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New to Haiku: Advice for Beginners–Mary Kendall

Today at New to Haiku, let’s welcome Mary Kendall. Her poetry has been published extensively in both print and online journals, including The Heron’s Nest, Acorn, Blithe Spirit, and Rattle. Mary’s third book of poetry, The Last Camellia, is a collection of haiku, tanka, senryu, and haiga, and was recently published by Velvet Dusk Publishing. Thanks for sharing your haiku journey with us, Mary!

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

I was a “regular” poet long before I discovered Japanese short form poetry. I published a chapbook and a small children’s book. I later came to tanka with the knowledge that I was both a meditative and lyrical poet at my core. I was simply smitten when I first read tanka. I couldn’t believe how a five-line poem could so perfectly express a full idea and feelings. Haiku came next and was very hard for me. It took great discipline to write so concisely yet also lyrically. Haiku also taught me the art of editing out any unnecessary words. Obviously reading lots of haiku and talking to other poets made the difference. Joining the North Carolina Haiku Society opened a community of poets I needed.

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

This one got a lot of attention, much to my surprise:

Queen Anne’s lace—
a childhood spent
in second-hand clothes

  • The Heron’s Nest, Volume XIX, Number 1: March 2017 (editors’ choice) and again in old song: The Red Moon Anthology of English-Language Haiku 2017

The story behind this haiku is quite simple. I was born in 1947 in Buffalo, New York, in an immigrant working class environment. Money was hard earned, but we always had a roof over our heads, warm baths, cleaned and pressed clothes and food in our tummies. Compared to so many poor children today who struggle to have a single real meal a day, I feel fortunate. As the youngest of three girls, I wore many second-hand clothes. Hand-me-downs were normal, but it also left an imprint on my self-image that I’ve dealt with all my life. You never forget what life is like when you grow up with very little extra money. Still, we had books to read, and we had birds and wildflowers in the fields. Beauty was always there if only you looked and listened.

our country’s story
ever evolving
. . . fallen blossoms

  • 40 Years, 40 Haiku: A Broadside, North Carolina Haiku Society, 2019

spring . . .
hearing green
and only green

  • hedgerow #130, Winter 2020

winter static the crackle of your silence

  • Acorn, November 2017

losing you
a wash of deep blue
across the sky

  • cattails: The Official Journal of the United Haiku and Tanka Society, October 2017 Issue (editor’s choice)

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

Read, read, read and read haiku. Read the old masters. Read the leading figures in the haiku world. Read the haiku journals online and print. Read them aloud and savor each word. This will teach you about all that haiku can be. You will figure out what makes a good haiku.

Pay attention to what editors might say when you submit your haiku, whether they are accepted or rejected. I have learned so much from editors who told me why a poem was not being accepted. Learn from this—put your ego aside and listen.

Find other poets and try collaborative writing when you can. Do it for fun. Writing with someone else is a special experience and you will certainly learn from it as well as enjoy the challenge.

What are some fun ways to use or experience haiku?

Ask someone to write collaboratively with you and just have fun. You don’t have to publish the product. It’s the process that is the reward. It will push you out of your comfort zone at times, but that’s always good for a poet.

Take a risk and submit something that stretches you a bit. Don’t always go for “the same.”

Start a blog. Keep it simple and enjoy putting poems out there into the world. My blog, A Poet in Time, was begun in July 2014 and is still going today. Again, have fun with it.

Try writing “split sequences” with other poets. Peter Jastermsky created this delightful form which you can read about here.

I love to gift a haiku or tanka to someone. It says more in a few lines than I can say in an hour of chat.

Leave haiku for others to discover. My neighbor, friend and poet Kate MacQueen, does something I really love to see. Every so often she takes out sidewalk chalk and writes four haiku (by other poets) on the street. She does this in silence, and you can just imagine her reciting each haiku as she writes it. It’s up to each reader to enjoy them, puzzle over them (sometimes) and figure out how they are linked. I love going out to read them and to watch other neighbors stop and read them. Lots of haiku poets post their work in all kinds of places. Bill Waters in New Jersey is a master at this, finding lots of places to post haiku for folks to read them. Check out his publication, 237 Brinley, a twice-a-year sampler of his writing.

Gather a group of poets to participate in a fun activity together. This past year, Dave Russo–our organizer and creative leader of the NC Haiku Society–asked folks for new and interesting ideas. We ended up with two excellent activities involving art and ekphrastic writing. First was a tanka project at the Ackland Art Museum in Chapel Hill (Springtime in Verse) to go along with an early 20th century waka/calligraphy exhibit. Several of us were featured in their online newsletter. Fellow NCHS member Crystal Simone Smith was also featured as were three other local poets.

The second art activity was ekphrastic haiku writing for an art show, Tandem: Art & Poetry in Motion, a collaboration between the Pittsburg Gallery of Art in Pittsboro, NC and the NC Haiku Society, held in June 2023. Dave Russo spent countless hours arranging this show and produced a booklet of artwork and haiku from the show. The results were really terrific, and the gallery extended the length of the show due to popularity. There was a champagne evening live reading and each selected haiku hung next to its paired art work for the duration of the show.

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

I’m trying to get back to creating haiga and tanka art. I love reading them from other poets, and I did quite a few haiga myself. In the past few years my output has been minimal. I have a new iPad and the art apps are such fun to use in creating the picture part of the haiga/tanka art. Let’s see what happens.

You recently had a book of haiku and tanka poetry published. Congratulations! What is your book about? Can you tell us something about this collection?

Yes, I do have a brand-new book just published in late November. It is entitled The Last Camellia, published by Velvet Dusk Publishing, and is available at Amazon.

Chrissi Villa is my editor/publisher but is also a tanka poet and friend I met and worked with in a private tanka workshop headed by David Terelinck. I am immensely proud of this book. Since I am 76 years old, it might well be my last book. I really wanted to put out a book that included both haiku and tanka, but I couldn’t quite figure out how to lay it out. Enter Susan Burch, poet extraordinaire, who offered to help me with this. Susan put together a first draft and asked Chrissi Villa if she might have an interest in publishing the book. I got an immediate acceptance and have loved the process of doing a close, thoughtful editing process with Chrissi. I still marvel at all the kindness Susan showed to me. How many people do any of us know who would do something this generous and thoughtful?

Mary Kendall lives in Chapel Hill, North Carolina with her husband and dog. A retired reading teacher, Mary now devotes her time to reading, writing poetry and practicing reiki. She and her husband love to travel and to garden. Having written and published traditional poetry for many years, Mary fell in love with Japanese short form poetry a dozen years ago. Workshopping poems and writing collaboratively with other poets is an important part of the writing process. She believes a poet never stops learning and that is part of the joy of creativity. Mary’s poetry has been published in many print and online journals. Some of poems have received honors in poetry contests and in journals, including a nomination for the Pushcart Prize. Her work has been shared in two of her books, A Giving Garden (co-authored with Debbie Suggs), and Erasing the Doubt, a chapbook of free verse (Finishing Line Press, 2015). You can find more of her work on her poetry blog, A Poet in Time.

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 3 Comments

  1. I would like to thank Mary for all the interesting and inspiring tips she has given to us.
    I have been writing haiku for about three years (some of them have been published) however, I am still learning and enjoy the creative process very much.

  2. Thank you Mary and Julie for this interesting interview. Mary, I studied at UNC and our son was born in Chapel Hill so Chapel Hill is a very special place for me.

    1. That’s great to know, Dan. Thanks for sharing that with me. I hope you and your family enjoy the holiday season. 🕊

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