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New to Haiku: Advice for Beginners–Kati Mohr

Today at New to Haiku, let’s welcome Kati Mohr. Kati recently won a 2023 Touchstone Award for Individual Haibun. Her work has been published in many journals worldwide, including Kingfisher, Wales Haiku Journal, The Haibun Journal, whiptail: journal of the single-line poem, Lothlorien Poetry Journal, The Pan Haiku Review, Poetry Pea Journal and Podcast, Frogpond, Presence, Blithe Spirit, and MacQueen’s Quinterly. Thanks for sharing your haiku journey with us, Kati!

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, Kati! How did you come to learn about haiku?

I have no memory at all where and when I first heard about haiku! It must have been at least mentioned at school. But I blame my initial start three years ago on a fellow Instapoet. Yes, I started writing and sharing poetry in general on Instagram; I’m one of those infamous Instapoets. It was a good ground for exploration, finding my voice and ethics of conduct. He shared this t-shirt design by Rolf Nelson which has developed into a meme:

Haikus are easy
But sometimes they don’t make sense
Refrigerator

Haha, I didn’t know it, and I was curious what the sharer thought. I wrote back and asked, and he assured me that haiku are really, REALLY easy to write. I got really angry. And tried to reason with him that haiku are more than counting up to five and seven on your fingers. And although I didn’t know much back then, I was sure he was not right. But I needed to know more, I needed facts! So I searched the Internet. For hours. I read essays, blogs, found contemporary haiku poets on Instagram.

I did my research, and the more I read, the more confused I got. But that is okay. When it gets messy, we begin to create, in response to that. So I started to write haiku, and they might not have been technically good, but they were honest and as-is. Maybe they are better than I think they are. I need to go back, regard them with more favour.

Do you have a haiku mentor?

Not really. I have a necklace of wonderfully supportive fellow poets and take part in the Haiku Society of America mentorship program as a mentee. Linda Papanicolaou is a great mentor, open and welcoming!

I frequently take part in haiku workshops. My first one was with Shloka Shankar; my latest is “The Shape of Haibun” by Alan Summers.

What advice did they give you?

  • There is always more.
  • Trust your intuition.
  • Guidelines are not infinitely unchanging, but there needs to be a reason behind the way you choose to write.
  • Repeat these steps!

Be headstrong and obstinate in pursuing art. (That’s from me though!)

Did someone else’s haiku greatly influence your own?

Marlene Mountain. Just when I think I’ve read it all, there comes one by her around the corner that teaches me to be humble and fierce.

How do you approach reading haiku?

I read them, and when they manage to force me to reread, I’m so happy. That poet did their magic. Sometimes I’ll search meanings and animals and plants and geographical references in detail to be able to dig deeper, and honour that poet’s labour.

If a haiku doesn’t catch me, that’s okay. Maybe it is even a winning haiku, but not every poem is written for being approachable and talking to anybody.

I need to be economical with my ability to focus and process more complex things, so I have tons of haiku genre books and journals at my bedside and only so many windows of opportunity to appreciate them in depth. (This is okay, too.)

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

I used to cut words and fragments out of books or my own typewritten haiku and glue them on small wooden bricks (children’s toy). Isn’t it fascinating, to build new ideas with newly built ideas (haiku)? I used them as Christmas tree ornaments, and made a garland around the chimney, too. Oh, and I made a series of ten ‘haiku bricks’ that I gifted to some people, with my very first ever published haiku on it. (It was in the annual anthology of the Haiku Society of America.) If you have one, check for the serial number. I will not add more of these. But I may do more bricks in general!

It’s less about fun, but I write poetry about how I perceive my surroundings and myself, to make sense of the way my brain enters the conversation with the outer world, and haiku force me to be precise. It is a one-of-a-kind tool for not only awareness but also for self-awareness, if one allows it.

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

One could debate if this is a haiku, but I experience seasons in my life, and this is clearly winter for me.

HORSE MANE tell me what you want

Pan Haiku Review, Issue 1, 2023

How did I write it? I had an emotion at hand that I needed to find words for. Sometimes one feels like if one cannot yell it out, it will eat you up from the inside, right? My childhood consisted of me needing to figure out the grown-ups in my close proximity. Partially because they (unconsciously) needed me to, partially because I felt unsafe and confused by their inconsistencies, I literally ran around all day trying to figure out what they wanted. I was a permanent ball of nervous energy inside. But all this energy, I had to hold it in, it was not important. I, myself, and what I wanted were not important. It was like my hair having been cut off, all my wildness tamed. Oh, wildness! Horses! (That’s also my usual writing process.)

Another one that I’m still working on, it might need some more years, is this one:

pointing
at the moon
soft grass

As James W. Hackett once said, one should not look at the bejeweled finger pointing at the moon but at the moon herself . . . saying that one need not get lost in the embellishments, the curlicues, when one writes a haiku, it will just distract from what one truly wants to show.

This is a bit tongue-in-cheek. While cutting off any embellishments from this haiku, I finish it with ‘soft grass that points at the moon.’ Sometimes what we want to point at is not the main character, and we learn that after we try to focus on it and it doesn’t work out. There is something more fragile and delicate, closer to us.

Please tell us about the haiku community in Germany. If someone from Germany wants to get involved with haiku, what advice would you give?

Seriously, this is the most difficult question! Because I haven’t published ONE haiku or tanka in Germany, as I simply do not write in German usually, although it is my mother tongue. I’m almost non-existent to the German haiku community!

The reason? Maybe because I have English-speaking friends and shared free verse and other poetry forms on Instagram early on. Maybe because the English language has some fine peculiarities which help a lot with double meanings, like the gerund. Maybe because it feels liberating to use a language free from all my past. Maybe because German haiku still haven’t grabbed me. Many are very traditional, so to say. I appreciate that, and I am also always looking out for contemporary developments. They excite me. All of that together!

So I cannot give German writers any advice, except for this: Be courageous. Explore German haiku AND haiku in other languages, because the diversity of approaches will keep you open. Art needs open minds.

Congrats on your 2023 Touchstone Award for Individual Haibun. What do you enjoy about haibun? How is writing haibun different than writing haiku?

Thank you, Julie!! Oh, haibun and I, we have found each other in order to never part again. The thing is, I usually have a backstory in mind when I write haiku. And sometimes the haiku may be fine as is but works so much better as a prism to the backstory. I enjoy writing prose, but I’m bad in writing a full set of development necessary for a short story or a novel (but maybe this is just a challenge, and I love challenges. I do have a children’s book in my drawer, about a mouse and a socially anxious elephant. One day!). Jumping right into a scene, pulling out the most of it, that’s my cup of tea.

When I write a haibun I start similarly to writing a haiku: it begins with a pressing emotion or need of expression. Sometimes the prose is there first, sometimes the haiku. I enjoy the interplay of both—great songs need tune, rhythm, voice and lyrics. The same goes for haibun. My younger son would ask me now maybe, “What if you had to choose that one form to write until you die, just single haiku/tanka or rather haibun/tanka prose?” He loves these this-or-that questionnaires! I would respond with a definite, “The latter.”

You recently self-published a book of tanka, something with feathers. What advice do you have for haiku poets who want to self-publish their own collections?

Gather material old and new, and edit it rigorously. Sleep over it. Come back to it. Repeat.

Something very important: have an idea about what keeps your collection together, is there a common topic? A development? A shift in emotions, setting, season, zooming in or out? Be sure each poem works in its place as predecessor and successor.

Not everybody is like me. I confess I tend to be a perfectionist and want to do it all by myself, hence I created, designed and did the layout of the book on my own. If this seems overwhelming, consider getting help with it. Some self-publishing platforms or editors/designers do this. Some even offer prepared covers for sale. Just make sure it looks professional and enticing!

There are so many things to consider when you self-publish! So make it a long project, don’t give up, trust that you have something to say. Because you have. Only you can do what you do, no one else.

Kati Mohr (she | they), born 1976, is a disabled intuitive artist, known online as pi & anne, who lives in Germany with her family and two rabbits. She likes to jump into old ponds to pull up lost cargo, mostly in the form of poems (but not exclusively!). Her art aims to track down the filters that humans apply, because how we see things says more about us than about the things themselves. She is happy she placed second in The Marlene Mountain Memorial Contest 2023 and received a Touchstone Award for her haibun “All These Things”.

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 17 Comments

  1. Wow!! I really loved reading your story and you are indeed a walking energy ball with lots of emotions!
    Congratulations for all your achievements!!

  2. I have so enjoyed following you on Insta, Kati, and I find you to be incredibly inspiring because you bring such originality and fierce honesty to everything you write. It was thrilling watching your haibun progress through the Touchstone process, and I was elated you were one of the winners. ???

    1. Ohhh, Eavonka, doing my inner happy dance right now!! You people here in the comments make me blush all over! Hugs to you <3

  3. Congratulations, Kati, on the Touchstone award for “All These Things.” It’s a fine haibun.

    You write “prose that sounds like poetry,” and your haiku are, indeed, poetry, too! Both Bashō and Walt Whitman would have loved your image of the “soft grass” that’s “pointing at the moon.”

    1. Hi Richard, well, I learnt a lot about writing prose from the best (my friend whom this haibun is about) so I’ll pass that compliment on to her, too :). Maybe this haiku with the soft grass doesn’t need too much editing additionally, I will sit with it. Thank you for your encouraging words!!

  4. Really enjoyed reading this, Kati and congratulations again on your winning haibun. I always enjoy when your poetry, prose and/or artwork crosses my path.

  5. Enjoyed reading this. Thank you.

    Thanks for the callout on Marlene Mountain. There is no one anywhere with a voice like that. “the old tin roof” reads white hot every time I revisit it.

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