Robert Clayton SpeissRobert Clayton Spiess

(16 October 1921 – 13 March 2002)

“A true haiku is an experience experiencing itself.”

(Speculations by Robert Spiess)

Robert Spiess, editor of American Haiku and Modern Haiku was born on 16 October 1921 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  After graduation from high school, he enrolled at the University of Wisconsin, in Milwaukee, in 1939 but his plans were interrupted by World War II. He was drafted into the Army Air Force and trained as a cryptographer. Perhaps it was his war experience that helped determine the peaceful path he would follow thereafter. He earned his B.S. degree from the University of Wisconsin, majoring in Botany and English, and then received an M.S., with a major in Vocational Guidance.

Robert became interested in haiku in the late 1930s, through early translations of Japanese haiku.

In the late ’40s and early ’50s he acquired R.H. Blyth’s four volumes of Haiku, and from then on he became hooked on this poetic genre. Robert Spiess published his first haiku in 1949 in American Poetry Magazine, and he became a participating writer. In 1963, he purchased the premiere issue of American Haiku and two of his poems were published in the second issue. A few years later, he accepted the position of poetry editor for that journal.

Robert Spiess’ first collection of haiku, The Heron's Legs, was published in 1966 by American Haiku in Platteville, Wisconsin and over the years he published ten more books. He was also the author of several articles and essays on haiku and his poems have been featured in numerous publications and anthologies. The premier issue of Modern Haiku was published in 1969, and ten of Robert's haiku appeared in the second issue. Within a few years, he was appointed associate editor of that journal. In 1977, he published the first of his "Speculations on Haiku" in Modern Haiku, and in 1978, he became that journal's editor and publisher until his death in 2002.

Robert's countless contributions were integral to the evolution and success of English-language haiku and he was an instrumental mentor in the haiku careers of many contemporary haiku poets.

Books Published:  


  • The Heron’s Legs (American Haiku, Platteville, Wisconsin, 1966);
  • The Turtle’s Ears (Wells Printing Co., Madison, Wisconsin, 1971);
  • Five Caribbean Haibun (Wells Printing Co., Madison, Wisconsin, 1972);
  • The Shape of Water (Modern Haiku Press, Madison, Wisconsin, 1982);
  • The Bold Silverfish and Tall River Junction (Modern Haiku Press, Madison, Wisconsin, 1986);
  • New and Selected Speculations on Haiku (Modern Haiku Press, Madison, Wisconsin, 1988);
  • The Cottage of Wild Plum (Modern Haiku Press, Madison, Wisconsin, 1991);
  • A Year’s Speculation on Haiku (Modern Haiku Press, Madison, Wisconsin, 1995);
  • noddy (Modern Haiku Press, Madison, Wisconsin, 1997);
  • noddy & the halfwit [with Lee Gurga] (Modern Haiku Press, Madison, Wisconsin, 1999);
  • some sticks and pebbles (Modern Haiku Press, Madison, Wisconsin, 2001).

Some awards and other honours: 

  • In 1988, Robert Spiess was awarded the Haiku Society of America's Special Recognition Award "for a profound, insightful book about haiku".
  • In 2000, in Matsuyama, Japan, Robert was presented with the first Shiki International Haiku Award for his achievement in disseminating and deepening the understanding of haiku in English-speaking countries.
  • From 2000-2001, Robert was Honorary Curator of the American Haiku Archives.

Selected work: 

among these willows:
     and breathing the light that falls
          from leaf to green leaf

(The Heron's Legs, American Haiku, Platteville, Wisconsin, 1966)


A drive out of town —
and best of all the billboard
that a wind blew down

(Modern Haiku Vol.5:1, 13, 1974)


Evening in the park
— and the snow lodging also
in the statue’s eyes

(Modern Haiku Vol.6:1, 11, 1975)


A couch à la Freud, —
curing souls of sex and things
by which they’re annoyed

(Modern Haiku Vol. 6:3, 21, 1975)


“Canoeing the Bend” [sequence]
(Modern Haiku Vol.8:3, 12, 1977):

canoeing the bend —
a fox in the evening dusk
mouses in a field

canoeing the bend —
a man throwing stones at coots
turns away

canoeing the bend —
motionless, a short-eared owl
watches from an oak

canoeing the bend —
on a sunny ledge of rock
a rattler stirs

canoeing the bend
another bend ahead
thank you

canoeing the bend
in a spit of April snow —
warblers flying by


a     square
of      water
re f l e c t s
the    moon

(The Shape of Water, Modern Haiku Press, Madison, Wisconsin, 1982)


ice cubes
        in each one's glass

(The Bold Silverfish and Tall River Junction, Modern Haiku Press, Madison, Wisconsin, 1986)


the field's evening fog—
   quietly the hound comes
      to fetch me home

(The Cottage of Wild Plum, Modern Haiku Press, Madison, 1991); Frogpond 14:4 (1991)


wild roses . . .
tarrying beside one
     touched by time

(From a Kind Neighbor, Haiku Society of America Members’ Anthology 1997)


walking for my heart ...
    so many little karmas
        beneath a step

(some sticks and pebbles, Modern Haiku Press, Madison, Wisconsin, 2001)

Some essays:

  • “Multiple-sense Imagery in Haiku”, Modern Haiku Vol.2:1, 15–16, 1970
  • “Notes on Writing Haibun”, Modern Haiku Vol.3:1, 11, 1972 
  • “The Problem of Originality in Haiku”, Modern Haiku Vol.4:2, 30–34, 1973
  • “The Problem of Beauty in Haiku”, Modern Haiku Vol.6:3, 30–32, 1975
  • “The Problem of the Ordinary in Haiku”, Modern Haiku Vol.7:2, 16–17, 1976
    “A Comparison of Characteristics of English Language Haiku and Senryu”, Modern Haiku Vol.7:3, 30–31, 1976
  • “The Problem of Explanation and Interpretation in American Haiku”, Modern Haiku Vol.7:3, 15–17, 1976
  • “A Few Notes on the Now-Moment”, Modern Haiku Vol.8:2, 38, 1977
  • “The Problem of Reading Haiku”, Modern Haiku Vol.8:1, 30–34, 1977
    “Toward a Theory of Fundamental Balance in Haiku”, Modern Haiku Vol.8:1, 39–40, 1977


Wikipedia (Russian)
An Interview with Robert Spiess by Michael Dylan Welch at (Modern Haiku Vol.33:3, Autumn 2002)