Haiku Abounds: Q&A With Professor Rielly

Many of the faculty at Saint Joseph’s College are published authors. Recently, one faculty member, Dr. Edward Rielly, released two new publications; Jugo Meets a Poet and Answers Instead: a Life in Haiku.


The author, Dr. Edward Rielly

Jugo Meets a Poet, published by Shanti Arts LLC and illustrated by Jessica Lynn Clark, is a children’s book about a young boy who meets a traveling poet. Jugo sees many similarities between his father who had passed away and the poet. The poet explains why he chooses to travel and teaches Jugo about the art of haiku.

Answers Instead: a Life in Haiku (Encircle Publications, LLC) consists of haiku that Rielly has written over the past 40 years. The haiku are Rielly’s reflection of his journey through life. They tell of him growing up on his family’s farm, playing baseball, becoming a grandfather, as well as many other topics.

Dr. Rielly has been a member of the English Department since 1978. He has published a wide variety of books, ranging from topics such as studies of baseball and football to haiku about his childhood. Many of his stories reference his childhood experience of growing up on a farm, as well as his love for baseball. As he prepares for his upcoming book signing on December 2 at Saint Joseph’s College, he took a moment to discuss who and what influences his writing as well as his relationship with his most recent publications.


Answers Instead talks a great deal about your journey from being a son to being a grandfather. Is this your first time doing this in one collection? What kind of journey do you, as the writer, go on when doing this?

AnswersInsteadcoverFor this collection, Answers Instead: a Life in Haiku, I went back through several decades of publishing haiku to find haiku that focus explicitly on moments in my life. There really was no new journey involved in preparing this book. The journey instead is one that I have been on throughout my life. It is the type of journey, of course, that most people experience, although the details of their journeys will be unique to them.

I envisioned this collection as a complement to my prose memoir, Bread Pudding and Other Memories: A Boyhood on the Farm. Both tell my life story in small allotments rather than in one comprehensive narrative. Bread Pudding, however, focuses only on my childhood. Answers Instead is about my whole life up until now.

The Answers Instead part of the title refers to the shift from questions to answers. The preface consists of two haiku. The first one I wrote many years ago: “black night:/owl questions/under my skin.” The owl’s call reminded me of the “Who” question. Who are you? Or, within my writing, who am I? We all probably ask ourselves that question quite a few times. The second haiku in the preface shifts focus: “this autumn/I ask the owl/for its answers instead.” That is what I try to do in this collection: offer some answers about who I am.

Many of your haiku reference your mother. What kind of presence does she have in your work? Does that ever change?

My mother’s presence in my poetry—as well as my father’s, I might add—reflects her presence in my life. I was fortunate to have wonderful parents. Neither had a lot of formal education, and we did not have a lot of money when I was growing up on the small Wisconsin dairy farm. However, both offered plenty of love and support. Both also wanted, as do so many parents, something better for me than they had. They thoroughly supported and took great pride in my academic work. After my mother’s death, I discovered a large photo album in which she had pasted copies of a great many of my published poems. It is only natural that both appear a lot in my poetry, my mother more in this collection, but my father in many other poems.

Baseball. Is this the writer’s sport? Are there writers whose focus on baseball—or another sport—you admire?

That questions takes me back to several of my earlier books: three dealing with the relationships between baseball and American culture and one presenting a collection of my baseball poems. Yes, I think that baseball especially remains the writer’s sport. Other sports have produced fine literature. Early in the twentieth century, horse racing and boxing were popular with writers. Of course, there was Hemingway and his interest in bullfighting (which many people would not consider a sport), but also his serious interest in baseball. Remember The Old Man and the Sea with its passages about Joe DiMaggio. There is good literature about football and basketball, as well as other sports. But I believe that no sport equals baseball in literary quantity and quality. My collection of baseball poetry, by the way, is titled Old Whitman [Walt, the great American poet] Loved Baseball and Other Baseball Poems. He really did love baseball.

At the moment, I am teaching my course on baseball literature and American society. We read such great works as W. P. Kinsella’s novel Shoeless Joe, later made into the film Field of Dreams; August Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play Fences; and The Teammates, by the renowned David Halberstam, who also produced some of the best writing ever on the Vietnam War. Those are just a few of the writers that I admire.

In Jugo Meets a Poet, readers are introduced to Jugo and his father, who is an important character in the story. To what extent is this children’s book based on fact, and where did your creativity step in and take it? Is there a particular quote or moment from that book that’s rooted in your history?

One of the characters is drawn from history: Basho, the great haiku poet. The rest is fictional, although I tried to be true to Japanese culture as it was during the seventeenth century. At the same time, the story, I believe, is universal, since so many young children lose a parent and have to learn how to go on despite that loss. This is where Basho comes in for Jugo.

RIELLY_JUGO_COVER_FRONT_WEBI do not think that the story contains a particular quote that relates directly to my life. However, I have been writing as long as I can remember. As a young boy, I was writing poetry, so that may be my connection with Jugo.

Your writing seems to be as much a reflection of who you are as it is a reflection of our culture. Is there a single principle that guides your life and work as a writer?

That is by far the most difficult of these questions to answer. I wish that I had some great philosophical principle to state, but I think that instead I write for several reasons. I enjoy writing. I like to share what I have written, so I publish. I have a lot of interests, and writing about those subjects seems to follow naturally from reading about them. People in the eighteenth century liked to write about the pleasures of the imagination, and I certainly find exercising my imagination to be pleasurable. Much of my writing—about F. Scott Fitzgerald, Native American leaders, detective fiction, Jonathan Swift, baseball and football, for example—requires considerable research. Other writing, though, especially my poetry, involves research that takes me back through my memory into many chapters of my life. A lot of my life I enjoy reliving; other moments are painful but deserve reliving.


If you have any questions for Dr. Rielly about his life or his books that were not answered in this interview, you will have the opportunity to do so by attending his book signing on December 2, 2015, in the College’s bookstore in Mercy Hall from 1 to 3 p.m.

(Q&A by Jacob Moberg ’16, editorial intern)