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New to Haiku: Advice for Beginners–Caroline Skanne

Today at New to Haiku, let’s welcome Caroline Skanne. Caroline is a poet, writer, artist, publisher & editor. She is the founder and editor of hedgerow: a journal of small poems and was the editor of Blithe Spirit, the journal of the British Haiku Society, from 2019 to 2022. Thanks for sharing your haiku journey with us, Caroline!

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, Caroline! How did you come to learn about haiku? Did someone else’s haiku greatly influence your own?

I first came across haiku in secondary school. But I learnt haiku through books: translations of Japanese haiku & other closely related works as well as reading poets writing haiku in the English language. Machi Tawara’s Salad Anniversary had a huge impact on me. I discovered her work in a UK poetry magazine; the poems stood out to me in their freshness, authenticity, directness, brevity & simplicity. While these were tanka poems, the minimalist aesthetics were still there. Later as I deliberately sought out haiku, I came across books such as Makoto Ueda’s translations of Japanese women haiku poets in Far Beyond the Field, that have had a long-lasting effect on me. From there I started reading widely & deeply: books, journals, articles, collections by single poets, anthologies etc. Learning happens there between pages, lines, words, in the pauses, the lingering echo of poems written & those waiting to be written perhaps partly in response, to express our own truth & be part of the wider dialogue—& in the process we may begin to develop an intuition guiding us to find & explore our own voice.

Where do you most often write? Do you have a writing process?

Anywhere, everywhere… I try to jot down any poems or fragments of poems, when & where they happen, usually on a scrap of paper or on my phone. Perhaps with a cat in my lap & birdsong through a window; in the garden on a stone step by the poppies listening to bees; by the river as moonlight glistens across the mudflats; or in the woods walking deeper into the scent of rain… Being immersed in nature inspires many of my haiku. I like the sense of connectedness, of being a part of the greater whole. It is how I feel about haiku too.

As for a process, I find that haiku link the inner & outer worlds, & so I try to find that space where it flows naturally between the two. When sitting down to write on my laptop, I typically rely on flow/free writing in the initial stage. If a haiku didn’t arrive ‘fully formed’, I might start with what I have, maybe an image or even a feeling, & simply put pen to paper to see where it takes me. Or I may return to the moment guided by my senses to find the missing part/s. I have one Word doc (last time I checked, 1300 pages long) with all haiku in various stages of completion. Dedicating some time daily to writing & revising is how I continue to learn & grow as a writer.

How do you approach reading haiku?

Reading is crucial to develop our understanding & deepen our appreciation of haiku. It’s in other poets’ work we realise the importance of the reader’s space, as well as the effectiveness of various techniques, poetic devices, aesthetics, the use of language etc. I read with a pencil & return to my notes later, often repeatedly. Favourite books/journals stay on my bedside. But I have piles of books everywhere, pencils, & scraps of paper (my home is always a mess). If reading a journal, I like to read with a blank card, so there is just one poem at the time & no name. I like to come to each poem like that. With no preconceptions. Some books deserve to be read closely & repeatedly. The same goes for some poems. When we read with close attention, new ways of understanding a poem are uncovered. Sometimes even new ways of feeling about a poem, & perhaps even the world.

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

In haiku we use images to express a moment in time/evoke feeling. To get a good grasp of what these images are, & how they can be used effectively, I suggest looking at the relationship between the images, the space between them & the type of images used (I discussed this at greater length in the recent talk ‘How to Evaluate Our Own Haiku’ at the 2022 HSA Virtual National Conference; the recording is available online here).

Since haiku tend to have at least one concrete image, often two, it can be a good starting point to approach haiku from the senses. From there, to get a better idea of what haiku is/can be, as already mentioned I recommend reading widely & deeply. Find out what resonates with you & perhaps ask yourself why.

Write poems that mean something to you. Poetry is of course also a form of communication, & when we write haiku it is crucial to leave enough space for the reader. Allow your life to seep into your poems, delving deeper into those aspects that fascinate you & that you wish to write about. Accuracy is key, so know your subject matter etc, & know it really well. The use of language is important, the sounds created, rhythm.

Regarding the aesthetics that inform haiku, get a sense of what appeals to you (or not), & find ways to incorporate these into your work. Know the ‘rules’ but don’t let them constrain you. Find freedom in form & balance between intuition & craft. Get to know the techniques/devices/formats etc but don’t over-rely on them. Develop an understanding of various key characteristics of haiku, such as brevity, concision, cut, depth of feeling, seasonality, simplicity etc; & explore what feels authentic & works for you.

It takes time, be patient, perhaps approach it as a journey without a set destination, but with discoveries along the way.

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

Currently I’m working on a novella that explores haiku in relation to mental health. Also, a while back, I had the pleasure of talking haiku & life with Mike Rehling at Failed Haiku, which was fun. The interview is available on YouTube, here.

Mentoring is another aspect I enjoy (for those interested contact me on the email address given below), as well as giving presentations/workshops & teaching haiku in the classroom/other settings.

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

I will share a few of my haiku below, but rather than explaining them, I invite readers to step into them & see what they’ll find.

a hint of jasmine
the rest
is moonlight
The Haiku Hecameron: Gratitude in the Time of COVID-19

by means of pheromones summer clouds
–Modern Haiku 54:3

hearing it
in the robin’s song
first light
–Presence #75

in this small puddle the whole oak
–Acorn, spring 2019

autumn rain
nobody to hold
the ladder
–Presence #71

a pebble
sinks into its silence
river dusk
–Presence #61

I’ve enjoyed hedgerow: a journal of small poems for many years now. What do you enjoy the most about running your own publication?

Reading so many poems! My vision for the journal when I first started it in 2014 was to create a space for a mix of voices, approaches & poems. The journal is about each individual poem, as much as it is about the greater whole. I still have poets submitting now that were in the very first issues, yet every new issue I hear from poets that are new to me. I think it is just this mix that makes hedgerow so exciting to edit. The poetry journals are where you get a sense of what is going on in a particular poetry community.

Caroline Skanne is the founder/editor of hedgerow & the former editor of Blithe Spirit (the journal of the British Haiku Society). Born in Stockholm, Sweden, she now lives with her family by the river Medway, Kent, U.K. Samples of her work can be found at www.carolineskanne.com. Please contact her at carolineskanne@gmail.com for any queries regarding poetry/writing, mentoring, presentations/workshops etc.

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 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 3 Comments

  1. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on process Caroline. Your revision process resonated with me strongly. I too, find myself coming back to my haiku again and again, and with time, the best words do find themselves and away they go to a contest or a journal. I simply never rush myself when it comes to writing these little tiny poems. And such wonderful examples you share!

  2. Lovely interview with an amazing poet and generous editor.

    This haiku of Caroline’s speaks to me — reminding me of my struggles as a single parent when I felt so very alone and overwhelmed.

    in this small puddle the whole oak
    –Acorn, spring 2019

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