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New to Haiku: A Co-Editor’s Thoughts on the THF Volunteer Anthology

On September 16, 2023, The Haiku Foundation celebrated our third annual Volunteer Appreciation Day. Thank you to our many volunteers! At New to Haiku, I’d like to personally thank the 50+ haiku poets who have shared their thoughts in Advice for Beginners, as well as the poets who have contributed to Haiku Basics.

THF launched our Volunteer Appreciation Initiative in 2021 as a way to thank our many volunteers for their service. This annual event is the brainchild of THF Board Member Theresa Cancro. (You can find a complete record of all our volunteers on our Service list. If you note any omissions, please let us know.)

For the last two years, THF has produced an anthology of haiku as a way to celebrate our volunteers. Theresa Cancro, THF Volunteer Appreciation Chair, writes:

“While reading through the pages of this year’s THF Volunteer Anthology, I’ve marveled at how a diverse group of poets with a love of haiku have come together over the years to contribute so effectively to enhance the message and goals of the Foundation. In fact, the anthology itself is a fine example of volunteer collaboration: from the submissions of each poet to the detailed work by Jim and Julie compiling and editing towards this finished, elegant book. Again, I extend sincere thanks to all THF volunteers past and present for your contributions.”

I’ve had the privilege of co-editing the THF Volunteer Anthology with Jim Kacian for the past two years. For this year’s offering, the high lonesome: The Haiku Foundation Volunteer Anthology 2023, we asked poets to submit haiku on the theme of ecosystems and the environment.

Jim and I read each submission separately, then discussed the poems together, often at length. I learned a lot from this process. Jim is a thoughtful reader of haiku. He pointed out nuances of meaning, alliteration, personal anecdotes about the poet that informed the poem, double readings that I hadn’t picked up on, and more. I’d like to think that I offered scientific context here and there, and maybe added a dash of exuberance. If you get a chance to co-edit a collection of haiku, particularly if the other poet is more knowledgeable and experienced than you, I highly recommend it.

From a co-editor’s perspective, it was a thoroughly enjoyable experience reading the poems in this collection. I thought it might be instructive for those new to haiku to highlight some effective techniques that I noticed while reading.

all our vowels and sometimes why sequoia

Kingfisher 7
P.H. Fischer

I loved this poem the moment I read it. My first aha! moment came when I hit the word “sequoia.” Why did Peter end on that word? For me, the poem brought to mind childhood trips to old growth forests, a time when “why” was at the forefront of my mind. The playfulness of this haiku appealed to me. However, it was days before I grasped the full meaning of Peter’s poem. I had my second aha! moment reading the anthology aloud to my husband. I had to consult Wikipedia to confirm my hunch. For me, the one-two punch of a double aha! makes this poem sing.

In Haiku Technique, Jim Kacian writes:

“Haiku are always about relationship. Sometimes this relationship is obvious, sometimes implied, but haiku always are positing image against image, and allowing the energy contained in these images, and in the way we phrase them, to charge the whole of the poem. We might consider the images to be the two poles of an electrical element, like a Tesla coil, and the relationship between them to be the spark which shoots the gap. The more powerful, clear and certain the choice of images, the brighter and surer the spark, the more easily seen and shared. And the stronger the spark, the more likely we will find secondary sparks as well, which in haiku we term resonance.”

The following poem, by Lorraine A Padden, is a good example of haiku resonance.

shimmering horizon
another day breaks
into fire

Lorraine A Padden
Haiku Girl Summer, 2023

In this poem, the poet eagerly awaits the day. Our expectation is that the day will begin with the rising of the sun, and the poem certainly can be read this way. But especially in the context of this anthology, we recognize another wildfire on the horizon. Maybe the fire has awakened the poet from sleep and they need to seek shelter; perhaps they must live with the uncertainty that they may be evacuated. The flip side of this poem is true as well: if one has lived through a wildfire, every beautiful glow of dawn (and sunset) can serve as a reminder of the brutal devastation wrought by fire.

The following haiku, by Madhuri Pillai, is one of the saddest in the collection. It paints such a somber image that Jim and I were tempted not to include it. But we kept coming back to this poem, the mark of a fine haiku.

roaring flames
in between barbed wires
a charred wallaby

Hedgerow 130
Madhuri Pillai

Madhuri’s haiku is horrific. I didn’t want to “enjoy” the haiku; the topic was terrible. But the poem captured that feeling effectively using a stark description of the facts. We aren’t told what to feel, yet we feel it strongly just the same. The adage of “show, don’t tell” works well here.

narrow back road
the claustrophobia
of corn

the high lonesome, 2023
Susan Burch

If you live in the United States, you’ve likely encountered the phenomenon of driving through mile after mile of corn crops. Susan’s poem captures this in a humorous way. But Jim pointed out that this haiku is also a commentary on the true horrors of monocultures in agriculture and our dependence upon them. I hadn’t even considered this. I love the way this haiku lends itself to both a light, humorous reading and a somber, darker one

dry
up
comes
drill
well
the
earth
cracked

the high lonesome, 2023
Annette Makino

Annette’s poem is a fine example of a vertical monoku. There’s a terrific sense of movement in this poem, as we experience the words backward, the same way the driller would see the drill as it comes out of the earth. The words “cracked” and “dry”, plus the added reads of “dry up” and “the earth cracked” reinforce the drought — and our sense of despair.

leaves changing the way i remember you

The Heron’s Nest 25.1
Ben Gaa

Ben’s haiku highlights a key feature of monoku — it’s not obvious where to put the line breaks. A monoku might have no line breaks, but Ben’s haiku showcases the more familiar version in which multiple reads can be offered by the same poem. Consider these versions:

leaves
changing the way
i remember you

leaves changing
the way i remember
you

Each offers a different experience to engage the reader. Do the poet’s memories of the person change or not? It all depends upon how you read the poem.

beeline to

Whiptail 1
Chuck Brickley

Jim had to talk me through this one. “Beeline to what?” I asked, frustrated. Jim gently pointed out that this question is a feature of the poem, not a bug. The beeline could be referring to mankind, rushing headlong toward ecological disaster without a thought toward where we are headed. It could refer to the bee, trying to find flowers no longer there due to habitat destruction. Or, perhaps, the bee can’t find its way back to the hive due to colony collapse. The reader doesn’t know, and the hanging preposition reinforces that sense of wrongness.

I loved reading this collection and I wish I could discuss every poem at length. So many of these haiku touched me and will remain in my heart, but my commentary would read, “Wow, that was awesome!”, which wouldn’t be terribly useful.

I encourage you to read the high lonesome, and I hope that you enjoy it as much as I do. My thanks again to all of the poets who contributed to this year’s anthology. Thank you for sharing your words — and your time — with us here at The Haiku Foundation.

We’d love to hear from you in the comments. The Haiku Foundation reminds you that participation in our offerings assumes respectful and appropriate behavior from all parties. Please see our Code of Conduct policy for more information.

[My thanks to John Kelsey for discussing resonance with me. I edited an earlier version of this column to address his comments and clarify a few points. I owe you another lunch, honey.]

Julie Bloss Kelsey is the current Secretary of The Haiku Foundation. She started writing haiku in 2009, after discovering science fiction haiku (scifaiku). She lives in Maryland with her husband and kids. Julie's first print poetry collection, Grasping the Fading Light: A Journey Through PTSD, won the 2021 Women’s International Haiku Contest from Sable Books. Her ebook of poetry, The Call of Wildflowers, is available for free online through Moth Orchid Press (formerly Title IX Press). Her most recent collection, After Curfew, is available from Cuttlefish Books. Connect with her on Instagram @julieblosskelsey.

This Post Has 8 Comments

  1. Thank you for these wonderful haiku and discussion. So clever! As I read and fathom the meanings (some off them) I think – I wish I’d written that! I’m glad you left the wallaby haiku in. Here in Australia we are entering what has been forecast to be a deadly summer on the fire front. Confronting and sadly so real.

  2. all our vowels and sometimes why sequoia

    Kingfisher 7
    P.H. Fischer

    I liked and “got” this one immediately. I vaguely remembered that sequoia are very big trees I associate with Canada, but the answer to the ‘puzzle’ leapt out at me immediately & made me
    smile. Yes,, all our vowels, a e i o u in that word and also y (the sound of ‘why’ : a question or an explanation.)

    Clever, P.H. and also full of light , haiku humour. I love it!

    1. …and this was another favourite:

      dry
      up
      comes
      drill
      well
      the
      earth
      cracked

      the high lonesome, 2023
      Annette Makino

      One needs to read it from bottom up, so that it follows the well drill , which allows more emphasis on ‘dry’. All that mechanical effort, then ‘dry’.

      1. That’s a great observation, Lorin. Ending (or starting) on the word “dry” really drives home the despair. As for the poem itself, I meant to add that it is shaped somewhat like a drill. All in all, a terrific poem with lots of haiku techniques to share!

      2. Thank you Lorin, and thanks Julie and Jim for putting together such a rich collection! I love the wide variety of takes on the theme of ecosystems and the environment. What a talented haiku community we have!

    2. Thanks for your comment on “sequoia”, Lorin. This poem is one of my favorites. Wordplay — even letterplay — with an underlying meaning is something Peter does so well in his haiku. As for the “why” of it all, I associate sequoia with California, when I was a very little girl, so that wordplay connection took me awhile. The poem first made me think of looking up (and up and up) at those giant trees and asking, “Why? Why are they so big?”

      Your comment also brings to mind something that it took me a while to grasp — in haiku, the reader completes the poem. And each reader brings something slightly different to the table. When your poem touches multiple people in myriad ways, it is a special haiku indeed.

  3. I meant to respond earlier to say how much I loved this collection. Every entry was superb, and I learned a lot from my (so far) three readings. A big thanks to all involved.

    1. Thanks, Laurie! I get excited when I reread the collection — look at this! And this! And this! My oldest child & I read it aloud together. And one of the reasons that I like writing these blog posts is that I learn so much. Thanks for reading & commenting. :)

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