Johnny Baranski: 1948 – 2018
Johnny Baranski: A Poet of Conviction
On the back of White Rose, Red Rose, his December 2017 haiku book with David H. Rosen, we learn that “Johnny Baranski has been writing haiku and its related forms for over forty years. He is the author of several chapbooks, including Pencil Flowers: Jail Haiku ; Convicts Shoot the Breeze ; Just a Stone’s Throw ; and Blossoming Pear . His newest collection Fireweed will appear in the Folded Word chapbook series in 2019. A member of the Haiku Society of America, Haiku Canada, and the Portland Haiku Group, Mr. Baranski lives in Vancouver, Washington.” What we do not learn, but see hints of, is that Johnny spent time in prison after his arrests for nonviolent resistance to war and the Trident nuclear weapon system. As a result of repeated protest actions over many years, he spent two to three years of his life in prison. He was also active with the Catholic Worker community, for which he fought for farm worker rights, social justice, and other issues affecting marginalized communities. He was a man of firm conscience, yet his resolve was quiet, as shown in his many poems about prison life and poems of social consciousness. No one can write prison-related haiku without standing in Johnny Baranski’s long shadow.
Johnny also published Poems from Prison in 1979, Silent Silos: A CounterBOMB Haiku Sequence in 1985, Fish Pond Moon in 1986, Hitch Haiku in 1987, and Beads of Glass: A Rosary Haiku Sequence in 2016. For the Seabeck Haiku Getaway, which he attended regularly, he also produced energetic and thoughtful trifolds of recent haiku to share with others. He received the 2001 Virgil Hutton Memorial Haiku Chapbook award, and numerous awards in the Haiku Invitational contest sponsored by the Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival. When seven of Johnny’s prison poems were included in Montage: The Book (Winchester, Virginia: The Haiku Foundation, 2010), editor Allan Burns noted that “Johnny Baranski, who did prison time for protesting against war and nuclear weapons, was confined by civilization in the most literal and terrible sense—and yet found in haiku a way of freeing himself to steal back his stolen moments.” Johnny cojudged the Haiku Society of America’s Henderson haiku contest in 2013, and edited the Haiku Foundation’s “Per Diem” website feature on the theme of war and peace for August 2014. He was also the featured spotlight subject in an essay by Paul Miller in Modern Haiku 46:2, Summer 2015 [presented below]. Johnny’s poems appeared in Jim Kacian’s 2013 Norton anthology, Haiku In English: The First Hundred Years, in Dimitar Anakiev’s 2013 Kamesan’s World Haiku Anthology on War, Violence and Human Rights Violation, in the 2014 Haiku Northwest 25th anniversary anthology No Longer Strangers, and in many dozens of journals and websites around the world. Johnny also posted on Twitter as @haikumonk, and contributed regularly to various haiku-related Facebook pages. Here are three poems from Jumble Box, a 2017 anthology of poems by National Haiku Writing Month (NaHaiWriMo) contributors:
the food bank
In September of 2018, NaHaiWriMo held a contest in Johnny’s honour. You can read the results, judged by Paul Miller, on the NaHaiWriMo website, where he said that “I found [Johnny] to be a generous and likable person, in addition to being a talented poet.”
When Johnny died, hundreds of condolences appeared on social media. Writing on Facebook, Tom Clausen said “Johnny had a sage sense for the ages to go with an eternal child quality of wit and wonder that will live on in everyone who knew and loved him,” adding that he was “Much beloved in the haiku community and well known for his political activism, his devoted faith, his love of his family and friends, the sports teams he followed [the Chicago Cubs baseball team, the Chicago Blackhawks hockey team, and Notre Dame—he was born in Chicago] and his interest and ability to identify classic cars no matter what condition they were in [Johnny drove a Mustang, and before that, a Camaro, and sometimes referred to himself as an old jalopy]. Although I never met Johnny he was someone I always admired and viewed as a kindred friend. Johnny leaves anyone who knew him with wonderful good memories and gratitude for the gift of his indelible being him.”
Here’s a selection of other Facebook comments in response to Johnny’s passing: Peggy Hale Bilbro wrote, “I felt as though I knew Johnny’s warmth and sensitivity through his poetry.” Cameron Mount said, “Everything I know about him and his history as a poet and political activist convinces me the world has lost a good man. He’d been writing haiku longer than I’ve been alive, but that didn’t stop him from encouraging new haiku poets.” Mary Davilla said, “I never met him personally, but was always encouraged by his faith which he showed in his poetry.” Gabriel Bates wrote, “The world has lost a one-of-a-kind poet and human being. You’ve left your mark.” Jerry Dreesen wrote, “I always enjoyed his poetry and his take on the world.” Susan Burch said, “Loved all his prison and old jalopy ku. He is a great writer who will be missed!” Kris Lindbeck said, “His poetry has touched me. His intelligence, faith, humor and toughness shone through in his haiku.” Beverly Acuff Momoi wrote, “I have been moved by his haiku for many years. He was a very special person and will be missed.” Jessica Malone Latham said, “What a spark of light that illuminated our world.” David John Terelinck said, “How rich we all are for having known and loved his work.” Brendan McNassar said, “I’ve been lucky enough to know Johnny my entire life. He was a formative force to me as a child and aspiring poet/lyricist. I keep a copy of his book Pencil Flowers with my treasured belongings. His art, his coolness and his smile will be missed.” Margaret Chula said, “I feel blessed to have known this gentle, quietly humorous, and highly ethical man.” Yvonne Cabalona said, “I always enjoyed Johnny's poems. I looked forward to them each day on Facebook.” Claire Everett said, “Such respect for Johnny and huge admiration for his poetry and the life he lived.” Michael Henry Lee said, “A great poet and champion of peace.” Randy Brooks said, “A wonderful haiku poet and man! We will miss his good humor. It has been such a joy reading his haiku over the years.” Alexis Rotella said, “We will all miss Johnny Baranski . . . a moment of silence heard round the world.” Rebecca Drouilhet said, “A wonderful humanitarian, poet and haiku friend. He will be sorely missed.” Michele L. Harvey said, “Johnny was a fine poet with a kind, generous heart.” Barry George said, “God bless you, Johnny. Thank you for your kindness, your courage, the spark in your eyes, your sense of humor.” Sandi Pray wrote, “I honor you, I learned from you, I laughed with you, I cried with you, and now . . . I miss you.”
The following are eight of Johnny’s poems, one each from Frogpond (36:2), The Heron’s Nest (13:4), Haiku in English: The First Hundred Years (New York: Norton, 2013), the 2013 HSA members’ anthology, and the 2011 Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival, and three from Blossoming Pear, the last of which is engraved on his gravestone:
You can listen to a recording of Johnny reading a selection of his haiku at http://livinghaikuanthology.com/readings/haiku-readings/2732-johnny-baranski-reading-selection.html or https://youtu.be/V0PwckfZk1A. An extended selection of Johnny’s finest poems starts at http://haiku.mannlib.cornell.edu/category/author/johnny-baranski/. To learn more about one instance of Johnny’s peace activism, in opposition to the Vietnam War, watch https://vimeo.com/93109509. See also http://loyolaphoenix.com/2014/11/fighting-the-draft-loyola-alums-protested-vietnam-war-with-draft-card-raids/, a news story that introduces a documentary movie about draft board raids in which Johnny participated.
The central thread of Johnny Baranski’s life was conviction—his beliefs and ethics. In cleaning out their father’s apartment, Johnny’s three children found the following poem by William Stafford in a frame on his dresser. Amy Baranski said, “It was there for decades, given to him in the 1980s by his Catholic Worker friend, Mufti McNassar. We are including it in the program of his memorial mass.”
The Way It Is
The back cover of Johnny’s last book, White Rose, Red Rose, says that “While the world is under threat from so many dangers . . . the language of flowers will prevail.” This belief was central to Johnny’s life, part of the thread that guided him. In his last few days, Johnny wore a mask to assist his breathing and could not speak. Before deciding to remove the mask, and dying two days later, he motioned to his children for a pencil and paper and started writing. It was his last haiku, his jisei, or death poem. It is a poem filled with hope, the language of flowers, his final gift of haiku sharing:
one last breath
Thornton Wilder once wrote that “The highest tribute to the dead is not grief but gratitude.” The haiku community offers its deepest gratitude to Johnny and his family for his life and for his haiku. When others died, he was always quick to post the following message on Facebook as an expression of his faith: “Eternal rest, grant unto him O Lord and let perpetual light shine upon him.” Now it is Johnny’s turn to receive this blessing. May the perpetual light shine upon Johnny Baranski.
—Michael Dylan Welch
The preceding memorial, in a shorter version, appeared in Frogpond 41:1, Winter 2018, pages 104–108.
Johnny Wayne Baranski (1948–2018)
Memorial Mass is at 3:30 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 10, 2018, at the Trappist Abbey, 9200 N.E. Abbey Road, Carlton, OR. Committal will be earlier that day at 10 a.m. at St. Mary Catholic Cemetery in Stayton, Oregon.
Please sign the online guest book at www.oregonlive.com/obits.
From Mann Library Feature, June 2017
in one breath
Johnny Baranski has been writing haiku and its related forms since 1975. His work has appeared in the following hard copy and online journals and anthologies: A Hundred Gourds, Brussels Sprout, Bones, Bottle Rockets, Cattails, Contemporary Haibun, Dragonfly: A Quarterly of Haiku, Frogpond, Haibun Today, Haiku in English: The First Hundred Years, Kamesan’s World Haiku Anthology on War, Violence and Human Rights Violation, Kernels, Mayfly, Modern Haiku, Montage: The Book (The Haiku Foundation), Moonset, Multiverses, No Longer Strangers: Haiku Northwest 25th Anniversary Anthology, Prune Juice, The Heron’s Nest, The Living Haiku Anthology, The Red Moon Press Anthology of English Language Haiku, Under the Bashō, and Wind Chimes.
Long involved in the anti-war and Catholic Worker movements many of his poems have been written while serving time in prison for acts of nonviolent resistance to militarism and nuclear weapons. A father and grandfather he is currently retired and living in the Pacific Northwest USA. (Mr. Baranski is on Facebook [Johnny Baranski] and Twitter [@haikumonk].)
Awards and Other Honors: Mr. Baranski’s collection Convict’s Shoot The Breeze was selected as a 2001 Virgil Hutton Memorial Award Haiku Chapbook winner. More recently his poems have received both Sakura Awards and honorable mentions for the 2011, 2012, and 2013 Vancouver (BC) Cherry Blossom Festival Haiku Invitational in the USA category. Along with Margaret Chula he judged the Haiku Society of America’s Harold G. Henderson Haiku Contest in 2013. He was editor of the Haiku Foundation’s Per Diem feature on the theme of war and peace for August 2014.
Books Published: Poems from Prison (Sunburst Press, Portland, Oregon, 1979); Pencil Flowers: Jail Haiku (Holmgangers Press, Whitethorn, California, 1983) [out of print]; Silent Silos: A CounterBOMB Haiku Sequence (Sunburst Matchbooks, Portland, Oregon, 1985); Fish Pond Moon (Sunburst Matchbooks, Portland, Oregon, 1986); Hitch Haiku (Sunburst Matchbooks, Portland, Oregon, 1987); Convicts Shoot the Breeze (Saki Press, Normal, Illinois, 2001) [out of print]; Just a Stone’s Throw (Pinch Book Series No. 12 edited by Vincent Tripi, Tribe Press, Greenfield, Massachusetts, 2006). Trifolds: First Snow (Teahouse Pamphlets, Portland, Oregon, 2003); Autumn Leaves (selected poems for the Seabeck Haiku Getaway, 2012); Paper Cranes (selected haiku for Haiku North America, 2013); and Beads of Glass: A Rosary Haiku Sequence (Seabeck Haiku Getaway, 2013). Broadside: Blossoming Pear (Lilliput Review #191, edited by Don Wentworth, Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, 2013). He has a new haiku manuscript, Fireweed, that has recently been accepted for publication by Folded Word Press.
The preceding biographical information appeared with Johnny Baranski’s Mann Library feature in June of 2017 (lightly edited here).
Johnny Baranski reading haiku at the 2015 Seabeck Haiku Getaway.
A poem by Johnny Baranski posted on March 20, 2018 to the Facebook page for the California State Library, home of the American Haiku Archives.
Spotlight: The Haiku of Johnny Baranski
Originally published in Modern Haiku 46:2, Summer 2015, pages 45 to 54.
by Paul Miller
Johnny Baranski was born and raised in an ethnically Polish neighborhood in Chicago. In 1963 he entered the seminary of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago where he received a classic liberal arts education, studying, in addition to the basic high school courses, Latin and Greek, and was exposed to the rigorous discipline of seminary life. After graduating in 1966, he was accepted for studies in the seminary’s secondary school, a college affiliated with Chicago’s Loyola University. He chose English Literature as his major, with a minor in philosophy, and he began writing poetry that was influenced by the imagists and the work of two Jesuit priests: Gerard Manley Hopkins and Daniel Berrigan.
His time in secondary school corresponded with America’s engagement in Vietnam and Baranski became involved in the anti-war and civil rights movements of the era which eventually led to his involvement in nonviolent direct action. He was first arrested in 1971 for reading the names of the war dead in a local Selective Service Office. He also began to participate in “draft board raids” largely conducted by Catholic priests, nuns, and lay persons including Father Berrigan. In 1974 he was sentenced to one year in Federal Prison for the destruction of government property. This corresponded with a personal shift from the priesthood to family life, and he married and relocated to the Pacific Northwest. He served his time at the Federal Penitentiary at McNeil Island on Puget Sound in Washington State, where he found the discipline of his Catholic experiences beneficial for adapting to the rigors of prison life.
After prison, Baranski settled with his wife in Portland, Oregon and continued writing. It was there that he came into contact with haiku through Peter Pauper Press. He also learned of the national haiku journal Dragonfly whose editor, Lorraine Ellis Harr, also lived in Portland. She suggested additional reading material and he published his first haiku in Dragonfly’s summer 1975 issue.
In 1977 he and his wife welcomed their first child while they ran a Catholic Worker House of Hospitality and focused on resisting nuclear weapons, in particular the Trident Submarine and Weapons System based on the Hood Canal in Bangor, Washington. In 1978 he was arrested at the Trojan Nuclear Station at Rainier, Oregon, and again in 1979 at the Trident Base in Bangor. He received a six-month sentence for the latter to be served at the Federal Prison in Lompoc, California. It was at Lompoc that his haiku came into their own, and in the spirit of Ho Chi Minh’s prison diary Baranski began keeping a prison diary of his own peppered with haiku. Harr, who was also an anti-nuke ally, began publishing them in Dragonfly. She also introduced him to the work of Marlene Mountain, Ty Hadman, and Ruth Yarrow, all of whom became important influences. A good portion of the Lompoc haiku appeared in his first collection Pencil Flowers: Jail Haiku. Upon release from Lompoc he was exclusively writing haiku. After Harr shared with Baranski a counter-bomb project she had been involved with that combined song and poetry, he wrote Silent Silos: A Counter-BOMB Haiku Sequence that was released as a chapbook in 1985.
Throughout the 1980s Baranski continued his anti-nuclear activities, which resulted in additional jail time and haiku composition. His final jail sentence came in 1987: a sixty-day term in the Snohomish County Jail at Everett, Washington for sitting on the tracks and blocking a train with nuclear weapons material from entering the Trident base. From that experience came the sequence “Snohomish County Jail Haiku” which appeared in the spring 1988 issue of Frogpond. By this time his family had grown to three children, so he cut back on his activism.
Baranski took a break from haiku in the 1990s to focus on his family, returning to win the Grand Prize in the 2000 Virgil Hutton Haiku Memorial Award Chapbook Contest. The collection, composed of new haiku and haiku from the Snohomish sequence, was titled Convicts Shoot the Breeze. His time in various jails and prisons over the years had made a deep impression on Baranski, and he mined those experiences for his 2006 chapbook Just a Stone’s Throw. In 2011 he published another jail haiku sequence which incorporated the lyrics of the “Star Spangled Banner” and in 2013 he published Paper Cranes, a trifold for Haiku North America that contained anti-war haiku.
While Baranski has published many successful haiku on more traditional subjects, he is best known for his haiku on nuclear missiles and his experiences in America’s penal system. Yet such weighty topics never overwhelm the poetry itself, and surprisingly, the haiku are often humorous. Baranski notes a distinction between activist haiku and haiku written by an activist. “To me it’s all about telling the truth,” he says. “. . . the truth about war and peace, about race and poverty, about love and hate, about freedom and responsibility, about the beautiful and the ugly, about crime and punishment, about religious and secular life, about nature and stewardship.” Yet he is aware of the perils of writing “about” a subject. Ruth Yarrow, in an essay about anti-war haiku, states that “It is a challenge to write from particular experiences . . . so that the poem doesn’t shout like a bumper sticker but reverberates like haiku.” Or as Baranski puts it: “I’ve found that the haiku I’ve written which hit the reader over the head on an issue are, more often than not, bad haiku.”