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New to Haiku: Advice for Beginners—Marianne Paul

Today at New to Haiku, let’s welcome Marianne Paul. A talented artist and writer, her haiku have been honored and published worldwide. She co-edited the 2021 Haiku Canada members’ anthology, random sampling. Marianne currently serves on the judges’ panel for the 2024 Touchstone Awards for Individual Poems. Thanks for sharing your haiku (and haiga!) journey with us, Marianne.

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, Marianne! For those just starting out with haiku, what advice would you give?

Search out a community of poet-folk with whom you feel comfortable sharing your haiku. Get together regularly to read to each other, and to be each other’s audience and cheerleaders. It’s a joy in itself to share poems with others who appreciate and understand haiku.

If you can’t find an existing group, create one. You don’t need a lot of people. What you do need are participants willing to make a commitment to each other, and to haiku. When you make a commitment to others to bring new work to the group it gives you the impetus to write regularly. It’s through writing regularly that you hone your skill, that you come to understand haiku as a way of life, a daily practice, rather than something to do as an “aside” or when the elusive muse strikes.

Haiku is about being mindful of the small details in everyday life. It’s an observational form, and always begins with observation — whether that’s watching nature and the outer landscape, or whether that’s watching your emotional world, your inner landscape.

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

A member of the haiku group to which I belong designed t-shirts with haiku on it by each of us. I still wear that t-shirt. And I once had a video haiku playing on repeat on a giant screen atop my hometown’s city hall. That was surreal.

One summer, I set out to kayak daily and to write two haiku after each outing. I loved the physicality of it, a way to close the gap between what I was writing and what I had experienced. It made me acutely aware of what was happening around me — the fish, the dragonflies, the geese, the shoreline, the ripples, the breeze, the river scents, all grist for the haiku mill. And recently, a haiku-friend sent me a Christmas gift that included gift tags with her original haiku written on them by hand. I added her gift tags, strings and all, to a handcrafted book I made from left-over pieces of my abstract art, resulting in a unique collaboration.

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

I’m drawn toward multi-media approaches to haiku, combining words with other forms of expression. I love working with haiga, using digital art to complement the poetry and vice versa, so that together they become more than their parts. Lately, I’ve been working with base or original layers that are “real”, something I can hold in my hands and work with physically, rather than starting from a digital base such as a photo. I like the tactile feel of the process. There’s an intuitive quality to the making — creating the haiga becomes a physical act and not solely intellectual.

Using Japanese paper scraps to create collages brings me great joy! There are so many wonderful print patterns and textures. I often use paper, scissors and paste to create the visuals, although I’ve also used other items — leaves, flowers, rocks, shells, buttons, safety pins, stickers, whatever suits. I lay the haiku atop of the art, either through hand-printing, or digitally after I photographed the collage and pulled it into a photo app. I’m currently working on a handcrafted book that will feature haiga-styled collages and haiku. I’m hoping to do an original one-of-a-kind book, the “mother” so to speak, consisting of the actual art pieces, and then put together a print-run book version, and perhaps a digital copy, so three iterations.

I am a big fan of your gorgeous collages and paper art. What projects do you recommend for those new to paper art?

Get reacquainted with your inner child and rediscover what it is to play. Play frees up the intuitive parts of your brain, the creative parts. Try not to be too structured, the joy of haiku and related forms is in letting loose of the “reins” just enough to let what is unexpected and unique shine through. That means not starting with a fully-baked idea, but letting the ideas take shape through the process. In terms of a recommended project, get out scissors and a glue stick, find some print magazines or ads/pamphlets, or old children’s books with illustrations, or other images, and play! Cut out the shapes, and start rearranging them on a background page or surface. Get some sponges and kids’ paints, and add some colourful splotches, or other shapes.

Once you’ve “got something,” photograph the whole piece, and then zoom in on the parts. I sometimes end up using portions of a piece rather than the whole. Next play with the art in a photo/art program — I often save to my photo album several versions before I decide which one to use.

How do you decide which pieces work well by themselves and which ones are good for creating haiga?

I try out several haiku, or versions of the haiku, with the same piece of art. Sometimes the collage or art just has to percolate for a long time before I find a haiku to match. The challenge comes from the nature of haiga itself. There’s a link-and-shift relationship between the art and poem. The easy thing is to write a poem that describes or refers directly to the art — but that’s not haiga. There needs to be a relationship between the haiku and the art but one that’s subtle, that makes the haiga more than its parts alone.

I had a collage (the base layer background was painted by my young granddaughter) published in an e-book from Sonic Boom Journal (Yvanika Press) to celebrate World Collage Day 2024. Although I’ve given the collage a title (and to my listening ears) I’ve yet to find the right haiku to go with it. I like the quirky and joyful nature of the piece, but I don’t want to use a haiku that references sound directly. So for now, it stands alone, but hopefully someday it will have a haiku to go with it.

Another of my pieces won the Jane Reichhold Memorial Haiga Competition in 2016 in the mixed media category. The haiku and art happened more or less simultaneously. I started with the photo — a toddler walking along the beach — and used an Apple pen and my iPad to colour the photo like you might do with a colouring book. The haiku was a response to news reports of the stoning of women by religious extremists.

You have also created limited edition hand-bound books of haiku and other poetry. What recommendations do you have for poet-artists who would like to learn the craft of book-making? What do you enjoy most about creating your own book art?

I enjoy the feel of old-fashioned, held-in-the-hand, turn-the-page books. I enjoy approaching poetry and its presentation as the same entity and not separate or subservient to the other. I enjoy being involved in a hands-on tactile way in each step of the publishing and “making” process.

One of my hobbies is bookbinding. To combine my passions, I started a small press (paper heron press) where I make chapbooks by hand using traditional bookbinding methods, and where the artistry of the book is equally important as the poems. There are so many options for making your own poetry art books. You can keep it simple by making “zines” or pamphlets folded and hand-stitched down the centre. You can make elaborate books with several signatures or sections sewn together and encased in hard covers. You can do “artistic” books, such as accordion or concertina styled, or Coptic stitched.

To learn bookbinding, the best thing to do is try it. You’ll get better with practice. Search out workshops and how-to videos. I’ve taken several courses online and in person, and look for those that walk participants through the steps of a specific book form. Instagram is also where you can get ideas by searching out bookbinders and book artists. I belong to a Canadian organization called Canadian Bookbinders and Book Artists Guild that run lots of workshops for various skill levels.

The choices of papers mean a lot to the end quality of the book, so lean towards higher quality, both for the text and covers. I love working with Japanese papers, so check those out along the way!

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

This haiku came to me during a winter walk in the dead of a Canadian winter night. The temperatures were sub-zero, but there was an amazingly clear sky. I was totally alone — nobody else walking. The moment almost felt like prayer. The haiku was awarded first place in the Shambhala Times Midwinter Haiku Contest 2015.

winter winds
behind my back
the stars

Another favourite was published in whiptail: journal of the single-line poem, Issue 9, and alludes to my love of nature, haiku and handcrafted books.

paper making the poetics of wasps

Marianne Paul is a Canadian poet and writer. Her chapbook, Body Weight, A Collection of Haiku and Art, was published by Human/Kind Press and won the Haiku Canada Marianne Bluger Chapbook Award. Her haiku and art have been recognized through first place standings in the Jane Reichhold Memorial Haiga Competition, the Vancouver Cherry Blossom Haiku Festival, and the Shambhala Times Midwinter Haiku contest and as a finalist in the Trailblazers Contest. Marianne started “paper heron press,” a micro publishing house that focuses on the tactile relationship between book and poem.

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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 One Comment

  1. Thanks for sharing! I think the link between verbal and visual arts is important and fruitful—I particularly appreciated this part of your interview.

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