Waves of Influence: Paul O. Williams

Previously unpublished. I shared an earlier version of the following text in June of 2009, the month Paul O. Williams died, through email and other online venues. I added the first and third poems in April of 2015 (the middle poem is by Paul). You can read more about Paul at his Wikipedia, Fantastic Fiction, and Internet Speculative Fiction Database pages. See also my introduction, written with Lee Gurga, for his book The Nick of Time.  I also wrote the foreword to Paul’s tanka book, These Audacious Maples. See also “The Haiku Poetics of Paul O. Williams: The Art of Discovering an Aura” by Randy Brooks, from Modern Haiku 48:3, Autumn 2017, pages 43–52. And see also “On a First-Name Basis.”       +

Paul O. Williams

17 January 1935 – 2 June 2009

It is with a heavy heart that I share the news that haiku pioneer Paul O. Williams has passed away. He was a past president of the Haiku Society of America, the Haiku Poets of Northern California, and of the Thoreau Society. He was also a well-published science-fiction novelist, with nine novels to his credit (in 1983 he won the Campbell Award for Best New Science Fiction Author). Paul was also one of the founders of the Haiku Poets of Northern California, founding editor of Woodnotes haiku journal, past vice president of the Tanka Society of America, and a fine writer of haiku, tanka, and longer poetry. He was also a well-loved professor, with a PhD in English, and had written historical fiction as well as at least two history books.

                Thoreau’s cabin—

                his name on a stone

                added to the cairn

Paul’s best-known haiku, one of the truly great, classic haiku ever written in the English language, was originally written as a memorial for Nicholas Virgilio when Nick died in 1989. It is now a fitting memorial for Paul himself:

                gone from the woods

                      the bird I knew

                            by song alone

For many years when I lived in California, Paul was my nearest haiku neighbour. It was also my privilege to have published his book The Nick of Time: Essays on Haiku Aesthetics (the book I’m most proud to have published with my press, Press Here), and to have written the foreword to his most recent book, a collection of tanka, Those Audacious Maples. He passed away suddenly on Tuesday, 2 June 2009, at the age of 74, just two days after having given a haiku workshop at Mercy Center in Burlingame, California. Although many haiku poets might not have known Paul personally, they have surely read his poems in journals and anthologies, or have been influenced, as have so many people, by his landmark essays on haiku.

                dimming sunset—

                beyond what I can see

                the ocean goes on