Today at New to Haiku, let’s meet Antoinette Cheung. She has won the Basho-an Award and Haiku Canada’s Betty Drevniok Award for her haiku, which have been published worldwide. Antoinette is one of three co-editors at Prune Juice Journal and currently coordinates the Haiku Society of America’s Haiku Social Club for poets aged 40 and younger. Thanks for sharing your haiku journey with us, Antoinette.
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, Antoinette! How did you come to learn about haiku?
I vaguely remember a semester of poetry in grade 7 language arts class in which we were introduced to a number of different poetry forms, including the 5-7-5 [syllable] haiku. Beyond trying out this intriguingly succinct poem as part of our writing assignments, I didn’t spend much time thinking about haiku until I stumbled upon the Haiku Invitational as part of the Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival a few years ago. That was when I started discovering the nuanced ways that haiku can capture seemingly banal moments and transform them into something significant and meaningful. For at least a year after re-acquainting myself with haiku, and even after I joined the Vancouver Haiku Group, my understanding of what makes a haiku special was shaky at best. But I have Michael Dylan Welch and his encyclopedic Graceguts website to thank for providing me with easily accessible resources that really strengthened my understanding of the form. I still feel very much at the beginning of my haiku journey, and know that I’ll continue learning about the craft of haiku from both new and seasoned members of the community.
Do you have a haiku mentor? What advice did they give you? Did someone else’s haiku greatly influence your own?
In a way, I think each member of the haiku community whom I’ve had the pleasure of interacting with has been a mentor! Hearing about their haiku journeys has been so inspiring. I’ve come to realize that despite the undeniable talent that these poets possess, it’s the combination of this talent with a dedication to pushing their craft forward through experimentation that really makes their poetry shine. I am indebted to members of the Vancouver Haiku Group, especially Vicki McCullough, Jacquie Pearce, Lynne Jambor, Angela Naccarato, Rachel Enomoto, John Steil, P. H. Fischer, Geneviève Wynand, Isabella Mori, and Julie Emerson, who are examples of poets to emulate, and whose comments have always been kind.
As part of the HSA’s inaugural mentorship program, I do have a few mentors whose guidance shaped my approach to haiku. Nick Klacsanzky has been such a gift in the honest feedback he gave me and the other members of our group. Before meeting Nick, I knew very little about haiku journals, much less considered submitting my haiku for publication. Nick was the one who encouraged me to start submitting my work and overcome that barrier of wondering if my poems were good enough. He and the other members in my group (the brilliant Aaron Barry and Kayla Drouilhet) were instrumental in convincing me to let the journal editors be the ones to decide if my poems should be published, rather than me being the one holding my poems back from consideration.
After our group disbanded, I have also had the privilege of receiving mentorship from Judson Evans and David Grayson, both of whom inspire by their humble approach to writing and revising. Their thoughtful critique has helped me reconsider word choice and pay attention to rhythm as I go through revisions of my own poems.
While all of my mentors have their distinct voices, the poems that I particularly appreciate from them are the quietly powerful ones, where the unsaid has a lingering impact:
slug trail . . .
in my diary
- Nicholas Klacsanzky, Seabeck Haiku Getaway 2022 Anthology (forthcoming)
ashes on our hands
all the ocean lets us keep
- Judson Evans, Kingfisher Issue 7
a dad plays catch
cradling his phone
- David Grayson, Frogpond 45:2
For those just starting out, what advice would you give?
Be gentle with yourself! Writing haiku can be deceptively challenging – given the size of the poem, each word carries so much weight that finding the right ones could take months of revisiting. Even when you think you’ve unearthed the perfect words and the poem flows beautifully, sometimes it seems that you’re the only one who believes in your little poem, as it gets turned away from all the journals you submit to. Then the self-doubt starts to sink in. However, just like with scrolling through your social media feeds feeling like everyone else is enjoying success except for you, it’s easy to forget that behind every poet’s published poem is a stockpile of their poems that haven’t made it to print. We just don’t have visibility into that. Part of the value of finding community, whether through in-person regional groups or online discussion groups, is that both successes and misses can be shared. And haiku poets are some of the most generous and compassionate people I’ve come to know 🙂
What are your favorite haiku that you have written? Can you share a story behind one of them?
I’ll share two of my poems that are meaningful to me in very different ways:
Hamlet’s soliloquy –
the crunch of kettle corn
- Failed Haiku, Volume 5, Issue 58
I wrote this poem to bring to the kukai at my first meeting with the Vancouver Haiku Group, before I knew about the existence of senryu. Although a part of me thought that I should’ve written something more serious to share at a first meeting (and give a good first impression), I opted to bring this poem because it was an authentic experience that I delighted in (Vancouver has a fabulous summer Shakespeare festival that puts on productions of the Bard’s plays with a modern twist). I was thrilled when it was warmly received, which really speaks to the open and welcoming nature of the haiku community.
lullaby . . .
cradled in mine
- Robert Spiess Memorial 2021 Contest, Honorable Mention
My haiku journey really accelerated during the pandemic as part of my participation in the mentorship program. Sadly, this time also coincided with the loss of my grandma, who was and remains my favourite person in the world. While I was grappling with this loss, Nick provided the prompt “moody” for us to reflect and write on for one of our mentorship sessions, and this poem arose from it. The genesis of this poem also came with the realization that haiku could be a medium through which I could immortalize my time with Granny, and honour the little moments we had together.
What haiku-related project are you currently working on that brings you joy? What do you like about it?
Last fall, I attended my first Seabeck Haiku Getaway and had an amazing time meeting haiku poets whose work I’ve admired. Since the conference, I’ve had the joy of co-editing the [conference] anthology alongside the wildly creative Lisa Gerlits. Lisa and I connected instantly over our shared vision, and have been collaborating over the past few months to bring our collective Seabeck memories to life through the anthology. The process of piecing the anthology together, from selecting poems to sequencing them in a thoughtful way and adding artwork to accompany the different sections, has been thrilling. We had a chance to work closely with individual poets to bring the best expression of their poem forward, and were so touched by the trust everyone bestowed on us throughout the process.
Congrats on your new position as co-editor of Prune Juice Journal! What have you learned about writing haiku from your experiences editing the journal? What would you like our readers to know about Prune Juice Journal?
Thank you so much! I have certainly come to appreciate that writing haiku, and in particular senryu, is an incredibly vulnerable endeavour. I’ve been blown away by the range and depth of subject areas that our poets explore in their submissions. And the fact that they entrust their poems to us is truly humbling. I have so much admiration and gratitude for Tia Haynes and all of the previous editors for creating this space that allows poets to express and be their authentic selves. The fact that two of the five poems that won the 2022 Touchstone Awards were first published in Prune Juice is a testament to the important place this journal takes in today’s haiku/senryu conversation.
To the readers here, if you are thinking of submitting to Prune Juice (or have submitted already!), know that Aaron, Peter, and I deliberate at length and debate from our unique perspectives when considering your poems. We aim to feature a diverse mix of voices and topics, and look up terms we are unfamiliar with so that we can appreciate your poems appropriately. If we end up passing on your poems, know that it is not necessarily because we didn’t relate to or enjoy them; some of the poems we pass on are actually very strong, and in such cases we feel that they could readily be taken up by other editors. Our hope is to feature those gems that a journal like Prune Juice and its readership would especially appreciate.
Antoinette Cheung is one-third of the current (and proudly Canadian) editing team at Prune Juice Journal. Her work has been published in leading haiku/senryu journals and anthologies, and has been recognized with awards including the Basho-an Award from the 5th International English Haiku Competition, 2022 Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival Sakura Awards, and first place in Haiku Canada’s 2021 Betty Drevniok Contest. Antoinette serves as coordinator of the HSA Haiku Social Club, which provides a space for poets aged 40 and under to connect, share their work, and hear from established poets from the wider haiku community. Find us on Instagram @hsasocialclub.
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