Interview with Jean Vengua, inaugural anthologist of the Hay(na)ku, a 21st century poetry form
by Ariadne Unst

* History. * Example. * Form.
* Eileen Tabios, mother of Hay(na)ku. * Eileen Tabios The Singer and Others: Flamenco Hay(na)ku.
* Ernesto Priego.
* Interview with Jean Vengua, anthologist of Hay(na)ku.
* Your Composition. * References on Form.

Also see the poetry of Jean Vengua.

Eileen Tabios invented the Hay(na)ku. Jean Vengua and Mark Young are the editors of the first-ever printed anthology of Hay(na)ku.


[AU] Who asked you to edit the anthology?

[JV] Eileen Tabios (of asked Mark Young and me.

[AU] Why are there two publishers and what is the relationship between them?

[JV] Jukka-Pekka and Eileen are both very active on the Internet, and in publishing and writing poetry. They are both visual and conceptual artists, as well. Also, Jukka-Pekka and Mark Young have collaborated on the Oracular Sonnets ( and on Poles Apart ( I've worked with Eileen on a couple of projects. just seems "natural" to me that we should all work together in this project. The Internet makes it possible.

Also, Eileen wanted this anthology to be a global, rather an a local project, to reflect the diasporic movement of the form, which initially gained gained popularity on a Filipino listserv, and then spread into the blog world.

[AU] What was the most interesting aspect of putting the anthology together?

[JV] It was a interesting challenge to edit an anthology with someone (Mark Young) whom I've never met in person. We did our editing completely by e-mail. We didn't even talk on the phone. I have tremendous respect for his writing and poetry though, so this was a great chance to work with him.

I've never met Jukka-Pekka either, but he has published my poetry in his experimental poetry magazine, xStream (, and I'm always interested in his various on-line art and sound projects. All communication with Jukka and Eileen was also by e-mail for this project. Of course, it was also fascinating to receive new hay(na)ku submissions every month.

[AU] What was the weirdest thing that happened in putting the anthology together?

[JV] The weirdest thing happened about two years prior to editing the anthology, before I "met" Mark on-line. I had a dream in which a man from New Zealand taught a writing workshop in which I was participating, and invited a friend and myself to share a beer with him. At the time, I thought -- who is this guy? Why on earth someone from New Zealand?

A couple years later, I became aware of Mark's website on-line, and saw a photograph. Same guy from the dream -- and Mark's originally from New Zealand!

[AU] Hay(na)ku is a word-count ("isoverbal prosody") form. Why are word-count forms so rare in the west? [One of the few instances worldwide is by the ancient Chinese. They wrote poems with the same number of word symbols per line, presumably for visual effect.]

[JV] I really don't know why.

However, I don't think the hay(na)ku has any more affinity to the peculiar sound-stresses of English than with any other language. The arbitrariness of word count would seem to leave things wide open for content, syllabic play, and a variety of languages -- at least with the hay(na)ku (rather than, say, the haiku). And because of this, I think the hay(na)ku is a good (if challenging) container for conceptual writing. It's a very "light" form, structurally; one doesn't feel burdened by it.

[AU] Are there any forms of word-count poetry previously in the Philippines?

[JV] I don't know of any. Most Filipino forms employ rhyme and syllable counts, like the tanaga. It has four lines, each line having seven syllables each, and the same rhyme at the end of each line. It's a 7777 syllable form, with an AAAA rhyme pattern. (See

As far as I know, the tanaga seems more or less indigenous. As reported by Bienvenido Lumbera, Noceda and Sanlúcar in 1754 write that the tanaga is a: "poesía muy alta en tagalo, compuestas de siete sílabas, y cuatro versos, llena de metáforas." They probably compiled their examples from a collection of poetry published in 1593. Tanaga is an abbreviation of the word, talinghaga.

[AU] To what extent does the word-count form arise because of the blog environment, where poems are shared primarily as words to be read rather than sounds to be heard?

[JV] ! That's an interesting question. I suspect that the blog environment doesn't have so much to do with the creation of hay(na)ku as a word-count form, as it does the dissemination of it globally. Others might disagree with me. Eileen's inspiration for the word count came from two decidedly pre-Internet sources: a character in a Richard Brautigan novel, and a note by Jack Kerouac in his Selected Letters, suggesting that American haiku should have no more than three words to a line.

Many or most of the poets who have written in this form also do readings. So I don't think that poems that appear on-line have any less potential for reading than poems appearing in print.

[AU] Does your mind "work" differently when using word-count instead of syllable or stress counting?

[JV] The count, obviously, is always in mind. There's no room to spew out a string of words before counting, because the counting has to start now. One is always thinking about whether the word will fit into the line, and if not, what will happen if you unpack the word, and take it apart, piece by piece. So, I find that I have more of a tendency to deconstruct each word even before I write it.

Also, there's no room to develop a rhythm that will carry you to the end of the line. The concept, image, idea, has to be packed into one word, two words, or three words! That's all you have for any one stanza.

Then, one is always turning things upside down and right-side up: If the 1-2-3 count doesn't work with what you want to say, then you try inversion: 3-2-1.

[AU] You once told me that you have dyscalculia. Is an added attraction of the hay(na)ku for you related to the numbers being small (1, 2, 3) so [I am speculating] your dycalculia does not kick in?

[JV] You got it. It's great for people with short term memories, too!

[AU] What is the difference in 'function' of a 3-line hay(na)ku and a poem made of multiple hay(na)ku? Do they serve different purposes for the poet? Are they both called hay(na)ku?

[JV] Extending the hay(na)ku into multiple stanzas serves the purposes of extending an idea or theme, and sometimes one simply can't stop at just one. You need to have multiple stanzas in collaborative hay(na)ku, also, like the ones that have appeared in the As-Is blog (,

[AU] What was the first hay(na)ku you had published?

[JV] I have no idea. But it was probably on-line. Probably in the As-Is collaborative blog,

[AU] What is your favorite-of-all-time hay(na)ku that you have written?

[JV] I don't think I'm such a great hay(na)ku writer; I much prefer hay(na)ku written by others. OK, here's one I like:


   the fly
   in my smoothie

(See what I mean?)

[AU] What is your favorite-of-all-time hay(na)ku written by someone else?

[JV] I won't name a single all-time favorite; I don't even think I have just one. Although, certainly many of my favorites are included in the First Hay(na)ku Anthology. There are some favorites of mine also among some hay(na)ku that have yet to be seen in print, For example, "Wittgenstein Etudes," by Tom Beckett ( And Lorna Dee Cervantes ( has written some interesting ones.

[AU] Is the plural of hay(na)ku also hay(na)ku (like haiku is plural as well as singular)?

[JV] The plural of hay(na)ku is hay(na)ku.

[AU] How do you go about writing hay(na)ku?


   find it
   best to be
   full when
   writing an hay(na)ku
   has to
   be opportunistic -- see?   

[AU] I notice you say "an hay(na)ku". Can you talk about how you pronounce the word?

[JV] The "hay" in hay(na)ku is pronounced like a long "I," as in Aeeiii!, and as in the Spanish "Ay, que lastima!"

[AU] Can you say more on how you go about writing hay(na)ku?

[JV] Take a deep breath. Relax. Write.

I think that I learned to write hay(na)ku by using it to correspond with others on-line. Bloggers occasionally write to each other in this form, as though it were a special language; certain types of commentary or response seem to demand a poetic form. It's a good way to start. In fact, the hay(na)ku has been the bond for many on-line friendships.

Take this wonderful poem written by Ernesto Priego (blogger at upon receiving his copy (on 12/14/05) of the Anthology. It gives you some sense of how the hay(na)ku is almost more than just a poetic form practiced by individuals, but, under the right circumstances, also a kind of communal, epistolary form: [Published by permission of Ernesto Priego]:

[For Eileen, Mark, Jean, the t[h]ree of you]

("Because we met at dusk"
-Allen Ginsberg)

las gracias
means giving nothing

the Grace
with a capital

the utter
fabulous, unprecedented joy

receiving this,
a new book,

new, yet-
not so new,

inebriated, not
imagined, thought before;

you really
think about it

but resulting
from true friendship,

of poetry,
the old communion

strangers, all
in love indeed

capital letters,
simple yet profound,

& tree,
potency & outcome,

bridge that
crosses unfathomable abysses

islands, languages,
lines, stanzas, all

over by
intense, honest emotion:

priceless gift
of this poetry,

in leafs,
estas hojas blancas,

libro, what 
can be hold,

hands in
a sisterly, brotherly

even more:
a heartfelt embrace.

[AU] When you read hay(na)ku aloud, do you read the line breaks, or just read the sense/punctuation?

[JV] I read the line breaks. One finds very little punctuation in hay(na)ku.

[AU] What did I not ask but would have been a killer question??

[JV] What's the mothership of all hay(na)ku blogs? That would be the appropriately named Hay(na)ku blog, by Eileen Tabios, at This is a good place to go to find out the latest news in hay(na)ku poetry; you'll find there reviews of hay(na)ku; a growing list of bloggers who regularly post hay(na)ku; you'll even find animated hay(na)ku, and visual hay(na)ku. Enjoy...


The First Hay(na)ku Anthology introduces the new poetic form, the hay(na)ku, invented by Eileen Tabios (with inspiration from Richard Brautigan, Jack Kerouac, and meditations on the Filipino transcolonial and diasporic experience). Poems and essays by 38 poets.

The Singer and Others: Flamenco Hay(na)ku by Eileen Tabios.

The Jean Vengua Interview.

Jean Vengua made time from her book tour to talk to our interviewer Ariadne Unst about Hay(na)ku and The First Hay(na)ku Anthology. Here is the transcript.

[Thanks for visiting.]