haiku poem traditionally has seventeen syllables. Usually in three lines of 5, 7, and 5 syllables each.

You probably also know that John Straley, an Alaska Writer Laureate, is not very traditional — or usual.

Pale light shining on
the wet blueberry bushes
stil I, take my pills.

“I write a haiku poem every day. Just to try to capture the moment and to avoid my own soggy ego problems.”

Herring fishermen
drinking in the bars at night
fish scales in their beards.

Many of Straley’s haikus were inspired while sitting in his yard on Sitka’s waterfront. Once a regular blogger, Straley felt the 2016 election like “a gut punch.” Although he may return to blogging, he continues to write haiku. “I saw a thrush singing, and it told me that soon the songbirds will be here,” Straley says. “I chose to write about that, and think about that, and leave my half-baked political opinions rest awhile.” (Shorefast Editions photo)

“The qualities of haiku should have all the qualities of good writing: It should be brief. It should be crystal clear, and it shouldn’t show off the talents of the poet.”

Straley’s collection is the first of four volumes — one for each season. He began his daily haiku practice years ago; often he’d write an essay for his blog, and then attach a haiku as a postscript.

But blogging embodies too much ego. Haiku is pure expression.

“Your ego should be opaque in the poem. No big words. No fancy words. Nothing that says, Oh that poet is clever!”

“The haiku always comes first and then I react to that,” says Norm Campbell, Straley’s illustrator.

“I try to let myself go and to really — I hate to say this — get into it, but the images are often so rich and so interesting that it’s hard not to.”

100 Poems of Spring is not illustrated in the conventional sense. Campbell’s line drawings are not visual aids to the poems.

“When John and I first started working together, that’s what I thought my role in this was: To give a visual image to his words. But I don’t think that’s necessarily true anymore. What John would prefer is that I catch the spirit of what he’s doing, and not so much create a specific place to be where someone has to look at them.”

Gulls sing
over herring egg rocks
and taxes are due.

“When you write a haiku every day you have to come up with a lot of different words for rain. But the rain is different if you pay attention every day, and the smells of the different seasons. That smell in late August when the fish have stopped running, and that rotten fish smell along Indian River really pinpoints the season.”

While Straley was working on his haiku collection, he contributed work to his wife Jan’s anthology of essays on the biologist Ed Ricketts, of Cannery Row fame; he completed his tenth novel, Baby’s First Felony, which is a return to the story of fictional detective Cecil Younger, and he began a biography of Sitka veterinarian–dive fisherman–lighthouse builder Burgess Bauder.

The whole time, though, Straley never stopped paying attention to the haiku, and looking for that moment when the ego becomes opaque.

Warm day, walking home
ravens eating corndogs in
in the back of a truck.

Straley’s other three volumes of haiku will be out later this year. His publisher, Shorefast Editions, he laughs, has required him to mention a corn dog in every book.