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New to Haiku: Advice for Beginners – Anette Chaney

Today at New to Haiku, let’s meet Anette Chaney. Anette is an active member of the haiku Twitter community where she posts as @chaneyanette. Her haiku have been published in Haiku in Action and Haiku Dialogue. Thanks for sharing your haiku journey with us, Anette!

In Advice for Beginners posts, we ask established haiku poets to share a bit about themselves so that you can meet them and learn more about their writing journeys. We, too, wanted to learn what advice they would give to beginning haiku poets. You can read posts from previous Advice for Beginners interviewees here.

Welcome to New to Haiku, Anette! How did you come to learn about haiku?

When working on developing the curriculum for a summer creative arts class for adolescents, I read a two-page description in a poetry book about writing haiku. After writing several haiku, I sent some of them with other free verse poems to Jean’s Journal. In 1978, I was surprised to receive my first publication of poems. The editor, Jean Calkins, took the time to inform me that my haiku were not really haiku and encouraged me to read The Haiku Form by Joan Giroux. After early success as a young poet, life got in the way of a pursuit of poetry and haiku.

Do you have a haiku mentor?

I did not have a mentor until recently. I continued throughout my life to write occasionally and read books about writing haiku. It was not until retiring from a career as a psychiatric nurse, I decided I wanted to spend what was left of my life pursuing my original dream of being a haiku poet. In October 2020, I joined the Haiku Society of America Mentorship Program. I have had two mentors in the program, Diane Lynch and Doris Lynch. I cannot say enough good things about my mentors and the program itself. It is a gift to be able to work with another poet. The mentors give of their time with no reimbursement except the reward of knowing they are helping other poets grow. Everyone should seriously consider taking advantage of this important program. [Note from Julie: You can learn more about the HSA Mentorship Program via the link above and in this New to Haiku interview with Jay Friedenberg.]

What advice did they give you?

It was not so much the advice but the actual process of workshopping poems with my mentors and my fellow mentees that helped me improve my haiku. It is hard to have your work dissected even when done with kindness. I began to think I will never write a good haiku. But slowly everything begins to click.

I really knew the rules of haiku before I joined the program, but I did not fully comprehend them. For example, I knew there is supposed to be a kireji or “cut” in the poem but, in practice, it was much harder to accomplish.

Another important lesson was the rules of haiku are more like strong suggestions instead of rules. Almost every good haiku poet at one time or another breaks the rules. The haiku is the thing. The choices you make as a poet must be with one question in mind: what makes this individual haiku work? They taught me to consider the rules and the suggestions of others, but the poem is mine. I must stand up for the poem. In the end, I make the final choice that is best for this individual haiku.

Did someone else’s haiku greatly influence your own?

Every poet I have read has influenced my haiku. Of the master poets, Issa and Chiyo-ni are my favorites. Issa, I love for his genuine compassion for all life forms including humans and Chiyo-ni for her artistry and her woman’s voice. Of more recent poets, it is much harder to choose as there are so many. I want to emulate the courage, honesty, and craft of Roberta Beary. When I want to write about social issues, I look at Hifsa Ashraf’s work. marlene mountain’s Tennessee mountain life is like my life in the Arkansas Ozark mountains. I admire her rule breaking and her contributions to the haiku form of monoku. Robin Anna Smith, I look at her careful craft of each poem. I could go on, but I will stop there.

Where do you most often write?

It can be anywhere. I have a paper and pen on the desk by my bed. When I have trouble sleeping, I will start writing haiku in my thoughts. I also wake up in the middle of the night with a haiku sometimes. Mostly I write in an easy chair in the living room with the TV on. I know this is probably not the best practice but if I am honest that is what I really do. I usually write in a color note’s app on my cell phone. I like this app because it has a search option that allows me to find my haiku. It goes with me everywhere, but I have a small backup notebook I carry in case my phone runs out of charge.

Do you have a writing process?

I am afraid my writing process is haphazard. I do lots of different things to get inspired. When I drink my coffee in the morning, I read haiku to wake up. I have like 20 haiku books I am reading at the same time by my chair with lots of bookmarks and a highlighter. I read one book about writing haiku and the rest are books of haiku. Sometimes a haiku jogs a memory of a haiku moment in my past or shows me a way to work out an issue I have with a haiku I have written. I spend part of my time with the books. I also spend time online reading poems and prompts on Twitter, Facebook, and the Haiku Foundation. If none of this inspires, I take a walk outside along the creek where I live. I do not write a pure desk haiku from the prompts. Something in a prompt, or a poem or nature itself must provide a haiku moment or the memory of one for me to write a haiku. I write everyday but somedays the haiku just burst forth. Twenty in one day is my record so far. Somedays I struggle to write one. They all sit in my phone, and I work on them on and off throughout the day. I will work on them for an hour or so. When I am getting nowhere, I go do something then I come back to them. I do this on and off throughout the day until I go to sleep at night.

How do you approach reading haiku?

When I first started out, I mainly read books about writing haiku and was exposed only to the haiku addressed in those books. I was afraid to read haiku by other poets. Due to the brevity of haiku, I was afraid my poems would be too greatly influenced by their work. But, in 2020, I saw Ben Gaa’s talk, How I Haiku: A Writing Process Walk-Through with Ben Gaa, on YouTube from the Haiku Society of America conference. I experimented using many of the ideas he talked about. He talked about the importance of reading books in his writing process. I incorporated his process of reading books three times then putting them on the bookshelf. First time, I read fast because I can’t wait to see what’s there. Second time I read slower, usually over three days. The third time is much slower. I keep a book where I write down all the haiku I like for future reference. I read the poems out loud until I feel that I understand what they mean. There are usually several poems I don’t get. I will google key words in hopes I can find a key to understand them. I want to give each haiku a chance. The poet thought the poem was important enough to write and an editor considered it valuable enough to publish.

For those just starting out, what advice would you give?

Find a community of poets to share your work and struggles with. If you are lucky, you will live in an area where there is an established haiku group. I was not, so I started by engaging with others through social media. I have a built-in community to workshop poems and to discuss issues within the mentorship program but that will end sometime. I found a Zoom group that meets monthly that I can workshop a poem with or discuss issues. Through June Rose Dowis, the South region coordinator for HSA, and two other poets, we have started an email workshopping group, Northwest Arkansas Haiku Group (Contact person: Barbara Robinette rosablue722@gmail.com).

This is very important for every young poet to reach out to other poets. I know of no haiku poets who can earn their living through their haiku. When you are young, you are building a career and a family. Some poets have even an extra burden of a physical or mental disability that adds an extra stressor on their time and energy. It helps to have a community to see how others manage their poetic practice throughout the stresses and demands of living.

Attend every conference and workshop that you can. It is there you can converse with established poets. I have found them to be open to answering questions and giving suggestions. Keep open to all the possibilities out there. Listen to everything every poet says. Experiment with any new idea. Take what you find useful and dismiss what doesn’t work for you in your practice of haiku.

What are some of the fun ways that you have used or experienced haiku?

In 2020, I went to the South Region HSA haiku conference that happens annually in Hot Springs, Arkansas via Zoom. At the conference a group of poets signed up to send postcards in 2021 for New Year’s following the Japanese tradition of nengajo. We were to create our own postcards with a haiku and send one to everyone on the list. I decided to try to do a sumi-e painting for the first time. It started my interest in haiga which I have only just started to explore. This led to exploring shahai which is a type of haiga that uses photographs instead of paintings with a haiku.

What are your favorite haiku that you have written? Can you share a story behind one of them?

My favorite haiku are the ones I am currently working on. Each was a favorite at one time.

blue sky the sting of jellyfish clouds

This appeared in the HSA mentorship anthology, The Unexpected Weight. Jellyfish clouds are a natural phenomenon that occurs infrequently due to an altocumulus cloud that has enough moisture to form a cloud but not enough to rain. I was struck by the beauty of them the first time I saw one.

blue-eyed grass labels don’t define me

This was my first poem published by a journal since 1978. It appeared in Cold Moon Journal this year. Blue-eyed grass is a wildflower that looks purple and is not a grass. This poem was an attempt to discuss a political issue. Our country is so divided. When politicians use labels, they are used to only divide. It is easy to hate a label. It is harder to dismiss someone when we see them as a person.

This is my most recent shahai that I am excited about. It came about due to a discussion on Twitter about should scientific names be capitalized in haiku. My comment was I do not capitalize anything in my haiku as I want to emphasize “the antness of everything.” Another poet challenged me to use the phrase in a haiku. This was the response.

What haiku-related project are you currently working on that brings you joy? What do you like about it?

I have taken up watercolor again and making haiga postcards. Watercolor allows me to play and just have fun if I can keep my internal critic muffled.

You are known for helping new haiku poets on Twitter. What advice do you share and/or how do you feel social media can benefit a haiku poet?

I would say it is more like that the haiku/senryu community on Twitter help each other out. Any small thing I may have done has come back tenfold by someone else on twitter being there at times for me.

Social media is how I started to reach out into the haiku community. My first encounter was on Facebook through NaHaiWriMo which was started by Michael Dylan Welch. It was there I wrote haiku to prompts for the first time. Each month they have a new poet who gives daily prompts. I got to know the work of a lot of other poets and interact with some there. On Twitter, I first found baffled (@baffled) haiku prompts and started posting some of my haiku. I began to follow haiku poets and they followed me. As an introvert, it was much easier for me to interact on Twitter with others than I do in person.

I learned about what was happening in the community through social media. I learned of conferences like the Haiku Society of America Annual Conference, Seabeck Haiku Getaway, Haiku North America, and Haiku Canada Weekend. We share ideas and concepts about haiku/senryu and other similar poetic forms. We encourage each other. We share congratulations when we publish and our feelings of discouragement when we keep getting rejections. I have watched other poets grow. We discuss issues that only other poets care about or understand.

For many of us, we are not lucky to have a community of poets we can meet with in our area and workshop poems. I workshop poems with two other poets in the direct messages on Twitter. We even check on each other when someone stops appearing on Twitter to make sure they are okay.

There are small ways you can help other poets. For example, some have ko-fi accounts. You can buy them a coffee to back a project they are working on. Or there are opportunities to help others publish their chapbooks through programs like Kickstarter.

The greatest benefit is as a place for others to read your work when your work is not being published, However, that is a double-edged sword. Anything shared on Twitter or Facebook cannot be submitted for publication in most journals. You must decide is it more important to be published or your haiku to be read. Since a haiku is not completely born until it is read by another, I feel this choice goes against the spirit of haiku.

Anette Chaney wrote her first haiku in 1978 but did not start a practice of haiku until she retired from psychiatric nursing in 2017. She lives in a rural community in the Ozark Mountains near Harrison, Arkansas. Anette spends most of her time wandering the creek with her camera and her chiweenie, Vega. The wildflowers do not seem to mind having their photo taken but the kingfishers let her know that she is a pest.

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.

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 book of poetry, The Call of Wildflowers, is available for free online through Title IX Press. Connect with her on Twitter @MamaJoules.

This Post Has 18 Comments

  1. I want to thank Julie and the Haiku Foundation for this unexpected privilege to tell my haiku journey. I owe many of the haiku community thanks for their help along this journey. The kindness and the generosity of this community is what makes it so special.

  2. June, thanks for your kind words and thanks for getting the North Arkansas Haiku Group together.

  3. A wonderful interview filled with so many tips for new writers. So proud of you Anette!

    1. June, thanks for your kind words and thanks for getting the North Arkansas Haiku Group together.

  4. An enjoyable interview. Thanks, Anette and Julie. Absolutely loved the haiga.

    1. Marion thanks for your kind words I treasure your new book Humming Right Along.

  5. Thank you Annette for sharing your journey and including your struggles. Also many thanks to you, Julie for keeping this series going. I look forward to seeing it every Monday and am disappointed when it isn’t here. Kudos to you for your hard work.

    1. Peggy, thanks for your kind words. I really love reading your haibun especially Perseverance and Acid Rain.

  6. Than you Julie and Anette, it sure was inspiring to read about your passion for haiku.

  7. Lovely interview, Anette! Nice to read more about your personal journey and process. And thank you for the kind words. Enjoy having you as part of our group! (And love that you shared “antness”! I just love that poem!) 🙂 Robin

    1. Robin, thanks for your kind words. I really appreciate being in the workshop group. I apologize for not using the appropriate pronoun in this interview.

  8. This is a great article for me. Though I am relatively new to haiku, having just come to it 3 years ago, Anette’s suggestion on reading haiku and about the art of haiku in order to learn to write haiku better than I do is inspiring. She is well versed but her honesty that she doesn’t understand every haiku, gives me courage not to worry if I don’t get it either. Her beautiful photo and shaihai, “the antness of everything” helps to keep life in proper perspective.

    1. Barbara thanks for your kind words and thanks for beIng there when I want to talk about haiku or water color.

  9. Anette and Julie, very fine interview. I like the questions: a project that bring you joy, the story behind an individual haiku, what you are reading (as a librarian, I always like to see that promoted). Anette, I like your in-depth answers about how to get started in haiku and the many rewards writing in these genres afford plus the specific references to specific sites and organizations. Also, your story of coming back to writing after many years is an inspiring one. Power the antness on!

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