How were you first introduced to haiku?
I don’t remember the specific time I was first introduced to haiku … elementary school perhaps? But I do remember reading Miss Happiness and Miss Flower, a book about two Japanese dolls who are adopted into a North American family, and how they wish to have a traditional Japanese house, furniture, clothing … how I learned to appreciate the simple elegance of the Japanese way of life. That for me is embodied in the concepts of haiku.
Who were some of your early influences?
In my haiku practice, the first masters were the classics: Basho, Busson, Issa, … However, it was a great honour to meet Kozue Uzawa at a Haiku Canada conference in Vancouver, and she helped inform my writing of both haiku and tanka. At about the same time, I was introduced to the sometimes-neglected world of female haikuists, and that as well has reshaped my approach to Japanese form.
Do you belong to a haiku group, and if so, why do you think it’s important?
Yes, I belong to a number of local and international groups. The first association I joined was Haiku Canada, and they published my haiku in 2016, which helped give me the courage to send my poetry out to different publications. I joined Magpie Poets in Calgary, and then when covid hit and the poetry world went beyond borders, I had the opportunity to participate in events hosted by Asahi Haiku and others in Japan, Seabeck Haiku in the United States, Haiku DownUnder in New Zealand and Australia. I think it is important, for two reasons … sharing the gift of the words and receiving feedback but also and more importantly, learning more about the craft and nuances from others.
Do you ever go to organized haiku events, and if so, what is your favourite part about them?
Yes, as I mentioned above, I have attended haiku symposiums both live and online. My favourite part … there is the sharing and learning, but also the sense of community. I also enjoy the prompts, as well as learning how to combine haiku with other art forms. Reading haiku is beautiful, but hearing it read adds a new dimension to it, allows the words and images to rise off the page and inhabit the space around us.
How do you encourage other people to try haiku?
When I was a junior-high teacher, I would integrate a haiku study into my poetry unit, with every grade I taught. I invited my students to create a haiku booklet integrating the seasons, and to pair their writing with illustrations.
I have taught haiku workshops at one of our local writing centers, the AWCS as well as online. I was invited onto the jury of a local haiku competition and shared and advertised about the event. I share my publications via social media with my larger community in an effort to encourage others to try the form. I would like to be more active in the local, national and global communities, but at present, factors in my personal life prevent that to the extent I would aspire to.
Do you have a favorite place to go write haiku?
Oftentimes, the most authentic haiku is born out of nature … a walking, observing, listening, reflecting experience. Some examples … I was walking in my neighbourhood and saw crows in a tree during covid and spoke some words into the recording app on my phone. The haiku born of that is:
three crows in a tree
not quite a murder
… a conspiracy
As well as my very first published haiku:
by the moon’s soft light
I connect the stars that reach
from me to you
Do you have a favorite season or season word?
I confess to loving each season when it happens. Each for its particulars. One of my favourite haiku words is hush, but that can be not only winter but any season.
What advice would you give to someone just starting to write haiku?
My best advice would be to lose your fear. To read and feel haiku. I read Naomi Beth Wakan’s two books (The Way of Haiku and The Way of Tanka) on a writer’s retreat a few years ago, and found it gave me much understanding. Read the masters. Find a group to join, sign up for haiku-a-day into your mailbox if you have the time. Learn about Japanese culture, about the complexity and simplicity of three verses, the value of white space and silence. Breathe and let the poetry guide you.
Do you have any book recommendations?
Yes, the Naomi Beth Wakan listed above, these books with the collections of female haikuists, and anthologies put out by the various haiku groups, again, locally, nationally, and globally. Two collections I really enjoy are The Ink Dark Moon and A White Tea Bowl.
What is it about haiku that draws you?
What I love about haiku is the power and simplicity of the form … it is brief but full, evocative yet pared down. In a sense, it is its own yin-yang. It would not be realism in painting, it would be impressionism.
Thank you so much for your time, Josephine.
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Sally Quon is a disabled poet and photographer living in the Okanagan Valley of beautiful British Columbia, Canada. She is an associate member of The League of Canadian Poets and a member of Haiku Canada. Her work has been published in numerous journals including The Heron’s Nest, Modern Haiku, Frogpond, First Frost, and Time Haiku. She is currently working on her first book of haiku, haibun, and haiga, tentatively titled, “My Valley, My Home.”