John Wills

John Wills, about 1970

John Wills (born John Howard Wills, July 4, 1921, Los Angeles, California, U.S.A.; died September 24, 1993, Naples, Florida), American educator, essayist, and pioneering haiku poet. His work was a major influence in the development of American haiku, and he is considered by many to be the foremost nature poet in English-language haiku.

John Wills’s impact on the haiku world of his time was close to spectacular. Within three years after penning his first haiku-like poems, he had published five books containing a total of more than 500 haiku. His skillful writing quickly captured the attention of other poets in the flourishing haiku community of the late 1960s and early 1970s. He joined the ranks of writers such as Harold G. Henderson, James W. Hackett, Eric W. Amann, Elizabeth Searle Lamb, Nick Virgilio, William J. Higginson, Robert Spiess, Cor van den Heuvel—and, of course, his wife Marlene Morelock Wills—to name just a few of the poets whose names are now synonymous with the foundation of North American haiku.


John Wills was born July 4, 1921 in Los Angeles, California, son of Harold H. Wills, a railroad clerk, and Frances A. Morehead. About 1925 the family moved to the suburbs of St. Louis, Missouri, where John was reared. He spent summers with his grandparents on the shores of Lake Michigan.

Wills enlisted as a private in the U.S. Army in October 1941. At that time he had completed two years of college and was working as a stock clerk. He performed his service during World War II in the Coast Artillery Corps or Army Mine Planter Service.

After the war, on May 3, 1947, Wills married Helen Louise Crossman in Randolph County, Arkansas. A daughter, Diana Louise, was born in Saint Louis in 1952.1 Wills returned to college and earned an MA degree in literature from the University of Chicago in 1951 and a PhD in 1961 from Washington University in St. Louis. For the next 20 years he taught English and American literature at colleges and universities in Ohio, Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota, North Carolina, Georgia, and Tennessee and published critical essays in academic journals on T. S. Eliot, Joseph Conrad, and other writers.

Helen Wills died in 1966, and on November 26, 1966, in Duluth, Minnesota, he married artist, photographer, and poet Marlene N. Morelock, 19 years his junior. John and Marlene Wills spent academic year 1967–1968 in Wilmington, North Carolina, and their son, Jason Howard Wills, was born there on July 5, 1967.

In August 1968, Wills accepted a teaching position at Georgia Southern College, and the family moved to a small farm in Statesboro, Georgia, on which they raised exotic and domestic fowl.

Marlene, Jason, and John Wills on the plane to Japan, 1970

Wills was awarded a faculty research grant from the college, and in June 1970 the family traveled to Matsuyama, Japan. That summer was spent studying and writing haiku in the birthplace of the Japanese master Masaoka Shiki. Wills would later say, in a 1976 interview with Michael McClintock published in Modern Haiku, “We have [learned] and still do learn from the Japanese, of course, and from Western literature, too. But we must after that write our own poetry, there’s no other way.”

In 1971 Wills accepted a position at East Tennessee State University in Johnson City and moved the family to a 100-acre farm in the Tennessee mountains. Two years later John quit his teaching job so the couple could attempt to live off the land, their writing, and Marlene’s art. Their enthusiasm for this endeavor is apparent in this excerpt from a letter Wills wrote to Cor van den Heuvel in August 1973 that is included in the introduction to Mountain:

My pay here … ends in September, and so the great adventure begins. We’ve been freezing corn, beans, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, eggplant, brussels sprouts, beets, peas, squash, etc., etc. Potatoes are still in the ground, cukes and tomatoes on the vines, grouse on the wing, etc. We hope to sell a few worms, ferns, bonsai. And manuscripts!

They named their farm “Sweetwater.” During their great adventure the Willses marketed home-grown produce, logged trees, cultivated bonsai, and sold greeting cards with John’s haiku and Marlene’s sketches. John also taught a few creative writing courses. In what would amount to nearly his entire income for 1974, he received a $500 grant from PEN America and was paid $200 for the haiku of his selected for van den Heuvel’s The Haiku Anthology. Certainly, the dream of living off the land had proved more challenging than anticipated.


In the mid-1960s very little Japanese haiku was available in translation, and there were even fewer original English-language haiku in print. Against this backdrop of comparatively limited resources, John Wills’s impact on the contemporary haiku community becomes even more impressive.

John had made a few attempts at writing haiku in 1965 after Marlene introduced him to The Way of Zen by Alan Watts, believing he might appreciate how Zen could affect the “space” and minimalism of haiku, as she believed it informed the way that she painted. Later, though, she mentioned in online correspondence with Jane Reichhold that he showed little interest beyond those few attempts. Two or three years later he came across the Peter Pauper Press books of haiku translations and again made a few very rough attempts at composing original haiku of his own.

In late 1968, a colleague presented John and Marlene with some issues of American Haiku, the first English-language journal devoted entirely to haiku. This is likely the first time Wills encountered serious attempts at haiku in English. It was there that he read Nick Virgilio’s “bass” haiku,2

     picking bugs
          off the moon!

He was inspired to take haiku seriously and the desire to master haiku was sparked. Wills began studying the genre in earnest, reading books of translations by R. H. BlythHarold G. Henderson, and others. 

One of Wills’s first published haiku appeared in Haiku Spotlight 27 (March 29, 1969), a periodical published in Japan that consisted of weekly postcards:3

In late March
     old snow retreating
         to the bushes 

Within a few months, Wills’s work was appearing in the few haiku journals active in North America in the 1970s and 1980s, although he soon began reserving most of his work for his chapbooks. Wills’s haiku could be found in journals such as Amoskeag, Brussels Sprout, Cicada, Frogpond, Haiku Magazine, Haiku Spotlight, Haiku West, Poetry Nippon, Janus & SCTH, Seer Ox, and most frequently, Modern Haiku.


He published his first chapbook, Weathervanes, in 1969. The book contained 114 poems, and was reviewed by Robert Spiess in the premiere issue of Modern Haiku. Spiess observed that Wills’s haiku “range broadly and are recorded with expressive fidelity.… His insight into the realm of nature … is acute and responsive, and he evocatively portrays his perceptions in his haiku,” even while acknowledging that “a number of [them] fall short of the criteria for truly great haiku. In particular, Spiess cites examples that are merely “a sentence in three lines,” for example:

The bluebird bubbling
     along the fence echoes
         the meadow freshet.

Nothing remains
     of the snowy owl
          but his shadow.

Another formatting difficulty that Spiess noticed was Wills’s occasional tendency to break the second line such that “the haiku reads as a balanced couplet instead of having that asymmetric aspect that is one of the primal esthetic qualities of haiku,” as in this verse:

     in the cistern … deeper
          than his bellow.

Spiess made the interesting observation that in Weathervanes Wills made perhaps too much use of one of the human senses: 72% of the haiku in the book were “sight-oriented alone.” Spiess compared this figure to the 50% in contemporaneous collections published by Foster Jewell and O Mabson Southard. On the other hand, Wills used the tactile sense more often than did the other two poets: in 25% of his haiku compared to 10% by Jewell and 14% by Southard.

Weathervanes was also reviewed in the Summer/Fall 1969 issue of the Canadian journal Haiku by editor Eric W. Amann, who had written the introduction. Amann noted that “Wills writes haiku with a free and natural rhythm, far removed from the rigid artificialities of the syllable counters.” Amann added, “Many of [his] images achieve the delicate coloring of Buson,” and included this example:

Late winter dawn …
       Between the snow and snow …
              the pencilled woods.4

In what became a signature practice, Wills worked and reworked this haiku, attempting to capture an obviously mesmerizing scene as faithfully and efficiently as possible. He realized that “winter” in the first line was redundant because of “snow” in the second, so for Reed Shadows (1987) he made the most significant change:

first light
between the snow and snow
the pencilled woods

Despite some growing pains, Weathervanes included many fine haiku that reflected a distinctive excellence making them instant classics. One might point to

In an upstairs room
       of the abandoned farmhouse
              a doll moon-gazing.

A bittern booms …
       In the silence that follows
              the smell of the marsh.

Wills quickly set about revising some of the poems from Weathervanes, with the curious result that two haiku appeared in two different versions in the same issue of Haiku Magazine, once in the section for new haiku and again in the book review. For example, this one in the book:

Atop the pilings,
        wearing the sea in his eyes …
                ancient harbor gull.

and this version in Amann’s review:

Atop the pilings …
wearing the sea in his eyes —
old harbor gull.

Back Country

Wills’s second book, Back Country, followed Weathervanes a few months later. In that same year (1969), two of his haiku were included in Amann’s classic treatise The Wordless Poem, published as a special edition of Haiku Magazine (and republished in 1978 and 2021). Amann stated that Weathervanes and Back Country were among the “best haiku books that have appeared in any form.” One sample:

The hills
       release the summer clouds
               one … by one … by one …

Wills would often use—perhaps he even invented—the device of repetition and pauses within a haiku to pace the reading. The verse scans wonderfully and the third line makes ”The hills” come across as a languid, summertime haiku. 

November evening—
         the faintest tick of snow
                upon the cornstalks.

Sensitivity to sound was now a factor in Wills’s haiku. The combination of sound and mood in “November evening” is pure music: the faintest click of the “k” sound in “tick” and “cornstalks” and the alliteration with “o” sounds in “November,” “snow,” and “corn.” Wills’s words create a somber mood as that faint sound travels over a bare landscape.

Reviewing Back Country in Modern Haiku 1:2, Gustave Keyser pointed out, “John Wills’ haiku technique is one of directness and utter simplicity. He presents the key elements of the haiku experience precisely.” Keyser offered the following examples, both of which introduce a startling perspective on a natural scene:

The captive fox …
     Seeing him crouching there
          behind his eyes.

Somewhere beyond
     the end of the world …
          a loon.

On matters of form, Keyser wrote, “Throughout Back Country, John Wills displays a sound knowledge of the classical ramifications of haiku. He does not, however, adhere to a rigid syllabic form. Nor does he thrust interpretative signposts before the reader. There is not one personal pronoun in this entire collection of 105 haiku!” We might add that only one haiku in the book is written in the 5–7–5–syllable format and the first line of 18 of the 105 haiku in Back Country comprise a single word.

Keyser continued, echoing the earlier Spiess review, “There are pitfalls, however, in his austere technique. At times, there occurs only a single line, or a couplet, broken into three parts. Usually, the result is a closed descriptive statement which precludes reader participation. But there are only a small number of these in the book; and significantly, fewer than were in Wills’ first book, Weathervanes.”

Anita Virgil, writing in Haiku West 1:4, was even more enthusiastic about Back County:

Different from WEATHERVANES (published earlier in 1969) where Will’s potential was evident, where many beautiful haiku appeared, but where, to my mind, the man’s style often overpowered his subject, resulting in predictable handling of the poems, this new collection is as varied as the specific experiences demand. Wills seems more conscious of the identity of his subjects. Always adroit at capturing gesture, he now concerns himself with mastery of more skills. These poems are rich combinations of techniques the sensitive poet employs to extend meaning.

Virgil invited readers to examine the first of these two haiku for the poet’s skillful use of sound, enjambment, and verbs, and the second, which demonstrates how a poem’s tempo can reinforce action:

Flapping away
     the chilly sea … an osprey
          climbs the wind. 

Evening comes
     with grackles
          in the elms.

For Weathervanes and Back Country, Wills seems to have gathered together nearly everything he had recently written. His determination to “get it right” helps explain why, as his knowledge and skill increased, he repeatedly circled back to previously published haiku to fully develop the potential of each one. In the 1976 interview with Michael McClintock, Wills acknowledged that he had written his share of weak poems. He laughed, saying, “[S]ome of the very early work! Really awful! But I was learning. I was changing my life.… This was new to me, exciting.” Traces of those early efforts are apparent in later writings, and many were transformed into his strongest poems.


Wills’s third book, River (1970), differs significantly from the first two. The format is unusual: each haiku is displayed on a single page 13 inches long by 5 inches high. The book is beautifully calligraphed and illustrated by Marlene, with drawings in the sumi-e tradition:

It seems likely that Marlene was also responsible for the unusual format of the book; her own The Old Tin Roof (1976) was published in a similar elongated (8½˝ x 3¾”) format.

The haiku in River reflect the sensibility of a poet so attuned to the natural world that the simplest observation suddenly resonates with deep meaning:

where the river goes
   first day of spring

Eric Amann wrote the introduction to River, remarking on the qualities of “spontaneity and effortless ease … a lightness of touch, a freedom of movement, a spacious openness that is in direct line with the great Japanese tradition.” He wrote that he regarded John Wills as “one of America’s most promising haiku poets.” Amann also reviewed the book for Modern Haiku:

Those familiar with Wills’ previous work will already know that he is not a member of the sentimental school of haiku writing, which still dominates much of Western haiku literature today. His concern is not to impress the reader with verbal brilliance, flashes of ornament and metaphor and farfetched conceits. Instead, he seeks to express that particular state of consciousness which Basho, through his studies of Zen, came to regard as the core of the haiku experience.

      below the falls
a leaping trout scatters
     the morning mist 
     flooded fields
a bloated cow bobbing
    against the fence

Many readers will undoubtedly find the first of these haiku poetic and beautiful, the second revolting and utterly devoid of poetic merit. The reader, however, who has gained some insight into the relationship between Zen and haiku, will draw no such distinction and view both images with an equal, undivided mind. For Basho poetry existed everywhere and anytime. Every sight, every sound, every fragment of reality are parts of the great totality of Being, and hence potentially poetic and religious. It is the genius of the great haiku poet that he can make us aware of this potentiality in the most unlikely places.

again today
     the river
          on its bed 
another river
     somewhere down
          inside me

Here, in these “wordless poems” the haiku of John Wills reaches a perfection seldom achieved by Western haiku poets who usually lose the experience in a welter of words. Here the poet is merely a mirror. Words become almost superflous. Not a single syllable could be added or taken away. The one-ness of man and nature, the continuity of the inner and the outer worlds, find expression in the image of the river that flows in us and through us. Do not look to the poet for an explanation. Everything has been said in six or seven words—the rest is already within you, waiting to be awakened.

The Young Leaves

With River, Wills had found his true haiku voice. What a contrast, then, when later that same year (1970) he released The Young Leaves: Haiku of Spring and Summer. Unlike Wills’s chapbooks, this volume was “Published under the Direction of the Graduate School, Georgia Southern College” in the garb of an academic study. A banner, “The Marvin S. Pittman Studies,” dominates the cover. The contents were prepared on an IBM Selectric typewriter and presented uniformly in a stair-stepped format with beginning capital letters and terminal periods or other punctuation. In sum, one could conclude that The Young Leaves was not the labor of love that Wills’s previous books had been; perhaps it was a labor of necessity to fulfill his obligations to the college.

Wills provided a revealing Introduction to the volume in which he presented the principles to which the Japanese haiku masters adhered, including WordlessnessObjectivity, Selflessness, Simplicity, and Oneness, and cites several haiku by these masters as examples. The book is illustrated with sumi-e sketches by Marlene Morelock Wills.

The Young Leaves comprises 116 mostly new haiku that are dramatically different in style and content from Wills’s previous publications. For example, there are dozens of shasei (sketches from life) haiku set forth with no apparent intent other than to simply jot down whatever caught his eye:

   yellow butterflies,
      and puddles.

Sometimes there is an attempt at poesy:

Summer evening—
     little scoops of shadow
          on the pasture.

and some apparent tension:

Across the fields
     a live oak grove,
          with smoke.

The more remarkable poems stand out by dint of contrast to the more mundane. Some explore the diversity of sameness:

Spring day—
     and every grass blade just the same
          as last year

and differences:

Spring warblers—
     an hour after dawn
         they take on names.

A few call to mind the Japanese masters:

     on the meadow grass …
         this time tomorrow?

Summer evening—
      beside the dry stream bed …
         a rasping cricket.

Wills’s penchant for revision resulted in some definite improvements over previous versions, as in this haiku, a variation of which had appeared in Haiku Magazine as Chicken clumped / beneath the porch: / the spring rain. As revised it read like this:

The spring rain—
    dusty chickens clumped
          beneath the porch.

It was inevitable that The Young Leaves would be compared to the three books that preceded it, especially the highly successful River. The reviews were mixed. Anita Virgil, who had been enthusiastic about Back Country, found little to praise. In a review for Haiku 5:2 (1971), she wrote, 

Wills’ fourth book of haiku since 1969, starts off well with an introductory essay on haiku by the author. It assured me that his understanding and appreciation of haiku and my own are not in disharmony.… Yet once into Wills’ book I found myself rapidly tiring of its shallowness, especially after the high standards set by his earlier three books.… The dozen or so beautiful poems which should have served as the nucleus for a later, more select collection are … lost in the others.”

Michael McClintock, however, writing in Modern Haiku 2:2 (1971), suggested the book might offer more, that it

is a book which cannot be fairly dealt with in any kind of “good” or “bad,” two-term dialectic. While our immediate impression may be that Wills’ élan vital—so strongly evinced in his earlier work—is not present here, subsequent readings may allow the possibility that our disappointment arises more out of our own unpreparedness than from the poems themselves, that here John Wills is attempting something new, and that we would do well to discover what it is that makes this collection, on reflection, unfamiliar and exciting in its own way.

McClintock pointed out weaknesses but concluded that The Young Leaves is a “highly recommended addition to American haiku literature,” and that “Wills comes to us as a poet of outstanding interest.”

It may be an indication of success, or lack of it, that no haiku from the The Young Leaves were included by Cor van den Heuvel in his highly influential The Haiku Anthology (1st edition, 1974), whereas three haiku were selected from Weathervanes and Back Country and fully eleven from River. Also, The Young Leaves was not reviewed in the haiku journals.


In the publication of Cornstubble: Haiku of Fall and Winter (1971), it is clear that Wills was inspired by his time in Japan. The development of his awareness is obvious. Even when little seemed to be happening, he was keenly attuned to sound: the clanging of a rooster, the clatter of a leaf. He seemed especially responsive to color:

Just another day …
but these yellows and browns
in the sunlight!

The poems in Cornstubble were illustrated with Marlene’s photographs and calligraphy. John continued to use initial capitals and terminal periods as was typical for American haiku published at that time. In the following example, he inserted a period at the end of line 1, creating two complete sentences, emphasizing the juxtaposition of two strong images, and perhaps attempting to represent the effect of kireji, “cutting words,” that can indicate the tone or mood of a phrase in a Japanese haiku:

              A dog fox barks.
The snow lies deep
        in the hills.

Later, for his collection Reed Shadows, Wills removed these distracting elements and presented the haiku more simply, trusting the reader to find the pause:

a dog fox barks
the snow lies deep
in the hills

About this time Wills also discovered the exclamation point, and he used it liberally in Cornstubble in kireji-like fashion. In this collection, Wills experimented further with formatting. Poems are stair-stepped in, stair-stepped out, set flush left and flush right; nearly every possible variation in indentation is attempted—third line only, second line only, first and third, etc. Readers might wonder if he intended deep indentations to amplify meaning, as here:

                  Flakes of snow
stick to the wind
                   a moment.

But that seems unlikely, since in Reed Shadows, he republished or revised many of these poems, eliminating all punctuation and unusual formatting. 

Though there are many quiet moments, some are vibrant:

                      The marsh
when teal come falling down
                       the sky!

Wills began to take poetic liberties with time. Proponents of English-language haiku (particularly in the United States) had been adamant about the importance of “the haiku moment”—succinctly capturing a moment in time and invariably presenting it in the present tense. Wills did not hesitate to depict continuing action:

Those mums
beside the kitchen door: our dog
keeps piddling on them. 

or to invoke the very recent past:

A moment ago
          a black ant crossed
this chrysanthemum.

He knew how to engage his reader by creating tension, presenting a scene in which something is about to happen:

That scarlet maple!
        A young girl stands before it
                           with her crayons.

Still, most of the 98 haiku in Cornstubble are quietly focused on the here and now and on the “suchness” of the landscape. Even this opening poem carries within it the power to stir the human heart, consciousness, and intellect:

           Golden corn
     and not one wisp
of a cloud.

Michael McClintock, reviewing Cornstubble in Modern Haiku 2:4 (1971), professed some disappointment with the new collection. He noted that much of Wills’s work had “become two-dimensional, general, and too frequently lacking in the remarkable originality and keenness of perception for which Wills first drew the attention and laudation of the haiku community.” He went on to say:

Wills seems to be shifting to a kind of haiku which takes Buson and Shiki as its models and to the adoption of a theory of haiku as descriptive poetry that is akin to Shiki’s shasei-ron and traceable to Buson, whom Shiki emulated. “Too objective” and “too lacking in humanity” are the central, negative criticism with which R. H. Blyth sprinkles his commentary on these two giants of Japanese poetry, in his History of Haiku, and these observations are perhaps transferable to many of the poems in Cornstubble. They are criticisms to which Wills at one time seemed immune.

But McClintock continued: “For those especially interested in the growing body of Wills’ work, as I am, Cornstubble is a collection they cannot be without, for it is crucial to understanding the direction of Wills’ development, which is not without parallel to developments elsewhere in the genre.”

Cornstubble failed to win a glowing review from Anita Virgil, who wrote in Haiku Magazine 5:2 (1971), “Wills gives us 90 more poems with the publication of Cornstubble and, with perhaps five exceptions, most do not venture beyond the ordinary.” Wills would surely have been pleased, however, when she expanded on one of those five exceptions: “But there is one whose subject matter is so familiar that one wonders how in the world it has not been stated before, just so. That is the way I hope to be struck by a haiku, and when it happens it is a moment unto itself, outside of comparisons, relative judgments … it is right. It is art.” Virgil was referring to this poem:

Winter again:
my wife’s hair crackles
under the comb. 

Wills considered Buson to have had the most influence on the direction his poetry would take, and “Winter again” was surely written in respectful allusion to Buson’s classic:

     In the bedroom, I trod
On my dead wife’s comb:
     The cold penetrated my heart.5

Wills showed his interest in Masaoka Shiki when he presented a paper entitled “Shiki” at the December 11, 1973, meeting of the Haiku Society of America (HSA).6 His involvement in the early years of the HSA shows how seriously he took haiku, particularly since most of those meetings were held in New York City, a long and expensive trip from the Willses’ subsistence farm in Tennessee.

In 1975, Marlene suggested that John try writing one-line haiku, and he soon published a sequence of four in McClintock’s new senryu journal Seer Ox 3 (1975):

A Spring Too Many
“Keep out” sign, but the violets keep on going.

The weeds I cut beside the shed in blossom.

About the den of the copperhead, hepatica.

On this glad morning only I am old.

Characteristically he later revised and even reformatted some of these; for example, in Up a Distant Ridge (1980) and Reed Shadows (1987), respectively,

rocky den of the copperhead   hepatica

the rocky den
of the copperhead

In 1976, the HSA invited Wills to participate in an evening program at Japan House in New York with Elizabeth Searle Lamb, Michael McClintock, Tadashi Kondo, and others. On April 4, just before this event, these four poets appeared on the radio with Cor van den Heuvel, William Higginson, and Anita Virgil. In 1978, after HSA Frogpond became the society’s official magazine, Wills served on the selections panel with 15 other prominent haiku poets and translators for determining which submittals to the journal were haiku (dubbed “watersounds”) and which were not (“croaks”).

If the seven years living on their Sweetwater farm were eminently successful in terms of creativity for both John and Marlene, the attempt to make a living there eventually proved too great a challenge. It also took a toll on their relationship, and the marriage ended in 1978. Marlene remained in Tennessee. A year or so earlier she had adopted the name Marlene Mountain, and she went on to ever greater artistic success drawing and writing one-line haiku, notably on feminist and political themes. John Wills traveled through the South, tried his hand for a while at ghost writing and editing, then settled on the Gulf coast of Florida. 

Up a Distant Ridge

Wills continued to explore one-line haiku. His collection of 31 monostiches, Up a Distant Ridge, was accepted as early as 1977 by Roger Matsuo-Allard, who specialized in one-liners, for publication by his First Haiku Press in Manchester, New Hampshire, but publication was delayed three years. The title poem became one of Wills’s most cited:

the sun lights up a distant ridge another

This book drew glowing reviews. Rod Willmot wrote the following for the Canadian journal Cicada 4:3 (1980):

John Wills’ up a distant ridge comes in an unattractive edition, bookmark-shaped and poorly reproduced. But I would rather have the thirty-one haiku here than many a thicker, more luxurious volume. These are poems of very great depth; beyond their technical perfection, they demonstrate that acute observation of suchnesses is not enough, that there must be a sense of the man behind the work, the shaping personality that has itself been shaped by experience.

Wills showed an interesting comparison of motion and stillness:

rain in gusts   below the deadhead troutswirl

and used rhythm in the words that matched the subject:

dusk     from rock to rock a waterthrush

Cor van den Heuvel described “dusk” as follows in a paper prepared for the International Haiku Forum held in Matsuyama, Japan, in 1990:

The way [Wills] evokes the sound and sight of a mountain stream without even mentioning one is a marvelous accomplishment. He does it, of course, through the name of the bird, which contains the word “water.” This is a good example of the wordlessness of haiku. It is my belief that the power of haiku comes from the fact that nature is presented directly—the words do not call attention to themselves as words. They become in a sense invisible as they lead the way to the image they evoke. They cease to exist and so we say the poem is wordless.

In a 1992 Woodnotes article, Canadian poet and editor Elizabeth St Jacques discussed the “dusk” haiku this way: “Flow = rhythm = unity. Surely a formula worth remembering. And John Wills accomplishes it all in nine syllables! Working with motion, texture, and sharp images, Wills creates a lilting quality in this haiku that is vivid, active, and pleasing to the ear and mind.”

Reed Shadows

In his 2013 anthology of English-language nature haiku, Where the River Goes, editor Allan Burns declared Reed Shadows “easily one of the most important haiku collections published to date in North America.”

The Canadian publishers Burnt Lake Press / Black Moss Press brought out John Wills’s Reed Shadows: Selected Haiku in 1987. Of the 234 haiku, 100 were published here for the first time. The material was gathered into seven sections, which when considered all together pretty well define the range of Wills’s poetry: The Fields, The Streams, The Farms, The Rivers, The Forests, The Lakes and Seas, and The Mountains. Robert Spiess, reviewing Reed Shadows in Modern Haiku 19:1, decided to forgo an analysis of the poet’s “acute perceptions and sensibilities and high degree of haiku craftsmanship” and to use the space in the issue to present fourteen haiku, two from each section:7

another step
and half the brush
turns quail 
from Back Country (1969)

november evening
the faintest tick of snow
upon the cornstalks
from Back Country (1969); see commentary above

all at once
a dragonfly    hanging
above the horsetails
from River (1970)

a kingfisher
diving into these rocks
strikes water
from River (1970)

than the wren himself
the wren joy
first publication

winter again
my wife’s hair crackles
under the comb
from Cornstubble (1971); see commentary above

the old cow lags
to loll and splash
spring evening
first publication

on the blowing reeds
one above another
from River (1970)

i wake at dawn
the wood thrush
in my wrist
first publication

looking deeper
and deeper into it
the great beech
from Cicada 1:3 (1977)

a bluegill rises
to the match     wavers
and falls away
from River (1970)

flapping away
the chilly sea     an osprey
climbs the wind 
from Back Country (1969)

magnolia blossoms
putting a sprig in the vase
she darkens the room
first publication

a box of nails
on the shelf of the shed
the cold
from Cicada 1:2 (1977)

Penny Harter was somewhat less coy than Spiess in her appreciation of the book. She wrote, ”Wills’s haiku are most often clear records of moments in which one becomes less himself and more ‘other,’ fusing with whatever he is perceiving. Wills perceives the extraordinary in the ordinary, the timeless in the ephemeral, offering a way out of ourselves and into a much larger and seamless relationship with the natural world around us.”

Harter also had a few reservations about Wills’s work, however, when “too much intellect intrudes,” for example,

dragging dawn
across the ridge 

or haiku such as

a white cloud loafs
in the ravine

that “have too much personification the be truly effective.”

Another review in Frogpond (fittingly titled “Long Shadows”), written by John Stevenson 17 years after the book was published, clearly expressed Reed Shadows’s overall and enduring strength:

There are a few books that I find myself reading periodically as a means of renewing my efforts to write true haiku. Some of them were written by poets who are still living and whose company is a great comfort. And some are the works of poets no longer with us and who may have departed before there was any opportunity to express my gratitude to them. This is the case with John Wills, and particularly with … Reed Shadows. The book contains haiku of a consistently superior order, imbued with extraordinary restraint and uncompromising simplicity and directness. He seems to have faith in his readers and to leave them the task of discovering for themselves what he has experienced. This is a tonic after reading (and writing) so much haiku that tells more than it should. For [many years], I have read Reed Shadows at least once a year and I believe it has steadied me.


Wills’s final book, Mountain, was published in 1993, just before his death. This manuscript was apparently not intended for commercial release. Wally Swist’s review suggests that there was to be “an edition for the public in the future” and that information about it could be obtained from Marlene Mountain. Some have wondered if the title could have been a nod to John’s ex-wife, who had taken the pen name Marlene Mountain, but Wills’s forward to the book does not confirm that: “The poems in my eighth book of haiku, mountain, derive from various times and sources. A good many have been gleaned from my journals of the seventies (a few as far back as 1968). Some of these pieces have been reworked, while others have been left untouched. A large number, also, were written in the eighties, while living in southern Florida, far from the mountains. Happily, however, the mountains still live in me.”

While Mountain does not quite compare to the brilliance of Reed Shadows, it is an invaluable addition to the legacy left by John Wills to the haiku genre. In a review published in Modern Haiku 25:1, Swist wrote:

In the mid-seventies, when this reviewer first began to read and study haiku, the work of John Wills became, and remains, a touchstone. The rich simplicity, felt-depth, and the characteristic of sono mama, “just as it is,” embraced in Wills’s haiku poetry not only holds up to but increases with successive readings.… It was quite insightful of Wills to assemble the work contained in Mountain, and to self-publish it, as this reviewer suspects it is. Otherwise, these haiku may have been lost to us.… Yet, fortunately, we now have Wills’s oeuvre—the poetry of one of contemporary haiku’s most genuine and resonant voices.

Of the more than 300 haiku Wills selected for Mountain, approximately two-thirds were new—and thus potentially lost should the collection not be published. Some examples that were published first in Mountain:

gathering cress
at the water’s edge … 
the coolness

a mountain
lying out upon
the water

after the storm
autumn comes       trembling
over the grasses

one by one
the crows descending … 
autumn dusk

two horses tied
to a chinquapin tree … 
mountains of spring

a song sparrow welcomes 
me home

Wills had been scheduled to make a presentation at the 2nd Haiku North America conference in Livermore, California, in July 1993, but his illness precluded traveling.

John Wills died in September 1993, at Naples Community Hospital, Naples, Florida, at age 72, from emphysema and pneumonia. The major haiku periodicals published obituaries or memorials, and Modern Haiku and Fropond dedicated entire issues to Wills’s memory. A memorial reading was held at the Haiku Society of America quarterly meeting in Seattle, Washington, in December 1993. Marlene Mountain hosted a nature gathering in John’s memory June 17–19, 1994, at the farm in Hampton, Tenn., during which John’s ashes were placed under a favorite tree.8


By the end of his life, Wills had published more than 800 haiku in eight books and several poem cards and greeting cards. That body of work left an indelible mark. His haiku continue to appear in anthologies, articles, and essays. Few haiku poets of his time could match his genius, and fewer still sustained such a high level of solid work. His was a fresh and engaging voice, emerging at a pivotal time in English-language haiku history. His work was significant as the genre began to be taken seriously by mainstream poets and editors, and it continues to influence new generations of haiku poets.

Cor van den Heuvel noted in the second edition ofThe Haiku Anthology (1986) that Wills “found a way of haiku that is closer to nature, more resonant with its mystery and wonder, than the work of perhaps anyone else writing … in whatever genre. With only a few syllables, he creates haiku of such clarity and purity they seem to have come from the hand of nature itself.” In van den Heuvel’s introduction to mountain, he wrote that Wills’s books “were to play an important part in the development of haiku in [the United States]—helping to destroy the mythic rule of the 5–7–5, and showing that haiku could in a modern age still create a oneness with nature and do so in a fresh, vital way.”

Tom Lynch, in his doctoral dissertation, emphasized the Zen-like simplicity of Wills’s project:

Wills’s haiku are all profoundly simple, and his avoidance of most traditional poetic devices leads to his suggestion that the poems contain no hidden meaning. “Nothing’s hidden,” he says. Using Zen terminology, he describes his haiku as a sort of “open barrier”: “Not a new kind of logic or belief but a way of awareness, or seeing, wakefulness … Like Zen, I suppose, haiku teaches us to look at what is before our eyes, to hear, to smell—all of those things that are plainly before us, in plain sight, now and forever …  awake.9 A good example of Wills’s objective-wakeful-style is: hermit thrush at twilight pebbles in the stream. Wills also seeks to attain what he calls “oneness” in his haiku, that is, an elimination of the self-nature distinction. Sometimes he does this by sharing a common experience with some element of external nature. the breeze and i making our way through the grasses The most common way he achieves “oneness” in his haiku, however, is not by an indication of the poet’s presence, but by the total effacement of the poet from the poem. In poems of this type, oneness is achieved by an interfusion of the poet and the natural world, the subject and the object, in such a way that any apparent barriers between them fall away.… Wills’s emphasis on this momentary absorption, perhaps not even a “moment keenly perceived” so much as a “moment keenly experienced” links his theory not only with that of Bashō, but similarly with Emerson’s “brief moments” that contain more authority than all other moments of life.

Lynch also included some rare insight into Wills’s own views about his haiku from an unpublished 1974 essay of Wills’s, “Depth in Haiku”:

Sometimes depth is achieved almost entirely through the intensity of the poet’s emotions; that is, through his utter (if momentary) absorption in some aspect of the world around him.… To write or even to comprehend such poetry as this is to achieve satori.… As a rule, depth in haiku … carries us beyond the world of the logical into the realm of the metaphysical. That is not to say we need sail beyond the galaxies. Like Bashō, we can delve within: strike deep, unearth the Truth in the here and now. Inside nature, yes; but chiefly inside ourselves.

It would be a challenge to find a haiku with more depth than the following example—cited above—that so skillfully incorporates the Japanese aesthetics of yūgen and sabi. And creates a mood that causes shivers at every reading:

a box of nails
on the shelf of the shed
the cold

As prolific as John Wills was, there remains a certain mystery about the man behind the work. The juxtaposition of this distinguished academic seeking to cultivate a living on those 100 acres in Tennessee is caught in this photograph (probably taken by Marlene). The photo was published with the 1976 McClintock interview in Modern Haiku.

John Wills on his Tennessee farm, about 1976

Authors: Billie Wilson, Carolyn Hall, and the Haikupedia editors



      Books and chapbooks

  • Wills, John. Back Country. Statesboro, Ga.: Kenan Press, 1969. 105 haiku.
  • Wills, John. Cornstubble: Haiku of Fall and Winter. Photographs by Marlene Wills. No place [Statesboro, Ga.]: Georgia Southern College, 1971. 97 haiku.
  • Wills, John. Mountain. Introduction by Cor van den Heuvel. Not published for commercial release; printed by Publishing Qual-Tech, 1993. 317 haiku.
  • Wills, John. One Poem. Los Angeles: Seer Ox, 1975? Poemcard.
  • Wills, John. Reed Shadows: Selected Haiku. Preface by Cor van den Heuvel. Introduction by Rod Willmot. Sherbrooke, Que. / Windsor, Ont.: Burnt Lake Press / Black Moss Press, 1987. 235 haiku.
  • Wills, John. River. Introduction by Eric Amann. Drawings by Marlene Wills. Statesboro, Ga.: Herald Commercial Press for Georgia Southern College, 1970; 2nd ed., Elizabethton, Tenn.: Folsom Printing Co., 1976. 95 haiku.
  • Wills, John. Up a Distant Ridge. Manchester, N.H.: First Haiku Press, 1980. 31 one-line haiku.
  • Wills, John. Weathervanes. Edited by Rhoda de Long Jewell; photographs by Marlene Wills. El Rito, N.M.: Sangre de Cristo Press, 1969. 113 haiku.
  • Wills, John. The Young Leaves: Haiku of Spring and Summer. No place [Statesboro, Ga.]: Georgia Southern College, 1970. 122 haiku.
  • Wills, John, and Marlene Mountain. 21 Original American Haiku Greeting Cards: With Envelopes. Hampton, Tenn.: Here and Now Haiku, ©1977. Haiku by John Wills and artwork by Marlene Mountain.

     Periodicals containing Wills’s haiku and senryu

  • American Haiku (1963–1968).
  • Amoskeag: A Magazine of Haiku 1 (1980).
  • Cicada 1:2 and 1:3 (1977) and 4:1 (1980).
  • Frogpond 8:3 (August 1985).
  • Haiku Highlights 6:5 (September–October 1969).
  • Haiku Magazine [Toronto] 2:4 and 3:1+3 (1969); 3:4 and 4:1 (1970); and 4:4 and 5:1 (1971).
  • Haiku Spotlight 27–66 (1969)
  • Haiku West 3:1 (1969), 3:2 (1970), 4:2 (1971); 6:2 (1973), and 8:2 (1975).
  • Modern Haiku 1:1 (1969), 1:2–2:1 (1970), 2:2–2:3 (1971), 3:2 (1972), 4:1 (1973), 5:3 (1974), 6:1–6:2 (1975), 7:4 (1976), 18:1 (1987).
  • Seer Ox 2–4 (1975–1976)

      Haiku sequences, haibun, and haiga

  • Wills, John. “Autumn at Sweetwater.” Modern Haiku 18:1 (Winter–Spring 1987). Sequence of 6 haiku. 
  • Wills, John. “Cormorant Fishing.” Modern Haiku 4:1 (Winter–Spring 1973). Haibun with 5 haiku of Wills’s and one each by Chora and Buson.
  • Wills, John. “Hooray for Pelicans.” Brussels Sprout 4:2 (1986). Sequence of 3 haiku.
  • Wills, John. “Late Autumn, Wabishii.” Seer Ox 4 (1976), Sequence of 4 one-line haiku.
  • Wills, John. “Spring River.” Modern Haiku 6:2 (1975). Sequence of 4 haiku.
  • Wills, John. “Spring River: A Haiku Sequence.” Modern Haiku 7:4 (November 1976). Sequence of 13 haiku.
  • Wills, John. “A Spring Too Many.” Seer Ox 3 (1975). Reprinted in Cor van den Heuvel, “John Wills and One-Line Haiku. III: Three in One or One in Three,” Frogpond 5:3 (1982). 4 one-line haiku.
  • Wills, John. “Summer Day at Sweetwater.” Seer Ox 4 (1976). Sequence of 4 one-line haiku.
  • Wills, John. “Tattered Coat upon a Stick.” Brussels Sprout 4:2 (1986). Sequence of 6 haiku.
  • Wills, John, and Marlene M. Wills. “Three Haiku by John Wills / Haiga by Marlene M. Wills.” Modern Haiku 1:1 (Winter 1969), 21. Haiga.

Wills’s work in anthologies:

  • Barlow, John, and Martin Lucas, eds. The New Haiku. Liverpool, England: Snapshot Press, 2002. 1 haiku.
  • Burns, Allan, ed. Montage: The Book. Winchester, Va.: The Haiku Foundation, 2010.  14 haiku.
  • Burns, Allan, ed. Where the River Goes: The Nature Tradition in English-Language Haiku. Ormskirk, U.K.: Snapshot Press, 1st edition, 2013. 43 haiku.
  • Kacian, Jim, Philip Rowland, and Allan Burns, eds. Haiku in English: The First Hundred Years. Introduction by Billy Collins. New York and London: W. W. Norton & Co., 2013. 14 haiku.
  • Noyes, H. F. Favorite Haiku, Vol. 2. Winchester, Va.: Red Moon Press, 1999. 1 haiku.
  • Noyes, H. F. Favorite Haiku: Vol. 3. Winchester, Va.: Red Moon Press, 2000. 1 haiku.
  • Noyes, H. F. Favorite Haiku: Vol. 4. Winchester, Va.: Red Moon Press, 2001. 1 haiku.
  • Noyes, H. F. Favorite Haiku: Vol. 5: Collected Essays. Winchester, Va.: Red Moon Press, 2002. 1 haiku.
  • Ross, Bruce, ed. Haiku Moment: An Anthology of Contemporary North American Haiku. Boston, Rutland, Vt., and Tokyo: Charles E. Tuttle Co., 1993. 12 haiku.
  • Rotella, Alexis, ed. The Rise and Fall of Sparrows: A Collection of North American Haiku. San Diego, Calif.: Los Hombres Press, 1990.1 haiku.
  • van den Heuvel, Cor, ed. The Haiku Anthology: English Language Haiku by Contemporary American and Canadian Poets. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday Anchor Books, 1974. 22 haiku.
  • van den Heuvel, Cor, ed. The Haiku Anthology: Haiku and Senryu in English. New York, etc.: Simon & Schuster Touchstone, Revised [2nd] edition, 1986, 1991. 33 haiku.
  • van den Heuvel, Cor, ed. The Haiku Anthology: Haiku and Senryu in English. New York and London: W. W. Norton & Co., Expanded [3rd] edition, 1999. 41 haiku.

      Essays and book reviews

  • Wills, John. “Depth in Haiku”  (1974). Unpublished essay, cited in Thomas P. Lynch, “An Original Relation to the Universe: Emersonian Poetics of Immanence and Contemporary American Haiku,” PhD dissertation, University of Oregon, 1989; and in Tom Lynch, “Intersecting Influences in American Haiku,”  Yoshinobu Hakutani, editor, Modernity in East-West Literary Criticism: New Readings (Madison, N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press / London and Cranbury, N.J. : Associated University Presses (2001).
  • Wills, John Howard. “Eliot’s “Journey of the Magi.” The Explicator 12:5 (1954), 70–72. Essay. 
  • Wills, John Howard. “A Neglected Masterpiece: Conrad’s Youth.” Texas Studies in Literature and Language 4:4 (Winter 1963), 591–601. Essay. 
  • Wills, John. “A 2nd Flake, by Anita Virgil.” Modern Haiku 5:3 (Fall 1974), 43. Review. 
  • Wills, John. “Shiki.”  Haiku Society of America Twentieth Anniversary Book Committee, eds, A Haiku Path: The Haiku Society of America 1968–1988 . Presentation at the December 11, 1973, meeting of the Haiku Society of America, New York City, from the Minutes of the meeting and including the subsequent discussion.



  • Estevez, Efren. “Images of John Wills.” Frogpond 27:1 (2004). 3 haiku.
  • Estevez, Efren. “Troutswirl: Art in the Nature Poems of John Wills,” (presentation at the fall 2006 meeting of Northeast Metro Region of the Haiku Society of America). The Haiku Society of America Newsletter 21:4 (2006).17 haiku.
  • Kacian, Jim. “Retrospective—up a distant ridge with John Wills.” South by Southeast  3:1 (1996), 14–18. Includes 6 haiku as well as a two-page addendum, “up a distant ridge: 31 haiku by john wills.”
  • McClintock, Michael. “A Conversation with John Wills.” Modern Haiku 7:2 (Summer 1976).
  • McClintock, Michael. “Eminent Haiku Poets, No. 2 [John Wills].” Haiku Highlights 7:6 (November–December 1970), 8–9. 5 haiku.
  • Segers, Michael L. “Sound in Haiku: Some Notes.” HSA Frogpond 1:3 (August 1978), 27–30. Adapted and reprinted in Haiku Society of America Twentieth Anniversary Book Committee, eds., A Haiku Path: The Haiku Society of America 1968–1988 (1994), 127–30. 1 Wills haiku.
  • van den Heuvel, Cor. “John Wills and One-Line Haiku. I: A Troutswirl Simplicity.” Frogpond 4.4 (1981). Review essay, Up a Distant Ridge; 31 haiku. 
  • van den Heuvel, Cor. “John Wills and One-Line Haiku. II: One-Liners.” Frogpond 5:1 (1982). No Wills haiku.
  • van den Heuvel, Cor. “John Wills and One-Line Haiku. III: Three in One or One in Three.” Frogpond 5:3 (1982). 6 haiku.


  • Amann, Eric. Review of Weathervanes. Haiku Magazine 3:1+3 (Summer/Fall 1969). 4 haiku.
  • Amann, Eric W. “Rivers [sic], by John Wills.” Modern Haiku 1:3 (Summer 1970), 5 haiku.
  • Books Received, Dragonfly 15:2 (Spring 1989). 1 haiku.
  • Brickley, Chuck. “Up a Distant Ridge, by John Wills; Landscapes, by Hotoshi Funaki.” Modern Haiku 11:3 (Autumn 1980). 5 Wills haiku.
  • Cain, Jack. “John Wills: ‘Back Country’.” Haiku Magazine 3:4 (1970), 22–23. 7 haiku.
  • Harter, Penny. “Reed Shadows, by John Wills.” Frogpond 11:4 (November 1988), 39–41. 1 haiku.
  • Keyser, Gustave. “Back Country, by John Wills.” Modern Haiku 1:2 (Spring 1970), 38–39. 3 haiku.
  • Mason, Scott. “Where the River Goes: The Nature Tradition in English-Language Haiku.” Frogpond 37:1 (2014), 148–55. Review. 1 Wills haiku.
  • McClintock, Michael. “Cornstubble: Haiku of Fall and Winter, by John Wills.” Modern Haiku 2:4 (Autumn 1971). 6 haiku.McClintock, Michael. “The Young Leaves: Haiku of Spring and Summer, by John Wills.” Modern Haiku 2:2 (Spring 1971). 5 haiku.
  • Roth, Hal. Books. Wind Chimes 23 [1988?]. Brief review; 3 haiku.
  • Spiess, Robert. “Reed Shadows, by John Wills.” Modern Haiku 19:1 (Winter–Spring 1988). 13 haiku.
  • Spiess, Robert. “Weathervanes, by John Wills.” Modern Haiku 1:1 (Winter 1969). 6 haiku.
  • Stevenson, John. “Long Shadows.” Frogpond 27:1 (2004), 81. Brief review of John Wills, Reed Shadows (1987).
  • Swist, Wally. Review of Mountain by John Wills. Modern Haiku 25:1 (Winter–Spring 1994), 5–7. Review published in conjunction with other materials dedicated to the memory of John Wills. 6 haiku.
  • van den Heuvel, Cor. “John Wills and One-Line Haiku. I: A Troutswirl Simplicity.” Frogpond 4.4 (1981), 30–33. Review essay of Up a Distant Ridge. Includes 31 haiku. 
  • van den Heuvel, Cor. “John Wills and One-Line Haiku. II: One-Liners.” Frogpond 5:1 (1982), 38–45. No Wills haiku. 
  • van den Heuvel, Cor. “John Wills and One-Line Haiku. III: Three in One or One in Three.” Frogpond 5:3 (1982), 38–46. Includes 7 Wills haiku. 
  • Virgil, Anita. “Back Country by John Wills.” Haiku West 4:1 (July 1970). 8 haiku.
  • Virgil, Anita. “The Young Leaves: Haiku of Spring and Summer and Cornstubble: Haiku of Fall and Winter.Haiku [Toronto] 5:2 (Summer 1971). 12 Wills haiku.
  • Willmot, Rod. “The Woodcock’s Beak: Book Review.” Cicada 4:3 (1980), 31–35. Reviews of Wills, Up a Distant Ridge, and five other books.

      Memorials and obituaries

  • Frogpond 17:1 (Spring 1994). Issue dedicated to the memory of John Wills; 1 haiku.
  • Modern Haiku 25:1 (Winter–Spring 1994). Issue dedicated to the memory of John Wills; 5 haiku of Wills’s, and “Tributes to John Wills,” haiku by Marlene Mountain, Elizabeth Searle Lamb, and Wally Swist.
  • “In Memoriam, John Wills, July 4, 1921–Sept. 24, 1993.” Boston Haiku Society News, October 1993. 15 haiku.
  • “John Wills, July 4, 1921–September 24, 1993.” South by Southeast 1:1 (February 1994). 1 haiku.
  • “John Wills: July 4, 1921–September 24, 1993.” Woodnotes 19 (1993), 40. Brief obituary with 1 haiku.
  • “John Wills 1921–1993.”Brussels Sprout 11:1 (1994). 4 haiku.
  • Mountain, Marlene. “John Wills Memorial Nature Gathering.” South by Southeast 1:2 (May 1994), 14. Announcement.


      Haiku history and criticism

  • Avis, Nick. “Haiku and Concrete Poetics.” Modern Haiku 15:3 (Autumn 1984). 1 haiku.
  • Burns, Allan. “Haiku and Cinematic Technique.” Frogpond 30:3 (Fall 2007). Reprinted in Jim Kacian, et al., eds., Dust of Summers: The Red Moon Anthology of English-Language Haiku (2008), 2 haiku.
  • Elliott, David. “Formal Convention in North American Haiku.” Frogpond 24.2 (2001), 59–68. 2 haiku.
  • Haiku Society of America Twentieth Anniversary Book Committee, eds. A Haiku Path: The Haiku Society of America 1968–1988. New York: Haiku Society of America, 1994.
  • Higginson, W. J. “Whatever Happened to Rhythm?” Haiku Highlights 8:5 (September–October 1971). 1 haiku.
  • Kacian, Jim. “The Shape of Things to Come,” Modern Haiku 43:3 (Autumn 2012). Reprinted as “The Shape of Things to Come: Haiku Form Past and Present.”  Peter McDonald, ed., Juxtapositions: The Journal of Haiku Research and Scholarship 1.1 (2015). 1 haiku.
  • Miller, Paul. “Poet’s Toolbox: Synesthesia.” Modern Haiku 44:3 (Autumn 2013), 43–53. Reprinted in Jim Kacian et al., eds., Fear of Dancing: The Red Moon Anthology of English-Language Haiku (2013).  1 haiku.
  • Missias, A. C. “Struggling for Definition.” Frogpond 24.3 (2001). 1 haiku.
  • Ness, Pamela Miller. “The Poet’s Toolbox: Prosody in Haiku.” Modern Haiku 37:2 (Summer 2006). reprinted in Jim Kacian et al., eds., Big Sky: The Red Moon Anthology of English-Language Haiku (2007). 1 haiku.
  • Noyes, H. F. “The Ripe Moment.” South by Southeast 6:2 (1999), 28. 
  • Roseliep, Raymond. “A Time to Rime.” HSA Frogpond 1:1 February 1978). 1 haiku.
  • Sato, Hiroaki. “Haiku in English: Beyond Assumptions.” Frogpond 12:1 (February 1989), 12–17. Refers to Reed Shadows.
  • Sato, Hiroaki. “One Way of Getting Here.” Frogpond 22:3 (1999). Review of Cor van den Heuvel, The Haiku Anthology. 2 haiku.
  • Segers, Michael L. “Sound in Haiku: Some Notes.” HSA Frogpond 1:3 (August 1978), 27–30. 1 haiku.
  • St Jacques, Elizabeth. “The Importance of Rhythm in Haiku.” Woodnotes 15 (Winter 1992), 4–5.
  • van den Heuvel, Cor. “American Haiku’s Future.” Modern Haiku 34:3 (Fall 2003). 1 Wills haiku quoted in discussion of Wally Swist.
  • van den Heuvel, Cor. “Concision, Perception, Awareness—Haiku.” New York Times Sunday Book Review (March 29, 1987); reprinted in Modern Haiku 18:3 (Autumn 1987). 1 haiku.
  • van den Heuvel, Cor. “Haiku Becoming [part II].” HSA Frogpond 1:2 (May 1978), 12–13. 1 haiku.
  • van den Heuvel, Cor. “Nick Virgilio and American Haiku: Creating Haiku and an Audience.” Nick Virgilio Poetry Project website: This paper was prepared for an international haiku forum in 1990, sponsored probably by the Haiku International Association and held in Matsuyama, Japan, but it was never delivered because the author was asked to speak on another subject. 1 haiku.
  • Virgil, Anita. “When is a Haiku? Part 1.” South by Southeast  4:2 (1997), 14–18. Workshop/reading. Includes 9 haiku.
  • Willmot, Rod. “Bringing the Window Inside: Psychological Haiku.” Frogpond 6:3 (1983); reprinted in A Haiku Path.
  • Willmot, Rod. “The Structural Dynamics of Haiku (part II).” HSA Frogpond 2:2 (May 1979). 1 haiku. 
  • Wills, Marlene M. “One-Image Haiku.” HSA Frogpond 3:2 (May 1980). 1 haiku. 

      Anthologies and studies of Japanese haiku

  • Beilenson, Peter, trans. Japanese Haiku: Two Hundred Twenty Examples of Seventeen-Syllable Poems by Basho, Buson, Issa, Shiki, Sokan, Kikaku and Others. Mount Vernon, N.Y.: Peter Pauper Press, 1955/56.
  • Beilenson, Peter, trans. Cherry Blossoms: Translations of Poems by Basho, Buson, Issa, Shiki and Others. Mount Vernon, N.Y: Peter Pauper Press, 1960.
  • Beilenson, Peter, trans. The Four Seasons: Japanese Haiku Written by Basho, Buson, Issa, Shiki, and Many Others. Mount Vernon, N.Y.: Peter Pauper Press, 1958.
  • Beilenson, Peter, and Harry Behn, trans. Haiku Harvest. Mount Vernon, N.Y: Peter Pauper Press, 1962.
  • Blyth, R. H. Haiku. Tokyo: Hokuseido Press, 4 volumes, 1949–52.
  • Watts, Alan W. The Way of Zen. New York: Vintage Books / Pantheon Books, 1957.



John Wills never joined the Haiku Society of America but Marlene Wills/Mountain was a member from 1978 onward, so there was at least a link between the HSA and the Wills household. John did participate in HSA activities, however: he was appointed to the first HSA Awards Committee (and received awards for his books Back Country and River) and served on the first selection panel for Frogpond magazine. He also participated in the HSA national meeting in New York City in December 1973. In 1976 he joined other prominent American haiku poets for an HSA-sponsored haiku reading at Japan House in New York City.


  • Georgia Southern College faculty research grant for study in Matsuyama, Japan, June 1970
  • HSA Merit Book Awards, 1987, 1st Honorable Mention for Reed Shadows

Awards for individual haiku, Modern Haiku

  • Special Mention in issue 1:2 (1970)
  • Honorable Mention in issue 1:2 (1970)
  • One Eminent Mention and one Special Mention in issue 1:3 (1970)
  • Purely Personal Award chosen by editor Robert Spiess in issue 5:3 (1974)
  • Special Mention in issue 6:1 (1975)
  • Honorable Mention in issue 7:4 (1976)

Awards for individual haiku, Haiku West

  • Special Mention in issue 3:2 (1970)
  • Special Mention in issue 4:2 (1971)


  1. Diana (married name Breland) died in 2003 in Tallahassee, Florida. []
  2. This haiku is discussed in the Haikupedia article “Nick Virgilio.” []
  3. Haiku Spotlight was edited by Nobuyuki Takahashi in Matsuyama, Japan. Beginning in 1968, postcards appeared weekly from 1968 through No. 70, April 4, 1970. This was likely the first Japanese publication devoted entirely to haiku in English. The publication included some haiku written in English by Japanese poets but for the most part the four to five haiku on each card were by English, Canadian, and American poets. It seems likely that Wills learned of Haiku Spotlight from Canadian poet Eric W. Amann, with whom he and Marlene corresponded. Wills would surely have contacted Takahashi before and during his trip to Matsuyama in June 1970. []
  4. Formatted here as in Weathervanes. Amann’s review in Haiku Magazine 3:1 (1969) presented the haiku flush left. []
  5. Trans. R. H. Blyth, A History of Haiku I (1963). []
  6. Text and discussion are reproduced in A Haiku Path, 88–90. []
  7. Haiku formatted as in Reed Shadows. []
  8. Marlene Mountain, “John Wills Memorial Nature Gathering,” South by Southeast 1:2 (May 1994). []
  9. Michael McClintock, “A Conversation with John Wills,” Modern Haiku 7:2 (Summer 1976), 7. The Wills quote has been edited slightly to read as it appeared in Modern Haiku. []
Updated on February 26, 2024