This week, New to Haiku is pleased to interview Debbie Strange, author of A Year Unfolding: Haiku (Folded Word, 2017) and winner of the 2019 Sable Books International Women’s Haiku Book Contest Award for her book, The Language of Loss: Haiku & Tanka Conversations (Sable Books 2020). Thanks for sharing your haiku journey with us, Debbie.
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.
Welcome to New to Haiku, Debbie! How did you come to learn about haiku?
I have written poetry and songs since childhood, but all I “knew” about haiku was that they were defined as nature poems written in a strict 5/7/5 syllable pattern. I dabbled in writing this style for many years. When I joined social media, I soon discovered that my knowledge was completely outdated! My eyes were opened to a whole new way of reading and writing haiku. I instantly fell in love with short-form poetry, and it has since become a powerful healing force, and the creative passion in my life.
Do you have a haiku mentor? What advice did they give you? Did someone else’s haiku greatly influence your own?
The first editor to publish my haiku was the esteemed poet, an’ya, and that acceptance changed the course of my writing life. She gave me pointers regarding personification and line breaks, and she holds a special place in my heart to this day. I consider every poet whose work touches me in some way to be a mentor! This influences my writing and my appreciation for the myriad ways in which haiku’s compact form has broadened my horizons.
Where do you most often write? Do you have a writing process?
I write anywhere and everywhere! I keep notebooks beside the bed, on my desk, and in my pocket. One of my main sources of inspiration is a series of journals spanning over 40 years, which chronicle the adventures of my husband and me in the Canadian wilds. These observations of the world are my lifeline to nature, especially now that I do not have the physical stamina I once enjoyed. I also keep a file of interesting words, fragments, and facts, which are invaluable sources of ideas for writing haiku. I have been an avid photographer for decades, and I often use images to spark my writing process. By using these techniques, I never have to wait for the muse to come calling!
My writing and art practice helps distract me from chronic pain. It allows me to attain a meditative state of mind, fostering a sense of purpose. I am at my desk for about five hours each day. During this time, I write haiku and tanka, revise, prepare and track submissions, update publication data, and create haiga.
Every haiku I craft presents a unique challenge, and to be quite frank, I sometimes feel as though I am flailing about in uncharted waters! I find these small poems incredibly difficult to compose, but immensely rewarding when the right words fall into place. After countless drafts, I read the completed haiku aloud until its breath becomes my own. I strive to leave a gate open to welcome readers into my sanctuary. Sometimes I over-polish the poem, and once it has lost its shine, I must begin again.
How do you approach reading haiku?
Exposing oneself to the work of classical masters and modern haiku practitioners is of paramount importance in order to grow as a poet. I subscribe to several highly regarded print journals, and I regularly access well-established online magazines. Haiku anthologies are perfect for studying differing approaches to the form. I support the work of others by purchasing their books and sharing their accomplishments online, but deteriorating vision has curtailed my reading of late.
Though I am unable to perform at poetry readings or attend Zoom events, I greatly enjoy listening to haiku presentations on YouTube, which helps keep me connected to the poetry community.
What print journals, online journals, or YouTube channels do you recommend for the purpose of studying haiku?
- The Haiku Foundation (THF also has a dedicated Video Gallery.)
- The Poetry Pea
- Failed Haiku
- Haiku Poets of Northern California
- Haiku Society of America
- Daily Haiku (Charlotte Digregorio)
- NeverEnding Story (Chen-ou Liu)
- Graceguts (Michael Dylan Welch)
- Mann Library’s Daily Haiku Column (Tom Clausen)
For those just starting out, what advice would you give?
I spent a full year reading, writing, and researching before I took my first tentative steps along the haiku pathway. It is very easy for novice poets to become overwhelmed by the plethora of haiku “rules,” and in so doing, lose their enthusiasm for the form. I recommend Terry Ann Carter’s tiny book of instruction, hue: a day at Butchart Gardens (Leaf Press 2014) as a gentle introduction to the basics. The Haiku Foundation offers a treasure trove of resources and lesson plans for all poets at every stage of their writing journey!
Once you feel confident enough to venture forth, try to send out your work on a regular basis. Rejections are a necessary part of a writer’s growth, and they simply mean that your work did not connect with a particular editor. They should never be taken personally! I learn something from every acceptance, as well as from every rejection, and it is always a bonus when an editor provides feedback. Be open to editorial advice, and be gracious to those who so generously volunteer their time to help us become better poets.
Entering reputable contests is a fun way to discover whether one’s haiku is resonating within the global community. The best thing about placing in a contest is not the award itself, but rather, the judge’s personalized commentary! It is encouraging and affirming to know that your work has engaged at least one reader.
What are some of the fun ways that you have used or experienced haiku?
In March of 2020, as Covid-19 began making its presence known, I wanted to find a way to share a little joy with the Twitter short-form poetry community. To that end, between March 25 and May 18, I made haiga for 50 emerging and established poets whose work complemented a series of my previously published photographs. (You can view these on Twitter using the hashtag #DebbieMStrangeHaigaProject.)
In 2014, I initiated another Twitter project, inviting poets to write on the theme of “feathers” (#LostFeatherPoetClub). Over 100 poets participated in that challenge, with more than 200 poems posted!
What are your favorite haiku that you have written? Can you share a story behind one of them?
One of the highlights of my haiku life was having the following three poems shortlisted (30 haiku selected from over 800 nominations) in The Haiku Foundation’s 2019 Touchstone Awards for Individual Poems:
I skip a pebble across
- Seashores 2, 2019
1st Place OtherWordly Intergalactic Haiku Competition
- Shamrock Haiku Journal 42, 2019
we fold our worries
into the river
- Acorn 42, Spring 2019
It reassures me to know that a panel of six accomplished haiku poets deemed these poems worthy of inclusion.
Many of my haiku are written from a poetry-of-place perspective, and natural history is regularly featured in my work. Making haiga in a variety of media (ink, watercolour, photography, digital), using illustrative, associative, and interpretive techniques is a vital part of my creative process.
This sketch-of-life, illustrative haiga, evokes fond memories for me. We were camped beside a lake in mid-autumn. A huge harvest moon was on the rise, accompanied by the soft calls of snow geese overhead. Their loose skeins gave the appearance of reins, pulling the moon out of the water.
Though writing about the moon in a fresh way can be an exercise in frustration, I was honoured that this haiku placed first, as it appealed to the judge of the 2017 Autumn Moon Haiku Journal’s annual contest, Dr. Bruce Ross:
“Many haiku have been written about the effect of moonlight and the moon’s reflection. This haiku is unique and highly poetic in its expressions.”
What haiku-related project are you currently working on that brings you joy? What do you like about it?
My husband and I are planning to produce a book that will pair his childhood bird watching field notes and watercolour paintings with my short-form poetry and photography. We hope to be able to give copies to our friends and families as keepsakes, and we’re brimming over with ideas at the moment!
Debbie Strange is an internationally published short-form poet, haiga artist, and photographer whose creative passions connect her more closely to the world and to herself. She was honoured to receive the 2020 Snapshot Press Book Award for a forthcoming haiku manuscript, and the 2019 Sable Books International Women’s Haiku Book Contest Award for her book, The Language of Loss: Haiku & Tanka Conversations (Sable Books 2020). Debbie is the author of two full-length collections of tanka triptychs, Warp and Weft: Tanka Threads (Keibooks 2015), and its sequel, Three-Part Harmony: Tanka Verses (Keibooks 2018), as well as the haiku chapbook, A Year Unfolding (Folded Word 2017). She maintains an archive of publications and awards at debbiemstrange.blogspot.com.