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New to Haiku: Advice for Beginners – Vandana Parashar

New to Haiku is pleased to interview Vandana Parashar. Her debut e-chapbook, I Am, was published by Title IX Press in 2019, and her haiku was shortlisted for the 2020 Touchstone Awards for Individual Poems. She is currently part of the editing team at Poetry Pea, and is hosting a blog for Triveni Haikai India. Thanks for sharing your haiku journey with us, Vandana!

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

I was a science teacher before I had to leave my job because of health issues. One of my former students attended Kala Ramesh’s Haiku Workshop and told me about it. I instantly fell in love with these little power-packed poems.

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

I write anytime, anywhere. My brain is constantly on the prowl for haiku around me — doing household chores, in the kitchen, while shopping, on evening walks, even when drifting to sleep (I have lost many haiku to sleep just because I thought that I would remember them in the morning and never did).

I don’t have a writing process. Sometimes haiku just appear out of nowhere like an epiphany (those are the best). When I need to write on the prompt or for a particular contest, I go out in the park and walk barefoot on the grass. I let go of the struggle of writing for the sake of submitting and just surrender myself to nature. And more often than not, I come back home rejuvenated and with two-three new haiku. Of course, I can’t do that daily and not all haiku are great, but at least I come back with ideas to work on.

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

Thanks to the internet, everyone now comes equipped with the knowledge of basic rules of writing haiku. The Haiku Foundation has excellent tips for beginners in “Haiku Basics”.

However, I would like to say two things–

Read as much as you can.
The importance of reading haiku written by others has been stressed upon enough. What I would like to add is that reading is important – not only because you know what makes a good haiku and learn from it – but to help you stay clear of monotonous images. Haiku is about finding extraordinary in the ordinary. You can’t keep finding what others have already found. There’s no novelty in that. Find your own voice. The more you read, the more you will know what resonates with you. Go with your heart, not with what everyone is writing about.

Always choose quality over quantity.
Most beginners fall in the trap of the delicious headiness of getting published everywhere possible. I was there too once. But soon I started to feel the burnout. The pressure of submissions, the heartbreak of rejections and the self-assessed mediocrity of my work was taking a toll on my mental health. I realized that what was once a panacea has now become the cause of my stress. So, I chose to slow down and instead of churning out haiku like a machine, decided to be mindful of what I write and write about what I feel strongly about.

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

Some of my favourite haiku are–

couple’s therapy
from a tangled ball of wool
I unpick what’s mine
(Honourable Mention, Revista Haiku Contest, 2020)

phantom pregnancy
the weight of snow
on a bare bough
(Honourable Mention, Porad Haiku Contest, 2021)

first love wingardium leviosa
(Haiku Dialogue, 16th Dec 2021)

gutting fish
my daughter says she doesn’t want
to be like me
(Golden Haiku Contest, 2021; string theory: The Red Moon Anthology of English-Language Haiku, 2022)

The last one was written after a particularly heated argument with my teenage daughter. We both said some things which we didn’t mean, but the possibility that my daughter doesn’t look up to me hurt the most. We made up with each other within minutes and my daughter now teases me that she helped me in fulfilling my dream of being included in RMP Anthology.

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

Presently, I’m in the editing team of Poetry Pea. I have noticed that when you don an editor’s hat, you become a different person. It’s almost like having an alter ego. This has helped me study my own poems with an editor’s eyes. I can now stand detached from my poem, dissect it and if needed, I can kill my darlings too.

I’m also hosting a blog for Triveni Haikai India. The best part of it is that I have to read extensively to find poems to feature on the blog. It can’t get better than this.

Vandana Parashar is a postgraduate in microbiology, an educator and a haiku poet. She started getting acquainted with and writing haiku in 2015 and soon found solace in it.

Her haiku, senryu and tanka have been published in many national and international journals of repute and have won her many prizes and accolades. Her haiku was also shortlisted for the prestigious Touchstone Award in 2021.

Her debut e-chapbook “I Am” was published by Title IX Press in 2019, with her heart and soul put into the work. She currently resides in Panchkula with her husband, two daughters and her one-year-old puppy.

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 book of poetry, The Call of Wildflowers, is available for free online through Title IX Press. Connect with her on Twitter @MamaJoules.

This Post Has 41 Comments

  1. So beautiful interview! I resonate with you and I love your poems!
    Warm wishes!

  2. Vandana, such candid responses! They resonated with me. I so much believe in having your own voice and going slow with publishing. It indeed is overwhelming to see your poems everywhere but that goes away like fizz. To carve a place you need consistency and quality and you have done that for your self in the haikai world. Thanks for sharing your experiences!

    1. Thanks so much for your kind words, Teji. 🙏🏻
      As Laurie said—we all go through the same experiences and it feels good to know that we aren’t alone.
      It’s a blessing to have such good souls in the haiku community who resonate with your thought process and are there to support.

  3. Great interview Vandana, so much to take away from your haiku journey. I enjoy reading your haiku/senryu a lot. The ‘gutting fish’ one is truly amazing, one of your very best. Keep inspiring and keep shining. Wishing you the very best. 🙂

    1. Thank you so much, Firdaus. The feelings are mutual. Wishing you too a creatively blessed year. 🙏🏻

  4. What an insightful and scintillating interview dear Vandana & Julie.
    Loved every word of it!

    So much to learn in haikai and Vandana, your interview added to the learning and gave pointers on improving my writing. Your skill and motivation helped me in Triveni Gurukulam too.

    Thanks for sharing your lovely work and the guidance along with it.

  5. Thank you Julie and Vandana, Vandana, your dedication to haiku is inspiring!

    1. Absolutely enjoyed reading this interview, Julie.
      I can truly relate with “quality over quantity”, Vandana. I hope poets consider this seriously.
      Best wishes, always!

  6. Thanks, Julie and Vandana, for a tremendous interview. This column has been unfailingly helpful, and this week it resonated even more than usual. In the discussion of quality over quantity, of not stressing over submissions, of staying open to what comes and not trying so hard, I recognized all too well my own recent experiences. Painful but valuable lessons in all this. Good to be reminded that we all go through them and that the joy is always there to be found.

    1. Thank you so much for your kind comments, Laurie. I have read your work in Haiku Dialogue and journals, and I admire it a lot.
      We all do go through the same emotions and struggles, at least creatively, and that’s why—as Alan stressed too—it’s imperative that we support each other and be kind to each other.
      And as you said,” the joy is always there to be found”, let’s all find joy in each other’s joy and success. 😊

    2. Laurie, I’m so happy to hear that you find the column helpful. I learn a lot presenting these. I often chase down links to include, and I’m always surprised at how much information about haiku and related forms is out there! Thanks so much for your comment. Julie K.

  7. Thank you, dear Vandana, for this very inspirational “Advice for Beginners” (my favorite part of THF Blog)…and for the heartwarming interchange between you and Alan.
    With deep appreciation,
    Mimi

  8. Dear Vandana,

    What a scintillating interview.
    I love the honest and straightforward way in which you’ve answered the Qs.
    You are one of India’s haiku stars!
    Way to go girl …!

    1. Thank you so much, Kala. As I have always said—none of this would’ve been possible had you not welcomed me with open arms in the Triveni Facebook group.
      You are the pillar of Indian Haikai. A HUGE THANKS 🙏🏻🙏🏻

  9. Dear Vandana

    Congratulations on such a brilliant interview. So much of what you said resonated with me. I am sure beginners as well as accomplished poets will benefit from this. And if your daughter admires your talent.consider that you have arrived. Totally enjoyed reading every bit. Thanks Julie !

    1. Thank you so much, Arvinder. I’m so happy that what I said resonated with you.
      Your love and support mean a lot. 🙏🏻

    2. You’re welcome, Arvinder! Thanks for reading & commenting. It means a lot. Julie K.

  10. Dear Vandana,

    I’ve appreciated reading your thoughts here!

    So many of us now agree that it’s vital to consider, at some point, about choosing quality over quantity, instead of churning out verses, we take care over a smaller amount of haiku (or senryu). It is better to have half a dozen haikai verses remembered, than the hundreds we might push out, read quickly and as quickly forgotten.

    Your comment here is so important:

    “Most beginners fall in the trap of the delicious headiness of getting published everywhere possible. I was there too once. But soon I started to feel the burnout. The pressure of submissions, the heartbreak of rejections and the self-assessed mediocrity of my work was taking a toll on my mental health.”

    There are some editors who are rude, by wording or abruptness, and that is unnecessary. One very new haiku editor, in particular, has upset beginners and more advanced writers by their condensation and patronising replies.

    I remember when I helped found “Haijinx-haiku with humor” online journal, which helped set the trend elsewhere, that we did not reject out of hand, but had dialog, and talked with the poet, and between us the finished haiku came to life and both editor and poet created a bond, and the journal thrived because of that, as did both editor and poet!

    Many of our submissions, and I’ll include myself at times, if I send something out before a good six months has passed, checking and checking, revising, editing, reading back again and again, may not be fully ready, but a journal editor should not be corrupted by the power they hold over us all.

    Vandana said:
    ” I realized that what was once a panacea has now become the cause of my stress. So, I chose to slow down and instead of churning out haiku like a machine, decided to be mindful of what I write and write about what I feel strongly about.”

    And I hope we can all come to this! Editors should have a duty of care. I’ve done this as a founding editor of Haijinx, and also with Bones journal, and as a guest editor in other print and online journals. That duty of care is incredibly rewarding in itself, and is superior to any trigger happy rejection reaction.

    Enjoy your haiku and senryu, and if an editor is rude, dismissive, abrupt, or just handing out something generic in reply, remember there will be another home for your poems, as there are over 100 journals, both haikai and poetry etc… out there!

    warm regards,
    Alan

    Alan Summers
    founder, Call of the Page

    1. Dear Alan,
      Thank you for highlighting the role of editors in nurturing the new poets. This is an issue which needs to be addressed. Everyone is a beginner at some point and the early experiences make or break the will to continue. You are absolutely right that rudeness and condescension are unnecessary, especially in the present times when the world needs more kindness and positivity.
      Breaking someone’s spirit doesn’t make anyone a better poet or a good editor.
      Every poet, whether a beginner or an established one, needs to treated with kindness, respect and dignity. It’s, after all, a reflection of one’s character.
      We need to build each other up and make our haiku community a happy, safe place for everyone.

      You have always been very encouraging and prompt. I would love to know about “Haijinx”. Can you please share the link?

      1. Dear Vandana,

        Vandana said:
        “Thank you for highlighting the role of editors in nurturing the new poets. This is an issue which needs to be addressed.”

        Interestingly I just received a rejection that I was sadly expecting. It’s frustrating but I hope to have it up on a public site later this year.

        Vandana said:
        “Everyone is a beginner at some point and the early experiences make or break the will to continue.”

        Exactly! I didn’t have a pleasant time as a beginner, which is why I go out of my way to support emerging poets, as I could have so easily been “thwarted” in my haiku journey, and still suffer from them at times!

        Vandana said:
        ” You are absolutely right that rudeness and condescension are unnecessary, especially in the present times when the world needs more kindness and positivity.”

        We always needed empathy, but never more as now during this Hybrid WWIII!

        Vandana said:
        “Breaking someone’s spirit doesn’t make anyone a better poet or a good editor.”

        Agreed! And editors can contradict themselves both as editors, and getting angry if their rejections aren’t always as friendly as they’d expect to be able to demand.

        Vandana said:
        “Every poet, whether a beginner or an established one, needs to treated with kindness, respect and dignity. It’s, after all, a reflection of one’s character.”

        Agreed!

        Vandana said:
        “We need to build each other up and make our haiku community a happy, safe place for everyone.”

        Agreed!

        I can’t tell you how vile some private threats have been done in the past, when I was a moderator on a certain online forum years ago. Something like this still goes on. That’s why we need new people, of whatever age, that come with a positive attitude and with empathy.

        Vandana said:
        “I would love to know about “Haijinx”. Can you please share the link?”

        Sadly the owner, Mark Brooks, has made all the journal’s issues private to him. It was truly a groundbreaking online journal that was a game changer.

        .
        As I get to hear a lot about rejections, some are abrupt, sometimes cold and unfriendly. The haiku community is a little different from the ‘mainstream’ poetry areas, where some influential journals might be expected to be short in responses.

        I hope that journals are not going to emulate the coldness of the new era, and the political attitudes of various questionable political and corporate leaders past and current?

        My new project will be to look closely at what is really on offer for the haiku reader.

        And I’d like to say publically how much I appreciate the support that you give me and others. We should all be writers first, and have a beginner mind as much as we might be experienced poets.

        kind regards,
        Alan

        1. Dear Alan,
          My sincerest thanks to you for all your support.
          You said-
          “ I can’t tell you how vile some private threats have been done in the past, when I was a moderator on a certain online forum years ago. Something like this still goes on.”
          This is so sad. I’m sorry that you have to go through it . I sincerely hope that the better sense prevails.

          And I wholeheartedly second your statement-“ We should all be writers first, and have a beginner mind as much as we might be experienced poets.”

          Thank you for taking the time out to share your experiences and thoughts with us. 🙏🏻

          Have a blessed day.

          1. Oddly, in the past the vile threats were against fellow moderators, one of which left the haiku community completely and can never come back. I didn’t get threats back then, but society has changed, sadly.

            So we do need a lot of ‘new blood’ that has seen the negative effects on people with social media, and even physical relationships. More people, of all ages and backgrounds, to keep both haiku fresh, and its spirit! 🙂

            Alan

    2. So good to read all this on my own trail through the foothills, eye on distant peaks. I’m learning that some editors are swift, responsive, kind and constructive, while some others – including a couple or three of the prestigious outlets, fail to respond at all. One was even rude. I cross them off. If poets submit to the good ones and ignore the snooty ones, guess which will be the prestigious journals of the future…

      Enjoyed the interview very much, Vandana.

  11. Great interview! The quality over quantity resonates with me. I went through that. We can write haiku about anything but that doesn’t mean you should…write about things that move you.

    1. So glad that it resonated with you, Rich.
      “ We can write haiku about anything but that doesn’t mean you should.” is exactly I feel too.
      Thanks for putting it in words. 🙏🏻

  12. Aanvi, coming from the one who inspired my RMP anthology senryu, this means a lot. 🙂
    Thank you for inspiring me, believing in me and above all loving me.

  13. The talent that this woman possesses is truly rare to find. She inspires me and leaves me in awe every single day, with every single piece of work that she pours her heart and soul into. So proud <3

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