Why are we not more familiar with the names & accomplishments of the women of haiku? Recent essays by Terry Ann Carter in Haiku Canada Review, celebrating Marianne Bluger, Muriel Ford, Winona Baker, Betty Drevniok & Naomi Beth Wakan, & Vicki McCullough’s book about Anna Vakar, all contribute to this canon of haiku literature.
Of course, every writer can list many influences & circumstances that have affected them & their writing path, but here I will emphasize the impact of the women writers I have met, & those whose work has had an impact on me & my writing.
I credit my high school English teacher — in Grade 8 — for starting me on this path of writing. Several of us were excused from the regular classroom to do a kind of self-directed independent study. In my case, I spent every hour reading poetry in the library — every poetry book I could find, especially the Canadian poets — eventually exhausting the extensive collection. A couple of years later, I was able to experiment with my own writing in my first actual Creative Writing class, with that same teacher . . . he was male, though, so enough about him!
As someone who has always read a lot of poetry in particular, it has always struck me how few poems I actually like. But when I like a poem, I really like it. Not one for memorization, I keep paper copies of these poems in a file. Every now & then, I simply must read a particular piece from this collection because of how I am feeling at that moment, or because of some event that has affected me. I flip through the pages until I find the poem that is calling to me, & then read it aloud to myself . . . sometimes many times. This makes me feel better, &, perhaps, better able to cope . . .
I have favourite poems from a number of poets, but the female poets who have most captivated me over the years include Sylvia Plath, Edna St. Vincent Millay, & Elizabeth Smart. Sylvia’s tulips that are “too excitable” & “too red”, & where smiles in a photograph are described as “hooks”, & Edna’s ‘Spring’, where April babbles ‘strewing flowers’, & the entirety of By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept. Their words led me to read more of their work, & then to research further, & the biographies that I discovered made these connections even stronger.
I began by writing free verse as a young adult, & then life got in the way. It turns out that I am the kind of person who, once committed to a project, tries to do the best possible job that they can . . . & so it was with parenting. I became a full-time parent & wrote very little for more than 15 years. When our youngest earned his driver’s license, a whole new realm of possibility opened up for me, as I decided to turn my attention, my time, & my energy to poetry with that same degree of seriousness. (At this point I should mention that one of the many things that I am grateful for, that has helped to make this possible, is my generous patron (read husband)). It was while researching publication possibilities for my poetry that I discovered haiku.
My style as a poet has always been a condensed one — I strive to incorporate as many different levels of meaning in as few words as possible. Many of my poems are relatively short. People had often said my poems were ‘haiku-like’, but I never really knew what that meant (& now I’m sure they didn’t really know what that meant, either!).
Reading journals like Modern Haiku opened my eyes to this haiku world, & I have not looked back. At first, I analyzed my own short poems to decide if they were, in fact, actually haiku. In most cases they were not. If they were close, my next step was to rework them with the intention of making haiku out of them. This was successful some of the time.
One of the best ways to learn about writing is by reading. When I read a poem that I admire, especially if it is written in a style that differs from my usual style, or is an example of the kind of poem I would like to write, as a first attempt, I will try to copy it. This is usually followed by much revision — many attempts, & some dead-ends. Occasionally, though, the results are worth all that effort, & in any case, the reading, writing & re-writing all form the writer’s path.
Still, it is the poets whose work I adore that I turn to again & again — poets like Roberta Beary & Eve Luckring — & in turn, with each reading, I learn even more from them . . .
I was already familiar with Roberta’s work when I created The Haiku Foundation’s Troutswirl Blog feature ‘Haiku Windows’ in 2018. Soon I looked forward to her almost weekly contributions — they are just that good (imho), & this is one from that column:
the window that marked
my sister’s half
Word choice is important in any poem, but especially so in the brief haiku. The inclusion of one word can add an entire level of meaning, or take the whole poem in a refreshingly new direction.
I struggled for a long time with the concept of a monoku. I read in earnest to try to understand. (In particular, the work of Jim Kacian helped me on this road (oops!).) Then I read a poem published in Frogpond that cracked it open for me — I wrote many (failed) poems about washing dishes, baking pies & other ‘mundane’ household events as part of my study of this poem by Eve Luckring:
open scissors beside a vase of water
This example illustrates for me the gap or space left for the reader to complete — one of the important elements that we strive to achieve as haiku poets.
There is a generosity that seems to be inherent in the haiku world. Haiku poets attend conferences & share their knowledge in presentations & workshops for their peers. Many have also written books that encourage the writing of haiku. Two such authors are Naomi Beth Wakan & Terry Ann Carter.
Naomi has published many, many books — of these, the most beneficial to me was the first one I ordered from her — Haiku: one breath poetry. Here I insert a memory of my first experience with the Anonymous Haiku Workshop after the ginko at the Gabriola Gathering — sitting in a chair under that yellow plum tree in Naomi & Eli’s backyard — Vicki McCullough & Susan Constable at the front of the group with the easel of poems, (the pressure!), the helpful group comments, & Naomi’s genuine enthusiasm at the discovery that the poem just discussed (later revised & published in the 2013 Haiku Canada Members’ Anthology) did indeed belong to me!
Terry Ann has published Hue, a haiku primer with Leaf Press, as well as the larger, & more comprehensive Lighting the Global Lantern, as well as many books of poetry. I have had the great good fortune to not only meet both these women, but also to have enjoyed their generosity, their hospitality, their warmth, & their genuine love of writing & the artistic process. They are mentors to me, & they inspire me to be a mentor to other writers . . .
One of the women in my life who offered unrelenting support, enthusiasm, & inspiration was Jessica Simon. She was a crime fiction author in Whitehorse, who joined me at the Bean North Café once a week to write. She offered a monthly writing workshop called ‘Cramped Hand’, where participants wrote to prompts & then shared what they had written with the group. Jessica always found something positive to say about each piece. We collaborated on a number of projects — local readings & writing events — but our relationship strengthened when I announced that I would be working to bring the Haiku Canada Weekend to Whitehorse in May, 2016. Jessica came up with the idea of sharing a display at the library — a space she had already booked for a crime display to celebrate National Crime Writing Month. I put a call out for crime-themed haiku at her suggestion (& some of the poems from the resulting display became the anthology Body of Evidence: a collection of killer ’ku, thanks to another amazing woman — Claudia Coutu Radmore of Catkin Press). I brought Jessica further in to the haiku world by asking her to take some photos for me during the conference. She began to see what I had been saying all along — that all writers can benefit from learning about haiku. In the months following the conference, as we put that manuscript together, she marveled at the generosity of haiku poets. We reminisced about the late night renku, & she began work on a haibun-inspired crime story, where haiku were left as clues.
Sadly, Jessica passed away, quickly & unexpectedly, a few months after the launch of our anthology. . . . & I miss her. I am grateful for the time we spent together, & for the other brilliant women who are part of my life — on the page or in my kitchen — for the challenges that I have been able to see as opportunities, & for the lessons I have learned by taking a chance on collaboration. I am glad to be able to contribute to a celebration of women, women writers, women poets, & women haiku poets.
Beary, Roberta. “attic dollhouse.” The Haiku Foundation Troutswirl Blog feature ‘Haiku Windows’, 17 January 2018. Accessed 13 August 2019.
Carter, Terry Ann. Hue: a day at Butchart Gardens. Leaf Press, 2014.
Carter, Terry Ann. Lighting the Global Lantern. Wintergreen Studios Press, 2011.
Carter, Terry Ann. “Under the Gingko Tree” Essay Series, Parts 1-5. Haiku Canada Review, vol. 10, no. 1, 2016, pp. 29-35; vol. 10, no. 2, 2016, pp. 27-32; vol. 11, no. 1, 2017, pp. 31-39; vol. 12, no. 2, 2018, pp. 5-15; vol. 13, no. 1, 2019, pp. 9-22.
kjmunro. “pen to paper.” horses’ hooves. Haiku Canada Members’ Anthology, 2013.
kjmunro & Simon, Jessica, editors. Body of Evidence: a collection of killer ’ku. Catkin Press, 2017.
Luckring, Eve. “open scissors.” The Haiku Foundation resource ‘Poet Profile’. Accessed 13 August 2019.
McCullough, Vicki, editor. Sisyphus: haiku work of Anna Vakar. Catkin Press, 2017.
Millay, Edna St. Vincent. “Spring.” Poetry Foundation. Accessed 13 August 2019.
Plath, Sylvia. “Tulips.” Poetry Foundation. Accessed 13 August 2019.
Smart, Elizabeth. By Grand Central Station I Sat Down And Wept. HarperCollins Publishers, 1945.
Wakan, Naomi Beth. Haiku: one breath poetry. Heian International Inc., 1997.