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New to Haiku: Advice for Beginners — Lakshmi Iyer

Today at New to Haiku, let’s meet Lakshmi Iyer.  Lakshmi’s haiku and senryu have appeared in publications worldwide, including Wales Haiku Journal, whiptail: journal of the single-line poem, failed haiku, Haikuniverse, Under the Basho, and haikuKATHA. One of her haiku was long-listed for the Touchstone Award for Individual Poems in 2021, and she has placed honorable mentions in The First Yugen International Haiku Contest of Romania, the THF Monthly Kukai, and the 24th Mainichi Haiku Contest. Thanks for sharing your haiku journey with us, Lakshmi.

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, Lakshmi!

Greetings from India!! At the outset, I would like to thank you, Julie & The Haiku Foundation for inviting me to this interview. I am overwhelmed and I consider this an honour for me.

How did you come to learn about haiku?

Japan has always been my favourite since my school days, and I’m sure haiku found me. I came across the word ‘haibun’ from my first cousin G. Akila, a haijin and a free verse poet. Curious to learn about haibun, haiku rewired my senses and we got connected in 2017. It was a spiritual breakthrough for me as I was shifted into that space of universal silence. Kala Ramesh added me to the Triveni Haikai India Facebook page in October 2018, and it was quite a learning process. Initially I struggled, but somehow I could perceive the knowledge of haiku. Once the fire got lit, the urge to hop into all haiku-related genres became a habit.

This full moon hiding haiga was judged to be among the best published in 2021 and selected for Contemporary Haibun print anthology by Rich Youmans and Ron C. Moss.

Do you have a haiku mentor?

Kala Ramesh, Founder & Director of Triveni Haikai India is my first Guru. My journey started with her guidance and nurturing. I attended her workshops on haiku, tanka and haibun during the pandemic. Then later, in the Triveni Gurukulam Mentorship Program 2021, I was a mentee of K. Ramesh. Now, with the full-fledged website of Triveni Haikai India, I am able to workshop my poems under well-versed senior poets and mentors.

What advice did they give you?

I had jotted down the following line about haiku in one of the workshops by Kala Ramesh and it stays with me:

“[Haiku is] the space between objects, the silence between sounds and the stillness between actions.”

Kala also appreciates poems with Indian kigo words. K. Ramesh discussed in length the speculations of Robert Speiss and to search for those layers of perspectives in its highest form of simplicity. Ultimately, it’s the discipline and deliverance of the haiku moment in that self awareness and the transition from self to universal that makes all the difference.

Did someone else’s haiku greatly influence your own?

No, not really. I regard the Japanese Masters as creators and each of their poems have a unique voice. I appreciate the work of many authoritative poems that are therapeutic for me and open the window to a new dimension of this craft. What hooks me is the ordinariness taking the shape of an extraordinariness. I try to imbibe the techniques but find it hard to portray. The struggle continues for ‘the very good poem’!

Where do you most often write?

I used to scribble in my diary and I have at least 200 poems. But, I have rejected most of the scribbles, as they are not haiku! Maybe, someday I shall rework them to a senryu. The persistence to write continues whenever I come across any phrase or word in the newspaper, concrete images on my tour across India or the minutest observation in my daily routine. I roughly draft them in my submissions and allow them to rest for a while until they actually fructify.

Do you have a writing process?

Most of my haiku are my observations and experiences. I like to include kigo words of the Indian subcontinent and our Saijiki of Triveni Haikai India is very handy. I pretty much do my homework when it comes to submissions to journals and contests. I have learnt not to hurry even if the deadline is on the dot. Sometimes, I just skip the submissions. I go by my inner voice or to say my voice of the poem. It’s tough to get through, but not impossible. With rejections come surprises and with surprises come a readiness to learn and share.

How do you approach reading haiku?

I’m not a very avid reader, but if I get the time I do read the essays and archives of many journals. Robert Speiss’ Speculations deliver subtlety and most of the poems are an eye-opener to the minimalist. The Haiku Foundation is another favourite reading room for me. Our Triveni Haikai India website is growing day by day and provides a rich source of knowledge in all genres of haikai. Healthy suggestions and critique helps. I google for the key words when trying to understand the techniques and the character of a poem. I also make an attempt to give my commentary for re:Virals at The Haiku Foundation and that expands my perception. Ben Gaa‘s Haiku Talk on Youtube and Patricia’s McGuire The Haiku Pea Podcast are my favourites. They magnify the approach to haiku and streamline the mannerisms of haiku writing.

Charlotte Digregorio once asked the haiku community, “How does reading and writing haiku or senryu motivate you to live a purposeful life?

My answer which Charlotte kindly edited:

“Reading haiku is like going through an encyclopedia of nature and mankind and writing haiku is going on a spiritual journey inside. It has cultivated a discipline of being in the world of space and silence. I feel I am doing justice to the creation open to us.”

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

  • Learn the basics and jot down what you observe and experience, even if it is the mundane or casual moments.
  • Listen to interviews, podcasts and talks of well-established poets because listening always helps.
  • Never write on compulsion, just let the happening of haiku be natural. Dive into your intuitiveness.
  • Haiku is a visual art. Catch the concrete image and allow its voice to resonate through your breath.
  • Haiku connects poets across the globe; it is an invincible dialogue. Just stylize the freshness with the ethics in mind.
  • Let the juxtaposition be your signature.
  • Social media is a big avenue to showcase the best of haikai. Join a haiku group or community. Triveni Haikai India’s website is a rich platform for beginners as well as for haiku enthusiasts. Try to attend the utsavs and conferences. Share and exchange your valid thoughts, knowledge and haikai. What better therapy than a smile on the reader’s face?
  • Be honest and truthful in your writing. Don’t get carried away with winning or losing. Just be ‘YOU’!

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

The Covid pandemic had brought all of us to a big halt. But, it opened the window to online platforms. Kala Ramesh conceptualised the Zoom conferences Triveni Haikai Geetmala and Haiku for Healing. Whilst the former took everyone by surprise as poets sang their haikai with their favourite tunes, the latter created an atmosphere of pure sympathy and empathy as 30 poets read out their poems for healing. I also participated in Triveni Virtual Ginko Meet where poets shared their experience of their ginko walk with poems. Two unpublished poems of mine written then:

winter sun
in my ginko walk
i unpack myself

forest bathing
i trespass
her breath

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

During the Haiku Poets of Northern California Zoom meeting on March 19, 2023, Kala Ramesh was invited to give a talk on ‘The state of Indian Haiku’. I found myself extremely humbled when Kala read two of my poems under ‘rising haiku poets,’ which are my favourites:

economics class
a jet plane in the sky draws
the exponential curve

Under the Basho, 2022

autumn clothesline
the same old inner wear
taking turns

haikuKATHA, November 2022

I equally value the moment of the breathtaking experience below at Varanasi:

wheeling gulls
open the blue hour
dawn on the Ganges

Golden Triangle Haiku Poetry Contest, 2023

Nothing has been so special as this — when my poem was selected for the long-list of the Touchstone Awards 2021:

reawakening
to what is not mine
the passing clouds

The Haiku Foundation, Monthly Kukai
Honourable Mention, April 2021

I am happy to say that though I haven’t come up with extraordinary poems, most of them are in the ‘honourable mention’ category:

mother gathers
a spoonful of stars …
autumn light

The First Yugen International Haiku Contest, Romania
Honourable Mention, April 15, 2021

face reading …
nothing new to say
about my husband

haikuKATHA, April 2022
ECC by Shloka Shankar

One more cherished happiness was when Marcie Wessels chose my poem for  commentary on synesthesia:

gunshot pigeons burst open the muezzin’s call

whiptail: journal of the single line poem, Issue 6

I wrote this special tribute to my father. He always reminded me to never forget the path from where we walked upon. My first entry into the journal page on Facebook was in Luca’s Lily Pad, a weekly column of My Haiku Pond. The commentary by Luca Cenisi will be etched in my memory.

kite flying
my dreams
to the sun

Fathers are very special for daughters and this is in honor of him . . . Thanks to Dee Evetts.

mud . . .
nothing much left
of my father now

The Haiku Foundation, Monthly Kukai
Honourable Mention, April 2022

The next poem is timeless. On Makar Sankranti Day, father’s deft hands would quickly fix a newspaper kite. His engineering brain would lift the kite from nothing to everything. My eyes would follow his fingers cutting, sticking and tying the knots. The flight of the kite would be just a few metres high, but the joy in his eyes would sum up my thanksgiving.

newspaper kite
the obituary page
now closer to heaven

24th Mainichi Haiku Contest
Honorable Mention, April 2020

What haiku-related project are you currently working on that brings you joy? What do you like about it?

When I started my journey, I wasn’t familiar nor aware with the submission deadlines to journals and contests. That’s how I made up my own calendar of journals which has now become a regular monthly feature in the Triveni Haikai India website. At present Teji Sethi and myself are editors of that feature.

Indian subcontinent Saijiki, a feature in Triveni Haikai India, is a dream project of Kala Ramesh. As a team member, we are in the process of building a huge database of Indian kigo words. The search is fun as the digging and exploring continues.

At the recent Triveni Haikai India utsav at Pune, I was delighted to write my haiku and tanka on postcards and surprise the poets with a return gift. I wanted to send across the message of celebrating the post, which was once the medium of communication.

You recently co-edited amber i pause, the first anthology by Triveni Haikai India. Congratulations! What was that process like? What do you think are the benefits and challenges posed by co-editing a haiku collection with someone else?

On behalf of Kala Ramesh, Teji Sethi and myself, I would like to thank you for the wishes. amber i pause, the maiden anthology by Triveni Haikai India, was inspired by THF Volunteer Anthology. It was a great breakthrough for me since I was totally new to making an anthology and publishing one. It opened doors to learning and understanding the challenges of the book, the premise, the cover, title, contents, the font, style, aesthetics, etc.

Kala and Teji were well acquainted with the nuances of publishing a book and so I had to keep my eyes and ears open in the most crucial stages. The layout of each page and the contents of the poem had to be checked a million times and this was a big challenge. It wasn’t like co-editing with someone else because our wavelength matched and there was always an urge to bring out the best from all of us. Each of our suggestions and edits were welcomed throughout. We are thankful to Hawakal Publishers for their prompt service. Our dream was to launch at the Triveni Utsav 2023 at Pune which did come true. A big dhanyavaad to all the poets who made it possible for this anthology.

Anything else you’d like to share?

My gratitude to all the senior haijins and poet friends of the haiku community who have supported me throughout. I shouldn’t forget to mention Dr. Pravat Kumar Padhy and Alan Summers who are very generous to share their vast knowledge in all genres of haikai. A big thank you to all the editors and judges of the haikai fraternity who have given a home to my poems.

I find myself fortunate to be one among the 32 poets to answer a question, ‘How do you interpret the intelligence of the heart?’ in a survey conducted by Charlotte Digregorio based on Robert Speiss’ Speculation:

“Haiku are written best and appreciated best through the intelligence of the heart.”

My edited answer:

“The poet listens to the voice of the heart. There is the intelligence quotient of the heart when we write haiku that involves our senses. The mind processes an experience through the senses, and haiku poets use their heart in interpreting the experience. For example, when I see passing clouds, I sometimes equate the clouds with a sad experience I’ve had. I relive the experience and write about it in the present tense. There is the interplay of heart and mind, and therefore, “the intelligence of the heart.”

I believe that haikai, like music, is deep and overflowing. One needs to pause, reflect, contemplate and fill the bowl as per one’s strength and needs. The universal call is unique to each one of us and the heart of the haiku lies in the soul of the poet.

Thank you so much, Julie Bloss Kelsey. Wishing all the poets the very best in their haikai journey!

Lakshmi Iyer resides in ‘God’s Own Country’, Kerala, India. Her haiku, senryu, haibun, tanka, tanka prose, haiga, gembun, cherita, rengay and renku have found their homes in many reputed national and international journals and anthologies. Besides honourable mentions, her haiku was long-listed for the Touchstone Award, 2021 (THF) and her single-line tanka nominated in the Pushcart Prize, 2022 (Whiptail Journal). She is the co-editor of amber i pause, a Dhanyavaad Anthology of Triveni Haikai India.

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 25 Comments

  1. Thank you so much ..for very informative article .Enjoyed your beautiful haiku immensely.

    1. Thank you so much Lanka to have known you and the work that your doing in Sri Lanka to revive Haiku. Great going!!!

  2. Thank you Lakshmi for sharing your perspectives on the art of composing haiku. I enjoyed reading your interview. I am glad to know that you revisit Rober Spiess’ Speculations. There is so much to learn from him!

    It was wonderful to interact with you during our sessions! You brought in a lot of energy and a sense of wonder!

    Your haiku reflect what you have shared about the genre. I enjoyed reading them.

    I wish you all the best in your journey as a Haijin!

    1. Thank you so much Ramesh Sir for all the encouraging words. Really fortunate to have had interactions with you and learn more about the perspectives.

  3. Thank you Lakshmi for this wonderful and profound piece. I admire your work and the way you seem to relate to life through haiku. Best wishes

    1. Thanks so much Tim. Just trying to learn and know Haikai better each day.

  4. Dear Lakshmi,

    Thank you for sharing your deep and wonderful thoughts about haiku. I love your haiku work and insightful commentaries.

    This poem is forever my favourite. It’s poignant spirit soars high in the mind of the reader.

    newspaper kite
    the obituary page
    now closer to heaven

    24th Mainichi Haiku Contest
    Honorable Mention, April 2020

    I am also enamoured by your one-line tanka.

    Best wishes and warm regards,
    Richa Sharma

    1. Thanks much Richa. You too write so well and each time I’m in awe of your contribution.

  5. Thank you so much Firdaus for being a silent contributor to our Haikai community. My deepest regards to poets like you!!

  6. Lovely piece!

    This is so true of haiku:
    “Learn the basics and jot down what you observe and experience, even if it is the mundane or casual moments.”

    The smallest of things often forms the greatest part of haiku after all.

    warmest regards,
    Alan

    Alan Summers
    founder, Call of the Page

    1. Thank you so much Alan for the encouraging words. My warmest regards to you!!

  7. Congratulations, Lakshmi; and thank you for your perceptive contributions to re:Virals. They help us all to deepen our understanding of the craft.

  8. Reading this interview is like seeing into the heart and soul of you Lakshmi. You are unpretentious and honest in your answers and in your poetry writing. I’m glad I came upon this post in the Facebook group My Haiku Pond. By the way, the photos of you are so lovely. They speak volumes of your gentle, caring spirit.

    1. Too humbled Bonnie. Your poems inspire many of us. Thanks much for the wishes.

  9. Dear Lakshmi,
    Your writings translate your honesty. I like your child like wondering and amusements that you bring out in all your haiku and I have said that before. God bless you! Keep writing and keep growing.

  10. Dear Lakshmi,

    The sincerity, honesty and simplicity come through in each of your answers. I’ve always loved your thoughts and the way you express them. We’ve been closely connected and working together on many projects but ‘amber i pause’ (the anthology from Triveni Haikai India) saw us work together like never before. It was lovely working with you, and Teji and Hawakal provided us with the publishing platform so beautifully.

    There is a freshness and spontaneity in your writing which is admirable. I’m thankful that we have you involved with our Triveni Haikai India website. We need poets like you.
    And, most importantly, thank you for mentioning our Indian Haikai organisation. I’m deeply touched you mentioned me so many times too. Very deeply touched.

    Wishing you the very best.
    with Jupiters of love,
    _kala

    1. Thank you so much Kala. Your contribution to Indian Haikai is unbelievable and i have just started to climb a part of the first step. Thanks for all the encouragement, generosity and support!!!

  11. Wonderful, Lakshmi. The mystery of haiku is boundless. Haiku is the boat carrying mankind beyond the horizon, unfolding the ripples and resonating with music. You assimilate ‘haikuism’, a way of living with nature. Thank you, Lakshmi, for mentioning me. I feel humbled.

    Pravat

    1. Thank you so much Sir. You have always been a guiding light in my journey.

  12. Dear Lakshmi, it was so lovely to read about you. What an excellent interview. I loved your answers; all from the simple and big heart that you have. I’m so happy for you. I’ve watched you on your haikai journey; how you’ve taken such large strides with some wonderful poems and I’m so glad people have sat up and taken notice. You’ve this knack of bringing your culture into your poems which is delightfully ‘earthy’ and refreshing. Wishing you the very best in your writing journey. Looking forward to reading more of your lovely poems. My favourite:

    reawakening
    to what is not mine
    the passing clouds

    That wonderfully encompasses a haijin’s journey. Stay blessed.

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