William J. Higginson (1938-2008) was an American master of a Japanese art form – the haiku. Born in New York City, Bill grew up in the Bronx and in Bergenfield, New Jersey. He attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, after which he joined the United States Air Force, a choice that would profoundly affect his personal and creative life. The Air Force sent him to Yale to learn Japanese, then posted him for two years to Misawa Air Base, in the northernmost tip of Honshu. Through these experiences, he developed a life long love of the Japanese language and literature which in turn blossomed into a life long career as a poet in his native language, English, to which he brought his passion for haiku, all forms of poetry, criticism, and translation. Over the course of his life he would fill many creative roles superbly: poet, translator, critic, advocate, collector, and enthusiast.
Bill was a prolific writer of haiku, and some of his greatest haikus are found on POBA for your reading pleasure. But he was also an evangelist for haiku, spreading the word by every means possible. He was a charter member (and later President) of the Haiku Society of America, which held its inaugural meeting in New York City in October of 1968. He edited Haiku Magazine from 1971 to 1976, during which time he started From Here Press, which published mostly haiku-related books, including collections by Allen Ginsberg and Ruth Stone.
In this same period, he also began to publish translations and essays on haiku for leading haiku journals of the time, such as Haiku Highlights and Haiku, later called Haiku Magazine. His book Itadakimasu: Essays on Haiku and Senryu in English each won an award for critical writing in the inaugural Haiku Society of America Merit Book Awards. Higginson’s most influential book, The Haiku Handbook, also won the HSA’s Merit Book Award for textbook/scholarly work in 1986.
But he also wrote haiku for popular consumption and appreciation. His anthology for children, Wind in the Long Grass (1991), is still considered among the best books of haiku for children available.
Bill’s love of poetry went beyond haiku as well. His anthologies and books included Between Two Rivers: Ten North Jersey Poets (1981), numerous volumes of his own poetry, such as Paterson Pieces: Poems 1969–1979 (1981), The Healing (1986), and Surfing on Magma (2006).
In later years, Bill started a blog about haiku books, an extensive website (Renku Home) devoted to renku and other writing about haiku, and also edited the Haiku portal site of the Open Directory Project, an online resource for worldwide haiku-related information. His last haiku was written a mere eight days before his death in October 2008, when he also wrote this:
Who could know that a single verse spoken in an endless year of USAF Japanese vocabulary drills relating to parts of weapons and flying airplanes would lead to a life-long interest in Japanese poetry that has sustained me through all the rest.