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New to Haiku: Advice for Beginners–Mike Montreuil

Today at New to Haiku, let’s welcome Mike Montreuil. He is the editor of the Haiku Canada Review and currently serves as both managing editor and tanka prose editor of cattails. Thanks for sharing your haiku journey with us, Mike!

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

Around the year 2000, I took an online poetry course from the Barnes and Noble University. That’s what B&N called it. If I remember properly, someone mentioned haiku. So, being a curious person, I checked out. However, haiku books were rare. On a visit a Chapters bookstore in Ottawa, I found Marshall Hryciuk’s anthology Milkweed: A Gathering of Haiku. After reading it, I said to myself that I could write those (Every beginner’s famous words).

Do you have a haiku mentor? What advice did they give you? Did someone else’s haiku greatly influence your own?

My first mentor was Stanford Forrester. He taught me how to keep the language simple. My other two mentors would be the French-Canadian haiku poets Micheline Beaudry and André Duhaime. Influences would be Francine Banwarth and the late Bill Pauly. Later on, I discovered the haiku of Raymond Roseliep.

Where do you most often write? Do you have a writing process?

Actually, I do not have a favourite writing place. It can be a desk, the kitchen table or a picnic table. When on walks I write them on my iPhone.

How do you approach reading haiku?

When I receive or buy a book I begin to read it with an open mind and with a bit of caution. The same is true when I select poems for the Haiku Canada Review, or when I edit anthologies.

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

Read. And read a lot. Read what’s been written before. There are many journals on the web. Also, there are a few defunct journals still available for viewing, such as Simply Haiku and A Hundred Gourds. Also, visit The Haiku Foundation website, as well as Michael Dylan Welch’s Graceguts. However, every beginner needs to read Basho, Buson, Issa and Shiki. Their influence is still among us.

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

A haiku poet from Montreal, Jeanne Painchaud, did a popup installation where people were asked to write a haiku on a park walkway in chalk. That was fun. In the early 2010’s, I was asked to provide haiku for a photo exhibit in Gatineau, Quebec.

What are your favorite haiku that you have written?

There are a few, but I always go back to my first published haiku which happened to be in bottle rockets in 2005.

august evening—
I show my son
how to skip a stone

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

I’m working on completing the digital archives of the Haiku Canada Review and hopefully those of the Haiku Canada newsletter.

I enjoyed attending the online Haiku Canada Weekend in 2022, Reclaiming the Landscape. I was impressed by the effort made to present materials in English, French and Innu. What do you find most challenging (or most interesting) as a poet who writes and reads haiku in more than one language? What do you wish more haiku poets knew about the Francophone haiku community in Canada?

The simple answer is that when writing haiku in French the grammar is different. Also, French haiku can be very “literary”. When translating, I need to be aware that an English haiku translated into French will probably have many more syllables.

One difference about haiku poets in Quebec is that they have a very robust writer’s union. Grant money is available. Yet, publishing a French haiku book is just as hard as in English Canada.

You served as haibun editor of A Hundred Gourds from 2012 to 2015, and books of haibun you have written and/or edited have been shortlisted for The Haiku Foundation Touchstone Distinguished Book Awards. What do you think is most important for new haiku poets to understand about haibun? What do you enjoy about writing haibun?

Like haiku, the haibun newcomer needs to read what has been written before. Luckily, Basho’s and Issa’s works have been preserved. How much, I don’t know. A book I recommend is Japanese Poetic Diaries, selected and translated by Earl Miner in 1969. Also, another starting point is Journey to the Interior, edited by Bruce Ross, 1998. But I do have a pet peeve about
editors arbitrarily imposing rules for writing haibun. I haven’t found or read any.

Writing haibun gives me the chance to explore the boundaries of what is possible as I am not a lyric poet. Also, I have a need to push the boundaries so that haibun doesn’t disappear like it did in Japan.

photo: Carole Daoust

Mike Montreuil lives in Ottawa, Canada. He has been writing haiku and related forms for over 20 years. He was the haibun editor for A Hundred Gourds from the end of 2012 until 2015. Mike and Maxianne Berger edited Cirrus, a French language tanka journal, from 2012 to 2018. He is presently the Managing Editor of cattails and the Editor of the Haiku Canada Review.

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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. A very interesting presentation. So many inspiring tips and suggestions to follow…
    Many thanks to Julie and Mike for sharing this! Happy and creative 2024!

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