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New to Haiku: Advice for Beginners – Crystal Simone Smith, Part 1

When you are New to Haiku, you may not know anyone who shares your interest in this little poetry form. We asked 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.

This week, we begin our interview with Crystal Simone Smith, managing editor of Backbone Press, and a general editor of Juxapositions, the haiku research and scholarship journal of The Haiku Foundation. Thanks for sharing your story with us, Crystal!

How did you come to learn about haiku?

Years ago, I came to know poet Lenard D. Moore. He led a black writers’ collective and in the workshops haiku was often written and distributed for critique. Moore is remarkable practitioner of the form—writing haiku daily. Curiosity obliged me to attempt a haiku. I had not read haiku outside of the occasional haiku in the workshops, so my attempts were quite unsuccessful in the beginning. Moore offered me haiku journals and I began to mimic what I read. I then began to understand haiku or “aha” moments. Eventually, I wrote and workshopped decent haiku. I was then challenged by Moore to write one haiku daily for a year. I took on the challenge.

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

I rely strongly on poetic moments for free verse and certainly for haiku writing. Some poets can write from prompts and on cue, but I need “the moment” and it can occur anywhere and time. I rarely miss it. It is critical to capture it immediately and jot it down, sometimes in a quick photo for notes later. Once the moment is recorded, I set aside time to write and polish the poem.

How do you approach reading haiku?

Like all art forms, there’s a lot of bad haiku simmering and sometimes served up in the world. I don’t recommend Googling “haiku.” I mainly read in the genre I write, contemporary haiku forms, though translations of Masters like Basho, Issa, and Shiki should be read too. They gave us the formal foundations like season and awareness. When reading contemporary haiku, my approach is simple. I think of haiku as an offering of the poet’s soundest distillation of a moment. Well-composed haiku should have all or most of the components—juxtaposition, nature, image—to name only some, but I focus ultimately on the engagement. I want haiku that resonates with me in powerful ways, as well as haiku that moves me in the subtlest ways.


Crystal Simone Smith is an award-winning poet. She founded and serves as the managing editor of Backbone Press. Her haiku has appeared in Frogpond, Modern Haiku, Acorn, The Heron’s Nest, and elsewhere. She is the author Wild Flowers: haiku, senryu, haiga and co-author of One Window’s Light, Unicorn Press. She is currently an Humanities Unbounded Fellow at Duke University.

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 5 Comments

  1. Years ago (1987), I earned the Doctor of Education degree at Northern Illinois University. My area was Special Education. We had one law course, and I learned that the disability cases were based on Civil Rights law. The lessons I helped write for THF include adaptations, so all students can participate. And I agree with Crystal Simone Smith about “the moment” and haiku. So many of my poems are inspired by views from the kitchen window and my small study. Thank you.

  2. Excellent!

    Also check out:

    Witnessing: Resistance Poetry
    Crystal Simone Smith, Sheila Smith McKoy

    election night map
    the bloody south
    remains bloody


    slave museum—
    the entrance fountain
    an ebbing shore


    in the midst
    of killings
    the flowers return


    pool hall—
    I beat the hajibed
    woman’s husband


    downtown rebuild
    a preacher sermons
    his homeless congregation


    another mass shooting
    my son practices
    his trumpet solo


    slave quarters
    in one brick
    a thumbprint


    synagogue shooting
    a spring clothesline
    of waving colors

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