Thursday, July 25, 2013

Feature on Haiku Poet Freeman Ng

Christal Cooper – 1,137 words
Facebook @ Christal Ann Rice Cooper

Where Its Shadow Went

         Writer and software engineer Freeman Ng, 52, grew up in the San Francisco bay area all of this life.  He’s seen many sunsets; the light dancing across the San Francisco bay; plenty of stars; and full moons.

There is something about a haiku – something that makes it different from all other kinds of poems – perhaps it is its simplicity; its focus on nature; its short lines in which even every space is essential to the three-line, 17-syllable poem.
 Yet Ng did not become interested in haiku until July 2010.  Ng, who describes himself as perfectionist when it comes to writing, made an ultimate challenge and commitment in his writing life:  he’d write something every single day and post it on a website.  
His first choice of the type of writing was a serial novel or flash fiction; but eventually he saw the haiku, and due to its form, made that his daily writing assignment.  He has written a haiku per day for three years and posts it on his website called Haiku Diem.  And he never dreamed that it would last this long and be so rewarding.

 “I had produced very few poems or stories in my life, much less poems or stories I thought were good enough to show other people.  I wondered what it might be like to be forced to write every day for a readership that was expecting it and how long I could keep something like that up.  Every day’s entry could stand on its own, so new readers wouldn’t have to catch up with anything, and every day’s entry could be short!”
Ng was not aware of the deep Asian literary history in the haiku nor did he consider himself an Asian writer.
“It was only some weeks into the project that I realized, ‘Oh!  I ended up choosing an Asian art form.  What’s going on there?”
       Ng’s love affair with writing did not begin until he was attending Alameda High School under the tutelage of a dedicated English teacher, Ms. Fran Claggett.  

       “She got me started writing poetry.  I kept in touch with her through all my college years, and recently reestablished contact with her – through Facebook!  I can’t express how happy
I’ve been that she’s back in my life, especially in this period when I’m writing more poetry than ever.”

       Ms. Claggett gave him an appreciation of T.S. Eliot, in particular his legendary poem The Wasteland.  After class, he approached his Ms. Claggett with a commitment that he’d memorize The Wasteland.  He had just one question for her – could he recite it during class.  Of course the answer was yes.  And within one week Ng had the poem recited and performed the fifteen-page poem in two class periods.  

        “I don’t know exactly what influence it subsequently had on me – my poetry is nothing like Eliot’s – but it had to have some effect. I immersed myself in one of the great poems of our culture, breathing it by day and dreaming it by night. I made it part of me, and carried it with me for many years after. Fragments of it still float around in my head.”

       Ng majored in English and planned on earning his living as a teacher or a writer, but fate had a different path.       
“I got two part time jobs: one as a tutor at a community college, and one kind of by accident as a programmer for a small startup company that a friend worked for one summer vacation and then recommended me to when he went back to school in the fall. And the second job just ended up working out better.”
       Ng’s greatest inspirations have not been the poem or the lives of famous poets; bur rather his personal friendships with other poets:  such as Ms. Claggett, and political writer and poet Peter Dale Scott, a former professor of Ng’s.

       “His dedication to the work he’s been called to do in this world is a constant inspiration to me.  In his younger days, this meant carrying on even in the face of death threats because of his political writing.  Now, the main obstacle is declining energy.  I hope that writing will be as integral a part of my life when I’m his age.”

This writer’s day starts out with a very long commute
each day to Google where he works as a software engineer. 
       “I usually write each day’s haiku on the shuttle to work.  If I don’t get it done then, I work on it some more at lunch.  I tend to eat dinner there before taking the latest possible shuttle home.  I do most of my writing at work, while eating lunch and dinner.  I find that I can’t write at home, but can write very well when sitting down to a meal.  It’s a long day, but by the time I get home, I’ve done my job, my web surfing and news reading, and my writing for the day.”

       Ng is definitely not like most writers – where the writer prefers solitude in a remote cabin somewhere.  He prefers to be surrounded by people while enjoying a good meal, like while having lunch and dinner at the Google café. 
       “I love writing in noisy environments.  The energy of the crowd feeds my own energy.”

To keep his haiku commitment to himself and his readers, Ng wrote numerous haikus at one time. 
“I tried to write as many haiku as I could ahead of time as a kind of security blanket, so I could have some padding at all times, but I quickly stopped, and now I almost always write each day's haiku that day. The important message is that I quickly gave up the security blanket of stocking up on them.”
His favorite haiku is a Day 12I saw the wren’s flight/ from grass to tree top, / but not where its shadow went
“What I like about my Day 12 haiku is that it has that twist or misdirection at the end that real haiku often have. The wren flies off, and you can track it directly with your eyes, but there's also a sense in which its shadow takes off, only in a different way and in an initially different direction. It has since become a common motif in my haiku, this idea of a thing that's mirrored or reflected, but with a subtle difference.” 
In 2012, Ng published Haiku Diem The Best of Year One July 9, 2010 – July 8, 2011.  The book is illustrated by Kathryn Briggs (, Kerry Dennehy (, Ardith Goodwin (, and Susan Taylor Brown (  He is presently working on Haiku Diem The Best of Year Two July 9, 2011 – July 8, 2012.

Contact Freeman Ng at or visit his websites at, and

Photo Description and Copyright Information.

Photo 1, 2, and 3.  
Freeman Ng.  Copyright by Freeman Ng.

Photo 4.  
Fran Claggett.  Public Domain.

Photo 5, 6.  
T.S. Elliot.  Public Domain. 

Photo 7.  The Wasteland jacket cover, first edition.  Public Domain.

Photo 8.  
Freeman Ng.  Copyright by Freeman Ng.

Photo 9.  
Peter Dale Scott.  Public Domain.

Photo 10.
Freeman Ng.  Copyright by Freeman Ng.

Photo 11.
Haiku Diem  The Best of Year One jacket cover.  

1 comment:

  1. Naturally I was both surprised and thrilled to read this article about Freeman and his haiku commitment. Freeman is a brilliant poet not only in the haiku form; I have published one of his poems in two of my books for teachers and have used his poems in workshops all over the country. It was inevitable that we should reconnect after many years; and it is a joy to call him not only one of my most accomplished students but a great friend.
    Fran Claggett