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New to Haiku: Advice for Beginners – Marta Chociłowska

Today at New to Haiku, let’s meet Marta Chociłowska. Marta is the president of the Polish Haiku Association (PHA), and is the dedicated administrator of the Haiku Registry here at the Haiku Foundation. A prize-winner or judge in Polish, Romanian, English, and Japanese haiku contests, Marta is also the managing editor of PHA’s bilingual almanac Migratory Birds. Thanks for sharing your haiku journey with us, Marta.

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

In 2013, in one of the poetry groups on Facebook, someone wrote a seventeen-syllable poem and called it a haiku. This form immediately appealed to me. I was fascinated that so much can be conveyed using a minimum of words.

Do you have a haiku mentor?

Yes, my teacher and my guru is Agnieszka Żuławska-Umeda, the expert in Japanese literature and translator of Japanese, Chinese and Korean prose and poetry.

What advice did your mentor give you?

She taught me (and still does) how to create haiku from the basics — rules of classical 5-7-5 syllable haiku, the use of kigo (seasons in haiku) and kireji (“cutting word”). She also stresses simplicity in writing, careful observation, leaving room for interpretation, the use of sketch form, and listening to the melody of the poem.

Did someone else’s haiku greatly influence your own?

Most of the classical haiku by Matsuo Bashō, Yosa Buson, Kobayashi Issa, Masaoka Shiki I treat as teachers. A very important person for me, who gave me a couple of valuable pieces of advice, is the British poet Mike Keville.

Where do you most often write?

Most often, I compose haiku on bicycle trips outside the city or during long walks by the sea — mainly when I am  surrounded by nature.

Do you have a writing process?

First there is observation: something attracts my attention, allowing my senses to work — sight, hearing, smell.  I usually note lines on impulse, and can be inspired by anything I see. Then I read and correct the sketch many times. Sometimes, I put it aside for longer before I edit it again. I rarely write a good haiku on the first attempt.

How do you approach reading haiku?

I read each haiku several times, trying to imagine the described situation, and translate it into my life experience and observations.

For those just starting out, what advice would you give?
Look around carefully, be a tender observer, and note impressions in the mind. Write sparingly — the fewer words the better. Weigh every word, since each word means so much. Use simple language, without metaphors. Notice and focus on details, not on yourself. Emulate the poems of Japanese masters.

What is a fun way that you have used or experienced haiku?

I went to a poetry reading with a haiku friend where we started talking to each other via haiku. This embarrassed the host of the meeting, but gave us and the audience a lot of fun.

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

This poem received an honorable mention in the haiku contest during the Second International Haiku Conference in Krakow, in May 2015. The judges were Roberta Beary and Robert Kania. It was a complete surprise for me, and a great honor to be among such well-known prize winners as J. Brian Robertson, Bob Moyer, Rob Scott, Stoianka Boianova and Margaret Chula.

rainy season
in the bride’s bouquet
a seed sprouts

This poem (actually not a haiku but a senryu, since it deals with feelings and persons) is also very special to me (published in cattails in May 2015):

childhood blanket
now I wrap in it
my mother’s chill

In fact, I’ve only written a few good haiku so far. The best are yet to come!

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

Now I am in the process of editing the 5th issue of the Almanac of the Polish Haiku Association, Migratory Birds. I like to choose the best haiku sent, suggest possible changes, and I’m happy when a really good haiku is created as a result of such cooperation. Then the process of layout gives me a lot of pleasure and satisfaction.

I’d love to learn more about the Polish Haiku Association, where you currently serve as president. Can you tell us more about your group? How can poets join the PHA?

The Polish Haiku Association was founded in September 2015 in Szaflary (Tatra Mountains), and I am among its 23 founders. Currently, the PHA has 63 members.

The catalyst behind the formation of PHA was the Second International Haiku Conference (15-17 May 2015), in Kraków. We were together – haiku poets from around the world, sharing conversations, discussions about new and traditional haiku, lectures etc. and it was very inspiring. (See Brian Robertson’s report on this conference, published in A Hundred Gourds.)

Our Association works to develop and promote classical haiku and contemporary haiku based on classical Japanese patterns mainly. A candidate for the Association must be a resident of Poland, is obliged to send the membership declaration and prove his achievements in the field of haiku. Then the Board decides whether or not to accept the membership.

(Note from Julie: Contact information for PHA can be found here.)

Thanks for all of your hard work maintaining the Haiku Registry here at THF. What do you like best about volunteering here? What do you wish more poets knew about the Registry?

Being the administrator of The Haiku Foundation’s Haiku Registry is a great and fascinating job. I’m happy when new profiles are created, when existing ones are updated. I’m pleased with the successes of poets, and I love reading their haiku. Their joy and gratitude is very satisfying. I love to read the work of other poets.

As part of my volunteer work, I also update or create profiles of poets who have passed away. I do this with sadness, but also with great care and tenderness.

However, there are still many famous haiku poets who do not yet have a profile in the Haiku Registry. I wish that they would apply.

(Note from Julie: Information on how to apply to be listed in THF’s Haiku Registry can be found here. Any poet with at least one published haiku is eligible.)

Anything else you’d like to share?

Perhaps I would just add that I am very grateful to Jim Kacian and Billie Wilson for offering me the opportunity to take over the Haiku Registry. Here is a link to Billie’s goodbye and Jim’s welcome to me on July 1, 2018.

Marta Chociłowska is a retired economist, writer, and haiku poet. Her poems have been published in haibun, haiga and haiku journals worldwide, including The Asahi Shimbun, A Hundred Gourds, Blithe Spirit, cattails, Chrysanthemum, Contemporary Haibun Online, Daily Haiga, Frogpond, Prune Juice Journal, Stardust Haiku, The Mainichi Shimbun, tinywords, World Haiku Review,  and placed in signs in the central business district of Washington D.C. and in the Japanese Garden at the Chicago Botanic Garden.

She has co-authored several haiku and senryu anthologies; her The Seasons in Polish Haiku came out in 2015. She has been a prize-winner or judge in Polish, Romanian, English, and Japanese haiku contests and won the Sponsor’s Award in the Ito en Oi Ocha New Haiku Contest 2016 and The Merit Award in 2017.

She has been president of the Polish Haiku Association since 2018 and managing editor of the PHA’s bilingual almanac Migratory Birds. She also serves as administrator of The Haiku Foundation’s Haiku Registry. She resides in Warsaw, Poland with her husband and three cats.

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 5 Comments

  1. Hi Marta,
    I have great difficulty in many cases determining which is haiku and which is senryu. In your first example, could it be a haiku if read literally?
    A great article. Your involvement is a credit to you.

  2. Thank you Marta, for your guidance., and Julie for posting the interview. I would follow the guidelines as I’m a beginner in the field of Haikus and Senryus.

  3. Thank you Julie Bloss Kelsey for the invite to this interview and Jim Kacian for the chance of being a part of the Haiku Foundation. Its a great honor and pleasure.
    I kindly invite haiku poets to send their listings and to update their profiles in the Haiku Registry. I hope to continue to be of some help to the international haiku community.

    1. My pleasure, Marta! Thanks for keeping tabs on our Registry – it’s a resource that I use regularly.

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